Sweden should promote Africa's conflict prevention work

Sweden can play an important role in counteracting conflicts in Africa. We should more clearly prioritize conflict prevention and gender equality in the work to promote peace and security, writes researcher Linnéa Gelot.

The UN Security Council calls on African peace and security organizations to address some of today's most complex security threats, which are undergoing an intensive phase of reform. At present, rapid and cost-effective stabilization efforts are in demand, both from donors and major powers (this refers to the United Kingdom, the United States and France) as well as most African leaders. For example, African forces with a stabilization mandate have been fighting Al-Shabab since 2007.

Sweden can make a difference

Investment in preventive measures and peace mediation is a crucial factor in achieving lasting peace. It showed a review of the UN's peacebuilding work carried out in 2015. Sweden can play an important role in counteracting conflicts and clarifying our support in areas such as mediation and political-strategic leadership. Sweden can influence a growing acceptance that the changing and increasingly transnationalized nature of conflicts legitimizes the development towards offensive, short-term efforts with weak political leadership and very few civilian personnel.

  • Sweden should expand its diplomatic relations with and through the African Union (AU).
    The ambition with Swedish African politics is reasonably an ability to act as a dialogue partner at the highest political level. The AU is undoubtedly the most important discussion forum for tackling Africa's multifaceted challenges.
  • Sweden should consider a formalized "strategic partnership" with the AU.
    Political influence in Addis Ababa requires a greater presence and strong monitoring of political developments in the region. Since the beginning of 2015, Norway has had a strategic partnership with the AU, which spans several issues where Norway and the AU decide which profile issues Norway will support in the long term. In these matters, Norway therefore has a great impact and visible results.
  • A formalized partnership with AU would be a forum for mutual and purposeful engagement.
    In addition to peace and security, strategic discussions can be held on democracy and governance as well as development and trade. A match can be made between the government's priorities and foreign policy profile with identified priorities in the AU's development strategy Agenda 2063. Here, Sweden can particularly emphasize our ability and tradition of the political dimension of conflict prevention and peace mediation.
  • We should take advantage of our long tradition of further training mediators.
    Our feminist foreign policy, good reputation in the field of gender equality and Sweden's newly created network of mediators create good conditions for investments in the field. Based on Sweden's commitment to UN Resolution 1325 on women in conflicts, we can highlight, for example, our support for the AU's special envoy for women and conflicts. Initiatives for increased gender equality are requested from the AU Commission's chairman Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, for example, investments in female mediators.
  • Sweden should use the aid for democratic regulations.
    The size of the unit within AU that works with political issues is one tenth (about 20 people) compared to the one that works with peace and security (about 200 people). In this context, it may be recalled that the AU's normative regulations for, among other things, democracy, elections and governance are essentially adequate - but that too few of the AU's member states have ratified or implemented this. Sweden could benefit from using both bilateral aid to African partner countries and the aid that goes through multilateral channels to an agenda to comply with the continent's own democratic regulations.

35 African troops

In recent years, more than 35 African troops with AU mandates, and in most cases authorized by the UN Security Council, have been monitoring ongoing and rapidly changing conflicts in Somalia, Mali, the Central African Republic and the Chad Sea region, among others. The troops have been part of what can be described as combat-ready stabilization efforts. They are most often used as bridging efforts in anticipation of a UN-led peacekeeping operation.

In terms of military strategy, the efforts are characterized by a weakness of resources. Common to the stabilization efforts is that they are not linked to a long-term political strategy when they are planned. Therefore, they fail to meet political objectives. In ongoing conflicts, it is often difficult to start mediation processes from the start.

Conflict prevention is the most neglected area in African peace and security architecture. Both African leaders and the largest donor countries are primarily calling for investments in rapid reaction forces and stabilization efforts. It goes against recommendations from peace and development research, which emphasize the importance of resources to strengthen mediation components and preventive work.

AU troops receive support from the UN

The UN Security Council emphasizes the importance of African peacekeeping operations for the stability of the region. Today, priority is given to curbing the spread of extreme Islamist groups in the Sahel and East Africa.

The UN Security Council increasingly relies on the willingness of the AU and sub-regional organizations to act proactively in active conflicts and can thus be said to encourage these to be implemented quickly and during the start-up phase at low cost. It can be added that reforms are moving towards more peace-enforcement measures also within the UN system.

In current conflicts, neighboring African states in intervening networks and coalitions intervene rapidly with task forces. As a rule, these states are driven by strong national and security reasons to prevent the spread of conflict. We also see that efforts are not only based on the constituents of the African Multinational Regional Brigades (ASFs) but use appropriate associations in this context, such as temporary headquarters in the Chad Sea area for the fight against Boko Haram by the regional coalition forces. ASF, an important part of the peace and security strategy, is now being adapted by making an African rapid reaction capability, ACIRC, part of the tools.

Research in this area clearly indicates that Sweden should prioritize peace mediation, conflict prevention and gender equality promotion within the framework of our support for African peace and security organizations. With such a focus, Sweden can advance its positions to counter armed conflicts in Africa.

Linnéa Gelot

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