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New conceptual tools to grapple with conflicts resolution

By Paul T. Shipale
The Namibian Head of State, President Hifikepunye Pohamba when he officially opened the 44th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Africa Region Conference in Windhoek, remarked that without peace and stability, the efforts of African Governments would be in vain and called on the African Member states of the CPA to continue to work together to consolidate and enhance co-operation aimed at achieving accelerated socio-economic development, peace and the improvement of the living conditions of African people. The President suggested that this could be done by utilizing the Commonwealth partnership to promote peaceful resolution of conflict and eliminate the causes of conflicts causing untold suffering and destruction of properties and infrastructures on the continent.

In an article that appeared in the South African magazine the thinker of May 2013, trained at the Claremont Graduate University, CA, United States of America, Ademola Araoye, a former Nigerian diplomat and author of Cote d'Ivoire, The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and an international policy analyst with a special interest in conflict analysis and management, posits that Traditional state-centric approaches to dealing with important developments, including conflict resolutions and elimination of the causes of conflicts, have become obsolete.

According to Ademola Araoye, as a result of the geopolitical transformations in the whole of Africa, especially south of the Sahara, many simmering conflicts remain under the radar. As a result, due to deft public relations management, many a crisis incurring incalculable human and material costs, such as in the Casamance, has faded from global consciousness. The unremitting blood bath in the Niger Delta is consigned to obscure segments of global narratives. Slavery in Mauretania is a mere underreported snippet of news.

The rampage of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, the Janjaweed militia in South Sudan, Darfur and the fringes of Tchad, and a legion of such organized chaos elements clutter the political landscape.

All these amorphous groups and elements, rather unfortunately with some justification, arrogate to themselves some tenuous claims to absolute control of significant swathes of territory - within and along the outer fringes of conventional states. These enclaves have lives of their own, even as they survive as proxies for important state actors in the neighbourhood. As a result, the concrete existence of real proto states surviving along with and in close juxtaposition with conventional states has been consolidated beyond a shade of reasonable doubt in the African political firmament. They have become inevitable interlocutors in international life, even if despised and unwanted. Their engagements transcend the battle field where they first stamp their presence.

In no time, navigating and exploiting the spaces around them, they foist their credentials as validated voices in regional and international diplomacy on their host states and international actors. These proto states rub shoulders with sovereign states in their immediate environment. In effect the basic assumption of a normal state-system is invalidated in this environment.

In the face of this conundrum and for ease of conceptual clarity, it is necessary to delineate the proto state from the concept of quasi state coined by Robert Jackson to describe those states which, despite the recognition of other states and international institutions within the global system, nonetheless often lacked 'substantial and credible statehood by the empirical criteria of classical positive international law'.

Established states enjoyed what Jackson described as 'positive sovereignty': they have governments which exercise effective dominion over their peoples and territories, and they are capable of defending themselves, on their own or with allies, against external threats. The 'negative sovereignty' of the quasi state, on the other hand, rests to a considerable extent on international recognition. Araoye argues that in a typology to capture the evolutionary trajectory of the Westphalian state that has led to a revolutionary repudiation of the central tenets and attributes of the Westphalian state concept and given birth to the Post Modern state from an earlier Classic Modern state, the post-colonial state is distinguished from the heuristic Wesphalian State.

According to him, Proto states are crudescent political entities that often play overtly in the global system as unwanted intrusions into the scheme of things. They are denied even the negative sovereignty of Jackson, but have a firm presence in the consciousness of the international community. At the local level, they control territory and are involved in the diplomatic life of the larger universe of the quasi states of their immediate intermestic environment, in particular in negotiations with the paradoxical mandate of ensuring their dismantlement.

However, the records reflect the capacity of proto states to survive. Jonas Savimbi's control of more than a third of the territory of Angola for over two decades; Charles Taylor's over greater Liberia with its capital in Gbarnga for a decade; and later the capture of the formal Liberia state and the Forces Nouvelles in Cote d'Ivoire exemplify this longevity.

The grudging accommodation afforded to proto states and their agents around the table inform that the rules and protocols of the game that nations play have changed in the post cold war era and nowhere have these changes been more manifest than in Central and West Africa.

No major conflict in Africa in the post cold war era, from Sierra Leone, through to the newly emerged narco-state of Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Casamance, Sudan, Tchad, Mali and even Somalia since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been purely domestic. All have been largely intertwined with complex transnational affinities in their immediate sub region.

Araoye thus concludes that archaic conceptual tools applied in the mass media reflecting attitudes to the Laurent Nkundas betray the unfortunate lag in popular appreciation of the transformed nature of the conflict environment in Africa.

The danger is that this attitude obfuscates reality and renders more challenging the task of designing tools and approaches to conflict management that are based on the essential realities of the transformed configurations of the post-colonial state system. Here, suffice to point to the example of Laurent Nkunda, like Jonas Savimbi of UNITA before him, who have come to personify the nemesis of the dangerous good intentioned, but highly controversial, intervention, of the international community.

A careful examination of the postures adopted by the major institutions engaged in the management of the various dimensions of conflict in Africa suggests that positions purveyed and the character of the engagements of these institutions are driven by the respective institutional agendas and interests of the major actors. The tragedies are exploited to sharpen their institutional relevance as well strengthen their places in the cut-throat competition for resources available at the international do-gooder elite clubs. Therefore, a critical interrogation of the whole business of international conflict management and prevention is imperative, in the least to shore up the dwindling legitimacy of international intervention in the difficult African cauldron.

In the intermestic context of African conflicts, an interplay of the implied or explicitly stated interests of state and nonstate transnational actors in the conflict generates an international politics of not only the crisis but also of the conflict mediation.

This has generated a unique dynamic of conflict mediation processes that has often rendered more complicated the management of the conflict and the restoration of peace.

The Liberia peace process provided critical challenges to the internal cohesion of the Economic Community of West African States. Tensions along colonial orientations emerged as Nigeria and a reluctant Ghana with troops on the ground squared off with Burkina Faso and Houphouet Boigny's Cote d'Ivoire, a proxy of France in the sub region, on the way forward. This was re-enacted again in Cote d'Ivoire itself as African states were divided between those sympathetic to the African orientation of the Laurent Gbagbo administration and those perceived as advancing the solidarity of Francophonie in the manner of the resolution of the Ivorian crisis.

Furthermore, the outcome of crises in Kenya and Zimbabwe in which key African personalities and institutions played significant roles are illustrative of the potential for a wellorganised Africa to manage its challenges without the dubious meddling of ostensible dogooders from outside the continent. The critical interrogations must therefore commence with an exploration of the ideational foundations of action by Africans and continental as well as sub-regional institutions. It is important for Africa to come to certain understandings among itself and a clear sense of its locus within the universe. These understandings should then direct our energies on how to take our destiny in our hands in all the realms of our existential enterprises.

Therefore, in order 'to promote peaceful resolution of conflict and eliminate the causes of conflicts causing untold suffering and destruction of properties and infrastructures on the continent' as President Pohamba suggested, the main task around the drawing boards in Africa must begin with the infusion of the African Union with a commonly shared continental civic theology that should constitute the basic axiomatic foundations for political, social and economic action.

Africa has to learn to generate knowledge on, of and about his affairs as a first step toward the emancipation envisioned in the African Renaissance project. The discourse with the world on Africa must be led and driven by a new generation of gifted and youthful thinkers with new conceptual tools to grapple with conflicts resolution in Africa.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen


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