Isaac Olawale Albert is currently Professor of African History, Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He also serves as the Director of the Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University and previously worked as Director of the University’s Institute of African Studies. We asked Professor Albert some questions about his work ahead of the lecture on April 4 in Ghana.
1. What is the topic of your lecture?
I will be speaking about regional engagement in peacebuilding in Africa, the opportunities and challenges.
2.What are the key issues with regional engagement in peacebuilding in Africa?
Africa is blessed with the mechanisms and resolutions for dealing with conflict, such as the African Union Peace and Security Architecture and Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. But these are statements of intention and they lack the capacity to operate themselves. Commitment is needed; strong leadership is needed. That is the crux of the matter.
In practice, regional bodies in Africa prefer to do post conflict reconstruction than commit to preventive diplomacy. The best example is the recent crisis in the Gambia where Yahya Jammeh was long predicted to refuse to stand down from his 22 years in power. Everybody knew it would happen; the time was what was not known. Regional actors did engage once Yahya Jammeh refused to accept defeat in the election, but fixing the country now is more costly than preventing the conflict from happening.
Another problem with regional peacebuilding in Africa is that the system is state-centric. The leaders talk to themselves and they call it peacebuilding. Regional organisations in Africa lack the courage to call questionable leaders to order. If Africa is not ready to lead the way in the promotion of justice, peace and respect for human rights it is difficult for the rest of the world to do so for it.
3. What roles can regional actors play in peacebuilding in Africa?
Poverty is the number one problem for Africa. It is partly responsible for the rate of violent conflicts around the continent. This problem can be reduced through increased intra-African trade necessitated by improved communication and transportation systems, which the African Union (AU) and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) need to champion.
Many of the armed groups in the continent are motivated by easy access to small arms and light weapons. The AU and RECs need to work more collaboratively towards blocking land, sea and air access to such weapons. The AU’s Panel of the Wise and ECOWAS Council of the Wise are veritable instruments for promoting dialogue between warring factions before and during armed conflicts. They need to be more active.
Where dialogue does not work in bringing disputants together, the AU could use its standby force to bring armed groups to a peaceful settlement of their disputes. But the financial resources are hardly there.
4. What needs to be done to ensure peacebuilding is successful in Africa?
So long as the rate of poverty remains as it is in Africa, it would be difficult to stop Africans from taking up arms against their leaders or themselves. This is a wide-ranging problem. It accounts for the increased rate of brain drain from the continent; it is responsible for the increased rate of irregular migration from Africa, most especially to Europe through the Mediterranean.
Those engaged in armed conflict around the continent are those who have decided to remain at home to fight their real and imaginary enemies. Innocent people get caught up in the crossfire. It is unfortunate that regional organisations in Africa do not invest sufficiently in dealing with these root causes of African crisis, specifically encouraging African leaders to be more transparent and accountable to the people and by so doing enjoying their trust.
Human rights abuses in Africa are often overlooked –even when citizens bitterly complain– and when violent conflicts occur in Africa, the AU and RECs wait for the developed world to provide the resources for dealing with the problems. The capacity for independent peacekeeping operations in the continent is still lacking. This is not necessarily because of the state of poverty in the continent but largely because it has become a tradition for African leaders to wait for the rest of the world to clean up the mess they created for themselves. However, things are changing. The ongoing AU interventions in Somalia, Mali and Burundi are pointing towards a readiness to do things better.
5. What about the role of civil society and women in peacebuilding?
African political leaders still find it difficult to work with civil society organisations (CSOs). The latter too seems to lack the capacity or readiness to work with government. Yet, the two need each other for reinforcing peacebuilding work in the continent. While Africans do not trust their leaders, they work closely with CSOs. It logically follows that by working CSOs many African governments and even regional organisations can enjoy better trust from the people.
The role of peace education is also very significant in peacebuilding. But there are very few peace studies programs in Africa today that actually build the capacity of peacebuilders. What is being taught in several military and police academies across the continent is still geared towards the Cold War kind of problem solving, which is largely dependent on the use of force. This calls for a review of the curriculum of these institutions.
Many African countries also don’t give sufficient attention to the need to mainstream gender into peacebuilding in their countries. But they go to meetings of AU and RECs to commit themselves to all forms of policy documents on gender and peacebuilding. A bit less hypocrisy is needed for consolidating peace in Africa.
6. How do you see Africa’s future when it comes to peace?
Four things must take place for sustainable peace to occur in a society:
- absence of physical violence
- absence of psychological violence
- absence of structural violence
- presence of justice.
The future of Africa is bright if the AU, RECs and Member states could work on each of the listed components more actionably. For now, people are wantonly killed in different parts of Africa on the grounds of ethnicity, idle religiosity and unhealthy competition for environmental resources. The resources meant for making life comfortable for them are often stolen by a few individuals as evidenced by the annual reports of Transparency International. Meanwhile, elections result in violence in many parts of the continent and the justice systems are not reliable.
It is necessary for regional organisations in Africa to become more committed to dealing with all of these problems. Africa can only become a better place and a place of our dreams when violence is absent and justice is present.