Reflections on the AU PSC Summit - ‘African solutions to African problems’ (Alex de Waal)
Reflections on the AU PSC Summit
By Alex de Waal, Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009
The slogan ‘African solutions to African problems’ has become hackneyed and discredited. One reason why it is not taken seriously is that there has been little African analysis of African problems, because African institutions have borrowed their definitions and methodologies from elsewhere. The agenda has usually been set by non-African governments, multilateral institutions and NGOs, which have appropriated for themselves the right to speak for Africans—reducing the African voice to the pronouncements of governments, which are usually disregarded for good reason.
The special meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council, at heads of state level, in Abuja, Nigeria, on 28 October, to consider the AUPD report was a departure in several ways. It showed Africa, and the African Union, at its strongest, and gives reason for optimism about the implementation of the recommendations of the report.
In presenting the report, the Panel Chairman Thabo Mbeki, and the Chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping, stressed how much Africa cares for Sudan—for Sudan’s sake and for Africa’s sake. They were less interested in pointing the finger and asserting principles for their own sake, and more concerned about helping Sudan look forward rather than getting entangled in its past.
The report is tough on the Sudan government, not only for its misconduct of the war and the need to be called to account for violations, but also for the structural political inequalities it has sustained. Despite this harshness, the Sudan government was ready to listen and accept, more than one would have anticipated. Disarmed by the frank, caring and constructive approach, the Sudan government could not question the Panel’s motives. President Mbeki framed his structural critique as a challenge to the Sudan Government to take a lead in transforming Sudan. The armed movements were not present in Abuja, but they should be assessing the Panel’s work politically, and seeing how it can best be leveraged to their political advantage.
The members of the AU Panel were present in Abuja, but not the advisers such as myself. According to what I learned, two main issues were raised in the closed session of the meeting.
One concerned the Panel’s methodology. The heads of state were interested in the process utilized and wanted it explained. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi took a lead in asking questions about how the Panel had arrived at its conclusions. Arising from his questions, and President Mbeki’s answers, was a broader implication that the Panel had pioneered a bold new approach to analyzing African problems, allowing Africa to take the lead in addressing Sudan’s political crisis. Much of the PSC AUPD’s method started with a simple, disarming and commonsense approach—to listen to the people of Darfur from all walks of life and allow them to define the problem.
The method of participatory listening and formulating recommendations on that basis was validated by the PSC. The heads of state present in Abuja were told that listening to people at the grassroots, led the panel in the direction of comprehensive, moderate, and workable measures, that ordinary people were reasonable in articulating what constitutes a just solution to Darfur’s problem, and that listening to them gave an opportunity to capture the society’s disposition towards a solution. They heard that forty days of consultations and hearings with more than 3,000 people was a worthwhile investment. Prime Minister Meles noted, ‘there is now an African position based on a real investigation.’ He went on to say, ‘This sets a new standard that the AU will have to uphold.’
The second topic for discussion was a broader issue of how the Panel managed to define the central issues in Darfur, what they meant for Africa, and how Africa should respond. Discussing the report was invigorating for African leaders who have become accustomed to being on the receiving end of analysis and recommendations, chasing problems that have been defined by others. They had been reduced to tacticians, dealing solely with damage management. In Abuja they had the opportunity to think strategically, and they responded. Implicit in the points made was that the failure to provide an African analysis of African problems was the root cause of the failure of Africa to pursue its own solutions to those problems.
The discussion around the AUPD report shows the strengths of Africa’s leaders. It demonstrates how Africa’s comparative advantage is to think politically concerning political crises such as Darfur. Africa contributes human resources to peacekeeping operations but has great difficulties in providing any further peacekeeping infrastructure. But recent experience suggests that the burden of sustaining large peacekeeping operations may be sustained at the expense of an erosion of political thinking. Africa, unencumbered by these obligations, and not deeply engaged in humanitarian operations, is able to think in more creative political terms. If the analysis is right, African leaders may be prepared to act boldly and strategically.
Some other points from the PSC meeting deserve mention.Click on labels here below for related reports and updates.
Chadian President Idriss Déby was present at the meeting and reportedly said that the report was positive. He found its analysis educative, and noted that it coincided with his own observations, though he criticized the assertion that arms were coming to Darfur from Chad, rather than vice versa. Other heads of state who were present and commented positively included President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, and President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya. Compaoré noted that the Panel’s analysis was relevant to west African countries (including his own) that face conflicts between farmers and pastoralists. Kibaki’s concern was with the CPA.
There was almost no discussion of the ICC in the summit and nothing significant was said on the hybrid court. One member state raised ICC in the context of making the point that, if the Sudan government implements the recommendations, then the proposal to defer the ICC arrest warrant against President Bashir will be compelling. This issue was not pursued, although the PSC resolution reiterates the July 2008 request that the UN Security Council defer the ICC prosecution of President Bashir. The reason for this being included is that the PSC has not revisited its earlier decision. The underlying reason is that the PSC remains frustrated by the way its request was spurned by the UNSC—it is a reminder to the UN that it should not take the AU for granted.
The PSC established a High-Level Implementation Panel with a one year mandate, comprising the three former presidents. This will oversee the implementation of the Panel’s recommendations. The African leaders all spoke about the imperative of implementation. As has been repeated many times, the problem of Sudan is a problem of too many agreements not implemented. The PSC made a commitment to seriousness in implementation, which is encouraging.
The renewed Panel will also attend to the implementation of the CPA. This is a significant step. The AU has not yet taken any position on the questions that arise from the prospect of self-determination in southern Sudan, other than pro forma support for the CPA. Based on the model of the AUPD, we can expect the new Panel to undertake systematic political analysis of the future of Sudan, whether as one country or two, and consult the people on the questions that arise.
Perhaps the most significant implication of the PSC meeting is the potential for African leadership in defining and pursuing political solutions for crises in Africa. This could be a new page. If the internationals are serious about viable solutions to Sudanese crises, they should find appropriate ways to support this approach.