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African ownership in peace and security

African ownership in peace and security


The parents of girls kidnapped by Jihadist group, Boko Haram, in April 2014 are still in tears.

Four years through the ordeal, global social media campaign and over $1 billion in funds to fight the militants’ insurgency, the Nigerian government has still failed to rescue most of the 270 students, who were abducted from a public secondary school in Chibok town, north of the country.

Boko Haram’s size has been estimated at over 15,000 members by Amnesty International, based in the Sambisa Forest, Borno State. And, their violent operations extend to neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. This insurgency is the epitome of terror traversing the African continent.

the international community can help, but it cannot be a substitute for Africa. We must bear in mind here that non-African solutions are never devoid of ideological and cultural prejudices

Now, the African Union is tabling local solutions to tackle such insecurities, “the international community can help, but it cannot be a substitute for Africa. We must bear in mind here that non-African solutions are never devoid of ideological and cultural prejudices”, AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, speaking at the 2018 Tana Forum.

But beyond Boko Haram are even larger terror threats.

Al-shabaab in Somalia has been fighting the UN-backed government since 2006. Their truck bombing in the capital, Mogadishu, in October 2017, left more than 300 people dead – the deadliest attack on the country. With just 6,000 members, the Islamist group has also wrecked havoc in Uganda and Kenya – killing hundreds of civilians.

Explaining the prevention of mass crimes and resources necessary to battle the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism, Mahamat added that, “Africa has been and remains a laboratory of creativity, which seeks to combine fidelity to universal principles and pragmatism through the consideration of specificity and complexity of situations to deal with.”

7th Tana Forum

When more than 200 participants gathered at the Tana high-level forum on security in Africa, between 21-22 April, they acknowledged the challenges in realizing African ownership in peace and security.

Tana’s incoming board chairperson and former president of Ghana, John Mahama said, “the concept of the Tana Forum exemplifies that quest to build indigenous African capacity in the area of peace and security”.

The Tana Forum has measured progress on peace and security on the continent with the number of conflicts experienced last year alone. Sub-Saharan Africa it shows, recorded 95 cases, compared to 94 in 2016 and 93 in 2015 (Heidelberg Conflict Barometer). Yet there are new forms of insecurities taking shape.

Mass protests have particularly given birth to a more complex shape of insecurity in Africa.

The security experts from around the globe, met in Bahir Dar – a city that has been the scene of deadly protests by Amhara people in Ethiopia. When the demonstrations erupted in 2016, against the detention and killings of Oromia protesters, again, over 50 people were killed by government forces.

It is pressure from these riots that forced former Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, to resign unexpectedly. His successor, Abiy Ahmed, who took over as the February-declared state of emergency still stood, is promising reforms that would bring about peace in the country. But it won’t be that easy for him – at least for now, as the Command Post council of military officers is remains in charge of the country.

Ahmed was among the African leaders who attended the 7th edition of Tana Forum. His was a wave of anticipation from Ethiopians in the volatile region. The youth, breathing some fresh air in months, where internet has been shut for two years, are now sharing online – but they are still fearful of “authorities”.

Communal clashes and refugee influx

Far from protests, are herdsmen clashes and the refugee influx – also forms of crises to be tackled. But the argument on pastoralist movements varied. While others fronted reforms to contain violence as a result of pastoralism, many are comfortable with the crisis treated as a cultural issue.

It is when such crises catapult to deaths that red flags are raised. “When you have this kind of local conflict and people actually use traditional weapons to defend themselves, of course the level of violence and the number of deaths is very different from when you try to solve this conflict by using automatic weapons”, Gilles Yabi, political analyst.

Pastoralist clashes have taken deadly turns in recent years. Hundreds have died in Nigeria over a few months, as herdsmen engaged in bloody encounters with farmers over land. The same kind of clash in Kenya, left up to 48 people dead in 2012.

Yabi thinks “the nature of the violence has changed and that calls for another way to imagine prevention of conflict.”

The refugee influx has impacted conflicts in Africa – dealing with the large numbers is a conflict in itself. In Uganda, refugees from DRC and South Sudan flock in daily in the thousands. The UNHCR reports 45 deaths as a result of a cholera outbreak in the overcrowded camps.

In Kenyan camps, refugees are facing security challenges, haunted by the Al Shabaab.

Rwanda’s president and chairperson of the AU recently said, “insecurity takes many forms, from terrorism to uncontrolled migration, to divisive politics, or even consequences of the failure to adapt to climate change.”

Role of women and youth

As it was summarized, peace processes in certain countries have come a standstill. Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan are perfect examples – when a glimpse of light in the dark tunnel will be caught is dependent on several factors, including government policy, AU reforms and all-round participation.

The role of women wasn’t debated at the forum, but on the sidelines, talk on their role in ending conflict was passionate. “Women absolutely need to be present in the entire chain of governance, including development for peace and security. Women must be present in decision-making bodies within the institutions”, stated Senegalese presidential advisor, Ndioro Ndiaye.

Women are seeing themselves present in peacekeeping and negotiation processes. And that they say should apply to the youth as well.

As Graca Machel put it, “African Union is not just about governance, it is also about people”. Her argument was that the decision-making table should be revised.

Financing the AU

For Africa to take ownership in peace and security, it must first solve its question of funding. Elections alone mean millions of dollars, considering the tensions that usually rise ahead of the polls and violence that often follows.

Before the AU can devise measures to change attitudes in societies where violence is still diffused with cultural complexes, like gender-based violence, sexual harassment and even early marriage – still common on the continent, it must secure money. It can’t forever depend of international actors.

The decision to have member-countries implement a 0.2 percent levy on eligible imports to generate finance was implemented in January 2017, but very few of the 54 states have been able to contribute.

The Tana Forum is a platform to explore solutions to the insecurity and peace in Africa but like the Ethiopian prime minister, Ahmed Abiy said, “to reflect on the provision of peace and security in Africa and the financial capability of the African Union, we need money”.

To answer the question of whether the continent can take charge of the conflicts, Mahamat affirmed, “there can be real ownership only if Africa gets institutions with the necessary means for the execution of their mandates.”