06 Oct 2014

Africa lost an unflagging peacemaker in Vogt

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 312: Africa lost an unflagging peacemaker in Vogt / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
6 October 2014

Margaret Vogt, who died at the age of 64 on September 23, was a pan-African peacemaker and scholar-diplomat who contributed tremendously to Africa's evolving security architecture.

She was involved in student activism during her school days in Lagos, before obtaining her master's degree from Columbia University in New York. She joined her country's top foreign policy think-tank, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, rising to the post of associate research professor.

Rather unusually for a woman at the time, she specialised in security studies, an area that had hitherto been closely guarded by the country's securocrats. She would become the first civilian director of studies at Nigeria's Command and Staff College and a lecturer at its War College. A dyed-in-the-wool pan-African, she married a Beninois, Michel, with whom she had six children.

Vogt moved to New York in 1995 to head the Africa Programme of the International Peace Institute (IPI), a think-tank that works closely with, and on, the United Nations (UN). In this role for more than three years, she led the team of experts that crafted a security mechanism for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) — now the African Union (AU) — which subsequently sought to manage conflicts across the continent.

Vogt also pushed the OAU to make more efforts to involve women in African peacemaking and peace-building initiatives.

While helping to establish the OAU security mechanism, she led another team of experts to devise a security mechanism for the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in 1998-99. This was the first such subregional mechanism on the continent, and built on the lessons of the organisation's peacekeeping missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Vogt had, in fact, co-edited one of the earliest books on the Ecowas Ceasefire Monitoring Group mission in Liberia in 1992; another on Nigeria's historical peacekeeping role in 1993; and a two-volume comparative study of peacekeeping in Chad and Liberia in 1996.

Following her stint at IPI, Vogt moved across the street to join the UN and spent the rest of her 15 years working for the cause of peace in the world body. As deputy director-general in the department of political affairs, she strove tirelessly to calm African conflicts, build closer ties with the AU, and provide conceptual thinking to a UN not always renowned for sound analysis.

She was head-hunted by Malian AU commission chair Alpha Konaré and loaned out by the UN to serve as his chef de cabinet in Addis Ababa between 2003 and 2005. Her understanding of the Byzantine UN bureaucracy proved crucial to AU efforts to establish peacekeeping partnerships with the world body in Burundi and Sudan's Darfur region. Her direct access to Olusegun Obasanjo was also indispensable when the Nigerian president chaired the continental body between 2004 and 2005. Vogt's necessary "gate-keeping" role made her enemies at the AU, but she also retained many supporters.

After returning to her UN post in Turtle Bay from Addis Ababa, Vogt brought theory and praxis together in a seminal chapter on the world body's relationship with the AU and Ecowas in a book I edited on the UN's role in Africa in 2009. Ever the intrepid professional nomad, she accepted the challenge of serving as the deputy special representative of the UN Political Office for Somalia based in Nairobi. It would be her "second coming" to the issue of Somalia, having served as a UN demobilisation officer in the country in 1994.

She worked indefatigably to foster collaboration between the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia and the UN office. Her final posting was to serve as special representative of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2011 and 2013.

The UN's constantly expressed desire to promote strong women to senior positions has often turned out to be rhetorical hot air, and it took Vogt much longer to ascend the UN ladder than it should have, often serving under male bosses less experienced and knowledgeable than her.

By the time of her final posting in Bangui, Vogt was in a wheelchair, and courageously soldiered on in peacemaking efforts in the CAR. Some blamed her for having been too close to the autocratic government of François Bozizé before the peace process fell apart in 2013. Vogt, however, gave a combative and cogent defence of her peacemaking efforts at a seminar in Cape Town last year, highlighting the pernicious role of economic interests and external powers such as France in the CAR.

A prodigious networker who was deeply religious, her motherly demeanour and mentoring skills endeared her to many of her younger colleagues, and she will be fondly remembered as an eminent pan-African peacemaker.

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.

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