Strengthening states’ legitimacy and supporting local actors of change are the best ways to build and maintain peace in Africa

In the run-up to this year's FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum, we asked international partners of FriEnt’s member organisations to formulate their expectations on the German commitment to peacebuilding and crisis prevention. The articles will be gradually published in the "PBF Voices Blog". The first article in this series comes from Gilles Olakunlé Yabi, an economist, political analyst and the founder of the West Africa Citizen Think Tank, WATHI. He argues that the outlook for peace in Africa is closely tied to progress on the political stabilization, economic diversification, and to the capacity of African institutions to rein activities of transnational criminal Networks.

Political crises associated with the challenge of state and nation building are the main sources of insecurity in Africa. Most episodes of violence are associated with conflicts over political power at the highest level. The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Burundi, and Central African Republic are current examples, which confirm the profoundly political dimension of recurrent violence and instability. 

Violent competition over control of power, resources, and minds has to be put in a historical perspective. Most African countries continue to struggle to find their own way after only five or six decades of existence as independent states. Political systems have not yet been stabilized and African societies, which are characterized by their immense cultural diversity, are finding it difficult to adopt a shared vision of governing principles and key values. It is essential for European partners of Africa to keep in mind that history does matter for the present and the future. In Africa, there is nothing such as the « End of History » looming ahead.

Terrorist activity has added a new dimension to insecurity on the continent. Attacks in various countries of North Africa, West Africa, and the Horn of Africa point to the deteriorating situation. There are fears that high levels of unemployment and the increasing gap between demographic growth and socioeconomic progress provide terrorist groups with a large and renewable pool of recruits.

Socioeconomic pressures and the fragility of states make young people vulnerable to recruitment to various types of criminal activity, not only terrorism. Transnational crime, including human trafficking and drug trafficking have gone hand in hand with globalization. For African states, establishing complex security and judicial mechanisms to fight organized crime is a daunting challenge.

Africa’s international partners have been particularly active in the last two decades in the peace and security area. The European Union is the primary funder of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) of the African Union. The EU deployed military as well as police training missions in various countries especially in the Sahel. Germany has been playing a crucial role in European engagement, through civilian intervention but also more recently by sending troops for training missions in Mali.

Germany’s approach appropriately focuses on support to capacity building of African organizations such as the AU and regional communities. However, African organizations’ structural weaknesses mirror the political and socioeconomic fragilities of individual countries. There are no credible substitutes to major changes in political governance and radical improvement of state’s functioning to build a more stable and peaceful future.

German policy could make a difference by adopting a broad understanding of the scope of conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The outlook for peace will continue to be closely tied to progress on the political stabilization, economic diversification, and to the capacity of African institutions to rein in the most negative consequences of external influences, particularly those ensuing from the activities of transnational criminal networks.

This latter area is one where Germany can play a specific role taking advantage of its perceived distance with controversial security, economic and financial networks which have been historically active in Africa. Another essential area where there is much room for soft but powerful influence is support to the local actors of political, economic and societal change in African countries. In Africa as in Europe, policies which stimulate the collective intelligence of peoples  – through a strong focus on wider access to education, knowledge and culture -, are the best way to contain rising nationalism and all sorts of extremist ideologies.

Gilles Olakunlé Yabi is an economist and political analyst and the founder of WATHI, West Africa Citizen Think Tank.

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Gilles Olakunlé Yabi

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