Over the years, it has become imperative that, besides a working economy, social infrastructure, education and a number of other indicators which define the idea people have of a ‘peaceful’ society, the presence and embrace of peace itself is, above every other, needed for our societies to function as they ought to.
Since West African countries gained independence, they have recorded a number of armed, intra-state conflicts, marked by five, large-scale, civil wars.
With the dawn of the 21st Century came a sharp drop, marking a water-shed in the political stabilisation of the region. In the place of the former form of violence came election-related violence, long-standing ethno-national conflict, drug trafficking, maritime piracy, extremism, youth inclusion, migration, the rapid development of extractive industries and land management etc., sparking fears over the region’s development.
West Africa has come into her own over time, as far as democratisation, economy and regional cooperation are concerned but sadly, total peace has eluded the region, though efforts to prevent conflicts have also improved, contributing to overall stability.
It was against this back-drop that, between July 11 and 12, 2018, in Abuja, over 50 peace and security experts and practitioners on West Africa, drawn from the academia, security structures and various institutions, West Africa policymakers, civil society organisation (CSOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), participated in the First Abuja Dialogue convened by the Peace and Security Competence Centre Sub-Saharan Africa and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES),in Abuja, Nigeria. The experts represented a diverse field of high-level policy influencers conversant with peace and security, mediation, conflict resolution, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, governance, development and gender mainstreaming.
The convener, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, is a German non-profit organisation dedicated to the development of the ideas and values of social democracy. That core value and focus informed the theme of the conference, “Understanding the Reasons for Insecurity in West Africa: Need to Promote Collective Security through Stakeholder’s Engagement and Constructive Exchanges.” The objective was to “contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics and drivers of (violent) conflict and insecurity in West Africa and to provide new knowledge on how best to achieve sustainable security.”
The Abuja Dialogue was convened against the backdrop of the incremental and pervasive peace and security challenges, such as agro-pastoral conflicts, the Boko Haram insurgency, terrorism and organised crimes, fragility of State and lack of governance confronting some countries of the West Africa and Sahel region, despite the existence of various mechanisms aimed at addressing such conflicts. Affected countries which were presented as case studies or reference points included, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Nigeria. Since some post-conflict situations and new conflicts in the region were festering, the inevitable question which the dialogue sought to address was why certain conflicts, especially pastoral herdsmen conflict and Boko Haram insurgency, armed militias persist, despite the existence of Early Warning Systems (EWS) and conflict prevention and conflict resolution mechanisms meant for addressing such conflicts.
Relatedly, why were existing frameworks and mechanisms, laid down by African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), the African Governance Architecture (AGA), structures such as, African Union, ECOWAS, ECCAS, Mano River Union, Lake Chad Basin Commission, the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJFT) the G-5 Sahel, proving operationally inadequate and not delivering the expected results?
For maximum interaction and productivity, the Abuja Dialogue was structured to be interactive and to facilitate seamless exchange of ideas.
The outcome and the takeaways from the conference are a reflection the complexities of the conflicts bedeviling West Africa and the Sahel and why the extant conflict resolution panaceas are seemingly ineffective. The gaps between early warning and response, existing peace and security architecture and conflict resolution mechanisms, were all pointed out as challenges to achieving long-term peace in the region, mainly because one-size did not fit all.
Resolutions from the conference indicate that development aid need to be channeled towards lagging regions and addressing perceptions of inequity in access to opportunities. Focusing investments where conditions are best risks making already-tense situations worse. Cross-border economic exchanges and collaboration may be useful. Improved land management and a strong, continuous addressing of grievances linked to land access is needed. In order to do away with the ‘resource curse’, extractives discoveries can be given greater attention, seeing as they are prone to conflict risks. This will help manage community and regional grievances as well as corruption.
Other recommendations made by the conference included improvement in the management of migrants, significant investments in basic and technical education to increase the size of the skilled labour force and improve livelihoods for young people, provision of more support to ECOWAS and other regional institutions by member countries, strengthening of local government structures to improve citizens’ participation, social accountability, transparency and better services.
While these recommendations were welcomed, it was highlighted that the need to replicate or borrow from working, progressive mechanisms from within and outside Africa would go a long way in helping to provide a blue-print.
It was advocated that any reframing of conflict resolution mechanisms should be centered on civil society, and that such shift in response, should lay greater emphasis on preventive mechanisms rather than peacekeeping. Notably, amnesty, DDR and SSR programmes, depending on the locality, needed to be redesigned or adapted to fit particular conflicts, reflect local realities, involve stakeholders and communities and understand their plight. There was an urgent need for the deployment of alternative dispute mechanisms (ADR) and establishing traditional dispute mechanisms. While peace education was imperative, sensitivity to gender and the aged remained vital, as was handling of war victims and amnesty beneficiaries, especially child soldiers.
Also, enhanced community involvement and ownership of processes are important to avoid politicians taking advantage of conflicts. The need for conceptual clarity and the rethinking conceptual framework for conflict resolution mechanisms in order to adapt them to local terminologies and realitieswere underlined. That an approach was expected to create alternative space, a sense of ownership and inclusivity and a better definition and understanding of who the non-state actors and beneficiaries are. It is important to build on and expand “resilience models” by replicating and domesticating those models that are effective at the national and state levels at the local and community levels. It was necessary to avoid pitfalls of signing accords in which the local parties were not involved or signatories. Policies needed to be e-governance compliant,for access and tracking.
Since state and government apparatus are distinct entities, it should be recognised that the absence of governmental presence did not equate with “ungoverned space” in conflict theaters. Most spaces are governed, as such, there is need to avoid creating the impression that there were “two societies” – the insiders and the outsiders in post-conflict environments. This is also pertinent in the dispensation of justice. Restorative justice should be explored and multi-door courts put in place for easy access. Those involved in war crimes should be prosecuted equally.
Absence of a bond of performance between government and the governed often resulted in lack of trust and respect for constituted authority. Preferential dispensation of justice affected trust. It was emphasized that peace building at any level was contingent on good governance and trust. Building trust via confidence building measures (CBMs) will be critical to overcoming myths and the prevailing sense of “perpetrators versus victims” and reconciling communities. The need to avoid extra-judicial and so-called jungle justice was reiterated.
As alternative mechanisms, the “Peace Council” used in Ghana, and the Gacaca Court used in Rwanda were considered good models for attaining sustainable peace. There was added emphasis on investing more on structural peace adjustment. The expanded use of ‘Peace Ambassadors’ was also recommended.
Peace in Africa is not elusive and, while no one body has the final say on the blueprint for peace in the region, experiments can begin on what works and what does not; for it is only from trying that we can get the perfect picture. Not trying is far worse and, given that the future of our continent and region rests on us and no other, we would do well to work, strive and preach peace. It is only in the peace of the region that everything else can prosper.
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung wrote from Abuja