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Analysis file

, Kenya, May 2015

African Union engagement gap in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Contexts: A case of Mali

Regional imbalances explains the latest conflict in 2012 with the roots dating back to the 1960s. AU’s Peace Security Council emerged as the central pillar of the African Peace and Security architecture (APSA) and became focus of collective security decisions by Africa. The article aims to provide critical review and counterview to establish important nuances that have specific emphases on engagement of AU in fragile contexts.

Keywords: | | Mali

Please see references below


Regional imbalances explains the latest conflict in 2012 with the roots dating back to the 1960s. The first Tuareg rebellion (1962-196) was accompanied by bloodshed and exile of thousands of Tuaregs to Algeria and Libya. This crisis reflected the complexity of the region framed by powerful colonial history, that is only partially institutionalized and people whose personal and collective horizons transcend national frontiers. These challenges are compounded by globalised legal and illegal economy. There exist highly complex and constantly changing intermeshing of fundamentalist, terrorist and identity politics that play out in the complicated array of actors and allegiances in the Northern Mali.

AU’s Peace Security Council emerged as the central pillar of the African Peace and Security architecture (APSA) and became focus of collective security decisions by Africa. It increased coordination and cooperation with Regional Economic Communities and regional mechanisms for addressing the crisis. AU emphasized as imperative the need to intensify security cooperation under the APSA and used institutionalized innovative conflict prevention management and resolution mechanisms at continental and regional levels, a special peace fund, a panel of the wise and a continental early warning systems(CAWS). Recent commitments have reaffirmed the principle African solutions to African Problem building on the pledges to consolidate progress, strengthen institutional capacities, secure flexible but predictable funding and build relationships with the United Nations and other partners.

The article aims to provide critical review and counterview to establish important nuances that have specific emphases on engagement of AU in fragile contexts.


Conflict creates grievance, or hostility, which considerably increases the risk of conflict recurrence. Domestic capacities such as low income, natural resource dependence and the dominance by a single ethnic group, also increase the risks.

Africa continues to grapple with emergent conflict situations such as the recent Kenya (2007) post-election conflict, Zimbabwean crisis, CAR, South Sudan, Lesotho (August 30, 2014 botched coup) and Mali crisis. The situation raises the question of Africa’s capability and commitment to solve its own problems. How long should Africa continue to outsource solutions? Why can’t African countries find specific home grown solutions within the realm of their borders, without necessarily going across borders to shop for solutions? Why do we rely on large foreign military contingencies in our African conflicts, case of the overshadowing presence of the French military in Mali can attest. While analyzing the 2013 Mali crisis, Religion is not the main cause of conflicts today. Whilst religion has evidently been a cause of many conflicts throughout history it is by no means the only reason for conflict (A global statistical analysis on empirical link between peace and religion: Institute for Economics and Peace 2013).

In recent years there seems to be a marked shift amongst the African political leadership from the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil–syndrome (Welch, 1991: 538) towards active military intervention and involvement of various states. Do the regional and continental interventions of institutions such as SADC, ECOWAS (regionalization of international security) (Williams, 2007:254) and the AU, reflect Africanness in solving African solutions? It is also mind boggling why African states are seemingly moving towards the adoption of what Alexander Wendt has termed a Kantian culture of anarchy (Williams, ibid), whereby states view each other as allies or friends and will then work in unison in seeking to address common security challenges especially by resorting to military action.

Literature Review

Scholars argue that in conflict-affected states, the proliferation of human rights violations by perpetrators, the role of spoilers from armed groups (George, 2003; Verkoren, Willems, Kleingeld, & Rouw,2010), and the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants (George, 2003; McFate, 2011) poses a unique challenge for post-conflict transitional government leaders. On the one hand, the primary responsibility of a state leader is to protect and defend his or her citizenry from internal and external threats, as well as to prevent human rights abuses, intimidation, and other forms of violence (Homan & Ducasse-Rogier, 2012; Skaar, 2012). On the other, Braham (2007), Brinkerhoff (2011), Johnson and Hill (2009, Lantis (2009) contend that as non-state actors have no territorial boundaries, state leaders have no legal authorities for containment of violent extremist organizations committing human rights violations. More problematic, coercive diplomacy by domestic leaders is not only highly contextual but cultural, ethnic, and economic narrative centric (Lantis, 2009). In essence, deterrence of future conflict requires strategic leadership that understands the interplay between political ideological beliefs and the elites’ strategic cultural interests (Lantis, 2009).

Much of the literature on post conflict reconstruction suggests that three key elements of nation building in a post conflict environment involve the capacity to provide human security, basic infrastructure development, and the rule of law (Brinkerhoff, 2011; Fukuyama, 2004). Baylis et al. (2008) and Toft (2010) reiterate the point that as a country emerges from conflict through a negotiated settlement or ceasefire, the leader’s survival within a transitional government is dependent on the ability to shape the governance of domestic institutional capacity building measures and to establish legitimacy within the international community. Noteably, Meernik, Nichols, King (2010), Freeman (2005), Fukuyama (2004) posit the challenge for domestic leaders emerging from conflict is that victims of human rights violations demand justice where not only the legal institution and rule of law is fragile but also the leaders lack the legal institutional capacity and legitimacy to prosecute perpetrators as the country transitions out of conflict.

In its 1990 declaration, the OAU Heads of State and government recognized that the prevalence of conflicts in Africa was seriously impeding their collective and individual efforts to deal with the continent’s economic problems. Consequently, they resolved to work together toward the peaceful and rapid resolution of conflicts. During the OAU Summit held in Cairo in 1993, African leaders established the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution (MCPMR). In doing so, they recognized that the resolution of conflicts is a precondition for the creation of peace and stability, and a necessary precondition for social and economic development (UN, 2004:1).

Re–thinking Military Interventions in Africa

Perhaps it is also convenient to ask whether another African state’s military intervention to help another state in conflict warrants the tag of being labelled an African solution. A clear misuse and arbitrary abuse of names of regional groupings such as SADC in unjustified military interventions in member states is so apparent in South Africa’s (1998) intervention in Lesotho under the guise of promoting and preserving ‘democracy and stability’. Whether Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia (fighting Al Shabab) is constitutive of an African solution or the solution will come from the Somalis themselves, is yet to be seen. One can recall when Zimbabwe had a protracted political conflict in the period 2007 to 2009, the former South African president Thabo Mbeki made it categorically clear that a solution on the Zimbabwean crisis was supposed to come from Zimbabweans themselves. In the words of scholar Richard Joseph (2013:2), ‘external forces cannot rebuild nations in the absence of domestic forces able to cohere to pursue such an objective’.

One might ponder on whether the external military intervention in the (1998) DRC crisis created a better, truer and free society, judging from how the Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Uganda‘s military adventure(s) in the DRC has become shrouded in conspiracy theories over the motivations of such. The question in the offing is whether such solidarity was an African way of solving a crisis. This introspection is more plausible given the various geo – political and economic interests (resource plunder and looting) which seem to have overshadowed the will to pursue the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Did this military adventure help in solving an African problem through African solidarity or rather inflamed it?

African Heads of State Military Adventurism in Troubled Spots

Undeniably, most African heads of states have spoken with double tongues when it comes to proffering solutions for African related problems. Here in lies a paradox. Most African leaders engage in irrational personal choices rather than in collective citizen choices in pursuing a mix of both military domestic and foreign policy.

Africa therefore needs to go beyond the rhetoric and narrative about African brotherhood and candidly look each other straight in the eye. With sound critical leadership the ‘crises’ in Mali would have been averted. Oftentimes, Africa is replete with a problem of African leaders treating way ward leaders with kid gloves under the banner of African solidarity and respect. Yet, millions will be dying and suffering from man – made crisis.

Regional and Global Responses

Regional organizations such as the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have mediated to resolve conflicts in several countries. Following the March 2012 coup, a support and follow-up group on the situation in Mali, consisting of representatives from ECOWAS, the “core countries” (Algeria, Mauritania, and Niger), the AU, the EU, and key bilateral donors, started to meet regularly. The AU pushed for better coordination of domestic and international efforts and stressed the need to restore state authority, security sector reform, and elections. Even as 412,000 Malians were displaced by the conflict (including 208,000 refugees in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, and Togo), by November 2012, tensions erupted between the rebels in the north, with Ansar Dine and MUJAO repelling the MNLA out of the main towns that it had occupied. AQIM notoriously destroyed many historic and cultural sites in Timbuktu.

The fact that in so many cases regional powers have a stake in the outcomes of conflicts makes it difficult for them also to assume a direct role in impartially implementing peace agreements. This is where the African Union and its capacity to draw in global financial and in-kind contributions to peace operations can be critical. Sometimes it is better for the AU to assume a supporting role in regions where there is a will to act with reasonable impartiality (with regard to IHL and civilian protection) and with initial effectiveness and professionalism but not sustainable financing or logistics. In Mali AU also adopted hybrid peacekeeping model with UN, although that support was built on a technical pretext of transitioning what has been a peace enforcement mission to the UN in due course. An improved model would embed AU observers with supported forces from the start to ensure that supported forces’ operations conform to IHL and other relevant norms. In Mali, the UN assumed responsibility for operations itself relatively quickly, and at the far end of what it is itself capable of sustaining even in terms of force protection. What makes all these conflicts especially difficult to resolve is the presence of one or more fighting parties who have little interest in compromise outcomes.

Geopolitical Challenges

Going back to the role of external players, one of the problems with R2P has to do with the UN system, where domestic and geostrategic considerations (as well as strategic interactions among the P5) drive much of the SC action and make R2P-driven interventions generally unlikely and sometimes even questionable (using R2P as a post-hoc justification rather than as the driver of action). We need to better understand what specific “real world” factors may trigger action or inaction in a systematic way (i.e. potential interveners’ domestic and geostrategic considerations, interactions between the P-5, the role of major regional actors and organizations, conflict dynamics on the ground, etc.) in order to appreciate the reality of current R2P dynamics. This may help in the elaboration and operationalization of alternative action-driven frameworks for R2P when the will to act is either blocked or absent. An intervention would furthermore induce strong local resistance organised around an Islamic rhetoric and will thus not only include Tuareg fighters but persons with various ethnic or geographical backgrounds.

Then, the question remains to be answered what kind of Islam there will be and what range it will have. On the 29th of July 2012, one of the leaders of Ansâr ud Dîn, Ahmada ag Bibi, in an interview to the Algerian journal « Le Temps d’Algérie », limited the Islamic claim to the sole region of Kidal where not only the 2012 Tuareg upheaval began, but also all rebellions since Mali’s independence.

Suggested Solutions for African Union Intervention

  • Strengthening of Demand-Driven Solutions

There is need to highlight the importance of conducting a needs analysis, learning and understanding of the conflict context, listening to the individuals/groups affected by the conflict and tailoring programs that fit the specific needs. In basic political economy terminology this approach puts premium on the demand side of the supply-demand-chain of distribution formula. That is to say, rather than focusing on supply, by applying conflict resolutions that use skills and resources already available, there is importance of including indigenous expertise and an understanding of the terrain before curating responses. Indeed 2013 intervention in Mali highlighted the importance of joining grass root-level work with state-level resources to maximize efficiency and insure implementation.

  • Replicability

Given the uniqueness of each and every conflict case in Africa, a recurrent question is the extent to which African led solutions can travel across cases in order to inform more standardized operating procedures. This conundrum between on the one hand advocating custom-fit, demand-driven, context-specific solutions and on the other hand the necessity to expand the scope beyond sporadic isolated case studies is one worth paying attention to. It seems a reasonable way out of the catch-22 situation is to adopt a pragmatic approach where paying attention to local contexts does not mean being closed to communicating and learning from other examples. The evident challenge of applying solutions that worked in a specific case to other cases without serious needs-analysis and careful implementation is simply unintended consequences. These can be significantly reduced if one pays close attention to past experiences and learns from them. There is need to keep open channels of communication to share experiences fits very well with this piece’s suggestion to start a project pooling and compiling a database of experiences, stories, and solutions to consult for brainstorming purposes prior to implementation. The database can be searchable by conflict zone or by themes so as to ensure ease of access and use.

  • How African are External Africa-Centered Solutions?

Another recurrent concern revolves around the question of Africaness of Africa-centered solutions. Existential dilemmas of organizations in terms of financial dependency on external funds as well as military equipment and (wo) manpower for the realization of APSA and African Standby Force brings up as major challenges to the total independence of AU interventions or similar endeavors. Whereas the financial autonomy of African solutions is extremely crucial and the ideal-type AU would not have to depend on external resources, the case in point is that the current realities of who is willing to fund invite for a more pragmatic approach. Making sure that contextualized and demand-driven solutions are at the core of solutions or policies is central to the Africanness of African-centered solutions.

  • Evaluation Mechanisms

The primary goal of this article was to take stock of AU intervention in Mali. Yet, this is not the only goal. Drawing lessons from the successful stories of African-centered solutions for the purpose of replicability are evaluation mechanisms. Adjacent to this suggestion is to establish a Bank or a Database to keep track of projects and solutions implemented throughout the continent for the purpose of inspiring creativity for conflict resolutions, is the step to evaluate implemented projects. Indeed, how do we know that a given project resulted in a solution or in further complications? There needs to be an evaluation mechanism integrated within the mandate of any given “Prospect” solution or policy. The evaluation mechanisms, I believe, should not be started years after a certain project has been implemented but need to work hand in hand with the implementation. I suggest three core pillars to be a good start for Africa Union standardized evaluation mechanism. That is to say, one can ask these questions in order to assess each solution within its unique context:

  • Does this intervention emphasize the demand-driven needs?

  • Does this intervention respect the shared values?

  • Does this intervention meet the expectations set in the first two questions?

The greater advantage of keeping evaluation as an on-going process from the beginning lies in the fact that close follow-up allows for adaptation. In sustainability literature, this is commonly referred to as “Adaptive Management”. Its goal is to argue against mega-projects because their unintended consequences tend to be large scale and difficult to mitigate. From sustainable adaptive management perspective, small-scale solutions with their unanticipated consequences are manageable and fixable without extravagant costs. For this reason my primary recommendation to the AU team is to establish an effective evaluation team (or several) who will be tasked to assess and evaluate conflict resolution projects as they go (as opposed to post-facto). The evaluation teams, for the purpose of efficiency and efficacy, have to present no risk of conflict of interest with any given project. For this reason, an eclectic team of experts can be designed to evaluate different projects assigned randomly or blindly.


Even though there have been a number of successes in building stability in Mali in political transition, signing of peace process, a peace and security framework agreed to resolve ongoing conflicts, there remains various challenges for instance financial and military burden carried by few states and there is limited capacity to mount quick military response through regional forces. The success of ECOWAS forces were largely influenced by cocktail of factors including better equipped French troops, prevention of large scale humanitarian disaster and international security concerns with regard to the spread of terrorism.

According to a British Broadcasting Corporation news item’ The US and African Union have also expressed support for the mission’ this illustrates the secondary role that AU took instead of primary role


There exist limits and possibilities for improving external interventions when dealing with transnational influences in local conflict. Two arguments for improvement could be distilled from the debate, both building on the idea that interventions should be tailored to specific situations rather than promoting top-down peacebuilding solutions. First, it is crucial to involve regional partners. This can be achieved by involving neighboring states who have an interest in stability, or by generating a common interest in stability. Second, peacebuilding efforts can be made more sustainable by making them demand-driven, i.e. by focusing on local actors’ perceptions, wishes and initiatives. Future priority actions for AU for effective intervention should help address drivers of conflict through implementation of agreements, address the illicit trade in narcotics, and continue accessing cooperation between AU and development partners. Priority should be given to a new effort in security sector reform.

The creation of viable institutions in Mali should be the vision and initiative of the Mali people as whole rather than the donor community assignment to the political elites. Institutional building should entirely be owned by the Malians. What is so far witnessed by the international community’s approach to bring a lasting peace and state building in Mali is more or less the same approach and expecting a different result. Time and again, the international community take institutions and nation building in a ‘projectize’ manner by attaching a time frame on any initiative and by putting high expectations on deliveries.


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