African Union stresses importance of conflict resolution and peacekeeping

The commissioner of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) has spelt out four major obstacles to ending conflict on the continent.

Addressing leaders of civil society organisations from all across Africa meeting at AU headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Sunday, Said Djinnit said limited resources, lack of support for peacekeeping operations and poor conflict early warning systems all served to hamper efforts to resolve the conflicts ravaging Africa. He also highlighted the enormous difficulties facing post-conflict reconstruction, which, he said, would constitute a "huge challenge" for at least the next 20 years in Africa.

Conflicts have crippled Africa. The AU estimates that since the 1960s, Africa has witnessed some 30 conflicts, claiming seven million lives and costing US $250 billion.

By 2010, the AU hopes to have its own stand-by rapid reaction force of 15,000 men, comprising
five regional brigades, to quell such conflicts. An early warning system will signal potential crises, while a Panel of the Wise – five independent men and women - will advise the 15-strong PSC.

But without support from both within and outside Africa, Djinnit added, the newly established PSC would not be able to function properly. "If you don’t put the resources and the expertise in the right place, the institutions will not function. They will only function if you invest," he said.

The EU is one of the most substantial investors in the PSC, having contributed €250 million (about US $302.5 million) to the AU's peacekeeping fund. But the AU estimates that its peace fund will require $200 million a year. In 2003, the AU had just over $6 million in its peace fund, compared with the $2.3 billion dollars the UN spent on peacekeeping in Africa.

"Peace is so important, so vital for our people and so difficult to achieve that it needs the involvement of all," Djinnit noted.

The AU has established the Economic, Social and Cultural Council to act as an "interface" to enable allow greater civil society involvement in the EU. The civil society leaders meeting in Addis Ababa on Sunday are vying to establish a greater role within the AU

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, the general secretary of the Pan-African Movement in Uganda, who was present, told IRIN that the present role of civil society marked a sea change in African politics. "African leaders cannot rule like before, and African people will not let them rule like before, so you have that confluence for change," he said. "There is no longer hero-worshipping of these leaders. People are now starting to claim their space and recognise that they shape their own futures."

Abdul Mohammed of the Inter Africa Group said the meeting was "significant" because it ensured that civil society had a role to play within the AU. "By no means is Africa doing well, but there is a new sense of purpose, energy, and a new sense of legitimacy, and that is illustrated by engaging with us."

Djinnit told the civil society leaders that they were playing vital role, and that their absence as such had been one of the weaknesses of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). "For Africa to have houses, water, electricity and health, you must have peace," he stressed. "So long as peace is not achieved, we cannot achieve our other goals."

Unlike its predecessor, the OAU - which was heavily criticised for its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of African countries - the AU, through the PSC, is empowered to exercise such intervention.

In all, about 10 African countries are in the throes of conflict, and there are currently six different UN peacekeeping missions deployed on the continent.

"No more, never again. Africa cannot sit in Africa and cannot watch tragedies developing in the continent and say this is the UN’s responsibility or somebody else's responsibility," Djinnit said. "We have moved from the concept on non-interference to non-indifference. We cannot remain as Africans indifferent to the tragedy of our people," he stressed.