The need for elaborate peace and security architecture in Africa
Alex de Waal (Prof.) is Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School. Considered one of the foremost experts on Sudan and the Horn of Africa, his scholarship and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, HIV/AIDS and governance in Africa, and conflict and peace building. Professor de Waal received a D.Phil. from Oxford for his thesis on the 1984-1985 Darfur famine in Sudan. He worked for several Africa-focused human rights organizations, focusing on the Horn of Africa, and especially on avenues to peaceful resolution of the second Sudanese Civil War. He also researched the intersection of HIV/AIDS, poverty and governance, and initiated the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa. De Waal was a fellow at the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-2006), and Program Director at the Social Science Research Council. He was a member of the African Union mediation team for Darfur (2005-2006) and senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan (2009-2012). He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009. Last week, he was in Addis Ababa to attend the release of “African Peace, African Politics” where he caught up with Yemane Nagish of The Reporter to discuss the geopolitics of the continent with special focus on East Africa. Excerpts:
The Reporter: What are the key findings of the “African Peace, African Politics” report, which your organization released recently?
Alex de Waal (PhD): First let me explain why the AU commissioned this report to WPF. Actually there has never been a comprehensive independent report of the African Union peace missions, political missions and the military peacekeeping operations. That has never happened before since the establishment of the AU in 2002. As far as UN peacekeeping operations are concerned, the last review was conducted in 1992 with a bilateral agreement with the AU. And in the period from 2002 till now, peace operations have been changed radically; the number has grown, they become much more diverse, much more ambitious and a lot of other issues have arisen.
So, members of the UN Security Council and General Assembly have decided to put together a high-level independent organ to review the UN Peace operations. More than 80 percent of the UN peacekeeping operations and more than 80 percent of the UN PK project are on Africa. So, the commissioner for P&S of the African Union asked us to be part of the UN peace-keeping review and do some sort of a summary for the AU. So, we the WPF took on the role of directing the project with a support from donors. This is the main report but if you go to the website you will see more than 20 reports, reports of meetings.
To mention one of the key findings of the report, since the Transition of OAU to AU, the number of conflicts has declined but the report also says that it has now started to increase. What do you make of that trend and the turning point?
In Africa as a whole, the number of conflicts and the reality of the conflicts per se had started to decline since the 1990s. There were a number of reasons and factors for this. Generally speaking, one of the factors is the end of the cold war. The others are factors which are internal to Africa. What we saw is that, in the 1990s, the international community abandoned Africa. Africa was really neglected. There were a series of key events in the 1990s with positive and negative impacts on the neglected continent.
The positive events include the possibility for many African countries to resolve their internal problems. As governments which were backed by Soviet Union, for example Ethiopia, and others by the US has started to collapse. Then the democratization process started take root in African countries including Ethiopia.
In other countries, the global support led to other crises; for example Somalia collapsed entirely; Rwanda was subjected to genocide and other events in Congo, Sudan, and Sierra Leone. So, a number of key events happened like the Genocide in Rwanda where the UN was reluctant to act. And African leaders were faced with a dilemma to either fix it by themselves or not. Hence, the idea “African Solutions for African problems” arose. A number of African leaders of that time like Tabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo began to promote the idea of a more organized African peace security architecture to resolve African conflicts and particularly elements of the peace and security architecture like the Peace and Security Council and the African Stand by Force etc. Fundamentally, it was the normative political agenda; it was a principled political agenda.
The AU was not just founded as mechanisms to solve African problems. It was also founded to promote fundamental principles; such as Constitutional Democracy, such mass participation and inclusion, such as collaboration and cooperation among member states. So, one of the reasons that underlined the process of giving life to the African Union is its origin which goes back not only to the OAU but back to the pan-African movement. So, the African Union is animated by these fundamental principles of HR, Democracy and principles of cooperation. Hence, when we talk about the primacy of the political agenda, we are talking not just about politicians getting together to solve problems but about finding political solutions that are driven by these particular norms and principles. You can solve a war by just getting the warring parties together to make an agreement but you cannot solve the war in a politically principled manner unless it’s recommended by principles of democracy, human rights and the inclusion of all parties. That is where the role of the AU is distinctive.
In the light of these principles that the AU was founded on, one of the key findings of the report is the need to ensure the primacy of politics and the ownership of African Agendas. Is it really realistic to recommend the AU to have supremacy over its agendas while it’s not financially independent and that most of its funding for its projects is still sourced from the outside world?
This is a very key point. If you are not financially independent or autonomous, you can’t be expected to be politically independent and free. And one of the weaknesses of the African Union has been ensuring financial freedom, which has been exacerbated by the problems. At times when some countries like Libya are not contributing, the financial problem worsens. The financial problem has also been exacerbated by AU’s ambitious peacekeeping operations.
For example, the peace operation in Somalia is very expensive. It has been financed mostly by the EU. So, with economic dependency comes serious political challenge. The decision taken at the AU summit in Kigali to set effective and reliable internal source of finance for peace operations is very relevant. If it’s properly implemented, it has the potential to transform the African Union fundamentally making it more effective. Related to that is the proposal that is made jointly by the AU and the US specifically to peacekeeping operations which states that AU member states should cover 25 percent of the cost while rest is left to members of the UN. This makes much more reliable and independent funding. That is US’s proposal for which the bigger fund provider is expected to be the US government itself. Well, we can see the impact of the lack of reliable sources of finance for the AU in several incidents the most obvious being the case of Libya.
The AU has a very reasonable and good political proposal on the table; but it was not perused effectively partly because of the money and partly because of public diplomacy which is needed to do the job. As a result, AU’s proposal was ignored.
Regarding the situation in the Middle East and particularly the crises in Yemen and the Arab Coalition created and led by Saudi Arabia, do you think there might be a similar danger that could affect the geopolitical settings in the East African Region?
Yes! I think we shall see a similar danger that we see in places where you have conflicts in the Middle East; that is a highly volatile threat for the Horn of Africa. The escalating war in Yemen has already begun to affect the politics of the Middle East. You have the Saudis, the Emirates and Qatar becoming involved in Eritrea and Djibouti and Somalia.
The way the Gulf cooperation is perusing a military solution to the crises in Yemen indicates that it is not much more interested in democratization and resolving of the conflicts in democratic political principles. This very problem is being introduced into the Horn and the broader region of Africa.
And do you see a rivalry taking place in the Gulf and the Red sea region following the Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Ethiopia and other East African countries during this critical time?
I knew the Emirates are there; they are using the Assab Port as a military base. I also see other strategic issues in the region; the cooperation between Israel and Egypt is high at time. They don’t publicly talk about it but actually Israel and Egypt are on the same page; Israel is politically sympathetic to Egypt and the Saudis. So, I don’t see an Arab-Israeli conflict as a major issue in the region. I think the most serious problem is the Saudi-Iran conflict. Let us take the conflict between the Saudi and their Muslim brothers and the responses by Qatar and Turkey. In fact, I don’t know how politics is being played in Turkey. However, Qatar and Turkey have been highly investing in Somalia. The Saudis, the Emirates and the Egyptians are more worried about Turkish and Qatari blocks in the region. So, there is a competition in Somalia between these two Arab blocks, Arab-Islamic blocks.
One of the imputations for that is the way they conduct the politics which is quite a monetized politics. So, the Somali election process, which is coming very soon, is one way various countries have been putting money in Somalia and the dangers is for Ethiopia and also probably for Kenya; but most importantly for Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has been investing in particular political interest in Somalia, which has been supporting its army. That’s very expensive. But, the political outcome may be something that is not very palatable to Ethiopia because Somali politics is driven more by money than by military power. And Ethiopia can’t bear it financially. And looking into the Eritrea situation, I would say Ethiopian policy in the last ten years has been one of isolating Eritrea in the region and also from the UN financially, politically etc. That is very effective. Eritrea was basically economically and politically isolated from the globe, diplomatically shocked.
The problem with the Ethiopian policy was that once they achieved the isolation in the last five years, which it did very effectively, it didn’t have a follow-up to maintain Eritrea in that position of weakness and isolation. The major shock came to the policy because it has no contingencies when circumstances change. And circumstances have been changing in the last couple of years with war in Yemen and interest of the Saudi and Emirates in the Red Sea. That has been an escape-goat for Eritrea.
Isaias is affiliating himself with the gulf cooperation in the region both militarily and financially. In the long run, he needs the AU or the IGAD; he can’t rely on his connections with the Arab world and rebound. And Ethiopia has not had a proactive policy vis-a-vis the neighborhood or the Arab world which is not properly contained. This has been a big problem with the African Union. AU’s peace and security architecture and policy has been much more internally focused. The Gulf and the Arab counties can invest money.
AU’s policy doesn’t say security problems from Europe and from the Arab countries could or are coming to Africa. And so, one of the recommendations of this report is there must be a mechanism of political cooperation by which African political agenda and political process is applied to resolve the conflict vis-à-vis the Arab world. That meant that the AU needs to have a peace and security architecture that recognizes Assab, plus and one of the most important ones is that the AU needs to have a neighborhood policy with the Arab countries and the EU. This framework should describe the issues that the Arabs are being engaged with in the Red Sea Region and EU’s involvement with the refugee situation in the same neighborhood.
Coming back to domestic politics, what is your take regarding the current political tendency in Ethiopian preferably described as a democratic-developmental sate policy?
Well, these subjective factors matter in a country. I think one of the most fundamental lessons is taken from an era, about which the late PM Meles talked a lot about, where Taiwan and South Korea achieved development some 30 and 40 years ago. That is an era in which development can precede without democratic involvement. But, one of the key lessons about political legitimacy in the current era is consultation with the people. People feel that the government is legitimate to their consult ation. There are clear gaps in terms of consultation in Ethiopia.
The statute mechanism of consultation is empowerment; people do not feel that they are represented or consulted through that. The party mechanisms clearly announce that it is succeeding in doing that. So, in separate Ethiopian people are objectively losing power or subjectively feeling that they are not represented; they have concerns simply of not being articulated in the political arena.
Well, the government believes it garners full support of the public claiming that it has managed clear majority in the parliament in the last election. In fact, the ruling party EPRDF and its affiliates took all the seats in HPR. Doesn’t this result in contradicting your assertions?
I think the election of political representatives for constituents is one method of democracy. Ethiopia has emerged as a dominant party system. You can only be an effective democratic system in a very uncertain and turbulent world where there are mechanisms of accountability and mechanisms of representations. Difficulties of free expressions; difficulties of consultation are evident of this country.
Let me put it in another way. It is usually unlikely for one party to dominate for fully functioning multiparty system. When one party, competing with others in multiparty system, becomes completely dominant for long period of time the mechanisms of accountability, democratic representation and the chance for democratic change within the party itself starts to wither away. It becomes a party of rent-seeking, frankly. And in order to avoid that, you need to have a system of renewal within the party. If Ethiopia is not going to move towards a competitive multi-party system and it is then moving to the opposite direction; towards a dominant party system, then within the party itself, it needs to include every point of view and needs to have a diversity of political views. There is a real sense of political competition in the party selection process.
Now, you have got a couple of problems. One is the dominant party system. The other is the extent that there are diverse opinions extensively expressed on the bases of nationality rather than on the bases of political tendencies; these are serious problems.
In light of what you have said, where do you think is the system heading to?
I think the natural dynamics of a system like this which would regard Ethiopia as a rapidly growing, economically developing country with a political economic oligarchy and limited economic competition, the system can be said to be developing to a more or less oligarchic system; it is slightly resembling country and systems like Mubarek’s Egypt or Tunisia where there are a considerable level of corruption. You will still get high level of economic growth and accounts of the state which delivers economic distribution. But, it would be fairly constitutional oligarchy, where power accumulated within a certain groups. That is what you would expect. So, it is a system which espoused democracy and authoritarianism with the role of the military becoming important in the economy and in the politics.
Let me take you back to the time when the current incumbent was waging armed struggle. What was your impression when you first met leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), including the late PM Meles Zenawi?
I think the most impressive thing I learned about Tigray during the struggle days was the extent to which the struggle had social and political agenda, which was actively and seriously debated. And so, it was an attempt not just to liberating the country from Derg but actually using the armed struggle itself to pursue a transformational agenda. I thought this was an impressive and inspiring thing. And it meant when the EPRDF took power, it took power with a sense of self-confidence; intellectual and political self-confidence via which they can pursue an authentic agenda that it had already developed itself within and it didn’t need to take agendas from elsewhere.
It was a collective learning period; to learn from the struggle, from self-reflection and from the study. The party continued to be an open-ended learning organization. By the time the party lost that ability, Meles tried to do it in an isolated manner, which is manifested in the way he began to develop and implement the agenda of Democratic Developmental State in 2001. He was a formidable political and intellectual powerhouse on his own but he was not able to see the organization as a whole. He didn’t engage the others in the collective learning process like he had done during the struggle days. So, the style of learning became very different; instructive rather than the EPRDF-style learning.
In one of your articles, “The Theory and Practice of Meles Zenawi”, you put a statement, which reads “Meles was not interested in the trappings of power, only in what could be done with it”. Was he really different from African statesmen of his time?
Well, I mean the house maiden was personally modest. He didn’t have personal cult which he didn’t cultivate personality, he didn’t want to see his picture around. And there are only a few leaders like this in the continent. Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is a good example; intellectually focused on political agenda rather than personality. And one of the features of EPRDF, even today, you don’t see personality cult. The Corruption in this country is not on the style of its neighbors.
Finally, I need your comment on the current situation in South Sudan. You have been following the case for a long time. The National Unity government is finally in place but there still is fighting in Juba. What do you make of that?
The peace agreement that was signed in August last year had a very fundamental flaw. The fundamental flaw is that it essentially turnsed the clock back to the day before the war broke in December 2013. And I assume that it would be possible for the political problems and structural governance problems that cause the war to be solved by the modest part of the peace agreement. Let me explain it. I would say that there are three reasons as to why that war broke out. One is the political rivalry between a numbers of different people in South Sudan.
It was not just Salva Kiir and Riek Machar; many people were competing for power. Those issues need to be resolved in the peace agreement; they have not. The government of national unity just brought together the two parties and shared power. This was the situation they were in before; they share power but they didn’t resolve the real problem; the issue behind power sharing. And they didn’t address that at the party level, SPLM. The reason why the conflict was not resolved is that it was a strategy that Salva Kiir has been adopting for managing political competition within the politicians. You can also call it inclusive corruption.
Everyone was going to enrich themselves from the national income; from the oil. The problem was that money was running out. So, when the revenue is very high, people could be happy; they could just work to enrich themselves. When the money was running low, the competition loom down to the political arena since it was only those in the direct circle of power who are able to access the wealth during those times. So, the economies were critical.
Between 2005 and 2012, there was a lot of money. The money began to dry up because it was all missing because of the collapse of oil prices. And the war crises were going on. The peace agreement didn’t address that problem. Another third aspect is that the SPLM was fundamentally an army; an army that was not professionally integrated. It’s a group of ethnic militias; each of the seven hundred generals has their own units. And these units are unique in constituting their own ethnic group. And there was no successful integration of these units into a single command-control structure with a single preamble.
When a political dispute could not be handled politically, there was always a danger that it would turn into military. And within the military, it would turn into tribal conflict. So, the dispute was not fundamentally an ethnic dispute.
Now, the problem with the peace agreement is that that it didn’t resolve that; it simply promised to resolve that problem and brought back the forces of Machar into Juba. So, it gave the security of the capital city to the ethnic forces of the two contingencies, of course now in war, even more bitterly divided without the mechanisms of resolving that issue. So, the peace agreement simply went back to the situation when the war was broke without resolving the reasons for the war. So, the political crisis is deeper. War is inevitability; it was just a question of when it will start. The immediate challenges now are how to curb the human consequences. The AU has committed to support a regional force caring to protect civilians, which is a correct decision.
The AU undertakes a commission of investigation, which was released last year, found that during the war crime against humanity was committed. Now, it is the same political actors with the same army conducting the war in the same way. So, anyone who seizes power this time will be in the same position to commit crimes against humanity and even worse. So, the problem in South Sudan can only be resolved when it is maintained by a political process to resolve that fundamental issues. And the current political leadership in South Sudan is incapable of doing that much more inclusive political negotiation.