Which Way for Africa's Truce Bid?

Published on 6th March 2007

UN peacekeeping was established at a time when war was fought between nations as opposed to a state and its citizens. UN Peacekeeping is primarily concerned with maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state through the deployment of lightly armed multinational forces, mandated to observe and maintain ceasefire agreements among former combatants.

After Liberia’s 1997 elections, a UN peace-building operation established to coordinate post conflict programs to assist Liberia in its post war reconstruction phase failed as it was inadequately resourced, mandated, and insufficiently intrusive to engender reconstruction in a meaningful way. Furthermore, domestic actors including NGOs and civil society groups were not effectively included in building peaceful peace-building operations in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau were fraught with slow and uncoordinated DDR programs, under funded demobilizing programs and lack of internal resources necessary for economic reconstruction as well as, training for both Sierra Leone’s and Guinea-Bissau’s security forces.

The UN’s peacekeeping failures in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia, coupled with its failed peace-building missions discussed above, became the impetus for the UN to begin to rethink its approach to peace operations. Lakdhar Brahimi, then Chairman of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations issued a report in August 2000 to begin reworking UN peace operations. The Brahimi Report addressed the UN’s shortcomings in peace-building.

In December 2005, the UN adopted a resolution establishing its Peace-building Commission to coordinate integrated responses to post-conflict zones by focusing on post-conflict recovery, reconstruction, institutional building, and sustainable development. Though a bold step in the right direction, the Commission is weakly mandated as it does not maintain an enforcing mechanism that could compel nations to act on its recommendations. This obstacle does not improve the capacity of African states and other states to rebuild in the aftermath of war.

Two lessons can be learned here: First, the UN is only as efficient as its member states allow it to be. Therefore, it is not in the best interest of Africa to continue to rely so heavily on the UN for peace-building and post war reconstruction support. Second, and in my view the most important, the focus of the UN’s peace-building missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau were too narrow in scope by focusing heavily on military solutions like DDR activities, and not enough on development or economic solutions. Building peace cannot be viewed from a strictly military perspective. Economic, military, or political solutions used to resolve conflict cannot be de-coupled. The UN cannot assume such a task all by itself, nor can states that take the lead to negotiate peace agreements.

Africa has not been considered relevant on the international stage but this is changing as its relevance to the war on terror, energy security, and increased integration into the global market vis-à-vis China begins to unfold. African leaders should mobilize internal economic solutions to build peace for history has proven that open political and economic systems contribute to stability. It behooves African leaders to use policy to build peace. It is in Africa’s best interest, for her leadership to conceptualize peace-building as something not separate from other political processes, or as a reaction to instability, but as an ongoing process to achieve and maintain stability even when relative stability exists.

Options for Africa

Nozizwe Madala-Routledge and Sybert Liebenberg in Developmental Peacekeeping: What are the advantages for Africaargue that peace interventions have failed in Africa because they ignore the economic dimensions of African conflict. Illustrated by Liberia, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, DRC, Sudan and other African countries the causes of conflict, civil strife, and full blown war in Africa, are directly or indirectly related to the control, accessibility, and distribution of economic resources. Because peace operations heavily focus on short term military solutions instead of development or economic solutions, they have failed to produce sustainable solutions for African conflict.

UN peace operations are deployed to support ceasefire agreements while peace is negotiated. After the negotiation and signing of peace agreements, long lapses of time follow before actual reconstruction begins. In Africa, the primary focus of these missions have been DDR programs and in some instances elections. As a result, peace operations have lacked the "capacity and focus to dismantle conflict systems." These systems are driven by political dynamics that have allowed African leadership a disproportionate amount of control over economic resources and political position. Their control over economic resources has frustrated and marginalized entire peoples and regions, making the option for armed rebellion more probable.

Addressing the potential for a relapse in conflict or war, Madala-Routledge and Liebenberg recommend a simultaneous deployment of peacekeeping forces and peace-building teams. In so doing, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and peace-building are all rolled into one process. Their approach calls for military personnel for peacekeeping operations and civilian personnel to man development teams. Development teams consist of economists, civil engineers, public development managers and policy developers. The model assigns the role of analyzing social and economic indicators to development teams which provide assessments for an integrated post war reconstruction plan. Because peacekeeping and peace-building teams are deployed simultaneously, plans devised for reconstruction can be implemented immediately after peace has been negotiated. Ideally, this would decrease the likelihood of a re-emergence of war or conflict.

Madala-Routledge and Liebenberg find public works programs the most feasible avenue for restoring economic activity necessary to reconstruct war torn states. This is because the programs utilize local human, natural, and economic resources to restore vital services including water, electricity and communications systems as well as rebuild infrastructure. Public works programs could be used to reintegrate former combatants at a faster rate than reintegration efforts through employment. Essentially, public works programs could serve as a catalyst for economic growth after the initial reconstruction phase. Implementing these programs would require a reorientation of policy making in war torn African states and active inclusion of the civil society and private sector in the peace-building process.

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