PSC Interview: AFSIT – a moonshot to support inclusive transitions

PSC Report spoke to Mrs Patience Chiradza, African Union Director of Governance and Conflict Prevention and Dr Jide Okeke, Coordinator of the Regional Programme for Africa at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) about the advent and promise of the Africa Facility to Support Inclusive Transitions (AFSIT).

What in your view are some of the inherent and structural challenges with continental responses to unconstitutional changes of government (UCGs)?

No single factor explains coups or coup risks. Rather, it is a combination of triggers, proximate and structural drivers. In the recently launched UNDP Soldiers and Citizens report, we also see a correlation between certain development factors and military coups.

Governance challenges are persistent in countries experiencing UCGs. Enduring insecurity, prolonged economic underperformance and political fragility as well as democratic abuse are creating frustration among citizens. This frustration is influenced, exacerbated, and shaped by the limited opportunities for women and youth. While low development contributes to coup risk, coups further undermine development prospects. The result is a vicious cycle where underdevelopment is both a driver and an effect of coups.

A reset of the social contract is therefore needed to assist states affected by UCG, including coups, to move forward and to help prevent future instability. To achieve this, governments should shift their focus to practical delivery that directly improves the quality of life and opportunity for all segments of society. Better governance, deepening the quality of democracy and inclusive development should be guiding stars.

More work is needed by regional and international partners. Key stakeholders include organisations such as the African Union (AU) and regional economic communities (RECs) such as the Economic Community of West African States. They have played a key role in protecting democratic and constitutional order, responding to coups and helping to prevent further instances.

The social contract must be reset to assist UCG-affected states to move forward

Consistent and robust regional leadership has become apparent in reaffirming commitment to constitutional norms, democratic principles and human rights. In turn, international partners must demonstrate solidarity by encouraging a deepening of Africa’s democratic process, while resolving contradictions in their engagement.

What objectives does AFSIT intend to achieve?

Complex transitions represent key opportunities that can be leveraged toward consolidation of constitutional rule, democracy and stability. AFSIT is both preventive and responsive in its programmatic approach. It is preventive because it is anticipatory and could be deployed to support at-risk countries in the management of inclusive transitions. In other words, it is based on the centrality of conflict prevention, enhancing the social contract between citizens and the state, as well as promoting inclusive development.

As a response mechanism, AFSIT will harness these opportunities in countries undergoing such transitions, ultimately building on transformative sustainable development. It will halt a vicious cycle in which development deficits are both a driver and an effect of disruptive transitions, broadly defined.

The rationale for AFSIT is premised on the empirical preoccupation of disruptive, sometimes violent transitions that have recently characterised Africa’s landscape. It is also based on the need to translate the decisions made by AU member states into concrete action.

AFSIT may halt a cycle of development deficits as both driver and effect of disruptive transitions

The 16th Extraordinary Session of the AU Assembly on terrorism and UCGs in Africa was held on 28 May 2022 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. There, AU heads of state and government reiterated their zero tolerance for UCGs. They called for collective actions and solidarity in developing a robust response mechanism, deepening democracy to foster collective security on the continent. AFSIT responds to this.

What are AFSIT’s modalities and how will it work?

AFSIT will be governed by a project board co-chaired by the AU Commission and UNDP. The facility will be anchored on four tools and modalities for implementation, strategically led by the board and a steering committee.

  1. Anticipatory knowledge production: knowledge generation and targeted foresight and insights will inform and shape the interventions and support of AFSIT to countries in transition, RECs and the AU. This includes anticipatory analysis and the importance of lessons learnt and future scenario mapping.
  2. AFSIT Fund: a dedicated programmatic fund will support identified countries in transition, boosting REC and AU capacities for credible and inclusive transitions to democracy and stability. The AFSIT Fund will complement the AU Peace Fund and other instruments through its context-specificity, agility, flexibility and timely intervention.
  3. Pooled roster of experts: AFSIT will be primarily dependent on ad hoc, highly skilled expert capacities. These resources will be deployed to affected AU member states as a preventive action and to support credible and inclusive transition processes, institutions and mechanisms.
  4. Joint rapid assessments: assessments before the deployment of AFSIT capacities will be a hallmark. The findings and recommendations will be considered by the AFSIT project board and will inform strategic deployment and investments.

Would you label AFSIT a prevention or post-conflict tool?

The complex contemporary security and development challenges in Africa make the peace spectrum difficult to define. AFSIT represents a contribution to the peace value chain of prevention, response and post-conflict setting depending on the context in which it is deployed. From the outset however, AFSIT could be applicable in two categories of countries. These are countries that have recently experienced a UCG or those that are flagged as being at high risk of experiencing a UCG or complex political transition.

What challenges and opportunities do you foresee in implementing AFSIT? How will the challenges be addressed and the potential and benefits be multiplied?

Yesterday’s solutions might not hold water for the challenges of tomorrow. Since 2020, Africa has experienced six successful military coups (in addition to a precarious situation in Niger) and three attempted coups. Some other countries underwent turbulent forms of transitions during the same period. We clearly need a new approach to pre-empt and tackle these complex situations.

The design and governance structure underpinning AFSIT is premised on partnerships

Transitions may exacerbate conflict, violence and human rights violations when not managed effectively or when they fail. AFSIT seeks to enable political transitions as opportunities for reform and progress when peaceful, credible, inclusive and participatory, ensuring a people-centred approach is always considered.

The primacy of politics needs to be increasingly matched with primacy of people. The latter will require concerted investments in immediate, medium- and long-term developmental solutions to ensure the sustainability of transition processes. Early signs of political crises and conflict have not always attracted speedy responses and action. The partnership between the AU Commission and UNDP is both historic and necessary. It combines the political legitimacy of the former with the development muscle of the foremost UN development agency. 

Of course, these efforts will not be devoid of risks and challenges. Progress will also be dependent on the willingness of national authorities to demonstrate leadership, commitment and determination for transformative and positive change. Nonetheless, opportunities are growing to engage non-state institutions such as faith-based organisations, youth and women platforms as a catalyst for inclusive and transformative change. AFSIT will tap into these important, often side-stepped stakeholders as part of dialogue processes.

How do you envision collaboration with member states, developmental partners and other stakeholders?

The design and governance structure underpinning AFSIT is premised on partnerships. While developing the facility, the AU Commission and UNDP consulted with more than 1 000 stakeholders from regional and international institutions, development partners and civil society. Crucially, we listened to citizens from across the continent. We will continue to work with the vast civil society network and the United Nations country teams under the leadership of resident coordinators.

We will develop shared analysis of context, conduct assessments and facilitate investments in key areas to complement existing interventions in an impactful way. Country-level engagements will necessarily include partnerships with regional stakeholders and civil society actors. Regionally, the AU Commission will guide and provide leadership on political, diplomatic and technical engagements, especially with RECs and member states, to ensure effective rollout, implementation and management of the facility.

The AFSIT Fund will depend on support from development partners, as was the case with Chad, to provide sustainable and meaningful support to member states. The knowledge section of AFSIT will rely on continuing support from academia, thinktanks and other thought leaders to ensure research into sound programmatic responses.

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