Regional Economic Communities as Agents of Peacebuilding in Africa

Researcher: Redie Bereketeab
Project started 2018.

This research project focuses on five regional economic communities (RECs) representing the five sub-regions of Africa. These are Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Economic Communities of Central African States (ECCAS), Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS), Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD), Southern African Development Community (SADC). The five RECs have security, peacebuilding, conflict prevention and resolution, and regional integration and development programmes. Revitalising and strengthening the five sub-regions contributes to peacebuilding in Africa. Multiplying RECs distorts the purpose, stand, meaning as well as overlapping membership means division of loyalty, dispersion of resources and capacity, duplication of programmes that undermine their mandates and objectives. Regional integration is increasingly gaining attention from scholars and various stakeholders. However, it has not achieved the theoretical, conceptual and operational clarity and cohesion. RECs, as mobilisation of collective efforts to deal peacebuilding, are destined to play important roles.       

Some of the RECs were formed to combat droughts and environmental degradation, while others aimed at economic integration. Despite the initial difference of objectives, they headed toward peace mediation, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Expectations and hopes placed on RECs are very high. It is also clear that the five RECs are to be found at various levels in their development, level of activities, programmes and projects, implementation capacity, commitment and internal cohesion. Some are very active and in an advanced stage, while others are more or less dormant. Realising the important function of RECs, this research project hope to contribute to the work of injecting life on the dormant RECs and revitalising them.

Within global context, the formation of RECs is also supported and encouraged by UN Charter and resolutions. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as the highest organ invested with the responsibility for peace and security authorises RECs to carry out operations concerned with peace and security. The AU also, in an attempt to centralise the work of the RECs, have initiated the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). The African Peace and Security Council (PSC), which is equivalent to the UNSC, forms the overseeing authority of the RECs.

 

Objectives

This research project examines the role of RECs in peacebuilding. African societies suffer from chronic and rampant intra-state and inter-state conflicts and wars. The festering wars are one of the underlying factors for the underdevelopment, poverty, unemployment and youth migration characterising the Continent. Concerted efforts, from different directions and various actors aiming at mitigating the pathologies have been taking place. From an organisational perspective, it is presumed that three – national states, RECs and AU – are supposed to deal with the rampant wars. There is growing realisation that concerted efforts at the three levels, in collaboration with international organisations, is needed to properly and adequately address the wars. The three levels are associated with micro-level, meso-level and macro-level: national, regional and continental respectively. These are sociological organisational structures that require simultaneous distinction and coordination in order to address the intricate wars. RECs as a meso-level organisational structure and from the principle of subsidiarity, are supposed to play a key connecting role in the elaborate, all-encompassing and multidimensional process and aspect of peacebuilding. RECs as designing, planning and implementing agents of peacebuilding connect the national (micro-level) and continental (macro-level) in the three level arrangement. Accordingly, RECs constitute meso-level component elements of the AU, while the national states constitute the micro-level component elements. Viewed from this perception, fostering RECs amounts to constructing and strengthening the AU.

The RECs suffer from multiple weaknesses. The first is internal organisational weakness of the RECs. The second is lack of resources. Third, internal conflicts and rivalry among member states. Fourth, lack of clear mandate given to them by national states, AU and UN in meeting peacebuilding responsibilities. It is the intention of this research project to contribute to the consolidation of RECs. Consolidating the RECs to face these challenges fits well in the mantra of African solution for African problems championed by the AU. To achieve this a genuine and meaningful conversation among RECs, AU and IOs is required.      

The central objective this research project seeks to promote is RECs’ fulfilment of responsibility of peacebuilding allotted to them by the AU and UN. The intra-state wars in Africa are of regional nature. The root causes, actors, resources and interests involved are often traced beyond the horizons of national political borders. An effective and sustainable solution would therefore require holistic regional approaches, mechanisms, dynamics and methodologies. In this context, RECs are strategically located to deal with the regional dimensions, contents and manifestations of violent conflicts provided they be supplied with all necessary instruments. Departing from this perception, this research project explores the role of RECs in peacebuilding in Africa. It critically interrogate theoretical, conceptual and methodological instruments employed; and organisational structures, resources, agency, commitments and policies needed. These are to be embedded in elaborate, innovative and empirical examination.

 

Theoretical and Methodological Approaches

In its theoretical orientation, the research project is eclectic and multidisciplinary. The complex and intricately interlocked factors that produce the wars afflicting the Continent render it challenging to chart single theoretical framework that capture the complexity of the violent conflicts. While the root causal factors relate to the nature and structure of the postcolonial state, the proximate or contextual factors are associated to various inherited or externally imposed socio-economic, ideological and environmental problems in which the regional states are forced to function. The central theoretical assumption guiding this research proposal is, a combination of both factors produce the violent conflicts, and only dealing with both factors would bring peace, security and development to the Continent. 

The theoretical framework strides across several theoretical strands and traditions such as peace and conflict theory, organisational theory, subsidiarity theory, development theory, peacebuilding and state building theories, integration theory, etc. The contention is that a cumulative explanatory and analytical endeavour encompassing all will contribute to our understanding, explanation and interpretation of the role of RECs in peacebuilding. Integration theory emphasises that it is through bringing together separate and sovereign states that RECs are brought forth. Further, it purports that sovereign states join in RECs by surrendering some of their authority to the supra-national body for the sake of greater common good. Development theory is based on the assumption that peace and peacebuilding is dictated by the level of development of society. The theory of peace and conflict is also related to the theory of development. Associated variables: underdevelopment, poverty, illiteracy, endemic health problems, environmental degradation, inequality, conflictive mode of life (nomadic-pastoralism, sedentary-farming) are accounted for the festering wars.    

There are varieties of peacebuilding theories. Neo-liberal peacebuilding is one. The progressive popular, is another. The progressive popular peacebuilding concerns with the fundamental issue of construction of state and society. Developing societies, being still in a transition stage are precarious, fragile and malleable because they have not yet achieve a level of development where state and nation is fully grown. History, culture, socio-economy, context and specificity are very important. In this context, it will be advisable to develop theoretical, conceptual and methodological frames that are relevant and reflective of specific realities, but also carry adequate and robust analytical and explanatory powers to understand peacebuilding.

The research project employs eclectic and multidisciplinary methodological approach. The complexities and intricacies of the wars, dynamics, actors and structures involved demand pluralist methodological approaches and mechanisms. The theoretical analysis and reading of the wars afflicting Africa and the responsibility of RECs in peacebuilding necessitates multi-methodological approaches, since peacebuilding touches different aspect of societal life: economy, politics, culture, history, international relations, ethnicity, nationalism and statehood, gender, class and age. It is eclectic methodological approach because it is multidisciplinary, and employs multi-method. This will enable us to draw qualitative inductive and deductive inferences related to RECs and peacebuilding. The prism through which we analyse, interpret and explain peacebuilding should lead us to identify structures, actors and agencies involved in peacebuilding.  The relation between RECs as agents and peacebuilding as policy or action represents the methodological relation of sociology of actor-structure model of analysis and explanation. Therefore, by combining RECs and peacebuilding we are engaging in the sociological tradition of hermeneutics and verstehen, where we are required to introduce innovative, creative, contextual, empiri-based methodology. 

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