Could the AU’s new lessons-learning platform make a difference?

The African Union (AU) Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) has launched a new platform, the Inter-Regional Knowledge Exchange (I-RECKE), on early warning and conflict prevention. It will coordinate and share information between the AU Commission and regional economic communities and regional mechanisms (RECs/RMs), with the support and participation of other AU organs.

Details of the platform were revealed during a presentation on 16 July in Lusaka, Zambia, attended by RECs/RMs and partners. Its official launch by the heads of state and government followed on 17 July at the fourth AU-RECs mid-year coordination meeting.

I-RECKE is a pan-African mechanism for developing, capturing and documenting knowledge and sharing lessons learnt and experiences on governance and conflict prevention on the continent. It aims to facilitate more structured and regular early warning interactions than in the past among organisations.

The AU, particularly the Peace and Security Council (PSC), relies heavily on evidence-based analyses about conflicts brewing in Africa. A lack of early information and consensus about the gravity of a crisis, coupled with political hurdles, often delays extinguishing small fires before full-blown blazes erupt. Once manifest, conflicts cross borders, evolve and tend to be intractable, hence the imperative of early action.

The new platform aims to improve learning on best practices, conflict prevention and resilience building

I-RECKE seeks to improve cross-regional learning on best practices, conflict prevention and resilience building against the propagating factors and triggers of conflicts. These include poor governance, unconstitutional changes of government, terrorism, violent extremism and climate-induced insecurity.

Rotational chair

The platform is to be co-chaired rotationally by the commissioner for political affairs, peace and security and an REC/RM chief executive. The chairs and officials will meet several times a year, and an annual report will be tabled at the AU-RECs mid-year meeting.

REC/RM representatives in Addis Ababa will also be key in facilitating knowledge sharing. The I-RECKE technical advisory group will consist of directors or heads of divisions responsible for political governance, peace and security, and early warning/conflict prevention in the RECS/RMs, also rotationally.

Value of sharing

Sharing lessons from conflicts across the continent should enhance crisis prevention and response effectiveness. It should generate a common understanding of similarities and differences of latent and manifest crisis dynamics in geographical space and time. Lessons can be learnt from, for example, responses to terrorism and violence in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, which could guide responses in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. Lessons could include combating terrorism financing, rule of law approaches to violent extremism or community-based dialogue options.

Early action is imperative to prevent conflicts from crossing borders, evolving and becoming intractable

Sharing best practices on specific conflict prevention mechanisms and post-conflict reconstruction approaches will be key. For example, learning from dilemmas in negotiating ends to protracted conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone and their implications for post-conflict reconstruction and development can be extremely helpful for similar situations. To avoid politicisation, these lessons should be shared through processes and methodological approaches supported by research and evidence-based analyses.

Greater cooperation

The new platform could enhance cooperation amid ongoing efforts to strengthen the AU-RECs/RMs relationship, notably division of labour in tackling conflicts. REC/RM liaison offices in Addis Ababa will play a crucial role. I-RECKE is expected to complement PAPS’s continental early warning system (CEWS).

Most RECs/RMs have early warning systems, but not all function in the same way. The Southern African Development Community system, for example, is largely intelligence-based. The mechanism in East Africa focuses mainly on cross-border pastoralist issues among the members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The Economic Community of West African States’ warning system, on the other hand, works closely with civil society.

The UN and think tanks

Key to success will be follow-through from I-RECKE to CEWS, so that warning bells are rung in the right places, and the message reaches decision makers with the power to act. Often, discussions around emerging crises remain with experts or officials, rather than being widely shared among actors who might need the lessons for better decision making. I-RECKE will benefit from support from partners, including the United Nations (UN) Development Programme and the UN Office to the AU (UNOAU).

I-RECKE could enhance cooperation amid efforts to strengthen relations between the AU and RECs/RMs

At the Lusaka event, UNOAU head Parfait Onyanga said I-RECKE could become a powerful tool to address the perennial cycle of conflicts on the continent. The threats and challenges facing Africa need ‘innovative thinking’ and enhanced collaboration among existing mechanisms. A smooth interoperability between the African Peace and Security Architecture and the African Governance Architecture of the AU will also be crucial, he said.

Think tanks and academic institutions focusing on peace and security will be involved. This is a welcome break from the past, when the critical voice of civil society, at times, was ignored. Civil society organisations and some RECs are closer to the coalface and a valuable resource for decision makers on horizon scanning. AU organs such as the African Peer Review Mechanism and AU Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should also share information, notably on governance and human rights violations.

The role of the PSC

The AU is a member state-driven organisation, and the 15-member PSC is the highest decision-making body on peace and security issues. It acts on information it receives from the AU, RECs/RMs and member states. Credible and independently generated knowledge and information, enhanced by the platform through the AU’s structures and platforms, could be a basis for consensus on whether crises are at a point that requires PSC action.

A common position on certain issues is often very difficult to find, especially if there is no shared reading of the situation. Powerful and innovative tools are worth testing and could play an important role given support and buy-in from member states.

Image: © African Union Political Affairs Peace and Security/Twitter

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