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The State of Peace and Security in Africa

April 23, 2016

Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo

‘Traditional’ causes of conflict, insecurity and violence still persist and have gained greater currency today and when they are unattended and unaddressed, they will invariably lead to group dissatisfaction, breed grievances and incubate injustice.

|  By Olusegun Obasanjo*

  1. When some six years ago, the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, invited and convinced me to take on the task of establishing and managing the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, little did I realise how African security issues would transform in substantive and radically different ways within half a decade. I shared Meles’ vision and we started to work. In the first year, our topic was diversity and its management as a source of insecurity. In the second year, we moved to organised crime and how to curtail it. In the third year, we dealt with illicit financial flows and its implications on security. Last year, which was the fourth year of the Tana Forum, our topic was Secularism and Politicized Faith in Africa. This year, I am particularly delighted that another timely and appropriate theme has been chosen: on “Africa in the Global Security Agenda.”
  1. Before giving you a panoramic overview of the African security landscape since we met at this same venue one year ago, let me note-with satisfaction-one key addition we have made to the structure of this event: the institutionalisation of the Meles Zenawi Annual Lecture Series. In this series, we examine in as much detail as possible and within the time available, the leadership qualities, styles, deficiencies and legacies of a particular leader. So far, we have x-rayed Meles Zenawi as a leader; we have followed this with Nelson Mandela; then Kwame Nkurumah; and this year, it is Patrice Lumumba. As a young army officer, on UN peacekeeping duties in 1960 in the then Congo Leopoldville, I had the honour of meeting Patrice Lumumba. He was certainly a leader.
  1. The informality that has now become the distinguishing hallmark of the multi-stakeholder Tana Forum is testament to our conviction that mobilising diverse views and perspectives on pertinent security problems, even when the go against conventional wisdom, is crucial in our quest for lasting solutions to the seemingly intractable peace and security challenges we face as a continent. The continent’s challenges are not the issues of a few individuals in Africa but affect all Africans and therefore require all voices to be heard and accommodated. After all, the security challenges experienced by Africans are not contained within the continent only. The same can be said for security challenges from outside which Africans have also to contend with almost on daily basis. Indeed, a testimony to the fact that our lives as Africans are closely intertwined with those of other parts of the world is evident in how violence in one part of the world has grave consequences for stability and security on the continent, and vice versa.
  1. The transnational nature of conflicts today calls for innovative thinking and collaborative action in their resolution. Any sound and long lasting solutions to the myriad of security challenges the continent faces require in-depth analysis of each conflict system inclusive of and led by local actors. Those who breathe and live the disrupting effects of violent conflicts are in a better position to express where the proverbial shoes pinch.
  1. The complexity of existing conflicts, and newly emerging threats, in Africa means there cannot be a one-size fits all approach to managing and resolving them. We need to vary our approaches to suit the local contexts, and to heed the voices of those caught in the web of prolonged violent conflicts. Since we have two days, with eminently qualified persons leading us through the topic for this year, I will not dwell any further on the theme of this year’s Forum.
  1. Now, let us go to the panorama of peace and security challenges on the continent since the last time we all converged at this same venue. It is clear for me that old-or ‘traditional’ causes of conflict, insecurity and violence still persist and have gained greater currency today. They can be one or more of the following: inadequate attention to the issue of diversity, leading to marginalization, exclusions, lack of popular participation; inequity, inequality, uneven development and oppression; inadequate attention to education and unemployment particularly of youth; gender inequality; and of course religious bigotry. The presence of any of these, or more than one, in sufficient magnitude for any length of time, when unattended and unaddressed, invariably lead to group dissatisfaction, breed grievances and incubate injustice. Together, they allow groups to seek redress through a variety of unwholesome means, including armed insurgencies and terrorism.
  1. Developments in Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia and Tunisia reflect the recurrent volatility that confronts the continent on a daily basis. Such protracted conflicts not only have a debilitating impact on the continent’s pathways to development, but also place huge strain on the peace-making, peacekeeping and peace-building efforts of African States and inter-governmental institutions. Even if, as some have claimed that the number of conflicts in Africa has decreased in nominal terms since 2014, we are daily reminded about the fragility and susceptibility of the continent to a variety of ominous and vicious conflicts.
  1. In reflecting on the state of peace and security in Africa in 2015, and its far-reaching repercussions for Africa, and the world, let me quickly underscore the troubling resurgence of Africa’s long-forgotten conflicts. Notably, one of the worst plagued in this regard is the Great Lakes region. We see this recurrence, time and again, in DRC where the situation has remained volatile; marked by the atrocious activities of various armed groups. That conflict, especially in the Eastern DRC, epitomizes the hybrid nature of conflicts in Africa where armed groups are locked in battles that have turned the region into a gangster’s paradise, with serious regional dimensions and ramifications. The international community, led by African governments and institutions, must bear this in mind in fashioning such a viable and sustainable solution to one of the continent’s most intractable conflict.
  1. The potentials of DRC are enormous and so are the internal contestations and contradictions. If care is not taken, the forthcoming election in the DRC is likely going to further fuel the existing conflict. How the election is conducted, for good or bad, will also determine the trajectory of peace in the country, but also across the wider Great Lakes region. It will undoubtedly also become the litmus for AU’s pro-active management of potential conflict and the seriousness and ingenuity of the international community.
  1. If one country deserves our eternal vigilance and decisive action to pull from the brinks of an unnecessary and full-scale war, Burundi would no doubt qualify. No one should disbelief how quickly an already tense situation in that country, one of the poorest in the world according to the UN Human Development Index, has deteriorated-especially following the decision by the incumbent President Pierre Nkuruziza to seek re-election despite the evident constitutional backlashes. To date, the government has not only remained headstrong but also seemed determined to defy wise counsel from the international community; including those from the African Union.
  1. Despite the endorsement by the UN Security Council via statement of December 19, 2015 of the decision of the AU to deploy 5,000-strong troops to maintain law and order, and to protect civilians, the government in Bujumbura vehemently opposes its deployment, and even went as far as threatening to treat it as an army of occupation. It is not surprising to me, however, shameful, that during the just-concluded AU Assembly in January 2016, the Union quietly stepped back from its earlier proposal by adopting a position virtually encouraging what is going on in Burundi. The on-going situation in Burundi only makes Africa a laughing stock. Collectively, African leaders must summon the political will to bring a quick and durable solution to the country.
  1. Collectively, African leaders must summon the political will to bring a quick and durable solution to the country. Whatever it takes, a solution must be put in place to move the country towards peace, security and progress; and to stem the tide of flow of refugees that is threatening neighbouring countries. I must express what may be a distasteful personal opinion here: I found it contrary to the Constitutive Act of the AU that Burundi should threaten the AU; and by such threat, abdicate its responsibility. Before it is too late, the AU must therefore live up to its responsibility in such a situation to save the lives of Africans.
  1. However, we must not feel shy of demanding and insistently so, for restitution from the US and Europe for unlocking the virus through the action of NATO in Libya. President Obama’s conscience may be clear by admitting recently that he and his NATO allies created a mess in Libya, but that does not pay for the hardship suffered by our people. They should not look away while we grapple with the consequences of their action. Such strength of AU and regional economic communities to make demands for harm done and to stand firm on our responsibilities must obviate a situation where, like in Mali and Central African Republic, African forces were not able to intervene before troops from outside came in. How do we talk of African solutions for African problems when in the face of problems we are impotent to act promptly and decisively? That was not the situation in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo and Darfur. Africa can, if there is political will and leadership.
  1. Another major flashpoint is Darfur. That conflict alone, long only slightly on our radar, continues to generate unprecedented humanitarian crisis leading to the outflow of tens of thousands of civilians from their homes. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the humanitarian situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate with the displacement of more than 2.5 million civilians on the last count.
  1. In the south of the continent, Mozambique is now grappling with a residue of conflict between two diehard archenemies: the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) and the Resistance Movement of Mozambique (RENAMO). With its roots in an earlier civil war which started in 1977, just two years following a devastating spell of independence war, the present conflict flared up in 2013 due to factors not far from festering power contestations, perennial concerns about governance conditions, and of course, the recent discovery of natural resources such as coal and gas.
  1. Whereas many parts of Africa may not necessarily be experiencing overt forms of direct violence, they are nonetheless faced with unprecedented situations of fragility and vulnerability to conflicts. Zimbabwe offers a good example in this regard; but it should not by any means be considered a poster case. More than two years to the next general elections in 2018, tension is already brewing around leadership contestations and factional politics within the ruling and opposition parties, and between them. The dust has not fully settled on the Ugandan post-election situation, and we must not miss the ominous prospects in Zambia.
  1. Of the ten countries that the International Crisis Group identified as conflicts to watch in 2016, four are in Africa: Libya, Lake Chad Basin with the epicentre in Nigeria, South Sudan and Burundi. Other areas that are low-levelled but are nonetheless smouldering are Mali and Somalia, even as pockets of insurgencies linger in Algeria, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic. The conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco continues to linger many decades since it first broke out, while ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood are far from being spent forces in Egypt. In recent times, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, like Tunisia, have been hit by a new wave of terrorism which goes for the soft underbelly of seemingly conflict-free countries; killing innocent men and women in international hotels and popular resorts.
  1. No country in Africa can claim immunity against this new wave, and none of them can claim to be adequately prepared for it. We are all potential victims that we are left with no choice but to share intelligence, plan together and work together. Because terrorists have become creative with the use of modern infrastructures of border communication, transportation and financial transaction, African governments must make these facilities useful and indispensable servants in the fight against new generation terrorists whose objective is to destroy, instil fear, and kill while rendering government impotent to provide adequate security for their citizens.
  1. In all these cases, it is important to flag how decades of missed developmental opportunities have partly played a part in the exclusion and alienation of youth who now form the bulk of those that have found alternative spaces for rebellion and other forms of insurgent and terrorist activities.
  1. Let me now come to the dangerous and dehumanizing issue of migration from Africa to Europe, which has made the Mediterranean the maritime graveyard for many of our able-bodied brothers and sisters. There are two basic causes; first, physical insecurity due to violence; and second, economic insecurity due to unemployment and poverty. The answer, or antidote, to both is here in Africa, in our different countries, if only we can muster the necessary political will and commitment to act. The only way, in my view, to stem the tide is to embark on policies, programmes and strategies that create jobs and eliminate conditions that impoverishes, dehumanizes and snatches the dignity and self-pride of our people from them. For every African that dies crossing the Mediterranean either trying to escape violence or economic insecurity, our collective conscience as African leaders must be troubled.
  1. Today, Africans are grappling with the challenges associated with climate change; which, by the way, is no longer esoteric and ‘distant’, but have also become such a difficult burden we have to bear. Climate change not only undermines economic growth and development, but also poses significant threat to the continent’s food security even as it is fuelling other environmental vulnerabilities and conflicts. While climate change is affecting every part of the globe, I would hasten to add that the African continent would likely be more vulnerable to its adverse impacts being already the warmest continent.
  1. The threat from climate change is compounded by our limited access to requisite adaptation knowledge, technologies and institutions. The African Group of Negotiators tried their best to make Africa’s voice heard during the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris; making the strong point that Africa only produces 7% of the world’s CO-2 emissions but faces the most threats from global pollution. The adoption of a Common African Position at that meeting, in my view, was an exemplary step to position Africa on the global climate agenda; and, by extension, on the international security agenda.
  1. Let’s not ignore the myriad other non-conventional threats to security in Africa, but zero in on the one directly linked to the deterioration, or outright collapse, of public health systems in many countries across the continent. Not too long ago, in fact from early 2014 to the end of 2015, Africa grappled with the unprecedented outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease, with countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea being the most severely affected. Although the frightening phase seems to be over, but it is too early to celebrate that we have put it, or other diseases, behind us. There is no doubt that the impact of this epidemic was monumental on the continent’s fledgling governance and socio-economic landscape. We must learn the right lessons for the future and make adequate preparation. No country is immune.
  1. The prerequisite to tackle all of the pressing security issues spilling over from 2015 to 2016, and to strengthening Africa’s standing in the international security agenda is leadership. Here, I should emphasize leadership on all levels -local, municipal, national, regional, continental and global. Where and when leadership is asserted, commitment should follow. Commitment means putting our money where our problems are, not expecting others to take the lead on our behalf. Africa needs to start taking responsibility, in concrete terms, by funding its own peace initiatives and developmental priorities.
  1. To start with, AU member-States must pay their contributions to the general budget, and also those for critical political missions and peace operations. An organization that is still mostly funded by external donors, including for the most basic routine of travels, will only have limited elbowroom, or policy autonomy, when the interests of its key benefactors are at stake.
  1. I would like to return to my earlier point, by way of conclusion, that the security threats that Africa faces affect the rest of the world; just as those faced by the rest of the world have profound implication for Africa. This means, in my view, that we have no choice than to work together. We therefore need to explore the far-reaching benefits and opportunities of our mutual interdependence to create the kind of partnerships that are crucial to overcoming common security challenges.
  1. While we are grateful to our technical and financial partners, my take is that Africa has sufficiently come of age to choose its partners wisely if it must secure the common goal of peace and security for itself, and the rest of the world. As a continent, we need to take a serious look our security priorities and infrastructure, and ask a number of overdue questions: what can Africans do themselves to deal with these issues; where does Africa need to partner with international actors; and what should be the continent’s role in formulating security policies globally? Let us try to answer these questions, and more during this year’s Forum.
  • Source Real Magazine.Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria and chairman of the Tana High Level Forum on Security in Africa delivered this paper entitled: “The State of Peace and Security in Africa 2016″ at the Tana Forum which took place in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, on Saturday, April 16, 2016
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