The AU and Countries in Conflict Situations

The AU and Countries in Conflict Situations

“If sustained peace is the goal, conflict resolution in Africa must move beyond military response, and focus on addressing the root causes of conflict. At the most fundamental level, the absence of justice is frequently the principle reason for the absence of peace. Ethnic discrimination, denial of basic rights, extreme economic inequality and other manifestations of injustice are forms of ‘structural’ violence…. Structural violence plants the seeds of physical violence and in many cases, deadly conflict”. Statement made by Prof. Fantu Cheru on Rebuilding War-torn Societies and Preventing Deadly Conflicts


There are clashing views on the role conflicts play in shaping how society is managed. Most of the time, conflicts occur due to bad and or poor governance institutions that lead to the mismanagement of access, control and utilization of resources by leaders. Africa’s endless list of conflicts right from Katanga to Kivu, South Sudan, Chad, Darfur, the Central African Republic, to Mogadishu have many common salient features, some of which lead to total retardation and stifling of growth within these societies. Writing in Taking Sides: Clashing Views on African Issues, Moseley argues that no single sided response can be adequate in responding to the many critical woes that Africa is suffering from:

African issues cannot be fully appreciated without a deep knowledge of the region and a broad understanding of its connections to the rest of the world. Every place, country and region in Africa has its own environmental conditions, cultural dynamics, politics and history. Yet these African places do not exist in a vacuum. They almost always have a history of connections to other areas of the continent and the world. As such, serious students, scholars, and policymakers with an interest in Africa must both seek to understand the specific geographic milieu in which an issue is being debated, as well as the extent to which a local level problem is connected to broader scale dynamics at the national, regional or global level[1]

The different conflicts Africa has been facing and is likely to continue facing form a good working background for all who are genuinely interested in helping to transform Africa in progressive ways. The issues that have always featured in lecture rooms, conferences and media publications and among scholars and policymakers are important because they are critical tools in both evaluating possible futures of development and growth mechanisms in the continent.

It is no easy fate to transmute a conflict like the long-standing DR Congo conflict or the Somalia crisis into a goldmine for building peace and the eventual realization of justice. The intention to translate chaos into something more productive requires the use of and application of principles for preventing and resolving conflicts.

The causes of conflicts in Africa

There are different causes of conflicts in Africa, “the region from the Southern Sudan through Northern Uganda to Rwanda, Burundi, CAR and Congo – now the scene of brutal civil wars and genocide – has a long history of colonial violence in the form of slave trading, slave labor, plantation labor, plantation terror, and a violent gun culture which all have to be taken into account when explaining the contemporary situation.”[2] The many issues that partly lead to situations of conflict in Africa have to be taken into context. Whatever form of conflict be it ethnic, political, civil or any other leads to criminal and political violence. Political Violence stems from structural problems in the management of control, access and usage of both political and socio-economic resources. The three issues form the breeding ground for mind boggling socio-economic and political inequality perpetuated by extractive political and economic institutions that guarantee exclusive rewards to the elite.

Other different perspectives that can best explain the process and deepen our understanding of the causes of conflict and conflict management exists. The concept of security dilemma in international relations only explains why states are insecure but falls short of providing elaborate details on the reasons why conflicts break out.  The analysis of any war be it the Angola, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the ongoing Somalia and CAR conflicts among others shows that there are a variety of reasons responsible for the outbreak of violence. One way of explaining this is by the use of the international framework as the core reference point in International Relations and how it shapes the different actors and their levels of analysis. Kenneth Waltz in Man, the State and War posits that the traits of individuals, masses, and the internal structure of states are some of the powerful forces that operate within the limitations of the international system[3]. The three levels of analysis that can be used to explain in terms of application the causes of conflicts and war in Africa as elsewhere are: Individual Framework; Society and State in the Radical and Liberal Frameworks and the International System in the Realist and Radical Frameworks. Beyond the question of causes, what has the Africa Union and several integration arrangements done to move forward stability within countries in conflict situations to advance commerce and development?

The AU in the Context of Regional Integration

It is easy to justify that regional integration forms a single answer to economic and political development challenges, but caution should be taken before qualifying such an assertion. While regional integration has played and will continue to form part of a core role in the creation of stability within different African regions, it is not a panacea to failed political governance as has happened recently in CAR and South Sudan.

A system of political and economic governance devoid of elaborate mechanisms and structural institutions that allow room for wide participation and adequate representation of ideas undermines consistent legitimacy and long term political-economic commitment the EAC urgently demands. The political economists’ classical answer “more research is needed” about the stability and actual performance of the community perfectly fits here. The AU has played a key role in facilitation of mediation and working with different inter-governmental organizations such as IGAD in peaceful negotiations to end the current spate of conflict in South Sudan. In the Central African Republic, much work still needs to be done given the meager troop numbers, funding and other technical challenges. Different militia groups have mutated into sectarian violence and turning once peaceful Central African Republic into a butcher’s den. The AU must do more and move with speed to enforce the ‘right to protect’ innocent civilians who have turned against each other.


Principles for Resolving and Preventing Conflicts in Africa

The African situation needs a very balanced review to ascertain the direction the badly bruised African people can take for the future. Cheru aptly opines that:

“undemocratic and oppressive regimes were supported and sustained by the competing superpowers in the name of their broader foreign – policy goals…the persistence of civil strife continues to systematically divert scarce national resources from development, and hence from Africa’s ability to gain benefits from globalization. Ending violent conflicts in chronically unstable African countries, and building a foundation for preventing future violent conflict, are the prerequisites for sustainable social and economic development. Moreover, violent conflict poses a number of problems for Africa’s transformation agenda”.[4]

The major issues that emerge as the key challenges caused by the continued civil strife in Africa include but are not limited to massive ecological degradation, unprecedented displacement of people and loss of life as has happened in the Darfur conflict, the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the continued conflict in the eastern DRC (North Kivu province and Ituri regions), the long Angolan UNITA gorilla conflict, and the never ending LRA problem of northern Uganda; the disintegration of the social fabric, misused and badly managed human and economic resources right across Africa from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Mozambique, the former Zaire, and Ethiopia. The said issues basically prod us the carefully look for possible grounds of establishing principles for the realization of peace and justice.[5] This is a critical role that the AU has to steer together with other regional economic organizations. Besides, the real issue seems to lie in development failures, governance breakdown and marginalization of several groups from mainstream political participation. The AU and the many fragmented regional groupings have to closely work towards addressing these challenges in the continent.

An outright position about the examination of African civil wars indicates that the “gross economic and political inequalities that prevail in many African countries must be addressed if the territorial integrity of those countries is to be preserved.”[6] The African development agenda can adequately address these challenges and turn around the prospects of the fast rising continent where foreigners are flocking into to get a piece.


Whatever form of negotiated solutions to conflicts in Africa, lasting peace can only be attained if the substantive causes of violence are addressed either by the polity within the affected countries, or with the help of the AU which enjoys legitimacy and has capacity to mediate as it spearheaded Kenya’s 2007/8 post election conflict in Nairobi, Zimbabwe’s political power sharing and other regions. This is core because the primary objective of all efforts to both prevent and resolve African conflicts should be about the establishment of peace with justice. Again in reference to Cheru’s work, “in contrast to the real politic conflict management approaches that have generally served to obstruct Africa’s transformation, a bottom up approach is offered.”[7] Africans have to manage their own problems has become the new mantra in town (read Addis Ababa). This aims at keeping the International Criminal Court out of African boarders also given the recent clarion call to rejects the court’s attempts at holding the high and mighty criminally responsible for conflicts in Africa. Efforts to form the African Court of Justice, The East African Court of Justice and the like are welcome in this regard. The question is: which African judge will pull a sitting Head of State (the appointing authority) to court to be held culpable for causing violence and deal a blow to impunity?

The proper solutions to the problems of Africa need serious and not imagined political solutions. The issues that need the collective attention of all stakeholders include but are not limited to strengthening the bond between peace and democracy through empowering the civil society, sustaining the active participation of the civil society in seeking to both find and implement political solutions; negotiating the issues related to gender disparities plus the broad reality of rehabilitating the economy as has been the case in Rwanda right after the 1994 genocide is important; in the areas of civil and political liberties, their real use is to have a functional and improved institutional capacity of monitoring the quality of governance among the African peoples so as to realize and stabilize civilian control of the military.

To have a republican system where the civilians control the military is critical not only in maintaining peace but also in ensuring the whole important process of peacebuilding, democratization, state formation, transformation and nation building. It is also very essential to not only develop homegrown capacity for preventing and resolving conflicts but also to build local knowledge through research to identify the structural risk factors and their immediate and long term resolutions such as ethnicity, economic development, equitable utilization of natural resources, institutionalizing the process of democracy and democratization and governance. Addressing the many social issues that surround the reintegration of refugees and former combatants to those of economic development like reconstruction and rehabilitation of societies require the provision of timely solutions to serious unemployment related problems and initiating and expanding income generating activities to better shield groups from rolling back into conflicts.[8] All these are serious engagements that the African Union is committed to better develop Africa’s development profile.

As a matter of fact, the establishment of regional security structures like the Eastern Africa’s IGAD and the West Africa’s ECOMOG is important in helping to make the African people more responsive to their challenges before fully relying on the UN or even getting it involved in African conflicts as has been the case with the Somalia conflict where the UN funded UNISOM only came in long after the African Union had sent into Somalia African forces to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). This forms the blueprint of African Solutions to African Problems in the ideation of George Ayittey.

Most if not all of Africa’s conflicts are very complex because they have a multiplicity of factors that cause them in the first place. From this conversation, it is possible to draw up a conclusion on Regional Integration and African countries in conflict situations: “the absence of justice is the principle reason for the absence of peace. Acute injustice typically gives rise to popular struggles, which are met by systematic repression”.[9] Much political energy has to go into the process of rebuilding African societies and above deliver on the requirement of properly institutionalizing constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights, allowing and broadening political practical participation of the majority of the African people to make them own the governance processes of society is key towards succeeding in the post conflict peace-building. A properly functioning central state system is also necessary to avert conflicts and to enable Africans to enjoy the fruits of living in their beautiful motherland compared to dying in ramshackle boats across Lampedusa.



  1. F. K. Organski, World Politics; New York: Knopf, 1958.
  2. F. K. Organski and Jacek Kugler, The War Ledger; Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980.
  3. Fantu Cheru, African Renaissance: Roadmaps to the Challenge of Globalization; New York: Zed Books, 2002.
  4. The World Bank, Can Africa Claim the 21st Century; Washington D.C, The World Bank, 2000.
  5. Moseley G. W, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on African Issues, Second Edition; McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning Series, New York; 1989.
  6. Zeleza Paul and Nhema Alfred; The Roots of African Conflicts: The Causes and Costs, Ohio University Press, 2008.
  7. Kenneth Waltz, Man, The State and War; New York: Columbia University Press, 1954.
  8. Karen A. Mingst, Essentials of International Relations, Third Edition; New York, University of Kentucky, 2004.
  9. Jack S. Levy “The Causes of War: A Review of Theories and Evidence” in Behavior Society and Nuclear War, Vol. 1, ed. Philip E. Tetlock et al. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  10. Augustine, Confessions and The City of God I Great Books of Western World, Vol. 18 ed. Robert M. Hutchins; Chicago, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1986.
  11. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of Light and Children of Darkness; New York: Scribner, 1945.
  12. Karen A. Mingst, Essentials of International Relations, Third Edition; New York, University of Kentucky, 2004.
  13. John J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, New York: Norton, 2001.


[1] Moseley G. W, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on African Issues, Second Edition; McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning Series, New York; p. xvii.


[2] Zeleza Paul and Nhema Alfred; the Roots of African Conflicts: The Causes and Costs, Ohio University Press, 2008, P 1-2.

[3] Kenneth Waltz, Man, The State and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954).

[4] Fantu Cheru, African Renaissance: Roadmaps to the Challenge of Globalization (New York: Zed Books, 2002).

[5] Ibid p. 193-196.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid; P, 205

[8] Fantu Cheru, African Renaissance: Roadmaps to the Challenge of Globalization (New York: Zed Books, 2002), Chap. 7 on ‘rebuilding War-torn Societies and Preventing Deadly Conflicts’,; and The World Bank, Can Africa Claim the 21st Century (Washington D.C, The World Bank, 2000), Chap. 2 on ‘Improving Governance, Managing Conflict, and Rebuilding States’.

[9] Fantu Cheru, African Renaissance: Roadmaps to the Challenge of Globalization (New York: Zed Books, 2002, 218).