Academics contribute to peace operations in Africa

The African Union needs fresh ideas and recommendations for its peace operations. Researcher, diplomats, military staff and policymakers gathered for a two-day workshop in Cape Town to single out strategic options for the future. "Policy advice really can help in the day-to-day running of the operations", Dr Linnéa Gelot, researcher at NAI, says.

Rising terrorism with international links, disastrous pandemics like Ebola, protecting civilians with forceful action. The security landscape in Africa is changing rapidly, undermining the safety of societies. Thus, more than sixty security experts exchanged thoughts and practical advice at an intensive workshop in Cape Town, South Africa, on December 17–18.

The meeting was organised by the Nordic Africa Institute together with the Norwegian-funded Training for Peace network, consisting of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI), the South Africa-based African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), the Ghana-based Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping and Training Centre (KAIPTC), and the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

"We wanted to gather the key people involved in the decision making, practitioners working with the operations, strategic experts from think-tank institutions and NGOs, as well as academia both from African and Nordic countries. In this way we could combine theoretical knowledge with real-life material", NAI researcher Linnéa Gelot, one of the organisers, says.

The aim of the policy-focused workshop is to strategically improve and strengthen African peace operations, especially those by the African Union (AU). The seminar report, to be published in early 2015, will summarise key strategic options and recommendations for the next ten years. Additionally, academic papers presented at the Cape Town meeting will be included in a forth-coming book.

"During our discussions, an African Union official told about the very limited time frame they are working within. They may not even have permission to speak to NGOs or people affected by a crisis. So channelling appropriate policy advice to the right level really can help in the day-to-day running of African Union peace operations", Dr Gelot says.

Protecting civilians requires force

The nature of African peace operations is changing, moving away the principle of using force only in self-defence. Recent examples are the UN Force Intervention Brigade in the eastern DRC, with a mandate to disarm the M23 rebel group, and the AU operation in Somalia. Peace operations now tend to have a more robust approach, Cedric de Coning, senior research fellow at ACCORD and NUPI, explains.

"Especially as the protection of civilians becomes more important, there has been more pressure on both the AU and the UN to take more forceful action when people are at risk. By robust peacekeeping we mean operations that have the capacity and the will to use force", he says.

"When you actually have to act against a particular party, using both intelligence and stealth, the whole dynamics change quite radically. There is a greater risk both to the host population as well as to people doing development aid and humanitarian assistance as part of the operations.", Dr de Coning, who chaired the workshop, says.

Focusing on people in need

The workshop consisted of eight sessions where different aspects of the emerging security landscape on the African continent was analysed and discussed.

"The topic that probably provided most discussion was how to adapt the African Standby Force to the new security situation. Unless the AU can provide a relevant response, it loses some of its arguments for having 'African solutions to African problems'. It's very important that the AU has the right response mechanisms that actually get the job done", Dr Gelot says.

"What we already have in terms of operations is robust enough. What we need now is the leadership, the will and the commitment to get it. We don't need new institutional frameworks. We need to get what we already have to respond as effectively as possible", Dr Kwesi Aning, director of KAIPTC, adds.

The process that started with the Cape Town workshop is focused on a concrete goal.

"The end users of this process are ordinary African people in conflict zones like the CAR, Mali, Somalia or the DRC. We need to improve the way we undertake peace operations. We have to develop a very clear and focused understanding of what we want to do and what the potential negative consequences are. Then the organisations involved in the operations can be well prepared", Dr de Coning says.

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