In DepthColumnsWhere are the blessed peacemakers?


Posted on Monday, 24 March 2014 13:28

Where are the blessed peacemakers?

Patrick Smith

The response to political conflict needs a rethink - the market is no match for the warlords.

As he rushed from meeting to meeting at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa in late January, Donald Kaberuka, the in-demand president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), was asked to make sense of the latest African dilemma.

Smart politics needs to go with the money, and the rationality of the market is no match for the warlords

Why is it, when more investment is pouring into the continent than ever and the International Monetary Fund has just upgraded its forecasts for African growth to an average of 6.2% in 2014, that political violence is on the rise again in both outright civil wars and armed insurgencies?

Kaberuka pointed out that there are AU or United Nations peace- keeping missions in 11 African states. That covers about 15% of the continent's 1.1 billion people.

This does not mean Africa is heading for a new Armageddon as its economies are taking off, but there are some dangerous trends.

The mass killings in South Sudan and Central African Republic have clear political causes.

Better economics can help only if the political dynamics are understood.

The AfDB was investing heavily in water and power projects in both countries, but outsiders need a better understanding of the political as well as fiduciary risks, according to Kaberuka.

So governments and institutions such as the AfDB have to focus sharply on some core political questions. At the top of the list is political inclusion.

Kaberuka has been working with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chair of the African Union Commission, and other leaders to find ways to shore up countries wracked by conflict.

They are looking for ways to deal with what has become a coalition of losers in too many countries, despite rip-roaring economic growth across the continent.

They concluded that the standard response to political conflict – more trade and investment accompanied by a team of financial experts advocating structural re- form – needs a rethink.

Smart politics needs to go with the money, and the rationality of the market is no match for the warlords.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was trying to shut down the operations of Krahn militia fighters in Grand Gedeh County last year.

Her solution was to build a highway, enabling farmers in the area to get their crops to market in a tenth of the time.

Although the project was hopelessly uneconomic in accounting terms, giving people a stake in the local economy is an incalculable benefit in the longer term.

That kind of local politics must be a critical part of the response to the threaten- ing insurgencies.

Africa's Peacemakers, an intriguing new book about Africa's nobel laureates edited by Adekeye Adebajo, analyses the successes and failures of the continent's peacemakers and campaigners from Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli to Wangari Maathai and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Almost all of them flew in the face of conventional wisdom.

Their starting point was always to offer an answer to that ubiquitous question: 'What stake do I have in the system?' The next question is where to find the next generation of such peacemakers. ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


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