Search for African solutions to African problems

How can the African Union (AU) work to better prevent violent conflicts on the continent and resolve existing conflicts? What support should the outside world give to the AU peace work?

Those questions were discussed by over 90 participants at a conference, or research and policy dialogue as we chose to call it, that AU and FBA recently arranged together. The conference was held at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bringing together researchers and practitioners working on peace, security and conflict prevention in Africa. In addition to staff from FBA and AU, representatives of various AU member countries, important donor countries and think tanks participated.

FBA’s cooperation with the AU was established in 2016 when the Swedish government decided on a new strategy for Sweden’s regional development cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa. The strategy is valid until 2021, and the FBA, together with Sida, has the task of working with it. FBA’s mission is primarily to strengthen the capacity of regional organizations such as the AU to work for peace in Africa.

The conference was an important part of our support for the AU. One of the many interesting discussions was that conflict prevention is so complicated that national efforts rarely suffice. Regional cooperation is required to prevent and solve today’s conflicts. Here, the AU and the other regional organizations in Africa have a responsibility to make this work in practice and the division of labor between them needs to be clarified.

The conference also featured research showing that when a conflict erupts in an African country, generally, mediators coming from the continent are better off than mediators who do not come from Africa. This may be due to the fact that a mediator who is perceived to be “an outsider” is not attributed the same legitimacy as a mediator from another country in the same region. However, mediators, regardless of descent, which are perceived as partial, rarely succeed in their mediation role. In order to succeed as peace brokers, you need to know the specific context, but at the same time, can not be perceived as too close to the conflict itself, or even as a party to it. This is a further argument for the AU playing a heavy role in peace efforts in Africa – and that the AU must be strategic when appointing its mediators.

Furthermore, it was discussed that mediators are more likely to succeed if they have a support of team of experts who can advise on important issues. The team should also represent different parts of society in order to gain greater legitimacy and to be as successful as possible. It is for example important that women are included in peace talks.

Traditionally, the AU has primarily appointed former presidents and ministers in African countries as mediators. Almost everyone has been men. AU should work for greater diversity in mediation teams, and be equally strategic when appointing expert teams to support the organization’s peace mediators, as when appointing the mediators themselves.

So what’s up now? Well, the AU will bring along the important lessons from the conference in its work. And FBA will still be there as a partner to AU and support AU in the development of their conflict prevention work. Yet another conclusion from the conference – the support of the outside world is important. But the solutions must come from within.

 

 

Emma Skeppström, writer of this article, is project manager for FBA’s work on Sweden’s strategy for regional development cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa. She has previously worked on FBA’s security sector reform programs. She has also worked as security policy analyst with focus on the Horn of Africa, especially in Somalia.

This article, first published at fba-bloggen.se, was translated from Swedish by Nordic Africa News

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