No. 383: Post-Conflict Rebuilding Resources Lacking / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
12 December 2016
As I end my 13 years as executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, herewith some reflections on my two-and-a-half decades in the field of peacebuilding before riding off into the Johannesburg sunset.
The past 25 years have been something of a personal intellectual and policy odyssey since I entered the field as the Cold War was ending in 1990.
This period has seen tremendous changes: the launching of a Nigerian-led peacekeeping mission to halt Liberia's civil war in 1990 (the subject of my Oxford doctoral thesis), the disappearance of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the first democratic election in SA in 1994. I witnessed apartheid's funeral and Nelson Mandela's presidential inauguration, while serving as a UN electoral observer in this country. Shortly after, I also served a year with the UN mission in Western Sahara.
In the second post-Cold War decade, five more years were spent at the International Peace Institute (IPI) in New York, where I worked to support, and produce knowledge on, Africa's fledgling regional organisations at a time when Ghana's Kofi Annan was the UN secretary-general. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was the most difficult and most closed of all the organisations to work with, while the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) had the most experience with such collaboration. IPI taught me the importance of convening power, as it had the best access to senior UN policy makers. The Africa Programme I headed served as a bridge between the UN and African regional organisations and civil society.
After leaving New York in 2003, I arrived at the southernmost tip of Africa to head the CCR, where I witnessed the last five years of the presidency of Thabo Mbeki. SA's "philosopher king" oversaw the birth of the African Union (AU) amid the euphoria of the "African Renaissance". Many of the institutions he helped create — the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the African Peer Review Mechanism, the Pan-African Parliament — however, appear to have atrophied.
CCR's Africa programme has been guided by a pan-African vision built around capacity building and policy development and research. The centre has undertaken sustained interventions in Lesotho, Swaziland and South Sudan.
Its work on SA's foreign policy saw close interaction with the ministries of international relations, defence, trade, as well as Parliament. My UN experience in New York shaped CCR's establishment as a centre of excellence on the world body.
One of my most striking reflections is how important the UN is to Africa, and how poor analysis of the UN is on the continent.
The centre also worked hard to build the capacity of the AU, SADC and Ecowas, as well as contributing to the early-warning mechanisms of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the Economic Community of Central African States.
There has been some progress. Building on Ecowas's successes in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, the AU deployed peacekeepers to Darfur, Burundi, and Somalia. Its Peace and Security Council continues to play an active role in African conflicts.
Governance has also improved drastically since 1990. However, resources for post-conflict reconstruction remain woefully inadequate, there is still a lack of co-ordination between the UN and Africa's donor-dependent regional bodies, while the African Stand-by Force — promised by 2010 — appears to be a long way off. This has resulted in an often pernicious French and US military presence on the continent.
One of the most important achievements at CCR has been dealing with the dearth of African-produced knowledge. The centre published 18 books, two journals, 56 seminar reports, 34 policy briefs and 382 newspaper articles over the past 13 years, many of which have been used in academic and policy institutions across the globe.
One of my biggest concerns through observing recent trends is a feeling that some western donors see publishing books as a luxury for African think-tanks. It is crucial that African research institutes do not become glorified self-publishing outfits and data collectors for Western institutions.
Just as the best policy in the West is based on sound research, the same must apply to Africa.
Dr Adebajo has been executive director of the CCR since 2003, and is the incoming director of the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg