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External Attempts at Peace and Nation Building: Lessons for and from Africa

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:00


Commissioner Tidjane Thiam, Commission for Africa
Dave Fish, Director for Africa DFID

Hugh Bayley MP

1. The fifth session in the series was held on Tuesday the 9th of November 2004. The meeting was chaired by Hugh Bayley. The two speakers were Tidjane Thiam and Dave Fish

2. Commissioner Tidjane Thiam started by making it clear that there was no poverty of ideas in Africa, but a poverty of political will and implementation. He made it clear that the media, NGOs, MPs, researchers were essential for ensuring the commission achieved its objectives (human development, culture and participation, governance, economic development and peace and security).

3. The Comissioner stressed that the recent conflict in Darfur and renewed problems in Cote d'Ivoire illustrated that violent conflict was a huge problem in Africa which, in recent decades, had been more severely affected by conflict than any other continent. The legacy of the international community's failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda, still impacted on any discussion of external attempts to build peace in Africa. In recent years there had been some positive signals in brining long-term conflicts to an end however, for example the fragile peace that was achieved in countries such as Angola and Sierra Leone.

4. The Commissioner also noted that awareness was high, both in and outside of Africa as was the will to act. Among African leaders and at the AU, the principle of non-interference had been increasingly replaced with that of non-indifference which was a very important shift. There was a need to build on the achievements of AU, SADC, EGAD and ECOWAS, acknowledge these achievements and highlight positive stories coming out of Africa which receive less media attention.

5. The Commissioner noted that the AU had made good progress is establishing structures to promote peace and security and sub-regional organisations such as ECOWAS had demonstrated Africa's willingness to take the lead on enhancing peace and security on the continent.

6. He noted however that the terms peace building and nation building had different meanings to different people. Both were frequently used with reference to post-conflict contexts. Nation building was often used inter-changeably with State building and had received considerable attention recently due to events in Afghanistan and Iraq. September 11th and concerns about global and human security had also pushed the issue failed and failing states rapidly up the agenda.

7. The Commissioner highlighted the linkages between States, national identity and conflict. Effective states with a strong and positive relationship with their population and civil society were central to preventing violent conflict. Limited resources, the legacy of colonialism and imposed borders and the behaviour of some leaders had created serious problems for some countries however for realising this relationship. This had contributed to high levels of violent conflict.

8. The Commissioner noted that one of the lessons that was clear from Africa and elsewhere was that peace building and nation building were about trust and legitimacy and both could best be achieved through local actors and local processes. Recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan illustrated that external actors experienced problems when they attempted to take leading roles in building peace or nations. In contrast to this, the results achieved in Mozambique and South Africa and long term stability in places such as Tanzania, could be attributed in large part to the wisdom and resources of local actors who were usually in a much better position for providing the essentials of prevention, early warning and mediation. In this way, external actors most valuable contribution would be to support internal processes with resources and political pressure

9. The Commissioner noted however that external political pressure was essential to ending apartheid in South Africa and often behind the scenes; individual political leaders from G8 and EU countries had played a strong role in mediating tensions. For example the US, Nordics and European countries had provided strong support to the peace talks in Sudan and external resources had also been essential in the recovery from violent conflict in Mozambique, Uganda and Rwanda, Angola and DRC.

10. The Commissioner noted though that individual countries had found it difficult to provide resources where intervention was not in their immediate national interests, especially as the spill-over effects of violent conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa rarely directly affected any G7 countries. Lack of action in Rwanda and Darfur therefore illustrated the difficultly in mobilising the international community to stop violent conflict.

11. Commissioner Tidjane also indicated that durable peace depended on addressing the root causes of violent conflict such as poor governance, low income the mis-management of resources and access to small arms. Many of these factors had links to the external environment.

12. Another essential aspect of reducing conflict was preventing its recurrence. Countries that had experienced violent conflict were far more likely to experience further conflict, especially as most post-conflict failures came from a lack of a sound peace building strategy and a lack of co-ordination in interventions. A key issue was the delay and mis-match between the start of peace keeping operations and the start of peace building and developmental operations to dismantle the war economy.

13. Commissioner Tidjane stressed that none of the MDGs could be met in Africa unless violent conflict was resolved owing to the direct and indirect costs of conflict. He indicated that the Commission was pushing to tackle the route causes of conflict and was going to tackle the following main areas of action:

i) Promoting good governance of natural resources
ii) Controlling trade of conflict goods through their accurate definition and through effective mechanism for controlling their trade;
iii) Supporting, developing and strengthening initiatives and regulation of small arms;
iv) Promoting the use of development assistance in reducing vulnerability to conflict for example integrating better conflict analysis into the working practices of donors;
v) Using the parliament, civil society and the media to put pressure on governments to assist in background conflict prevention rather than just responding to violent or extreme events;
vi) Support NEPAD and AU work on peace building and using development and other tools to prevent a renewal of violence in post-conflict countries;
vii) Focussing on how to promote a shared vision and strategy among stakeholders, predictable long-term financing to post-conflict countries, improved co-ordination, special access to debt relief or a standstill on debt servicing during reconstruction
viii) Promoting and supporting local initiatives and processes.

14. Dave Fish started by indicating that Hillary Benn's top priorities in Africa were Sudan and DRC which were both conflict affected. The focus of his contribution was therefore drawn from his recent experience in these two countries (as well as Sierra Leone).

15. Dave Fish explained that he felt that decisive military action was still the exception as military groups (UN, AU or others) could contain domestic interest groups of supervise demobilisation, disarmament and re-integration, but rarely were decisive in mapping out the outcome of and future conflicts. He also noted that it was important that external actors did not feed the conflict (eg supply of arms, support of particular groups) and that they were competent for the roles they took on. He indicated that quality of UN intervention was mixed and that their effectiveness depended on their background, training and motivation. He also stressed the importance of the international community providing support to the AU to deliver competently in Darfur.

16. Dave Fish made it clear that there was no substitute for understanding the country, the personalities that the key issues involved. It was also important not to underrate diplomatic skills. For example, the British Ambassador in Sudan had proved to be valuable in addressing the conflict through understanding the issues and developing relationships. He also noted that external actors could alter incentives. The US decision to engage with the Government of Sudan for example, had led directly to progress with the North/South peace negotiation.

17. Dave Fish then outlined the key lessons from his and DFID's experience. He noted that

i) African solutions to African problems were essential. It would not be possible for them to be externally imposed. He suggested that the Commission for Africa and it's wider remit were on the right track.
ii) External mediators needed to know the personalities and be credible for example Hilary Benn and Clare Short were both very good at developing relationships with leaders in Africa which were very important for fostering good relationships and securing assistance
iii) There was a need for widespread support to develop the capacity of the AU to build peace and stability.
iv) The UN needed to be better organised to help in humanitarian and post-conflict situations
v) HMG was establishing a joint Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit based in DFID comprising staff from DFID, FCO and MOD staff. While some work was being done in prevention, there was a need to push the agenda more in the direction of prevention and less in the direction of post-conflict activity;
vi) High level international pressure was helpful eg Sudan (pressure had had some effect but he questioned whether it would be maintained) and DRC where the Transitional Government would have collapsed without it.
vii) Peacekeeping forces tended to be overstretched which was often an issue of finance and availability.
viii) Early elections could be helpful for example early elections in Sierra Leone gave a boost to the regime and improved its legitimacy.
ix) Need to understand and manage the regional dimension of a violent conflict
x) More effective and transparent management of natural resources could help reduce negative effects.

18. Dave Fish then went on to stress that there could be no development without security. He indicated that Donors must be committed to long-term support for reconstruction and development. He gave the example of Sierra Leone where DFID's commitment of 10 years was unusual. He impressed the importance of predictability and long-term commitments from donors, for example through budget support where this was possible.

19. Dave Fish indicated that the security sector needed urgent attention especially as the rule of law and the justice system were difficult to manage in many of the countries that DFID worked in. Unless something could be done to address this, peace and security could be elusive which would effect development and private sector interest and investment. Furthermore, disarmament and demobilisation were very important. The external actors would need to become more active in this, in collaboration with AU and partner governments. He noted that it was also important to re-integrate combatants to prevent a switch back to violence. This was essential to long-term peace and stability.

20. In the discussion that followed, the importance of the Africa Commission not diverting attention from a few key issues such as trade justice, foreign debt and small arms was made. As was the importance of the West taking responsibility for their actions that contributed to violent conflict in Africa, for example with relation to small arms

21. The point was also made that the issue of addressing conflict in Africa was more complicated than having a strong civil society and effective State and there was a need for more work towards a framework to give space to national minorities and exploiting African's spirit and culture of reconciliation. Commissioner Tidjane noted that heterogeneity in Africa made it difficult to manage minority rights. A one man one vote system in the EU would not result in a universally accepted outcome. In Africa, the heterogeneity made it difficult to reach consensus after elections. He suggested that it was not co-incidence that a lot of elections in Africa resulted in conflict.

22. A concern was also raised that while the language of justice was often spoken, it was not always implemented. For example the failure of President Meles of Ethiopia to implement the permanent court of arbitration with the border of Eritrea. It was made clear that examples such as this should not be extrapolated to the whole of Africa especially as positive examples were coming out of countries such as Malawi.

Nambusi Kyegombe
November 2004


This event looked at how conflict has affected Africa's development and what could be learned from previous attempts to build peace.

Boothroyd Room