Will the inter-regional knowledge exchange platform fly or founder?

On the sidelines of the fifth mid-year coordination meeting in Nairobi, the African Union (AU) and regional economic communities (RECs) hosted the second inter-regional knowledge exchange (I-RECKE) meeting on early warning and conflict prevention. I-RECKE was launched in Lusaka in July 2022 during the fourth mid-year summit as a platform for intra-continental and cross-regional learning toward securing peace and security. It develops, captures and documents knowledge, sharing lessons and experiences to foster good governance and conflict prevention.

Various RECs and regional mechanisms (RMs) participated in the second policy session, themed ‘Cross-regional strategies in preventing terrorism and violent extremism’. It provided structured interaction between the AU Commission (AUC) and RECs/RMs on lessons from counter-terrorism operations. The exchanges offered valuable lessons, which, if filtered into implementation and decision-making, are opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas and information on ongoing efforts and refining existing interventions.

Nonetheless, questions linger around the initiative and the continued ambiguity and lack of awareness of its function and objectives. This is despite a year in existence and a second major gathering to pursue its goals.

Capacity, resources and method of engagement will determine whether I-RECKE makes it past infancy

Greater clarity is needed on how the platform intends to improve collaboration between the AUC and REC/RMS and if it intends to enhance coordination between RECs. I-RECKE’s capacity and resources, ability to carve a niche and mode of engagement with stakeholders and partners will determine whether the initiative makes it past infancy.

I-RECKE imperative

As all five regions of the continent continue to face emerging peace and security challenges, the imperative and potential of I-RECKE are paramount. The initiative holds potential as a platform to coalesce myriad intervention arrangements, multiple processes and varied engagements, all of which generate different understandings and efforts to counter transnational threats. However, there’s a need for enhanced cooperation and coordination between and among member states, RECs and RMs and the AU.

Given its information exchange role, I-RECKE provides an institutionalised mechanism to achieve this goal in a coherent and structured way. Another role is to create synergies between the African Governance Architecture and African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), allowing for interoperability continentally and regionally. However, it should be remembered that existing mechanisms and coordination forums perform these functions.

For example, the mid-year meeting itself is meant to be a platform for information exchange to improve working methods and engagement between the AUC and RECs/RMs. Yet challenges of subsidiarity, complementarity and division of labour between AU and RECs persist. Launched at the coordination meeting, it is difficult to imagine how I-RECKE will fare differently in improving AU-REC coordination.

Secondly, I-RECKE exists among many initiatives and mechanisms with similar and competing objectives. The two policy sessions of I-RECKE convened thus far focused on silencing the guns and preventing terrorism and violent extremism respectively. Yet thematic areas discussed have various APSA instruments, frameworks and mechanisms to drive policymaking and practice.

This nascent initiative may need to carve out a niche objective for greater impact

For example, the virtual silencing the guns policy session hosted by I-RECKE in March 2023 sought to curate several recommendations to help improve RECs’ implementation of the initiative. Nonetheless, the master roadmap on silencing the guns and the accompanying monitoring and evaluation plan outline specific areas for REC involvement and implementation of the initiative.

In terms of preventing and countering violent extremism, a surfeit of instruments and structures exist, most prominently the Nouakchott process on enhancing security cooperation and operationalising APSA and the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism. There are also the Accra Initiative and the recent Declaration on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes of Government adopted in Malabo in May 2022.

These tools provide for greater cooperation and coordination among member states, AU organs, RECs/RMs and other structures. Is I-RECKE then a supra-platform that brings all these together or an additional one for cooperation and exchange of lessons learnt? 

While its objectives are comprehensive in providing a mechanism for early warning and response for conflict prevention, its wide-ranging scope and number of objectives are a weakness. I-RECKE’s five primary objectives straddle different elements of the peace spectrum, from prevention to response. For a nascent initiative seeking to succeed amid similar and competing initiatives, it may be worthwhile to carve out a niche objective for greater impact. Alternatively I-RECKE could be an umbrella initiative combining the different tools and mechanisms.

AUC or RECs behind the wheel?

I-RECKE was launched and is driven by the AUC under the auspices of the Political Affairs and Peace and Security department. A representative and inclusive model, the platform will be co-chaired by the commissioner and a REC/RM representative on a one-year rotational basis. Currently, the chair of I-RECKE is Ambassador Gilberto da Piedade Verissimo, the RECs/RMs representative and President of the Economic Community of Central African States.

In theory, rotational chairship will allow for decentralised decision-making and an all-encompassing and collaborative approach. The chair’s capacity is also an important contributor to success. Their impact will be based on factors such as resources and the strength of the REC/RM. The duration of chairship also matters as it allows the chair a longer period to resolve complex and intricate challenges that realistically may not be achievable in a year.

Whether the request to launch and sustain I-RECKE was made by the AUC or RECs has implications for its success

In addition, whether the request to launch and, to a large degree, sustain I-RECKE was made by the AUC or regional communities has implications for its success and longevity. Initiatives at continental level require greater political buy-in and support from a greater number of member states and RECs. Therefore, it is a priority to raise awareness on the platform and clarify the expected roles and responsibilities of RECs and individual member states to make the initiative a success.

Appointing a high-level champion could also assist in acquiring resources and political will from RECs/RMS and private and developmental actors. The Nairobi meeting was meant to select the subsequent I-RECKE chair, yet time constraints and logistics challenges prevented this. It will be interesting to note the impact and progress of the platform if and when a new co-chair is selected.

Clarity on collaboration

Clarity is lacking on whether early warnings and information exchanged within I-RECKE will reach and inform policy decisions of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) as the key peace and security decision-making body. Coordination with other key PSC and Permanent Representative Committee stakeholders is also missing. Examples are the Military Staff Committee, African Defence Attaches Forum and Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa, which provide crucial input and information on critical continental peace and security challenges.

Whether these actors and civil society, as integral levers of lessons learnt and the early warning system, form any part of I-RECKE is to be seen. I-RECKE may need to make significant changes to meet its goals and close the chasm between the AUC and RECs on governance, peace and security. Greater publicisation and awareness-raising will be paramount as there is much still to be known about I-RECKE even among continental and regional policy actors.

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

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