Saturday, March 31, 2012

Africa: African Solutions to African Problems Should Be More Than Just a Cliché

Source: ISS

African Solutions to African Problems Should Be More Than Just a Cliché

Solomon A. Dersso, Senior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Addis Ababa

Although the political ideal of ‘African solutions to African problems’ continues to inform the policies and perspectives of the African Union (AU) and regional bodies, there is little clarity as to what exactly it entails. There is no doubt that this ideal has achieved some prominence in the discourse on security on the continent, so much so that it is being turned into a cliché. Because its prominence is not matched by a shared understanding of what it means, African solutions to African problems has come to mean different things to different people. While this lack of clarity has bolstered the position of sceptics of this ideal, it also tends to create disillusion among its supporters.

As a starting point, it is important to note that although this ideal achieved its current status in the context of the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the AU, it is much older in African political thought. The essence of African solutions to African problems was formulated as far back as 1967 in the well-known Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui’s seminal work, Towards a Pax Africana. In the words of Mazrui, ‘Pax Africana asserts that the peace of Africa is to be assured by the exertions of Africans themselves.’

In the context of the transformation of the OAU to the AU, what led to the elevated status of this ideal was the reluctance of the international security system to adequately respond to African crises.

First and foremost, African solutions to African problems is essentially, therefore, an issue of self-determination. It seeks to bestow upon Africa, as a matter of principle, the lead role not only in the analysis, understanding and definition of the peace and security challenges facing the continent but also in the formulation and implementation of solutions that are properly tailored to respond to the specific conditions and needs of those affected. It is an ideal that accords Africa both ownership of and a stake in the process for resolving the problems facing the continent.

A related element of ‘African solutions to African problems’ involves agency and responsibility. It insists that Africa’s role should go beyond reacting to incidents and outside initiatives but assumes a more proactive role. This also means that Africa should assume responsibility for the challenges and problems facing the people of the continent. As such the ideal of ‘African solutions to African problems’ locates the sources of African crisis primarily in African hands. It thus draws attention to the poverty, despotism, authoritarianism, human rights abuses, corruption, discrimination and related political and socio-economic ills and the need for Africa to assume responsibility for these ills.

Seen in this light, it would be a misuse of this ideal if it were construed as an instrument for regime protection in Africa. As an ideal that seeks to empower Africans, it rejects despotism and authoritarianism. It, however, insists on Africans determining the means by which to rectify the democratic deficit. Although this is easier said than done, ‘African solutions to African problems’ is about creating the space and the conditions for people in Africa (primarily through their own initiatives) to transform their political and socio-economic conditions.

This ideal is also a bold response from the continent to the often-disastrous external interference, which has dominated the political history of the continent. It is very sceptical of outside interference however well intended. Although it does not reject external involvement, by putting Africa at the centre, African solutions to African problems attempts at controlling the nature and consequences of external actions on the continent. At the very least this is meant to avoid the recurrence of the abuse, neglect and violence that such external actions brought on the continent.

There is a misconception that ‘African solutions to African problems’ means that Africans should exclusively formulate and support their initiatives by themselves. It should be emphasised that this ideal is not about isolationism and closure. It fully recognises the important role of others in the international community. This responsibility of the international community is aptly summed up by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan during the 1997 ministerial debate in the Security Council on Africa, ‘There is a new consensus that the primary responsibility for the solution of Africa’s problems rests with African’s themselves … This new realisation also calls for a re-evaluation of the role of the international community in support of Africa’s goals. It places responsibilities as much on the shoulders of governments outside Africa as on African governments. It challenges us to think precisely how best we can accompany the Africans on their path to lasting peace, stability, justice and sustainable development.’

It should be noted that the nature of peace and security challenges facing Africa do not always originate from Africa and its cause are not always limited to African actions or omissions. Importantly, although Africans are the primary victims of these challenges, their impact is not limited to Africa. African solutions to African problems complements and shares the burden of the global collective security system anchored on the 1945 UN Charter. While it accords a central place to the role of African actors, it does so not at the expense of the international system. Doing so would lead to an abdication by the international system of UN Charter responsibilities and roles.

There is no doubt that this is an ideal with many drawbacks. The major one is the sheer number of constraints present in Africa that defy the pursuit of this ideal. Capacity and resource limitations are often cited in this regard. While they are important, these are not however the main constraints. Politics is the main culprit. Here we should cite the nature of the global political order and importantly the sheer inadequacies of the African political leadership.

A further challenge for this ideal is that it depends for its application, among others, on African states. This exclusive reliance on the state and the African political leadership should be rectified. There is a need for this ideal to be owned and employed by members of society, the media, civil society actors, academia and other centres of power.

Another challenge is its perceived bias in terms of its application to be externally oriented. For this ideal to be credible and legitimate, it is imperative that it remains equally critical of internal forces of political and socio-economic oppression, while it attempts to minimise and rule out external forces of manipulation, extraction and abuse.

As former South African President Thabo Mbeki pointed out in his address at the Makerere University on 19 January 2012, ‘all of us are opposed to any “new imperialism”, whatever form it might take, and would therefore see the defence of the independence of all our peoples as a fundamental and strategic imperative. The defence of that independence surely means that we should not delegate to others the similarly strategic task to which we must respond without equivocation, to entrench democracy in our countries, to protect human rights, and to ensure that our countries are governed properly, in the interests of the masses of our people. It also means that we have to strengthen our Continent’s cohesion, and therefore its capacity to act in unity, around a broad, progressive agenda, some of which is already contained in policies agreed through the AOU and the AU. This must include strengthening the AU and ensuring that Africa’s voice, especially about its own affairs, is both heard and is treated with the necessary seriousness.’

Clearly, ‘African solutions to African problems’ is ambitious. This is partly because of its double burden; it has to contend with both internal and external forces of oppression. This, however, does not make it hollow. Its ambitious nature simply challenges Africans to articulate the ways and means of giving it full application, as exemplified by the African Peace and Security Architecture, one of, if not the, most comprehensive peace and security regime in the world. This however should be accompanied by political and material investment not only by African governments but also others within and outside of Africa, if it wants to be more than just a hollow slogan.