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The Problems with “African Solutions”
The Problems with “African Solutions”
China Expands Its Peace and Security Footprint in Africa
China Expands Its Peace and Security Footprint in Africa
Commentary / Africa

The Problems with “African Solutions”

This week Paris will host the annual France-Africa summit. In a year in which Africa and the West clashed over the International Criminal Court – and amid growing doubts over the UN Security Council’s legitimacy, in part because of its unrepresentativeness – there will be no shortage of issues that Africa’s leaders will seek to address.

President François Hollande has chosen to focus the agenda on peace and security. Following the deployment of French troops to end crises in Mali and the Central African Republic (an additional 800 troops are expected to arrive soon in Bangui, bringing the total to 1200), he does not want to be dragged into another intervention and would like African states to assume greater responsibility, particularly financial, in resolving the continent’s conflicts. France and the AU both want much greater African financial contributions for peace operations, in part to make them more sustainable. Since becoming AU Commission chairperson in 2012, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has pushed for a more self-sufficient AU to end its perpetual and disruptive dependence on external funding.

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Other Western countries also do not want their troops fighting in Africa’s wars, and would rather not pay for Africans to fight them either; they are perhaps all too ready to endorse “African solutions for African problems”, a policy embraced by the African Union and many of its members to prevent external interference. But this overlooks some fundamental facts. “African solutions” are often as problematic and riddled with hidden agendas as traditional interventions; they are not necessarily the preferred option of all parties, and usually still require significant international assistance. Finally, some conflicts are such an international threat they require an international response.

The pressing need is not for African solutions as such. It is for improving cooperation by defining a clearer division of labour based on a hard-nosed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of all relevant actors–national, sub-regional, continental and international. As Africa’s many conflicts have demonstrated, usually peace can only be imposed through the rapid, pragmatic and effective coordination of most, if not all, the actors in a conflict.

A convergence of interests

President Hollande and AUC chairperson Dlamini-Zuma share another common interest: they are worried about the viability of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), particularly the African Standby Force (ASF). The ASF was supposed to be a collection of brigade-level, mobile, joint forces, regionally based, that could respond quickly to threats to peace and stability. More than a decade after its conceptualisation, the ASF remains a distant goal.

Frustrated with the continent’s inability to field a credible intervention force in Mali earlier this year, and embarrassed by the decisive French intervention, the AU proposed, as a temporary mechanism, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), capable of acting swiftly, and – crucially – independent of Western support. It is to be based on a coalition of willing states and would be financed by AU member states solely on a voluntary basis. Chad, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda have pledged troops, while Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger and Sudan have signalled their willingness to participate in future coalitions.

But the ACIRC may face the same problems that confront the ASF: unwillingness of African states to finance such initiatives; gaps in military capability; and lack of the sustained political leadership necessary for effective peace enforcement. The ACIRC will also not resolve other political challenges that undermine the AU’s efforts to promote peace and security, most importantly tensions among regional bodies and the UN over the leadership of, and division of responsibility in, peace operations.

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The problem with some African solutions

Much is made of looking for African solutions, but the AU (and its member states) have no shortage of ideas, whether appropriate or not, on how to resolve the continent’s peace and security challenges. In the last decades, African states, and African statesmen, have played frontline roles in brokering peace agreements and have sought ways, ostensibly African, to end crises. AU member states have deployed ever more troops to peace operations in Africa, including in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan and, more recently, the Central African Republic (CAR). The AU is more robust and more mature than its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, with meaningful institutions to tackle the continent’s array of peace and security challenges. In 2011, it established a regional cooperation initiative to hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army and the U.S. provided 100 army personnel to support Uganda in this military campaign (although, two years on, Joseph Kony remains elusive).

But even with increased engagement in peace operations, questions remain about the quality and capability of African troops. Many African armies have pretty dismal track records in their own countries and are often poorly equipped and trained to deal with complex peace operations. Even Africa’s strongest armies have been found lacking. The decision by Pretoria to unilaterally intervene in the CAR, which resulted in the death of thirteen South African soldiers, led to an embarrassing political and military retreat by one of the continent’s stronger powers.

And while “African solutions” sound more legitimate, interventions by African states are often no less controversial than more international ones. For example, Ethiopia’s and Kenya’s interventions in Somalia in 2006 and 2011, respectively, were deeply problematicand had less to do with stabilising that country and more to do with their own national concerns. The sound principle that neighbouring countries with interests in Somalia should not be part of the African Union mission there was abandoned when the AU and UN agreed to re-hat (as part of AMISOM) Kenyan troops already in the country; Ethiopia is now seeking to do the same. One possible upside is that integration of both countries in AMISOM might force them to accept a more coordinated international role in helping to stabilise Somalia.

Similarly, there is great anxiety that Chad might use MISCA, the new AU-led mission in the CAR, to further its own regional ambitions following concerns that it may have been linked to the downfall earlier this year of CAR President François Bozizé. Neither Chad nor its neighbours weighed up the consequences of their African solution of essentially turning a blind eye to the Seleka rebel movement’s March 2013 coup. Today, Bangui and the entire country face a worsening security and humanitarian crisis.

Competing peacekeepers and peacemakers

Differences and competition among AU member states, between the continental and sub-regional bodies, and with multilateral actors have kept progress slow. The AU sees itself as Africa’s key interlocutor on peace and security, but it increasingly faces challenges to its authority, with member states seeking more immediate solutions and sub-regional bodies wanting to manage conflicts in their backyards. The Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), for example, want greater political and financial control over responses to conflicts in their region. While some felt humiliated by France’s decisive intervention in Mali, a core problem is that African states failed to act decisively because of disagreement among themselves: the AU and ECOWAS, still suffering a degree of distrust and mutual suspicion over their differences in handling the post-elections crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, competed over who was in charge; ECOWAS leaders were unclear about whether a military response was appropriate to address the twin problems of domestic crisis in Mali and transnational terrorism in the Sahel; Mali’s political leaders and the military junta were wary of an ECOWAS intervention; and neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania were not members of ECOWAS and did not share its views on military intervention. In Libya, the AU’s preference for an inclusive dialogue with Muammar Qadhafi and his opponents, as opposed to troop deployment, was stymied in arguably questionable circumstances when NATO chose to anoint the Arab League as its partner of choice in dealing with the Libyan uprising.

In its tenth anniversary year, the AU has become more assertive and wants to be the principle voice for Africa, but it has to balance this with its limitations and recognise there are other important, and equally strong-willed, actors. The AU wants to be treated as an equal partner by the UN Security Council, but, for a number of reasons, the permanent five council members want greater oversight and will not sacrifice their soldiers in African wars. Africanisation of peacekeeping has gradually increased since 2000 and took an innovative turn with UNAMID, the first hybrid (joint) AU-UN mission, in Darfur. The problems with the joint model have been widely acknowledged, even by the AU. Nevertheless, the UNSC, as well as the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, must realise that the international peacekeeping architecture has also failed to provide meaningful solutions to several crises and alternative thinking is required. In the DRC, the push by regional countries for an international intervention brigade to fight the rebel “March 23” (M23) movement was in part a response to fifteen years of failed UN peacekeeping (by MONUSCO) in eastern Congo, as well as frustration with Rwanda’s continued interference and President Kabila’s inability to govern his country. (Ironically, some African states, as well as the EU, U.S. and others, had turned a blind eye to his flawed electoral victory in 2011.) In the end, a combination of regional troops (mainly South African and Tanzanian), supported by MONUSCO and fighting alongside the Congolese army, defeated the M23 rebellion.

A new global division of labour

No single institution (or country) can address the numerous peace and security challenges on the continent; today a number of partnerships are required. Indeed, since the early 2000s, various divisions of labour, starting with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), have evolved among the AU, sub-regional organisations and the UN.

Probably the most intense partnership is AMISOM. African troops do most of the fighting and have suffered hundreds of casualties. Before the establishment of the United Nations Support for Somalia (UNSOA) in 2009, troops suffered from serious logistical deficits and were in no condition to challenge the extremist Islamist movement Al-Shabaab. Discussions about a potential UN peacekeeping operation seem to be off the table in part because the UN is not willing to do peace enforcement, which is essentially what AMISOM is undertaking, while the AU is willing to risk more casualties. The AU considers AMISOM an important step in building its own peacekeeping credentials, but sometimes it conveniently ignores the crucial role that UNSOA continues to play in sustaining its forces. UNSOA serves as a critical link between the AU and UN, which otherwise would pass each other by.

After fifteen plus years of varied bilateral and multilateral initiatives focused on strengthening Africa’s capacity to manage its own crises, there should be a clear-eyed review of what has been achieved and what can be made to work better. UN and AU relations have improved, at least in peacekeeping, though the UNSC’s failure to reform its membership structure and tensions over the ICC militate against this. Nonetheless, the UN’s decision to bolster its office to the AU (UNOAU) with an Under-Secretary General at its head is a significant step.

Today, complex conflicts — involving extremism, transnational crime, and asymmetrical tactics — require the AU, sub-regional bodies and the UN, together with partners such as the EU, to field robust, agile and decisive operations based on an integrated system of response among multiple actors. They should also invest greater effort in prevention, as the best means of effective conflict management is for conflicts not to break out. Indeed, Africa and its international partners need to ask themselves how they allowed the CAR, which displayed sufficient signs of fragility, to once again slide into chaos. Deploying troops may sometimes be important to avert a crisis, but this can only be a temporary measure and cannot replace the essential need to focus more on governance, development, institution-building and appropriate management of natural resources to enable sustained peace

The December summit cannot address all these concerns, and is not necessarily the forum to navigate complex relations between the AU and its partners. But beyond the usual diplomatic photo opportunity, the gathering at the ÉlyséePalace should provide an opportunity to talk seriously about the future of Africa’s peace and security architecture. The goal should not be finding African solutions but achieving better coordinated responses to specific conflicts, and ensuring the better practice of conflict prevention.

Soldiers of the Chinese Battalion of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), in Juba, South Sudan. China routinely deploys a squad of female peacekeepers with every infantry battalion. The PLA says the largest has been a group of 19 deployed to Mali. UN Mulitmedia
Commentary / Asia

China Expands Its Peace and Security Footprint in Africa

At the 2018 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, Beijing showcased an increasingly strategic approach to its defence relations with African countries and its role in managing challenges to peace and security on the continent.

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China’s growing engagement with African countries got a publicity boost on 3-4 September with the latest Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The triennial event brought leaders and officials from 53 African countries and the African Union (AU) to Beijing for meetings that culminated in a resolution to continue strengthening ties and a renewed pledge of billions of dollars in Chinese loans, grants and investments. Over the past decade China’s role in peace and security has also grown rapidly through arms sales, military cooperation and peacekeeping deployments in Africa. Today, through FOCAC and support to the AU and other mechanisms, China is making a growing effort to take a systematic, pan-African approach to security on the continent.

This rising role in security undergirds Beijing’s economic statecraft and commercial interests in Africa, helps professionalise China’s military and protect its citizens there, and furthers its ambitions to be a major power with global influence. The rapid pace of change is taking Chinese security policy practitioners into new territory. To avoid pitfalls for themselves and their African partners, they should deepen their expertise on local politics, societies and cultures, and the dynamics of conflict and its remedies; better monitor and modulate how China’s own engagement affects stability on the continent; and work more transparently with other governments, multilateral organisations and civil society to address problems.

Blue Helmets and Bases

In his address to the 2015 UN General Assembly, China’s President Xi Jinping offered $100 million in military assistance over five years to support the AU’s peace and security architecture through initiatives such as the African Standby Force and African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises. The 2015 FOCAC summit in South Africa reinforced this commitment. In Xi’s keynote address to this year’s forum and in its ensuing plan of action, China pledged to channel some of that funding into a China-Africa Peace and Security Fund, military assistance and 50 programs in law and order, peacekeeping, anti-piracy and counter-terrorism.

These FOCAC initiatives will build on an increasingly pervasive Chinese presence in Africa’s security sector, of which the most visible example is its growing participation in UN peacekeeping operations. Based on the UN’s formula for assessed funding, which considers China’s relative wealth and permanent member status on the Security Council, Beijing is now the second-largest contributor to the peacekeeping budget. Chinese personnel have served on missions in Africa for decades, but until 2013 they were small contingents in unarmed roles such as medical and engineering support. China now provides more personnel than any other permanent member of the Security Council – they numbered 2,506 as of September. This total is fewer than the leading troop contributors – Ethiopia, Rwanda, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan each provide upward of 5,000 – but still large. Chinese peacekeepers now serve in infantry, policing and other roles in Africa. With the end of China’s fourteen-year deployment with the UN Mission in Liberia in March, most are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sudan and South Sudan, where they have come under fire and taken casualties. As International Crisis Group described in its 2017 report, China’s Foreign Policy Experiment in South Sudan, the civil war in South Sudan also obliged China to nuance its avowed doctrine of non-interference to allow for more active roles in mediation and UN mandates to protect civilians – with the blessing of the AU and neighbouring countries.

Informed by those experiences, Beijing in 2015 set up a unique UN Peace and Development Trust Fund that the UN Secretariat manages. In 2016 and 2017, it allocated over $11 million for UN projects that include building African capacity to train police and soldiers for peacekeeping roles, regional operational analysis for peacekeeping missions and support for the AU’s initiative to “Silence the Guns” and end conflict in Africa. Last year, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) registered an 8,000-member standby force with the UN. While remaining at home in China, these troops have completed peacekeeping training and are available for operations. The UN says 800 of them will join its new Vanguard Brigade, a rapid response unit. Beijing also has committed to provide police and helicopter squads and demining assistance, and to train 2,000 foreign peacekeepers. Last fall, Chinese production companies even worked with the PLA’s Political Department to launch a new television series called “Peacekeeping Infantry Battalion”, to dramatise the lives of Chinese blue helmets in Africa. These initiatives reflect a welcome interest in reforming and improving UN peacekeeping.

A more controversial sign of China’s military footprint is the 36-hectare Djibouti facility that the PLA established in 2017 with a ten-year lease at $20 million annually. The PLA describes it as a support base for naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, peacekeeping in South Sudan and humanitarian and other cooperation in the Horn of Africa, but has also used it to conduct live-fire military exercises. In line with China’s 2015 defence white paper and counter-terrorism law, the Djibouti base enables the PLA to project force and protect Chinese citizens, supply chains and other interests in Africa and along its “Maritime Silk Road” across the Indian Ocean.

Less noticeable to outsiders but broader in impact is China’s direct defence and security cooperation with African counterparts.

With those objectives in mind, in May 2018 China began constructing additional pier facilities at Djibouti’s Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port, which it has also helped finance. Many of the security pledges under FOCAC will likely draw upon Djibouti as an operational launching pad for joint exercises and training. As its regional role expands, the PLA would do well to communicate and cooperate more transparently with others jostling for influence around the Red Sea. The U.S., France and Japan have long had bases in Djibouti; Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have bases in the Horn; Saudi Arabia also plans one; and Qatar and Turkey have both shown interest in developing Red Sea ports. For its part, India suspects, not unreasonably, that other Chinese bases could pop up along the Indian Ocean.

Defence and Security Relations

Less noticeable to outsiders but broader in impact is China’s direct defence and security cooperation with African counterparts. This takes place through a growing number of joint exercises, naval patrols and exchanges. In the first half of 2018 alone, the PLA Navy’s 27th and 28th anti-piracy escort task forces reportedly visited ports in Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria, while PLA units conducted drills in the same countries, and its medical teams did work in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Zambia. Mere months after Burkina Faso’s May decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, the PLA is already working to develop military ties that will likely emphasise counter-terrorism cooperation.

The first China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, held from 26 June to 10 July this year, marked a new, more formal and comprehensive level of dialogue. It brought senior military officers and officials from 49 African states and the AU to Beijing for discussions on regional security and military cooperation, and visits to PLA facilities for demonstrations of military equipment. Like FOCAC, it leveraged Beijing’s convening capacity to build personal connections, market Chinese hardware and position China as a supportive partner.

China clearly intends to continue increasing such engagement, including through military training. Its Africa policy paper of 2015 proposes inviting thousands of African military officers for workshops. On 30 August, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that it plans further cooperation with African countries on personnel training, logistics, peacekeeping, health care and relief operations. As these initiatives move forward, China’s Central Military Commission has expanded the remit and capacity of its Office for International Military Cooperation to manage them.

The 2018 FOCAC plan of action goes even further, calling for an ongoing China-Africa Peace and Security Forum and China-Africa Law Enforcement and Security Forum, and commits both sides to more intelligence sharing. It also pledges to support programs in consular services, immigration, justice and law enforcement, including running an annual anti-corruption course that aims to train 100 African officials by 2021. For police, there will be more exchanges, donations of equipment and training, and formalised engagement with the African Police Cooperation Organisation. Chinese – and wider Asian – demand for African wildlife and its products, particularly ivory, rhinoceros horn and pangolin, drives poaching, smuggling and trafficking, the profits from which often fuel violence and organised crime across the continent. China’s ivory import ban, which took effect on 1 January, was a welcome and long-overdue step, but it requires enforcement. FOCAC has helpfully added a three-year plan under Interpol to combat such activities.

As the FOCAC commitments note, China is complementing these cooperation mechanisms with more military assistance for the AU. In the first major disbursement from China’s $100 million commitment, it concluded an agreement in February to provide $25 million in military equipment for the AU’s logistics base in Cameroon. Beijing has also made small contributions to the AU’s mission in Somalia and to sub-regional organisations. Still, most military assistance flows directly to countries such as Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, where China also has significant commercial interests. A recent example is the $30 million training centre that China completed in February for Tanzania’s military at Mapinga.

The political and defence relationships fostered by these programs grease the wheels for weapons sales. Data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) shows that China has become the top supplier of arms to sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 27 per cent of the region’s imports over the four year period from 2013-2017, an increase of 55 per cent over 2008-2012. Some 22 countries in the region have procured major arms from Chinese suppliers in recent years, key among them Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia. In June, China’s State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence reported that Beijing now has defence industry, science and technology ties with 45 African countries. Given China’s particularly influential role in sales of small arms, light weapons and ammunition, it should do more to improve transparency, monitoring of end users, and cooperation with UN investigators to prevent those weapons from ending up in the wrong hands.

Drivers of Chinese Engagement

There are multiple reasons for China’s growing security role and perceived need for an overarching strategy. One is simply supply and demand: the swelling capacity of its military and industrial base, and African governments’ interest in its relatively affordable arms, flexible financing terms and comparatively unrestricted approach, including non-interference in matters such as governance and human rights.

China’s own expanding economic interests are a further driver. Africa’s largest trading partner since 2009, China increasingly counts on the continent for natural resources and markets to maintain its own growth and social stability. Its Belt and Road Initiative, which has metamorphosed into a global set of bilateral agreements to foster Chinese trade, investment and financing, first expanded into East Africa with infrastructure projects in Kenya and Ethiopia. The initiative is now open to the whole continent, and the Chinese are prospecting for opportunities in West Africa. As the new FOCAC plan indicates, that effort is stimulating Chinese concerns about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and terrorism in the Sahel, as well as discussion of building local capacity to counter them. Beijing intends that the security-related programs in the new action plan support the Belt and Road.

Geopolitical and propaganda priorities are a further impetus for Chinese engagement.

Moreover, roughly a million Chinese are estimated to live and work in Africa, and China’s leaders have a domestic political imperative to ensure their safety. Beijing has already contended with evacuations from Libya, South Sudan and Yemen, and incidents of violence and property damage elsewhere. The 2017 Chinese blockbuster action movie Wolf Warrior II brought home a Rambo-esque fantasy version of these concerns. Set in a nameless African country that descends into chaos, it closes with the hubristic message that China’s government will protect its citizens wherever they go.

Geopolitical and propaganda priorities are a further impetus. President Xi’s lofty foreign policy agenda requires portraying China as a major power that provides public goods and seeks to rebalance global governance and give greater voice to developing countries. FOCAC supports that narrative by showcasing China as a continental-scale partner that tends to support African positions in forums such as the UN Security Council – at least when it suits Chinese interests. Xi is also determined to modernise the PLA, and giving it expeditionary experience in diverse African environments advances that ambition.

Chinese Aid and Investment and African stability

China’s multilateral pledges to support African peace and security initiatives are welcome. But how much its overall footprint will contribute to improving stability is less certain. African conflicts’ multiple drivers include not only state weakness but also political exclusion, repressive leadership and politicised institutions. Chinese economic and political influence could exacerbate those dynamics, for example by deepening debt, enriching elites, widening disparities, fostering corruption and stifling dissent – whether or not that is the intent. Security sector cooperation risks transferring methods and technologies from Beijing’s authoritarian playbook, in which the law and its enforcers are instruments of party and state power rather than constraints on it. That might help African states impose order and control, but at the cost of progress on accountable governance and human rights. Optimally, China and its African partners would match their laudable 2018 FOCAC pledges with efforts to address these concerns. Chinese and other scholars working on Africa have already floated a number of options for doing so.

First, in line with the FOCAC pledge to increase training for non-military personnel and deepen academic exchanges, China should continue improving its knowledge, talent and analytical capacity on African peace and security issues, for example through extensive field research by scholars and more participation by civilian personnel in peacekeeping. For policy practitioners, this effort should include engagement with African and international experts and civil society representatives on topics such as conflict resolution, early warning, peacebuilding and response to complex emergencies. While such learning is likely to move the needle of Beijing’s policy only gradually, it could, over time, lead to Chinese engagement in Africa that supports the conflict prevention and resolution efforts of the UN, AU and regional bodies.

Second, the Chinese state could use its unique capacity to direct assistance, investments and loans to ensure they spread their benefits more widely, promote employment and corporate social responsibility and do not aggravate instability. The new China International Development Cooperation Agency established this spring could channel more assistance to challenges with security implications such as youth employment, climate change, public health and food security. China’s policy banks could effectively fulfil the 2015 FOCAC pledge to expand special loans for small and medium-sized enterprises in Africa from $1 billion to $6 billion. China’s law enforcement agencies could crack down on Chinese citizens involved in criminal activities such as illegal mining and trafficking.

Finally, China could engage more transparently and cooperatively with the full spectrum of actors involved in peace and security on the continent. As it widens channels to African governments, the UN and AU, it should do likewise with other governments, civil society and the media. When it comes to the U.S., Japan and non-governmental organisations, given current levels of mutual suspicion, such engagement may need to start with informal communication and incremental collaboration to build trust and familiarity. That might include sharing good practices on technocratic topics such as aid effectiveness, project implementation, and monitoring and evaluation.

If China’s stepped-up military cooperation only reinforces incumbents and strengthens African security forces, in particular repressive and authoritarian regimes, that alone is unlikely to make Africa more peaceful. Of course, China is hardly alone in making that mistake — some Western countries have much longer histories of doing so. But as Beijing’s influence grows, whether it uses its clout to nudge African leaders toward accommodation with rivals and addressing the grievances underpinning instability, or simply enables their entrenchment in office, will matter ever more.

 

This article was also published by China File.