How not to make Peace in the Horn of Africa

A consultative meeting on issues of the Horn of Africa organized by the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority for Development/IGAD/ and the Sudanese government took place in the second week of October in Khartoum. Khartoum hosted a series of ‘intellectual’ conferences in the previous weeks including one by the Committee for Intelligence and Security Services in Africa/CISSA/. Peace and security debates and negotiated settlements have a dominant share of the mandate of the AU and its High Implementation Panel/AUHIP/ led by former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, and the Sudan peace process a major fraction of that. Nothing to show for it Mbeki and Co. continue to straddle all the special events.

I have lost interest in such meetings as most of them don’t involve actual expertise. In Africa, how we conduct our research,even our conferences is part of the problem. It is not about style and decency. There are more outstanding issues. Independent examination is meager, political analysis is absent and policy recommendations favor the incumbency.

One should be only mildly surprised. There is a long tradition of former African strongmen, many of them served as causes for most of the conflicts, retroactively bemoaning the failed strategies they once helped shape. I am not against regional initiatives at peacemaking; in fact I helped to initiate some of them. My distaste towards them is practical. They don’t have a workable framework of analysis. Policy research into peace efforts by regional organizations suffer a double-deficit: the nature of the state and political economy analysis. Click here for a related overview.

As a modern regional security organization the AU have several mechanisms for peacemaking. Institutionally smart, politically dumb. All of them belong to the same category. What is the point of bringing new ideas and mechanisms into bankrupt institutions? The need for a move away from the lethal mix of arrogance and ignorance characteristic of regional peace processes is hard to dispute. That is not all that needs breaking away from. Real expertise also means working with real people, new breed of experts, with more peculiar experiences, competencies and confidence.

Africa’s security organizations will need to make a change, of that there can be little doubt. Raising such questions might lead to heretical responses, as has been the case. But it is preferable to take a sojourn than follow costly familiar patterns and seek the comforting embrace of ideas that have been tried but never worked or that were never tried but can no longer work.Take time, take a deep breath, and take stock of what has been achieved so far. But it will take more than turning the page on the worst of the past 30 years. It will mean writing an entirely different script and employing new research actors.