ACSS Senior Leaders Seminar: “Conflict and Conflict Resolution”

By Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Updated: 07/06/2012

(Editor’s Note: Africa has faced numerous conflicts in its recent history and continues to do so today, although in fewer numbers. Conflict threatens not just the immediate security of a people, but the long-term development of their country. “Conflict and Conflict Resolution” was thus the featured topic of June 25, 2012, plenary session for the 14th annual Senior Leaders Seminar sponsored by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The two-week seminar took place June 18-29 in Arlington, Virginia, and was attended by 70 security sector professionals and other government leaders from 40 Africa nations.  Academic discussions at the Africa Center are conducted under a strict policy of non-attribution to allow free and open sharing of ideas. However, several presenters agree to allow portions of their presentations to appear on the record in order to promote broader awareness of the issues.)

Dr. Carolyn Haggis, ACSS instructor specializing in African security institutions, humanitarian intervention, and international law on the use of force, began her remarks for the 10th plenary of the Senior Leaders Seminar 2012 by summarizing current trends in African conflict. In the two decades since the end of the Cold War, the overall number of conflicts has fallen but the proportion of those that are intrastate has risen. Africa also has more conflicts involving non-state actors than any other region.

These trends present several challenges. Conflicts across Africa between 1990 and 2005 are estimated to have cost the continent $284 billion. Even internal conflicts can have external effects if neighboring countries become involved or combatants flee into them. Non-state actors typically use guerilla tactics and are more likely to violate human rights. When there are several such actors involved, it is difficult to reach an agreement.

Until the end of the Cold War, non-intervention was the norm, including for the Organization of African Unity, founded in 1963 and the precursor to the African Union. That non-intervention attitude began to change in the 1990s, and when the AU replaced the OAU in 2002, the right to intervene in cases of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity was enshrined in Article 4 of its Constitutive Act. This could be described as a transition from a regime-security focus to a human-security focus, or from non-interference to non-indifference.

The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), composed of five bodies, is the AU institution for dealing with conflict-related issues. Its main body is the Peace and Security Council (PSC), which at any given time is made up of 15 member states, and which decides the question of intervention. The African Standby Force is the body designed to implement all interventions, and is organized into five regions. While it has launched peace operations before, challenges remain. APSA needs better data collection for its early warning system in some regions, and more analytical capability in general. It is overly reliant on external funding. Maritime security, which had not been seen a problem at APSA’s founding, is increasingly an issue; APSA is thus working to develop its capacity in that sector. Mediation, which should be an important part of conflict prevention and resolution, has received inadequate attention. Finally, although the Constitutive Act gives the AU the right to intervene, norms of non-intervention still persist among some members of the Peace and Security Council.

During the question-and-answer session that followed, Dr. Haggis clarified the issue of UN authorization for AU intervention. Article 53 of the UN Charter requires Security Council authorization for enforcement actions by regional bodies, but AU materials do not mention the need to acquire this authorization. Thus member states maintain different views on the subject, some believing authorization is required and others not.

Summary prepared by Elizabeth Casano, economics major at Northwestern University. Ms. Casano is a 2012 summer intern at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

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