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APSA @20: Building peace in Central Africa

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Picture: ANA File – Peacekeepers from the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo patrol the town of Sake in North Kivu province, eastern DRC. The review of the twenty years of existence of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) of the AU and its contribution to peace in Central Africa is timely. Although it faces many challenges, the APSA is the best framework for ensuring peace and security in Africa today, the writer says

By Kapinga Yvette Ngandu

The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Commission is striving to give culture its letters of nobility, so that it can act as a tool for awakening consciences, a marker of our many and diverse originalities, a catalyst for unity in diversity and a vector of peace in a world exposed to aggression and other forms of violence.

With this in mind ECCAS held the 1st Biennial for the Culture of Peace in Central Africa in Kinshasa in October 2022. Organised and co-ordinated by the ECCAS Commission in partnership with the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as well as key partners (ACCORD, ISS, CHESD, CICIBA), its aim was to:

Although it faces many challenges, the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) is the best framework for ensuring peace and security in Africa today

  1. Review the impact and contribution of the APSA in Central Africa over the years;
  2. Raise awareness of the importance of cultivating peace for individual and collective well-being;
  3. Examine the place of culture in the peace and security architecture of the region;
  4. Propose the constitutive pillars of an ECCAS multi-sectoral roadmap to silence guns in the region; and
  5. Identify the priority axis constituting ECCAS’ positioning on regional human security, which is imperative to modernise, strengthen and improve the security architecture, as well as to make it more proactive and pragmatic.

The shocking history of the country hosting this conference, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which reflects that of all African countries, leads us to revisit our past and to ask ourselves about our common humanity. For this reason, I appreciate that this conference was held in the DRC, a land full of symbols, that it gives us the opportunity to look back on the progress made over the past twenty years in the ongoing quest for peace, security and stability. If our emancipation was only possible at the price of the supreme sacrifice, today, after more than half a century, peace and security remain unconquered. Hence, there is an imperative need to use every device and ingenuity in the search for ways and means to meet this challenge. From this point of view, the review of the twenty years of existence of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) of the African Union (AU) and its contribution to peace in Central Africa is timely.

It should be recalled that the APSA, launched in Durban in 2002, is based on five pillars supporting the AU Commission, including the Peace and Security Council (PSC), as well as the Panel of the Wise, the Early Warning System, the Special Peace Fund and the African Standby Force (ASF). Its scope of intervention is therefore not limited to coercive armed action, but has very interesting prevention, negotiation and mediation mechanisms.

With a view to the efficient deployment of the PSC, the APSA was conceived as a set of functional tools that could provide comprehensive responses to the problems arising from the most complex crises on the Continent.

In January 2015, the AU Heads of State and Government adopted Agenda 2063, one of whose major aspirations was to silence the guns by 2020, and also agreed to establish the Luanda Biennale for the Promotion of the Culture of Peace to support this objective. Indeed, Aspirations 3, 4 and 5 of Agenda 2063 envisage an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law; as well as an Africa living in peace and security, and an Africa with a strong cultural identity, a common heritage, shared values and ethics, respect for religious diversity and the conscience of the African people and its diaspora.

Picture: Jairus Mmutle/GCIS – President Cyril Ramaphosa landed at the N’Djili International Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo to participate in the 10th high-level meeting of the Regional Oversight Mechanism of the Peace, Security and Co-operation Framework for the DRC and the region.

Thus, the culture of peace and tolerance will be instilled in the youth through peace education and the reinforcement of shared values. Conflict prevention and resolution based on dialogue will be actively promoted so that the guns are silenced.

In response to the Continent’s failure to silence the guns by 2020, the Assembly of Heads of State extended the AU’s main roadmap on silencing the guns for ten years. The APSA’s objective is therefore to silence the guns by 2030, with a strengthened funding mechanism through the adoption of a governance and management structure for the Peace Fund approved by the AU Assembly in February 2020. A truly operationalised Peace Fund will provide Africa with the strategic autonomy it lacks today. It will enable the AU and regional communities to take full responsibility for their peace and security programmes based on their own assessment of the problems and an autonomous appreciation of appropriate solutions to build the Africa we want based on African solutions to African problems.

Furthermore, the new Protocol on Relations between the AU and RECs adopted in February 2020 emphasises, among other things, the strengthening of links between the two continental and regional structures, conflict prevention through preventive diplomacy and conflict management based primarily on dialogue.

Although it faces many challenges, the APSA is the best framework for ensuring peace and security in Africa today. In this respect, there are several positive points to its credit:

Firstly, the Constitutive Act and the Protocol establishing the PSC enshrined the ‘intervention power of the AU’, including through the deployment of peacekeeping or peace-enforcement operations. Thus, despite its limited resources, the PSC has become the key body for promoting peace and security on the Continent. Under its impetus, the AU has implemented its ‘principle of non-indifference’ or ‘active solidarity’, as demonstrated by its intervention in Darfur and Somalia.

Picture: Tony KARUMBA / AFP / Taken on November 2, 2022 Kenya’s President, William Ruto, 2nd left, and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua, left, inspect a part of the fleet of vehicles to be used by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers deploying to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Deployment of Kenyan troops to the DRC follows a decision endorsed and adopted by regional leaders at the 3rd East Africa Community Heads of State conclave on Peace and Security in eastern DRC, held in Nairobi, to quell a flare up of violence in DRC’s troubled eastern region.

Secondly, despite the slow response of the Panel of the Wise at the continental level, preventive diplomacy has been deployed by the AU and RECs or by the PSC when crises have erupted. Even if the results of these deployments remain limited due to the complexity of certain crises, they have had the merit of marking the presence of APSA structures. We can cite the cases of the DRC with the facilitation of Edem Kodjo and the case of the Central African Republic (CAR), to mention only those in the Central African region. Elsewhere in Africa, the Panel of the Wise stood out in Mali before and during the last two coups d’état, as well as in Guinea, Burkina Faso and the Gambia.

Thirdly, in the context of conflict response, the PSC authorised the deployment of a peacekeeping mission in our sub-region, in CAR, which has taken over from ECCAS’ MICOPAX. Elsewhere in Africa, the PSC deployed efforts within the framework about the G5 Sahel and continued to renew the mandate of existing missions such as the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Joint Multinational Task Force and the hybrid operations of the AU-UN Mission in Darfur.

Fourthly, the PSC has also been involved in addressing various cross-cutting peace and security issues. These include terrorism and violent extremism in the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel Region, cross-border and maritime disputes, climate change and foreign military presence, as well as the protection of civilians, refugees, the fight against sexual violence, the Ebola virus outbreaks and the Covid-19 pandemic.

ECCAS has actively collaborated with the African Union in the course of the various crises in the region, particularly in Chad, CAR and the DRC through the deployment of its various peace and security mechanisms. In the context of conflict management situations, it is worth noting the full collaboration efforts between ECCAS and the AU to ease tensions and instil dialogue among the stakeholders in the Central African crisis. I regularly travelled to the field between 2020 and 2022 in the company of my AU, UN and EU counterparts to bring the stakeholders back to dialogue and facilitate the holding of peaceful presidential and legislative elections, and the protection of civilians, refugees and IDPs.

However, it must be acknowledged that after twenty years of existence, the APSA has demonstrated certain limitations. These include:

  • Its inadequacy to present realities and the need for its evaluation and rehabilitation;
  • Political difficulties, in particular the lack of flexibility on the part of States to authorise good offices missions quickly before internal crisis situations escalate;
  • Lack of coordination, coherence and synergy between the AU and RECs;
  • The limited availability of financial, human and technical resources;
  • The slow response of prevention structures, such as the Early Warning System and the Panel of the Wise;
  • Failure to address structural issues and vulnerabilities in conflict prevention efforts;
  • The absence of a comprehensive human security policy; and
  • The inadequacy of the ASF with the military requirements of conflict management, such as the frequent circumvention of the ASF by bilateral defence arrangements between certain countries to deal with armed conflicts; among others.

In this configuration, what are the prospects for the future?

They can consist of a few key actions which, from our point of view, are as follows:

  • Explore opportunities to better coordinate continental, regional and local efforts to achieve Aspirations 3, 4 and 5 of Agenda 2063, namely a democratic, well-governed, peaceful and secure Africa, with a focus on anticipating governance-related events and conflict prevention discourses; with a reinforcement of shared values and ethics, respect for religious diversity, history and the rooted identity of the African people.
  • Strengthen the alignment of Agenda 2063 priorities, including its flagship initiatives, with the Strategic Plans of the newly structured Commission, taking into account the division of labour defined in the reform process, with regard to the priority orientation of the AU vis-à-vis the RECs;
  • The establishment of modern conflict resolution systems based on robust bottom-up approaches, systems and tools;
  • Make an urgent call for an update of the APSA which should take into account the place and link between the APSA and the culture of peace to make it fully functional and operational;

In the context of the Central Africa region:

  • Launch an appeal to the countries of the region to take appropriate measures for the full operationalisation of FOMAC;
  • Strengthening regional human security policy;
  • Accelerate the full operationalisation of the Committee of Elders and the Network of Women Mediators of Central Africa, as well as the Youth Coalition for Peace, and fully incorporate them as bodies for conflict prevention and resolution, mediation or reconciliation in the region. For if only tacitly, the Comité des Sages and the Network of Women Mediators of Central Africa open up a space that favours the dissemination of national cultures in the modus operandi and become de facto privileged relays by governments.

In any case, the AU and ECCAS are at a crossroads that must be analysed through the prism of the reforms under way at their respective levels. This is why, to conclude, I would like to share with you this perception which is dear to us at ECCAS and which puts the human being at the centre of our concerns, so that he or she can reap the benefits of peace, security and stability; it is human security!

ECCAS has actively collaborated with the African Union in the course of the various crises in the region, particularly in Chad, CAR and the DRC through the deployment of its various peace and security mechanisms

It is that security which we see as a means of keeping people safe from both violent and non-violent threats; in any case, as an essential condition for a state of well-being characterised by freedom, safety and the right to life. It is by contributing to the full realisation of this objective that we can consider ourselves useful to our sub-region and our Continent.

Kapinga Yvette Ngandu is the ECCAS Commissioner for Gender, Human and Social Development