Conflict Prevention in Central Africa
New regional office expands DPA field presence
Through an expanding network of political missions in the field, the Department of Political Affairs is increasingly well-positioned to help prevent conflicts in places they may be brewing. The latest example is the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), established this spring in Libreville, Gabon with a mandate to assist the countries of a conflict-prone region to work cooperatively in managing sources of tension peacefully.
The inauguration was attended by political leaders of the 10-nation Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), whose governments joined together to request UN assistance through the establishment of UNOCA.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, delivered a message on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon underscoring the priority the United Nations system accords to early warning and action.
“The opening of the UN Office in Central Africa is an investment in prevention rather than cure and is designed to enhance the capacity of sub-regional actors so they can come together in a regional framework to prevent and resolve conflicts,” Pascoe said.
The new regional office is headed by Abou Moussa of Chad, whose career as a UN diplomat spans three decades, often under challenging circumstances. In his last posting, Mr. Moussa was deputy head of the UN’s 7,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire throughout the turmoil that followed the contested 2010 presidential elections in the country. In UNOCA, with a civilian staff of only a few dozen, Moussa will be relying on the power of diplomatic persuasion.
Assistance to regional organizations
“UNOCA’s primary goal is to support regional organizations in their efforts to defuse political tensions”, says Moussa. The 10-nation ECCAS, which is also based in Libreville, is expected to be UNOCA’s key partner. In addition, the new office coordinates with other UN missions and agencies to streamline activities, among them the UN’s peacebuilding missions in Burundi and the Central African Republic and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
UNOCA is operating in a sub-region working to put a history of instability and armed conflict behind it. From 1998 to 2003 the deadliest conflict since World War II took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, involving eight African states and killing almost five million people.
Today, Central Africa faces various cross-border challenges such as arms trafficking, organized crime and armed groups with a record of human rights abuses including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). “The LRA tops the list of cross-border issues my office will address”, says UNOCA chief Moussa. Having splintered from northern Uganda into a regional menace, the LRA continues to kill innocents and forced some 25,000 people to flee their homes in 2010 alone. UNOCA is expected to foster region-wide coordination and cooperation in the fight against the group.
Avoiding political conflict will also be on UNOCA’s radar. At least eight elections are scheduled to take place in Central Africa before the end of 2012. As elections can be sources of tension, conflict prevention is especially critical during these periods. UNOCA will therefore closely follow the upcoming elections in the sub-region and offer its assistance to prevent crises. “A solid process makes electoral conflicts less likely”, underlines Moussa. Tensions are to be addressed before, not only after the elections.”
Third regional office
UNOCA is the third regional political office attached to the Department of Political Affairs. The UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) have demonstrated the value of preventive diplomacy and other assistance in helping regions to manage shared problems, crises and tensions peacefully.
UNOWA has, for example, lent important support to Guinea’s democratic transition from coup to the first democratic elections since independence in 2010. The regional office for Central Asia supported Kyrgyzstan’s return to constitutional order following the ouster of the country’s president and inter-ethnic clashes last year.
All three regional offices are based on the principle that conflict prevention not only saves lives but is also a cost-effective approach to international action. “Rather than fighting the fire once a conflict breaks out, regional offices provide their good offices to avert the worst”, says Moussa.
Consolidating the office and introducing it to the region will be among Moussa’s key tasks until the end of 2011. UNOCA has begun reaching out to partners and holding regular meetings with ECCAS to define common priorities. Visits to all of the ten ECCAS Member States will allow the Special-Representative to establish a solid foundation for the common efforts in preventive diplomacy. This is the groundwork that makes for successful rapid reaction when crisis breaks.
- More about the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA)
- UN Radio interview with UNOCA head Abou Moussa in French