The contest over peace and security in Africa

By Alex de Waal

, by OpenDemocracy

The dominant interventionist approach to peace and security in Africa by-passes the hard work of creating domestic political consensus and instead imposes models of government favoured by western powers. The emergent African methodology offers a chance to develop locally-rooted solutions too often sidelined.

The common modus operandi for resolving an African civil war is no longer for the warring parties to sit together to hammer out their differences. Instead they compete for the favours of the USA, France and Britain—the so-called “P-3” of the United Nations Security Council—which do their best to determine the outcome of any crisis, ostensibly in accord with principles such as democracy and the protection of civilians, but more consistently with regard to their own political interests. Some African leaders are promoting the idea that a country should determine its own political settlement, based on an inclusive negotiating forum. But this is an uphill struggle, not least because, well aware of where power lies and aid money comes from, African publics often go along with western preferences.

The last twelve months have seen African-led efforts to resolve the conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya brushed aside by France and NATO respectively, which used military force to achieve their political objectives. African Union proposals for resolving the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, by inclusive political dialogue have been ignored by the P3 in favour of an approach that relegates discussions among Sudanese to an adjunct to bargaining between the Government of Sudan and the western powerbrokers. In Somalia, Africa and western powers have agreed on a security-led response that leaves a political settlement in a distant second place.

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