27 Jan 2014

Africa has three priorities to address this year

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 288: Africa has three priorities to address this year / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
27 January 2014

Africa. A continent of extremes that seems to be going either to paradisiacal heaven or to apocalyptic hell. Management consultant McKinsey has talked of "African lions on the move" to describe the world's fastest-growing continent, while traditionally Afro-pessimistic western publications such as The Economist, which had depicted Africa as a "hopeless continent" just a decade ago, and Time are falling over themselves to promote a narrative of "Africa rising".

The reality of Africa this year is likely to be more complex than this binary approach suggests. Africa must beware of the flattery of western soothsayers. The structural adjustment programmes foisted on Africa in the 1980s, after all, turned out often to have led to "growth without development".

As the African Union (AU) holds its biannual summit this week, three priority areas will be important in the year ahead.

First is the need to achieve Pax Africana. It is critical that the cynical game of the "pretence of peace-building" be halted and that resources for rebuilding state institutions be provided to conflict-ridden countries. Only then can the root causes of conflicts be genuinely addressed.

International actors are spending a pittance on peace-building projects in Africa, compared with the billions of dollars spent restoring the Balkans to health.

Three conflicts are particularly important: South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Oil-rich South Sudan became Africa's newest state in 2011, and its present conflict, in which more than 1,000 people have died and 400,000 have been displaced, is particularly tragic. The conflict has militarised ethnicity between the largest Dinka and Nuer groups, and these fissures will need to be carefully managed by regional actors such as Ethiopia and Kenya and external powers such as the US and China. These tensions must not be allowed to stall the progress of the East African Community, which has recently also experienced friction between Tanzania and neighbouring Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

Nearly 1-million people have been displaced in the CAR and thousands of people killed. France's autocratic client, Chad, has played a leading and sometimes dubious peacemaking role in the country, while Gallic interests remain a source of concern, as they do in Mali and Côte d'Ivoire. Though stability is clearly essential in managing the CAR's religious and ethnic fault lines, it is critical that the international community does not simply subsidise French interests in the country. A genuinely international force under United Nations command is essential. Africa will also need urgently to improve its rapid-response capacity to ensure the continent does not keep relying for its security on self-interested external powers.

The Congo is a territory the size of Western Europe in which a two-decade conflict, fuelled by resources and citizenship issues and involving meddling regional "spoilers" such as Rwanda and Uganda, has resulted in more than 3-million deaths. Sanctions such as the withdrawal of donor assistance to Kigali last year for backing rebels should thus continue to be employed. The 3,000-strong, South Africa-led Southern African Development Community (Sadc) force — also involving Tanzania and Malawi — further helped rout M23 rebels in the Kivu region. This year is likely to test the political will of the Sadc force, as it is likely to face increased risks in this dangerous mission. A foiled military attack on the capital, Kinshasa, last month again underlined the precarious security situation in the Congo.

The second priority for African countries this year is the need to consolidate democratic governance and ensure elections do not become an instrument for waging war by other means. Polls are scheduled this year in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau. They must be carefully monitored by domestic and international observers.

The final priority for Africa this year is the need to bolster regional pillars. All five countries that contribute 75% of the AU's regular budget are experiencing diverse challenges.

South Africa continues to be dogged by the negative effects of growing socioeconomic inequalities. Nigeria continues to battle Boko Haram terrorists. Military-dominated Algeria continues to be accused of "exporting" its domestic terrorists to neighbouring Mali. Egypt (which was suspended from the AU last year after a military coup) has returned to a thinly veiled form of military rule under a crude democratic veneer, and its political system continues to lack legitimacy; while large parts of Libya continue to be controlled by local warlords. These problems will constrain the leadership of these regional pillars, and their ability to promote security and regional integration.

Africa is unlikely to rise or fall this year. It is neither going to heaven nor hell, but will remain in purgatory. Some countries will do well, others will stumble, but the majority will continue to muddle through. It is always worth remembering that Africa is a continent, not a country.

Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution.

This article is part of a series of fortnightly columns written by Adekeye Adebajo for Business Day every other Monday. It was also published in The Guardian, Nigeria on 29 January 2014.

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