Ifthe sixties and the seventies, marked the opening of the frontiers of freedomin Africa and the strengthening of the membership of the OAU, the eighties andthe nineties, brought to the fore, the contradictions and complications from anunfair and unequal international economic system, which along with thedisappointment of Africa’s performance in the crucial area of good governanceand political emancipation combined with a level of economic development andHuman Rights abuses, created crises of governance, that impacted negatively, onthe hopes for peace, security and stability in Africa.Itis a well-known fact, that the post-colonial African State and the period ofthe late seventies and the early eighties coincided with the early beginningsof political, economic and social decadence, a period in which the environmentof many African States became characterized by political and economicstagnation. It was a period in which many post-colonial African States began tolose the confidence of the populations that many of the leaders and nationalistshad fought so much for.
This was the period in which the politics of povertywas manipulated in the newly independent African States, by the leaders that laterand inadvertently laid the early foundations for the poverty of politics whichhas become the bane in much of Africa today. Given the contradictions that wereproduced in this process of nation-building and as a direct consequence,internal and external forces began to pressurize the African political elitesfor more accountability, economically as well as politically. Atabout the same time as these events were unraveling in Africa, changes in thepolitical landscape of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European SocialistStates, which were long time Cold War allies of many African States, began tobe evident. Unexpectedly, a stunned world followed the dramatic developments inCentral and Eastern Europe in 1989.
As the Soviet Empire began to disintegrate,the East/West rivalry of the past decades simultaneously began to dissolve inAfrica, making way for long anticipated, but frustrated transitions like the Independenceof Namibia, and other contradictions, including changes in the nature and manifestationsof intra-ethnic conflict and civil strife.Therapprochement between Washington and Moscow and the end of the Cold War, meant thatAfrica had to expect dramatic changes in the international and even thenational environment of its politics – and changes did come. As is now wellknown, the demise of the Cold War, brought in its wake, seemingly contradictorytrends that reflected the tension between the desire by many African countriesto jealously safeguard their independence together with the imperative need foreconomic integration on the one hand, and the reality of a displaced drivetowards fragmentation on the other.Thetruth of the matter, is that the breakdown of the ideological mind set andstructures of the Cold War global alliances, had also unfortunately, unleashedhitherto suppressed ethnic and political tensions, as well as a process ofdisintegration of some African countries, into conflicting ethnic, cultural orreligious units. In effect therefore, the ebbing of the Cold War, contributedto new or continuing instability. Simply put, the end of the Cold War broughtto the fore and exposed conflicts, which were formally overshadowed by strongnationalist governments and superpower rivalries. This re-emergence of age-oldhatreds effectively challenged both African and the wider InternationalCommunity’s ability to devise principled and effective means of response.TheOAU had tried to innovate and improvise mechanisms for resolving inter-Stateconflicts, in the absence of an acceptable framework for such undertakings.
Butthese were attempts directed specifically at conflicts among States and not withinStates. Traditionally, a strong view pervaded the OAU that conflicts withinStates fell within the exclusive competence of the States concerned. Arisingfrom that basic assertion, was the equally strong view that it was not thebusiness of the OAU, to pronounce itself on those conflicts and that theOrganization certainly had no mandate to involve itself in the resolution ofproblems of that nature.
Itwas against this backdrop that the OAU Assembly of heads of State andGovernment adopted in 1990 the Declaration on the Political and Socio-EconomicSituation in Africa and the Fundamental Changes taking place in the World. Inthat Declaration, the leaders of Africa, committed to work towards the peacefuland speedy resolution of all conflicts in Africa for the creation of anenabling environment for development, democratization, greater respect forHuman Rights, and resolving other critical challenges that confronted the Continent,would remain constrained, as long as conflicts continued to ravage theContinent. Additionally, the 1990 Declaration marked a decisive turning pointin Africa because for the first time in its history, the OAU recognized the changingnature of conflicts from inter-State, for which serious even if ad-hoc effortshad been deployed in the past to resolve, to intra-State (internal) whichcalled for a more dynamic approach, given the African pre-occupations with conceptssuch as sovereignty and noninterference in the internal affairs of MemberStates, as enshrined in the OAU Charter. The crisis in the Democratic Republicof Congo then Zaire, provided sufficient justification, if any was needed, forproactively establishing mechanisms for working around these concepts and principles.ThatDeclaration of 1990, and the qualitative debate it provoked among Africanleaders on the precarious socio-economic and political situation on theContinent, brought about a recognition, that in order to achieve socio-economictransformation and integration, a conscious effort must be made by ourGovernments to promote popular participation in governance and development,guarantee human rights and the observance of the rule of law, as well asensuring high standards of probity and accountability by public office holders.It was the expectation that addressing these concerns would help to prevent theoutbreak of internal conflicts in Africa.
Ithardly needs to be recalled that the horrendous effects of the internalconflicts, their implications for the economic and security of many AfricanStates and their neighbors, as well as the graphic images and pictures ofbrutality and mass starvation, hitherto alien to Africa, began to be flashed aroundthe world media, with negative reaction and consequences, which touched theconscience of many African leaders and people. Increasingly, many Africancountries and leaders became uncomfortable and started questioning the logicthat suggested that Africa and Africans should stand aside and watch, while apart of the Continent, tore itself apart, simply on account of arguabletechnicalities of sovereignty.Increasinglyalso, it became less fashionable and unacceptable, that Africa should continueto be perceived and treated as a Continent prone to conflicts and a place wheresuffering is endemic – one where peace, security and stability are only butdistant possibilities.
A continent made up of “atomistic societies perpetuallyat war with themselves”, to borrow the words of a Nigerian Professor.Suchperspectives began to have profound effects on the thinking of policy makers inAfrica. Thereemerged a new realization that if Africa was to tackle the monumental task ofeconomic recovery and development, it would have to resolve the many internalconflicts (potential or real) that confronted the Continent. Integral to suchforward looking thinking, was also a recognition, that where national and sub-regionalmeans of conflict resolution proved unsuitable or inadequate to cope with thecontending interests of parties to a conflict, there was need for such effortsto be supplemented by African and wider International action, provided thatsuch efforts were anchored within the context and framework of the mandate of theOAU.Again,in pointing the way forward, that landmark Declaration, set the stage for areview of past OAU approaches to conflict resolution (notably, through themoribund OAU Commission for Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration) with theultimate and overriding objective of bringing about a new political approach,an enhanced Institutional capacity and dynamism into the ways Africa dealt withthe many conflicts that had caused so much human misery in several parts of theContinent and in some instances, opened the doors for maneuvering and thetesting of new weapons, by non-African powers.
Inpractical terms, the Declaration sought to put Africa at the center of attemptsto deal with conflicts, by emphasizing that the Continent bore primary responsibilityfor resolving its problems, even if it was to expect international solidarityand assistance. In a way therefore, that Declaration of 1990, by emphasizingthe centrality of the role of Africans in advancing conflict resolutioninitiatives, squarely placed primary responsibility for action in this realm onthe Continent and its Organization, the OAU. All these, marked significantshifts in the thinking of OAU Member States – from a position of totalopposition to the involvement of the OAU in internal disputes, to acceptingthat the Organization had a view and indeed a role in assisting in theirresolution. In fact, they went as far as providing financial as well as the Institutionalmeans to deal with conflicts, including those within States.Thatwas the improved environment, which no doubt facilitated the extensiveconsultations that the Secretary General of the OAU, initiated between theGeneral Secretariat and Member States, in order to clearly define the essentialelements that would give the 1990 Declaration, an operational context. Thoseconsultations primarily focused on the need to establish within the OAU, apermanent Mechanism for the Prevention, Management and Resolution of Conflictsin Africa.
At the end of the consultations, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim submitted tothe fifty-sixth Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Dakar, Senegal in1992, a Report which contained various Institutional options and specificrecommendations regarding the Mechanism. That report, which was adopted inDakar in principle, was itself subject to another round of in-depth study andcomprehensive consultations with Member States for the purpose of fine – tuningthe proposals.Atthe end of that exhaustive but necessary process, the Assembly of OAU Heads of Stateand Government, meeting in their twenty-ninth Ordinary Session in Cairo, Egypt,adopted the Declaration on Establishing within the OAU, of a Mechanism forConflict Prevention, Management and Resolution.Essentially,the Mechanism is built around the Bureau of the Assembly of OAU Heads of Stateand Government, with a decision-making body known as the Central Organ, whichin itself, has three levels of authority – the Ambassadorial level, meetingevery month, the Ministerial level which meets twice a year and the level ofHeads of State and Government which is supposed to meet once a year. Atthe same time and conscious of the importance of resources mobilization in the operationalizationof the Mechanism, the Heads of State and Government also set up an OAU PeaceFund to be financed from a 6 per cent OAU Regular Budgetary appropriation, aswell as voluntary contributions from African and non-African sources.
Ascan be seen from the foregoing details, the processes and efforts that wentinto the establishment of the Conflict Management Mechanism, was a very wellthought out process.Thatdecision was informed by among other things, the mounting expectations of ourpeople and also those of the International Community, to see a greaterinvolvement by Africa in the search for durable solutions to the many problemsthat beset the Continent. Thereluctance on the part of Africa’s partners to shoulder new responsibilities,particularly, in areas relating to Africa’s collective security, peace andstability, had grave consequences for the Continent’s future economicdevelopment and security. Whereas on the one hand, many African countriesremain constrained by the lack of resources, they became faced with the dauntingtask of managing and trying to resolve the many conflicts that had been ragingin many parts of the Continent.Inreconciling themselves to the reality of their situation in Africa, theContinent’s leaders had determined that they would only be credible in the eyesof the International Community when they are seen to be taking the lead infinding solutions to the problems in the countries. They therefore underscoredthe rationale for a new approach, which would essentially move beyond militaryresponses to conflict or potential conflict situations.
It was thus, that theMechanism envisaged the utilization of a wide range of preventive action andnon-military means of resolving conflicts, including the promotion ofconfidence building measures, such as the one put in place by the SADC and tosome extent ECOWAS countries. Other measures would include, establishing trustthrough cooperation on shared development problems and identifying specificmechanism for sustaining peace initiatives, as well as the fortification of thebonds between peace, democracy and development. The emerging experience inSouthern Africa is one that holds great potentials not just for the Region, butalso for the rest of the Continent.Withinthe framework of the mandate for Preventive Diplomacy, the OAU, has in thecourse of the last six years, attempted to operationalize the concept, whiledealing with potential or incipient and full-blown conflicts, which actionsinclude: the establishment of supportive structures and institutional capacitybuilding, outlining guidelines; networking with national, sub regional andInternational Organizations for preventive diplomacy and creating a positive andcooperative attitude among all the actors to the different conflicts on theContinent. Ofcourse, the point must also be made that many OAU Member States areexperiencing severe economic difficulties and even though they continue toextend commendable moral and sometimes, political and financial support to theOrganization’s efforts to deal with conflicts, the fact remains that in theface of competing demands, the allocation of scarce resources remains a mostcomplicated and daunting exercise.