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The Problems with “African Solutions”
The Problems with “African Solutions”
Improving Prospects for Peace in South Sudan at the African Union Summit
Improving Prospects for Peace in South Sudan at the African Union Summit
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.


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.


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.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, participate in a peace meeting in khartoum on 25 June 2018 ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP
Statement / Africa

Improving Prospects for Peace in South Sudan at the African Union Summit

Talks between President Salva Kiir and former First Vice President Riek Machar in the Sudanese capital Khartoum offer the only, albeit slim, hope of a breakthrough in South Sudan’s brutal civil war. African leaders should offer cautious support during the Nouakchott AU summit.

On 27 June 2018, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former First Vice President Riek Machar, the principal adversaries in South Sudan’s civil war, signed a Declaration of Agreement in Khartoum. The declaration does not resolve major points of contention between the two leaders, deferring them to talks which are ongoing in the Sudanese capital. Moreover, nearly five years of mediation and a 2015 peace deal have failed to end South Sudan’s brutal civil war. Circumspection as to whether the Khartoum negotiations can do so is thus warranted. But for now, those talks offer the only hope, however slim, of a breakthrough. The African Union’s Peace and Security Council, and the leaders of Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda, who have been involved in past rounds of negotiations, should use their meetings on 30 June in Nouakchott, Mauritania to lend the Khartoum talks cautious support, while laying out clearly what they expect from next steps and the measures they would take against parties obstructing progress.

The 27 June Khartoum Declaration, brokered by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, has three primary objectives. First is a “permanent ceasefire”, coming into effect on 30 June. This will be monitored by the parties themselves, with African forces invited to “supervise” it. Secondly, the parties promised to sign a “Revised Bridging Proposal” to form a new transitional government and revise security arrangements defined in the last peace deal, the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan. This bridging proposal sets the stage for a three-year transitional period; negotiations in Khartoum over its provisions are proceeding on the basis of a draft circulated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Horn of Africa regional body leading mediation efforts. Thirdly, the declaration provides for Sudan to work “in collaboration and coordination” with its southern neighbour to secure and rehabilitate oil fields in the former Unity state.

Nearly five years of mediation and a 2015 peace deal have failed to end South Sudan’s brutal civil war.

Machar, who has been allowed to leave his nearly two-year confinement in South Africa for the talks, hopes to assume his prior position as first vice president. The government rejects his return to South Sudanese politics. The deal reportedly on offer for Machar is the freedom to live in another African country but stay out of South Sudan, while his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army – In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) faction would enjoy representation in the new cabinet and other transitional bodies. IGAD has not communicated its final position with regard to Machar.

There are good reasons to regard the declaration with scepticism. The last cessation of hostilities between the parties, which was endorsed by both Kiir and Machar in December 2017, broke down quickly. Moving from the declaration’s vague terms to details on transitional arrangements and power-sharing will be no small feat. Parties could easily revert to their previously deadlocked positions. Machar himself would need to be compelled to relinquish his political role in South Sudan; thus far he has rejected doing so. Other opposition leaders would need to believe the agreement served their interests and that they cannot hold out for a better deal hoping that IGAD leaders’ positions change or U.S. antipathy towards Kiir, which has been growing, works in their favour. For his part, Kiir and his supporters still need to grant a share of power to their rivals and accept rebels’ integration into the security forces on terms that are similar to those they have rejected in the past. Even were the parties to reach a more comprehensive deal on paper, enforcing their compliance in practice would likely prove an uphill struggle.

Moving from the [Khartoum] declaration’s vague terms to details on transitional arrangements and power-sharing will be no small feat.

That said, Bashir’s mediation, endorsed by other IGAD leaders, counts several points in its favour. The threat of a UN arms embargo and UN and AU sanctions against South Sudanese leaders if talks fall apart hangs over the parties. IGAD’s impatience with those leaders is mounting, as is pressure from other African leaders and donors on the regional body to secure a deal. Clear economic dividends for the South Sudanese parties are on the table, namely the revenue from renewed oil production and, potentially, from improved foreign relations; indeed, the agreement with Sudan on the oil fields played a large part in motivating the parties to sign the declaration. Lastly, China, which enjoys leverage as South Sudan’s most significant economic partner, would benefit from the declaration’s provisions on oil production, providing parties further incentive to reach and honour an agreement.

Meetings of the AU Peace and Security Council, and of Algeria, Chad, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda (the non-IGAD African states, collectively known as the C5, that have been involved in the South Sudan mediation) – both at the level of heads of state – will take place on 30 June during the Nouakchott AU summit. Those meetings offer African leaders an opportunity to express cautious support for the Khartoum process, pressure parties to adhere to the 30 June ceasefire and nudge them toward a more comprehensive agreement. Next steps should include:

  • African leaders, including the heads of state of IGAD (notably those of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and President Bashir himself) and of non-IGAD member Egypt, given Cairo’s ties to Juba, should push the South Sudanese parties to negotiate and reach a peace agreement that ensures multi-party governance at national and sub-national level. They should signal the Peace and Security Council will impose punitive measures if the ceasefire is violated or progress at talks in Khartoum stalls;
  • During their 30 June meeting, the Algerian, Chadian, Nigerian, South African and Rwandan, or C5, heads of state should commit to more consistent diplomatic engagement on South Sudan, including regular conversations with South Sudanese leaders and their IGAD counterparts;
  • AU members should discuss – and call for further meetings with IGAD to clarify – the mandate, reporting lines and financing of African forces invited to “supervise” the ceasefire and how these forces relate to IGAD's Ceasefire and Transitional Security Monitoring Mechanism which is currently monitoring on the ground;
  • IGAD should establish the new South Sudanese-led ceasefire monitoring body provided for in the declaration and ensure it includes all parties. This would allow security actors ranging from the most senior to local commanders to communicate regularly and act quickly if clashes break out;
  • IGAD should clarify its position on Riek Machar and, irrespective of Machar’s status, guarantee his SPLM/A-IO faction representation in transitional arrangements, including the government and local authorities as well as the South Sudanese-led ceasefire monitoring body;
  • IGAD leaders should pledge to closely monitor and publicly report on compliance with whatever deal is struck, including by personally intervening in the event of violations to minimise risks of a gradual breakdown, as occurred in 2015-2016; such pledges also would help build donor confidence in IGAD’s commitment to the process;
  • The UN Security Council should extend by one month its deadline for considering an arms embargo and/or sanctions in the event of continued fighting or parties’ failure to reach agreement – from 30 June to 30 July. If at that time parties have broken the ceasefire or shown little progress toward a deal it should consider imposing those punitive actions; and
  • The AU Peace and Security Council and UN Security Council should take the opportunity of their joint meeting on 19 July to coordinate their efforts on South Sudan and potentially issue a joint communiqué.

The Khartoum declaration and the negotiations ongoing in the Sudanese capital leave much room for doubt. Many South Sudanese would prefer a deal that reflects their aspirations rather than divvying up power and resources among those most responsible for the war plaguing their country. But, at least for now, there is no viable alternative. The choice is not between this process and a better one, but between it and none at all. Besides, while the broad contours of a deal – power sharing between warring groups – are clear, the Khartoum declaration’s ambiguous language means the AU and those African leaders involved in the mediation may still be able to shape a settlement that serves the interests of South Sudan’s population by reducing the instability and violence wracking their country. The Khartoum talks offer at best a slender hope, but one that the AU and African leaders should pursue.