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Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa
Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 181 / Africa

Implementing Peace and Security Architecture (I): Central Africa

More than a decade after the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) was requested by the African Union (AU) to give life to a new peace and security architecture, political and security cooperation on the continent is still in need of reinforcement.

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Executive Summary

Political and security cooperation in Central Africa is in urgent need of revival. More than a decade ago, the African Union (AU) tasked the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) to breath life into its peace and security architecture. ECCAS member states signed relevant treaties and protocols, but the multinational body has struggled to shape and implement a regional policy. To ensure this conflict-prone region moves toward greater political integration, Central African states need to reinvigorate ECCAS, reform it and decide on clear security priorities. Foreign partners should coordinate their support to the organisation in line with its needs, absorption capacity and objectives.

The spiral of conflict that set Central Africa on fire in the 1990s made painfully clear the need for a regional political and security response. With the double blessing of the AU and the European Union (EU), ECCAS committed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict in the region. Unfortunately, like previous efforts to promote economic integration, political and security cooperation has not produced the hoped-for results.

On paper, ECCAS looks good. Central African states signed a mutual assistance pact and a protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council for Central Africa (Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’Afrique centrale, COPAX). They also set up a Regional Staff Headquarters (Etat-major régional, EMR) that runs multinational military training exercises and the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (Mission de consolidation de la paix en Centrafrique, MICOPAX). But in reality, regional leaders have been reluctant to create and invest in an institution that constrains the way they cooperate in security matters. They voice support to a regional peace and security architecture, but half-heartedly commit to ECCAS while turning more readily to old and trusted bilateral relations to mitigate their security concerns, thus generating a confused web of partnerships.

ECCAS suffers from serious internal governance problems. Decisions on in-house issues are highly centralised and have to be made by consensus among member states. Instead of generating cohesion among regional actors, this means sensitive issues on which member states differ are avoided. It is also an institution still under construction. Human resource management is a constant problem, as is the body’s financial dependence on outside backers.

Only decisive political commitment by its members can breathe new life into ECCAS. But the successive postponement of the heads of state summit and the failure of members to appoint representatives in some of its organs reveal a lack of interest in the organisation’s purpose. Members’ distrust of each other, ingrained by a violent past, and the absence of regional leadership also drain ECCAS of its usefulness. As a result, the most serious security problems are dealt with outside the ECCAS framework, and Central Africa’s peace and security architecture has difficulty leaving the drawing board.

The region’s governments should urgently deepen their political commitment to ECCAS’s structures and projects and sort out their common priorities. They must decide if they really want to be members of ECCAS. If so, they should prove their will by undertaking several crucial steps: respect their financial obligations to the organisation; name their representatives to it; and organise a summit as soon as possible. A reform agenda should focus on the decision-making system, ensuring smooth running of the secretariat in Libreville and greater involvement of civil society. Security priorities should seek practical implementation and concrete results.

Foreign partners should establish effective coordination, tailor their support to ECCAS’s peace and security priorities and adjust it to the organisation’s absorption capacity. The first major goal is to strengthen the secretariat so it can implement its programs and avoid overspending and duplicating efforts.

In the next few years, the fundamental challenge is to give political meaning to an organisation whose members exist in a tangle of mistrust, rivalries and thinly veiled hostility. If this zero-sum geopolitics endures, Central African countries will continue to put their own narrow interests above the project of peace and security architecture. Political and security integration would then risk following in the tragic footsteps of economic cooperation.

 Nairobi/Brussels, 7 November 2011

Podcast / Africa

What Eritrea Wants

This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell is joined by author and scholar, Harry Verhoeven, to discuss Eritrea’s re-emerging role in the Horn of Africa region after more than a decade of isolation.

The international community has long viewed Eritrea as a pariah state, yet the country’s influence is rising again in the turbulent Horn of Africa region. For more than a decade, Ethiopia and the West pushed the country’s regime under President Isaias Afwerki into survival mode. But with the political transition in Ethiopia, and Eritrea’s alliances with Gulf powers across the Red Sea, Asmara is once again looking to shape the region in its favour. 

Harry Verhoeven, a scholar on international politics in Africa, joins Alan Boswell to unpack Eritrea’s rising influence in the region and what it means for regional order and stability. They discuss President Isaias Afwerki’s survival techniques and his ties with the Gulf states. Harry also describes the complex alliance between Asmara and Addis Ababa amid the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and whether President Afwerki could be willing to withdraw Eritrean troops from Ethiopia for tactical purposes. They also look at escalating tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia and where the shifting power relations in the Horn of Africa are headed. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

For more information:

Contributors

Senior Analyst, South Sudan
alanboswell
Harry Verhoeven
African Politics Scholar