Mail and Guardian Africa 9 October 2016
Regional economic communities should be able to respond quicker than the AU or UN given their proximity to the conflict.
Regional economic communities (Recs) are expected to play an active role in implementing the African Union’s (AU) peace and security architecture. At the same time, they often suffer from capacity constraints that prevent them from carrying out these roles.
A good example of this is the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).
Igad originated from regional attempts to address environmental challenges, such as drought. As it evolved, it increasingly looked at peace and security measures.
Significant progress has been made in this regard, but the Rec is currently in the process of adopting a new treaty as an institution. The treaty has been drafted and now needs to be adopted by the Council of Ministers and heads of state; but it remains to be seen whether or not there is political will to do so.
The new treaty presents a chance for the body to redefine itself to make it more efficient and effective; and to direct its strategic positioning. To do so, it needs to re-focus and streamline its efforts in areas where it can play a niche role in addressing root causes of conflicts. Igad should consider its comparative advantages in relation to other actors, primarily the AU – as outlined in a new policy brief by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
Igad has a variety of mechanisms to address peace and security challenges. Currently, the organisation has a well-developed early-warning system, namely the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (Cewarn).
Cewarn is expanding its geographical and thematic scope. It now encompasses five broad themes: security, governance, social, economic and environmental. Igad has also supported mediation processes in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and South Sudan. Its 2016-2020 Peace and Security Strategy now includes post-conflict reconstruction and development (PCRD), and in 2014, Igad adopted a specific PCRD strategy that focuses on issues such as women, youth, reconciliation and civil society engagement. This strategy, however, remains unimplemented.
Igad is limited by resource constraints; both financial and human. Its previous efforts have also been hampered by a history of mistrust and competition between member states. So what is its niche advantage, and what should it be focusing on?
Recs are arguably better equipped to deal with socio-cultural and political intricacies specific to their regions due to a better understanding of context. They are also often directly affected by crises, which could give them a greater legitimacy for intervening. It also means they have more at stake in finding a resolution. Ideally, they should also be able to respond quicker and more cost-effectively than actors such as the AU or United Nations given their proximity to the conflict.
Igad, like other Recs, does not have the capacity to respond across the conflict cycle, however, so how can it maximise its efforts? The ISS policy brief examines the challenges and opportunities for Igad to engage across the conflict spectrum: conflict prevention, mediation, peacekeeping and PCRD. It offers suggestions for enhancing linkages across the different elements of the conflict cycle.
Part of Igad’s challenge, as noted in the African Peace and Security Architecture 2016-2020 Roadmap (the AU’s strategy for its peace and security mechanisms), relates to differing understandings between the AU and Recs regarding key concepts, such as ‘comparative advantage,’ ‘complementarity’ and ‘subsidiarity’.
While the AU continues to play the role of facilitator and implementer in responding to conflict, including PCRD responses, some stakeholders interviewed during the course of the ISS research have argued that RECs should implement, while the AU coordinates. This would prevent a duplication of efforts and resources.
The AU will need to determine where the Recs are better positioned to implement responses, based on their own unique strengths and interests. Recs’ understanding of context is an advantage to other continental and international organisations. This may mean that in some cases, they are well placed to address ‘soft’ security issues, such as reconciliation, rather than ‘hard’ security issues, such as peacekeeping.
Turning challenges into opportunities does not always require many additional resources. For example, Cewarn’s extensive network is now increasingly making use of civil society to provide information, reports and analysis. How can Cewarn data be used to inform mediation strategies? Furthermore, how can this network be used to enhance PCRD responses, including reconciliatory measures, and engagement of traditional authorities, women and youth?
Igad has already overseen in the Civilian Capacities Initiative, coordinating the sending of neighbouring civil servants to South Sudan for long-term capacity building. This initiative arguably provided a model for governance functions to be supported by large-scale capacity deployment. According to this line of thinking, it also creates capacity in the region to mitigate reservations over external support, and is a platform for results to be demonstrated in the development of plans and policies that ensure national ownership of the programme.
A number of lessons can be drawn from this experience. Igad could continue moving ahead by focusing on women and youth, and engagement with traditional authorities. The REC should also consider developing a database of its countries’ abilities to provide technical assistance across different areas in order to refine areas of expertise. Such information would have to be shared and linked with the AU PCRD unit via its African Solidarity Initiative, which also aims to provide technical assistance to countries recovering from conflict.
Views on Igad’s exact peace and security role will no doubt differ across member countries – and even across different members of the secretariat and its programmes. This may also vary from what is expected by the AU. Frank and realistic discussions are the only way a true partnership can be built. Igad cannot be expected to do everything; but it also needs to realise its own limitations.
Igad needs to be supported in efforts to drive conflict prevention and addressing root causes of conflict, which will ultimately cost less than the traditional fire-fighting approach of dealing with conflicts as they arise.
The Rec can play a major role in enhancing peace in the horn of Africa, but needs to define and focus its attention where it can have the biggest impact. The path to peace won’t be easy, and for responses to be as effective as possible, honest partnerships drawing on comparative advantages must be formed, including between the AU and Igad.
Amanda Lucey is Senior Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Division at ISS Pretoria