Monday, May 26, 2008

As African Union Strategises on Peace, Security

Juliana Taiwo, 05.22.2008

Recently, 26 journalists drawn from nine African countries assembled in Addis Ababa for the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation three-day capacity building programme on peace and security on the continent. Although plagued by a myriad of conflicts, top officials of the African Union say there is a silver lining on the horizon. Juliana Taiwo was there

Right from the Addis Ababa airport, Monday night, May 5, 2008 when participants started arriving in batches from West and Southern Africa, it was clear that the Zimbabwe and Darfur issues were going to dominate discussions at the three-day capacity building programme, "Journalists´ Training on the African Peace and Security Architecture”, by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The two participants from Zimbabwe (The Standard News Editor, Walter Marwizi and National Constitutional Assembly, Information officer, Patience Nyangara started the discussion right there at the airport. The cold from the air-conditioning units at the airport did not douse the heated discussions from Nigerian and Zimbabwean journalists, who engaged each other soon after formalities while waiting for the arrival of other colleagues from Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Madagascar and Mozambique.
Walter stated clearly when Okey Ndiribe of Vanguard Newspapers asked what the situation was when he left home adding that he was in Addis to find out why the AU has been particularly silent on Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe.
As far as they (Walter and Patience) were concerned, what was the use of EU sanctions if it is not enforced? He said the sanctions from the West on Mugabe and his family has not affected him much as he has found alternatives to meeting his personal needs and concerns while the poor Zimbabweans in addition to poverty and hunger, are now being killed on daily basis for daring to vote against the same man who is supposed to protect them.
Walter said appointing South African President, Thabo Mbeki, as mediator was a disaster because he was Mugabe’s friend. He also said neither Mugabe nor Morgan Tsvangirai were the messiahs the Zimbabweans were looking for but in their desperate need for change, they were ready to settle for even ‘Satan’ just to be free again.
So when the 26 participants including two from Ethiopia, gathered at the African Union Conference room in Addis Ababa, from May 6-8, 2008, many took turns in hitting back at the AU and their frustrating hurdles placed on the path of journalists trying to report their activities.
The AU representatives most of whom happened to be the resource persons were quick to beat their chests about the interventions of the AU in places like Zimbabwe, Somalia, Darfur and recently Comoros but most of the disclosure sounded like French to participants as no efforts have been made to publicise them.
Mr. Charles Mwaura, an expert on Early Warning System with the AU, said it was not true that African leaders were closing their eyes to the happenings in Zimbabwe. He said though the leaders may not openly criticise bad leadership they were working behind the scenes to tell leaders like Mugabe the home truth. He said the success of SADC was as a result of the backing of the AU Commission and the African leaders engaging of Mugabe at the African Leaders Summit in 2007, this he said led to Mugabe engaging in dialogue with the MDC opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
He also disclosed that no conflict in the continent that has not been foreseen and efforts were made to warn them like that of Rwanda and Zimbabwe.
While hitting on the African media, Mwaura said while the western media markets their news with updates at intervals, some African media do not update their sites if they have any at all. This, he said, was responsible for the poor reportage of the AU and other development happening in the continent.
Mr. El Ghassim Wane, Head of the Conflict Management Division of the African Union said the issue of peace and security was a priority for the African Union. “That is why as a matter of fact in the process of putting together the AU, the leaders made the request to review the way we are working with the peace and security, look at the instruments that existed at that time and see how best we could improve on it. It was in that context that a decision was made to adopt the protocol establishing the African Union Peace and Security Council. And that protocol provided for the establishment of the Peace and Security Council and also established other key organs to support the peace and Security Council in its mandate and include the Panel of the Wise, the African Stand-by Force (ASF). But there are also provisions providing for closer cooperation with Regional Economic Communities (RECs) which play increasingly active role in the prevention and management of conflicts. For example, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Arab Maghreb Union (UMA).
“I believe we have made progress significantly in putting together what we call the Peace and Security Architecture which is made up of all these organs. The AU as of today is more active than it has ever been in dealing with conflicts situation. There is hardly any conflict situation that is not on the agenda of the AU. We sometimes play the lead roles in all these situations, we support the regional groupings, we work very closely with the United Nations, we are involved in conflict preventions, we are involved in conflicts resolutions, we are involved in post conflicts, we are involved in programmes aimed at addressing the root causes of conflicts.
“In spite of the achievements clearly we also do face a number of challenges and one of the main constrains has to do with financial resources,” he said.
On what the AU was doing to address these challenges, Wane said “when it comes to finance, of course we are trying to address it but within membership of the AU but also with our partners. You know the United Nations Peace and Security have a role to play. When the European Union act on the issue of peace and security it is also acting on behalf of United Nations and we need clearly a much bigger support from the international community. Already we have received significant support from the European Union, United States of America, Japan, Canada, China, from individual members of EU and other member states. We are trying to generate enough support to build our capacity in terms of human resources and also to increase our resources. Maybe you are aware that recently, the security council organised meeting on relationships between the UN and regional organisations particularly the AU and one of the focus of the meeting was precisely to see how best to enhance our resource base, how best to enhance our human resources capacity to make it possible for us to address or deal more effectively with the issues facing the continent in terms of peace and security”, he said.
Wane speaking on early warning system and why the AU wants to put it in the front burner, said “You know one of the main objectives of the AU is prevention of conflicts and that is for two reasons. One of which is that it is always better to prevent than to cure because many lives would be saved and of course prevent destruction of properties, killing of people. You know all the mayhem that goes with war. Second one is that it is cheaper to prevent than to send very expensive peace support operations. For instance the operations in Darfur is a project of over $400 million a year, that is literally four times the budget of the AU and it is the same for Somalia. So we have a keen interest in preventing conflicts and that is why in the peace and security council protocol I referred to earlier, there is provision on the establishment of continental early warning system that would be made up of the AU and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), to make it possible for us to anticipate and prevent all conflicts. We have made some progress in putting in place the key components of the early warning system and again I think ECOWAS for instance among the regional body is clearly the most advanced and we are working very closely with them and once the early warning system is fully in place, it will clearly enhance our capacity to anticipate and also to put policy options to our leadership in the AU so that appropriate preventive action could be taken but there is still much to be done.
The regional training, according to Dr. Sabine Fandrych, Resident Representative of FES, Addis Ababa office, is subordinate to the objective of creating a regional dialogue on security issues, and specifically aims at raising awareness among journalists about the structure, functioning and implications of the new regional security architecture in the framework of the African Union; its linkage to other sub-regional, regional and global organizations; the opportunities and challenges of conflict prevention, resolution and post-conflict peace-building.
Fandrych said the workshop was also intended to identify journalists as possible multipliers on these issues and to improve the networking of journalists in the Southern and West African region.
“This security architecture encompasses a Peace and Security Council (PSC) which, according to its founding protocol, is meant to be a ‘collective security and early-warning arrangement to facilitate timely and efficient response to conflict and crisis situations in Africa’. The PSC is to be supported by the Commission of the AU itself, via the Peace and Security Commissioner as well as the Peace and Security Department, a Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), an African Standby Force with five regional brigades as well as a special fund. Apart from that, a Panel of the Wise and a military staff committee have been set up to serve as advisory bodies for the PSC in all questions relating to the promotion of peace and security in Africa.
“The creation of such a continental African system for Peace and Security is a remarkable and innovative development, and it is unequalled even on a global scale. However, there is a long way to go to make the envisaged structure a functioning system, both in technical as well as in political terms. In order for it to function effectively, close cooperation with the sub-regional organizations as well as with the United Nations and international partners is needed.
At the end, it was agreed that African journalists need to take interest in the happenings in the AU, efforts it is making in conflicts prevention and resolutions and bring it to the knowledge of the beneficiary states as well as the continents.
While it was agreed that journalistic ethics such as credibility, balance, objectivity, neutrality and morality, must not be compromised, it was also stressed that responsible and objective reporting will contribute to peace and security in the region.

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