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Building African solutions to crises on the continent

Africa is building its own capacity to resolve conflicts on the continent, but there is still a gap between early warning systems and timely on-the-ground response, a seminar organised by City University London and the University of Birmingham heard on 7 April 2011.
by Hollie Jenkins

Dr William Brown of Open University said:

"The creation of the African Union and the enhanced role of regional groupings like the West African organisation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), have laid a basis on which the much heralded aim of 'African solutions for African problems' might be built."

Bringing together a range of experts with knowledge of conflict management efforts on the African continent, the seminar was one in a series funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Research Seminars Competition with additional funding from the British International Studies Association and five hosting institutions.

Dr Danielle Beswick from the University of Birmingham, who has studied events in Rwanda and written on African peacekeeping in Darfur, comments:

"So much of what we hear and read about Africa is related to conflict, and particularly what outsiders should 'do' about it, but our speakers confirmed that African governments, regional organisations and the African Union are increasingly developing capacities to take an active part in managing conflict in Africa.

These capacities are especially important given criticisms of African institutions' response to recent crises in Libya and Cote D'Ivoire. But it's important we also consider some of the other examples discussed at the seminar- Uganda's role in peacekeeping in Somalia, the operations of ECOWAS in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the lessons of country level experience of peace building, not least in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide. Africa is learning from its experience, but building capacity is a long term process."

Organiser of the series, Dr Sophie Harman, Senior Lecturer in International Politics at City University London, said that experts at the event agreed that despite criticism of African states and regional organisations over their response to crises in Cote d'Ivoire and Libya, the past 15 years have seen a step change in efforts to create a regional capacity to manage security issues.

"Recent events in Africa have been met with the usual response from media and policy-observers of 'African problems' needing the West to sort them out. This simply obscures the potential of African solutions and efforts to address these issues. 'African problems' need more than Western military intervention. They require broad-based input from all aspects of African society - particularly women - in providing solutions."

Meeting on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the seminar heard from Rwandan Brigadier-General Frank Rusagara about lessons of that country's peace-building process which focussed on win-win strategies of reconciliation and was 'home-grown', led by Rwandans, not the international community.

In a final roundtable session, the seminar heard that increased capacity in regional bureaucracies, military resources and political commitment will all be necessary to enable Africa to carry out this role further. There is also a need for strategies that reach out to civil society groups and to women who have a significant role to play in strengthening regional peace-building initiatives

According to Chatham House's Tom Cargill who also spoke at the event, in a world where Western states are increasingly uncertain about their role, as shown in the prevarications over intervention in Libya, more demands will be made on regional organisations like the African Union. Building on African solutions cannot happen quickly enough.

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