No. 5: Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa / Rene Wadlow / TRANSCEND Media Service / December 2013

Reviewed in: TRANSCEND Media Service, 2 December 2013

Devon Curtis and Gwinyayi Dzinesa (Eds), Peacebuilding, Power, and Politics in Africa. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2012, 333pp.

This is a useful collection of essays, a cooperative effort between the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa and the Centre of African Studies at Cambridge University, England including a policy seminar held at the University of Botswana. The book should be read in the light of the current difficulties in the Central African Republic where both civilian and military measures are being used in an effort to create new State institutions and a more just and stable situation.

Responding to violent armed conflict requires two steps:

1) An action-oriented analysis of the situation drawing on local knowledge and evaluations. Who are the key players? What are their current aims? What are the possibilities of compromise through good-faith negotiations?

2) An analysis of policy tools, methods and mechanisms which can help prevent or mitigate an armed conflict. These policy tools are sometimes referred to as a "toolbox" or a "toolkit". Such tools can be used by different organizational channels — by actors from outside a region, by national governments, by nonofficial conflict management organizations and by local institutions or processes.

The effectiveness of the tools chosen, their combination, and their users will depend largely on the quality of the analysis. While the United Nations and other bodies have devised sophisticated forms of conflict analysis, political economy analysis, drivers-of-change studies, capacity mapping, a response to armed violence often calls for rapid measures, not a PhD thesis.

As Devon Curtis notes in his introduction "The experience of conflict typically brings issues of political authority, security, society, and economy to the fore, albeit in different ways in different places. Questions of how to re-establish political authority and security after violence, what to do about ex-combatants, how to renegotiate and manage the changed social relations, mistrust and destruction that accompanies violence, and what to do about changed patterns of production or livelihood as a result of armed conflict have been addressed in many different ways in different African locales."

The quote from Curtis reflects the way the term "peacebuilding" is being used in the United Nations following the 1992 study by the then secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali An Agenda for Peace and the 2005 establishment of the UN Peacebuilding Commission. Peacebuilding is defined as "medium to long-term processes of rebuilding war-affected communities through identifying and supporting structures which will tend to strengthen and solidify peace in order to avoid a relapse into conflict." This process is usually shortened into the term "post-conflict" — a misleading term as conflict is ever present. What is really being described is post-armed violence. Thus, the current use of the term neglects prevention of armed violence. Prevention of armed violence comprises strategies such as institution building, ecologically-sound development, developing dispute resolution mechanisms, and strengthening of tolerance-building and respect for human rights.

Basically there needs to be a shift in focus from post-armed violence reconstruction to prevention. It is true that there are several reasons why there is so much focus on post-violence aid rather than preventive action. One reason is that donors are more reluctant to contribute to prevention, which is difficult to measure. Since the reconstruction of Europe and Japan after the Second World War, governments and the World Bank have learned to rebuild and modernize infrastructures, housing, roads, ports, factories. One can largely overlook how wars started in the first place, especially when, unlike the World War, most African conflicts do not produce clear "winners".

Much of the emphasis of the chapters is on "Statebuilding", a more exact term than "nationbuilding" used in the early 1960s, but the processes for developing post-colonial and post-armed violence societies are largely the same. Most of the case studies here concern states which were already divided and weak as colonies: Sudan, Somalia (two as colonies), the Belgium Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which was never a formal colony but had all the weaknesses. As colonies, the governments were not sufficiently inclusive to ensure adequate representation along the lines of ethnicity, much less gender. Civil society was not consciously developed during the colonial period although churches and religious bodies played a role. Power, both political and economic, was centered in the cities, and rural people were marginalized and fearful of the formal legal system.

I am struck by how little mention of history there is in these presentations, a lack which may come from the emphasis on the post-armed violence approach. Only René Lemarchand who has written extensively on the Congo and its history writes in his chapter Peacebuilding in the Great Lakes Region of Africa

"What peacebuilders are up against in the Great Lakes is a long-term, multifaceted, interlinked crisis. It is best described, in Braudelian terms, as a longue durée phenomenon rooted in the historicity of domestic and interstate conflicts, a crisis made even more intractable by the obstacles inherent in the regional environment. There is no room in this context for quick fix solutions, nor can the continuing significance of major historical events be ignored, any more than their tragic repercussions among the people of the region."

This is no doubt true of other areas as well. However, if one wants a good overview of difficulties and avenues in present efforts in peacebuilding, there is much to be found in this collection, including an extensive bibliography.

René Wadlow, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of its Task Force on the Middle East, is president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.

René Wadlow
TRANSCEND Media Service

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