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Progress in tackling Africa's conflicts

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Progress in tackling Africa's conflicts

But poverty, weakness of democracy hinder peace efforts, Annan reports
Africa Renewal
From Africa Renewal: 
Photo: Getty Images/Gianluigi Guercia
Rwandan contingent of African Union force on its way to Darfur, Sudan. Photo: Getty Images/Gianluigi Guercia

Africa today is afflicted by fewer serious armed conflicts than it was just six years ago, says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. When he issued his first major report on the causes of conflict in Africa in 1998, there were 14 countries in the midst of war and another 11 were suffering from severe political turbulence. Today, Mr. Annan notes in his annual follow-up report,* just a half-dozen African countries are suffering from serious domestic armed conflicts, among them Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. And very few other countries are facing deep political crises.

The UN and the rest of the international community have been "responding more readily" to armed conflicts in Africa, the Secretary-General notes. But much credit for the improvement also rests with Africa. The African Union, various sub-regional organizations and a number of governments have become more active in mobilizing military forces for peacekeeping missions or in defusing political crises before they escalate into large-scale violence, he reports.

Despite "steady" improvements in these areas, he adds, there have been only "modest and slow" advances in alleviating the underlying economic and political conditions that foster tension and strife. Poverty reduction has been slow, in spite of efforts by African countries and their external partners to implement the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Concerns are rising about high levels of youth unemployment and heightened competition over scarce resources because of demographic pressures. There also has been only limited progress in strengthening democracy, enhancing administrative capacity, ensuring independence of the judiciary and promoting transparency and accountability.

Renewed confidence

After earlier disappointments in attempts to bring peace to Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, Liberia and elsewhere in Africa in 1990s, the success of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone - which brought an end to years of civil war - "marked a watershed," Mr. Annan says. It "has given confidence to the United Nations to again support complex peace operations in Africa, and today Africa receives the highest deployment of UN peacekeeping efforts in the world." (According to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, nearly 48,000 peacekeeping troops were stationed in Africa at the end of August 2004.)

In recent years, the UN Security Council has approved new peacekeeping missions in Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia. The UN has also dispatched an advance team to southern Sudan, where a peace agreement has been signed, and the world body is collaborating closely with the African Union in efforts to facilitate a solution to the current crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. In Sudan as in a number of other armed conflicts in Africa, such crises often have serious consequences for neighbouring countries, highlighting the importance of regional solutions.

The international community should be "sensitive and responsive" to the security concerns that Africa itself has identified, says Mr. Annan. External assistance should be provided in a way that respects Africans' priorities, institutions and decisions.

Most of the newer missions are "multi-disciplinary," Mr. Annan notes. They do not simply try to monitor and enforce signed peace agreements. They also seek to address the "root causes" of conflict by promoting sustainable development, economic recovery, democratic pluralism, transparency and respect for human rights and the rule of law.

African initiatives

The African Union's establishment earlier this year of a Peace and Security Council has given a "major boost" to its own peace initiatives, Mr. Annan reports. The Council has already taken up the political situations in a dozen African countries, and has decided to pay particular attention to several of those which have shown little sign of progress: in Darfur, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo and between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Secretary-General commends the African Union for sending a peacekeeping mission to Burundi in 2002, which helped to stabilize the situation there (a UN peacekeeping mission has now taken over from the AU force). The African Union and the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, a sub-regional group in the Horn of Africa, have been working to help reconcile the various sides in Somalia. In June 2004, the Economic Community of West African States authorized the creation of a standby peacekeeping unit of 6,500 trained and equipped soldiers, for rapid deployment to any country that may fall into crisis in West Africa.

The Group of Eight industrialized countries, notes the report, have agreed to provide financial support and training for the African Union's plans to set up a similar standby force at the continental level. The European Union has recently pledged 250 mn euros for the AU's peace fund.

While helping in such ways, Mr. Annan adds, the international community should at the same time be "sensitive and responsive" to the security concerns that Africa itself has identified. Especially with a strengthened AU now in place, external assistance should be provided in a way that respects Africans' priorities, institutions and decisions.

* [ Full text: Report of the Secretary-General PDF version (112k) ]