The Resolution of African Conflicts: The Management of Conflict Resolution and Postconflict Reconstruction

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Editors Alfred Nhema and Paul Tiyambe Zeleza
Published by: Ohio University Press, 2008
ISBN: 10: 1847013023 13: 978-1847013026

Reviewed by: Sadiki Koko, Senior Researcher at ACCORD
In Conflict Trends Issue 1 of 2009

An observation of conflict trends in Africa indicates that intrastate armed conflicts, which were on the rise between 1990 and 1998, have significantly decreased in number. Many conflicts on the continent have been settled and others are in the process of being resolved, generally through peaceful means. However, a number of conflicts remain a challenge in Africa.

The daunting challenges of post-conflict reconstruction facing the majority – if not all – African countries recovering from violent conflicts pose the risk of conflict relapse. This trend has been observed in recent years in a number of African countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Despite the encouraging recession in the number of armed conflicts in Africa, the positioning of African states at a transitional crossroads renders them more likely to experience periods of instability as they move towards establishing new socio-economic and political frameworks. As Berman, Eyoh and Kymlicka have rightfully remarked, “African states face a quadruple [as compared to a triple for Eastern Europe and a double for Latin America] transformation: they must negotiate ethnic diversity at the same time as they are building state capacity, democratizing political systems and liberalizing economic institutions.”(1) All these transformation processes are a recipe for competition, heightened contestations and, if not well managed, violent confrontations.

The Resolution of African Conflicts is, thus, a timely contribution towards efforts aimed at freeing Africa from the scourges of its intractable conflicts. The book is the product of an international conference hosted by the Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA), held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2004 and focused on the theme “African conflicts: management, resolution, post-conflict recovery and development”.

The book is a compilation of 10 of the 62 papers presented at the conference, and it comprises an introduction and 11 chapters. The chapters are divided into two main sections, namely the continental mechanisms for conflict management (chapters 1–3) and specific case studies focusing on Uganda, South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius, Sudan, southern Africa, Somalia and Mozambique (chapters 4–10). Section one discusses the achievements and challenges faced by African regional and continental structures with regard to resolving conflicts on the continent. It emphasises the role that African civil society (non-governmental organisations, academia and research institutes) – though still weak, externally dependent and diverse – could play in partnership with governments and external actors to advance the cause of democracy, transparency, accountability and human rights on the continent. Section two is a balanced evaluation of diverse issues such as the advantages and shortcomings of some peace agreements (Uganda, South Sudan), as well as the conflict potential of both local government arrangements and elections in divided, underdeveloped and unequal African societies. While emphasising “the need to consolidate social cohesion” as a key factor in post-conflict reconstruction (chapter 9), section two also highlights the complex challenges faced by post-conflict societies as they move towards conflict transformation (chapter 10). The concluding chapter of the book (chapter 11) discusses the issue of post-1990 constitutional reforms in Africa as a mechanism for conflict resolution on the continent.

Using a very informative historical perspective, the book highlights a number of factors that have, for years, impeded African leaders and people to play a major role in the prevention, management and resolution of continental conflicts. These factors stem from – but are not limited to – ideological and structural inadequacies within continental intergovernmental organisations, financial constraints, lack of will and political commitment on the part of states as well as external dependence (especially in terms of financial and logistical resources). The book, therefore, argues for a shift, as far as Africa is concerned, from a conflict reaction approach towards a conflict prevention paradigm. Hence the inclusion of chapters on the African Union (AU) early warning system (chapter 3), as well as the role of local governments in managing conflicts in South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius – countries that have not experienced armed conflict in the last decade (chapters 5 and 6). The shift towards prevention is seen as a progressive move for a continent that cannot afford the costs involved with peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

The establishment within the AU of a fully-fledged peace and security architecture (including the Peace and Security Council, the upcoming African Standby Force, the Panel of the Wise and the Continental Early Warning System) is considered as an affirmation by Africa of its determination to resolve its problems. Furthermore, the development within African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) of entire conflict resolution mechanisms and structures denotes the recognition by African regions of not only the regional dimension of African conflicts, but also of the necessity for regional responses if conflicts are to be comprehensively mitigated. As Adetula states, “[T]he successful development of both the AU and the various sub-regional organizations in Africa depends first and foremost on the commitment of African states to redefine regional and sub-regional integration in a way that moves the process beyond state-centered approaches to include, among other things, the increased participation of civil society – the people and their representatives in associations, professional societies, farmers’ groups, women’s groups and so on, as well as political parties – in regional integration processes” (chapter 1, p. 20).

Civil society participation in all spheres of AU and REC activities – including in the conflict management realm – remains critical for Africa to embrace the prevailing paradigm of broadening the field of peace and security beyond the dominant and narrow state-centric approach. Civil society organisations are, thus, expected to reclaim the space rightfully offered to them by both the AU and the RECs while, at the same time, the latter (the AU and the RECs) ought to ensure that legal provisions regarding civil society participation are fully implemented. Similarly, the AU and the RECs ought to impress upon their respective member states the necessity to espouse principles of democracy, good governance, transparent management of electoral processes, protection and promotion of human rights, economic development and continental integration as strategies for conflict prevention, management, resolution and transformation in Africa.

The Resolution of African Conflicts is an easily readable book. It is a timely response to the needs of academics, conflict practitioners and policymakers. It stimulates the debate on the qualitative development of mechanisms and structures devoted to conflict prevention, management and resolution in Africa. At the same time, it is a reminder that the qualitative development of conflict resolution structures and mechanisms is a continuous process. Lastly, by emphasising conflict prevention – as opposed to the “reaction to conflict” approaches – it represents a significant shift in both conflict resolution theory and practice relevant to addressing African conflicts.

Endnotes

1 Berman, B., Eyoh, D. and Kymlicka, W. (2004) ‘Introduction’. Ethnicity and the Politics of Democratic Nation-building in Africa. In Berman, B., Eyoh, D. and Kymlicka, W. (eds.) Ethnicity and Democracy in Africa. Oxford/Athens (Ohio): James Currey/Ohio University Press, p. 15.

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