African Conflicts, Development and Regional Organisations in the Post-Cold War International System – Victor AO Adetula

A number of recent studies have expressed marked optimism about the constant decrease in armed conflicts around the world. One such study projects that by 2050 the proportion of countries at war will have declined significantly, with high prospects for global peace and security (Hegre et al. 2013). Using Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) data, Hegre et al. associate the long years of peace enjoyed in the world with decreased global poverty, and project that the trend is likely to continue into the future. The prognosis shows that many countries in the world will remain peaceful in coming years. It is, however, noted that countries with high poverty, low education and young populations are fertile ground for conflict, and that more than half the world’s conflicts during 2012 occurred in such countries. The prognosis for Africa does not reflect the same optimism. Poverty reduction, transparent and accountable governance and citizen satisfaction with the delivery of public goods and service have shown no sign of significant improvement. In consequence, peace has continued to elude the continent, and this trend may continue unless radical measures are taken to prevent further deterioration within a holistic and integrated strategy that emphasises democratic governance, economic development and equitable distribution of wealth as conditions for peace and security.

Civil war is a constant threat in many poor and badly governed countries in Africa. However, the causal relationship between armed conflict and underdevelopment is complex. Thus, analyses and prognoses that link conflict and underdevelopment require qualification. Recent studies suggest that “while … it seems plausible that poverty can create the desperation that fuels conflict, the precise … causal linkage is not quite evident. There are poor societies that are remarkably peaceful, and richer societies that are mired in violence” (Östby 2013:207). Africa is reported to have made “impressive progress in addressing other development challenges” since the beginning of the millennium in terms of economic growth rate, which was the highest in the world; improved business environment and investment climate; and a rapidly expanding labour force (Ascher and Mirovitskaya 2013: 3). Nonetheless, the continent still faces some of the most daunting global security threats. For example, 29 (40 per cent) of the 73 state-based conflicts active in 2002-11 were in Africa (Themnér and Wallensteen 2013: 47). Also, of the 223 non-state conflicts in 2002-11, 165 (some 73 per cent) were in Africa, and mostly in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan, which between them accounted for 125 of the non-state conflicts (Themnér and Wallensteen 2013: 52). In 2011, Africa recorded several significant internationalised intrastate conflicts, some of them of long standing (Allansson et al. 2013: 17). During this period, new conflicts erupted in Libya, Sudan and South Sudan. Also, dormant conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal became active. The situation  in northern Mali remains a threat just as the deadly conflicts in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) and Libya are fast escalating into civil war. In East Africa, for many years the activities of al-Shabaab militants have made Somalia and the entire sub-region unsafe. In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the military defeat of the M23 rebel movement has not brought lasting peace,
mainly because of the almost complete absence of a functioning state.

Armed conflicts in Africa, and particularly intra-state conflicts, have attracted the attention of the international community, which has responded by supporting various peace initiatives. A significant number of multilateral peacekeeping and peace operations have been launched to address African conflicts. By the end of 2013, eight of the UN’s 15 peacekeeping missions were in Africa, and involved 70 per cent of all UN peacekeepers deployed globally (Ladsous 2014). Despite this level of multilateral intervention, only limited impacts have been recorded. While one can argue that the number and intensity of armed conflicts has declined in Africa, violence by armed non-state actors is on the increase. Ongoing armed insurgencies in Nigeria and parts of the Sahel, notably Mali and Niger, best illustrate this trend, with several deaths recorded. In addition, organised crime is on the rise across the continent, coupled with the emergence of new forms of violence associated with contemporary globalisation and other post-Cold War phenomena.

The post-Westphalian international system introduced new challenges that have implications for global peace and stability, particularly for the most vulnerable regions of the world. With the end of the Cold War, the international system lost its highly structured “framework within which the internal and international behaviour of Third World states was regulated” (Snow 1996: 4). Donald Snow adds that “the end of the Cold War has been accompanied by an apparently reduced willingness and ability to control internal violence … Governments and potential insurgents no longer have ideological patrons who provided them with the wherewithal to commit violence and then expect some influence over how that violence is carried out” (Snow 1996: 46). These developments introduced “greater instability” that increases “the likelihood of the outbreak of violent conflict and opening the doors of atrocities.” Added to these are forms of violence that are partly enhanced by the “end of bi-polar Cold War stability” and “the fundamental changes in the social relations governing the ways in which wars are fought” (Melander et al. 2006: 9). Global illicit trade in drugs, arms and weapons; human trafficking; piracy etc. are now part of the threat to global peace and international security.

The international system is presently resting on fragmented global governance foundations. The multilateral system is not working that well, despite the rhetoric by states in support of global cooperative responses. Neither the Bretton Woods-UN system nor informal plurilateral bodies such as the Group of Eight (G8) and G20 Leaders’ Summits have demonstrated the potential or capacity to help Africa and other vulnerable regions in overcoming global pressures. For instance, while Africa and the challenges of development feature regularly on the agendas of international organisations and development partners, commitments to assist the continent are generally accompanied by new conditionalities and other criteria that are justified under the new discourse on aid effectiveness and aid for trade. With the end of the Cold War, powerful and rich countries of the global North redefined their national interests and reorganised them in less altruistic ways that seem not to emphasise cooperative initiatives. Meanwhile, the world is being treated to the emergence of new global powers, notably Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC). The BRIC states are increasingly involved in global issues such as trade, international security, climate change and energy politics. However, while they have shown an interest in global issues, they are not necessarily prepared to assume responsibility for international development, including global peace and security. These developments provide opportunities for regional actors to become more engaged in developing and expanding their roles in conflict management and maintaining regional security.

The strengthening of regional organisations and the emergence of new regional networks are important features of the post-Cold War system. Regional institutions are becoming increasingly prominent in contemporary international relations. The complexity of security challenges in the post-bipolar world requires greater cooperation and coordination among states within a region. Current waves of globalisation are already promoting regional consensus-formation and coordination. The inability of many national governments to address problems with cross-border dimensions, such as pests, desertification, drought, climate change, HIV/AIDS, drug and human trafficking has further encouraged states to embrace regionalist approaches. Both in the areas of economic development and security, many states now favour regional organisations and other forms of alliance. These organisations have become more associated with the task and responsibility of maintaining world peace. In this context, the emergence of the African Union (AU), for instance, represents a renewed commitment by African states to a regional approach.

Dominant international relations discourse in the post-Cold War era acknowledges “complex interdependence” as one of the defining characteristics of the global system and tends to favour a regionalist approach to the management of inter-state relations. There are still challenges at various levels – national, regional and global. For example, some states are still protective of their sovereignty despite the overwhelming impact of globalisation and the attacks on the territorial state. Regionally, many organisations have serious capacity gaps. And globally, there are, among other things, the challenges of power politics. In this lecture, I examine the performance of Africa’s regional organisations in ensuring peace and security on the continent. In doing this, I draw attention to the need for national and regional actors to pay attention to good governance and development as part of their efforts to operate effective collective security systems and conflict resolution mechanisms without ignoring the essence of the global context.

Originally published in The Nordic Africa Institute (NAI). See full complete article here.