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Last Updated: 01/15/2013
The Prospects of the African Mechanisms for Preventing, Managing and Resolving Conflict
Conrad John Masabo

This article discusses the potential of African mechanisms for peace, especially the African Union's Peace and Security Council, to prevent, manage, and resolve violent conflict on the continent, both within and between states. While various criticisms and challenges are discussed, the author ends on an optimistic note and makes a series of practical recommendations for AU member states, pointing a way forward, toward a peaceful and prosperous Africa.


Africa’s peace as a basis for development was among the core issues that led to the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 and subsequently the African Union (AU) in 2002. However, the 1990s saw a multiplication of conflicts in Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region and the Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC). These conflicts are fundamentally different from the past wars that afflicted Africa, and they have had troubling implications (Ottaway, 1999: 202). The Congo wars, between 1998-2000, have been called “Africa’s ‘first world war’ because of the intricacy of the alliances among the many countries involved” (Ottaway, 1999: 202).

Despite the scale and devastation of these wars, there are various mechanisms to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts, such as The African Union Peace and Security Council (AU-PSC), which offer some hope. A case may be cited here: the move from the non-interference/non-involvement in the internal affairs of states to the intervening into the member states in matters related to genocide, crime against humanity/atrocities and grave violations of human rights.

This discusses peace processes in Africa, while acknowledging criticism; identifying and characterising mechanisms for peace with a focus on structures, composition, and performance as well as successes and challenges.

The Peace Process in Africa: A Synoptic Recount

To a large extent, the peace restoration process in Africa looks like the replica of the liberal approaches to peace typical of organisations such as the United Nations (UN). In regional institutions like the OAU/AU, “a liberal and mechanistic concept of peace” is utilized (Delay: 2006: 305) and thus, in a way, influences the African conceptualisation of peace restoration processes. As thus: “Efforts to bring peace and reconstruction [in Africa] have been fashioned by the universalistic conflict resolution formula of peace negotiations, with a trajectory of ceasefire agreements, transitional governments, demilitarization, constitutional reform and democratic elections” (Daley, 2006:304). As Murithi has noted, this means that “indigenous resources and capacities for peace-building and reconstruction” have been largely neglected (cited in Francis 2008: 16). Thus, local dynamics and the historical context of conflict issues such as the failure of state building, and resistance to localization of the process and participation are rarely addressed. In that regard, the question of post-conflict reconstruction as opposed to the transformation of structural violence at which poverty and equal distribution of resources, ethnic composition, and the failure of states to recognise legitimate rights of returning citizens should be addressed, and the take-off point of African peace should the “emancipation of African humanity” (Daley, 2006: 303).

Contextualising Mechanism Prospects

Despite the above criticisms of liberal institutionalism, the contributions of Africa as a continent to keeping peace in the world and to the continent in particular cannot be ignored. As Biswaro has commented, the creation of the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (MCPMR), “was a concrete step towards implementation of the objectives of the 1990 Declaration [in which] the African leaders were re-affirming their commitment to working together towards a peaceful and speedy resolution of all conflicts” (2012: 322). It is from this footing that we are attempting to discuss prospects of the various African mechanisms to prevent, manage, and resolve conflicts.

Prospects of the Mechanisms in a Historical Succession

The first initiative to contain conflicts in Africa by Africans themselves led the OAU founding fathers to establish the Commission of Mediation Conciliation and Arbitration (CMCA). Several reasons can be attributed to instituting such a legalistic institution, some of which is reflected in the terms of the OAU Articles. The Charter’s preference for sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of the member states rendered it powerless to address the situations of poor governance and the gross abuse of human rights (Rugumamu, 2002:11). As thus, “[…] its jurisdiction was limited to involvement in inter-state disputes as distinct from intra-state ones; and […] concerned exclusively with conflict resolution as distinct from conflict prevention” (Biswaro, 2012: p. 321). No OAU member state was open to use such mechanisms of direct intervention and, instead, many resorted to ad hoc commissions and committees in addressing conflicts. These committees could be composed of heads of states, foreign ministers, and/or other influential people. Though informal, some of these committees can be mentioned as successful in respect to creating peace in Africa by resolving boarder disputes between Algeria and Morocco, Ethiopia and Somalia, Mali and Burkina Faso, Senegal and Gambia, and Kenya and Somalia (Biswaro, 2012; Rugumamu 2002). With such a record, the OAU’s ability to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict in Africa for peace seemed to be gaining credibility.

However, the “events of [the] 1990s spurred the OAU to introduce its Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (MCPMR) and its replacement, the African Union (AU), to set up a Peace and Security Council in 2002” (Daley, 2006:309). The end of the Cold War, the natural death of the CMCA, and the multiplication of conflicts, such as the devastating impact of the 1994 Rwanda genocide on neighbouring countries, called for Africa to put in place a new mechanism that could anticipate and prevent conflict, get involved in peacekeeping and peacemaking, so at the OAU Summit in Cairo in 1993, the member states agreed to establish a Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (MCPMR). The mechanism was de facto charged with the task of dealing with internal conflicts in circumstances of gross human rights abuses and atrocities (Rugumamu, 2012).

Built upon two main bodies, the “Central Organ and Conflict Management Centre […] the Mechanism is furthermore supported by Units such as the Early Warning system […] Operation Unit [and] Peace Fund” (Biswaro, 2002:53-55). In principle, since the establishment of this mechanism, it is reported that the OAU have increased in “both credibility and visibility” (Ibid: 56) in terms of defending the African peace. Among the issues better addressed under these auspices are the questions of unconstitutional assumption to power or office such as those of Sierra Leone in 1997, and Comoro and the Côte d’Ivoire in 1999 (Biswaro, 2002:53-55). Added to that are the three active regional initiatives for peace, in Rwanda (1993), Burundi (2000), and Democratic Republic of Congo (2000) (Daley, 2006: 309).

The transformation of OAU to AU has had remarkable prospects regarding the peace question in Africa. It resulted in the re-organisation of African peace mechanisms; in particular, MCPMR was replaced by AU-PSC, which has the mandate to interfere into intra-state conflicts. The structure, composition and devolved approach adopted by this new mechanism reveal the reality that hopes for African peace can be entrusted to this body.

Both the composition and the fact that membership to this organ is on a Region and Economic Communities (RECs) basis reveal the realty that there is a hope in this mechanism’s arrangement and its devolved powers to sub-regional groups, which act in the name of AU-PSC in matters of maintaining peace in Africa. There are other organs that are attached to it to make it realise its mission, namely the Panel of the Wise, Continental Early Warning, Peace Fund, Africa Standing Force, and Humanitarian Acts organs. It is under such arrangement that the AU-PSC have recorded remarkable progress in containing conflict in Africa.

Since its establishment in 2002, the AU-PSC has done a remarkable job supervising the peace arrangement in the Sudan, ending of one of the longest civil wars in Africa (Khartoum–SPLA/M war), the creation of government in Somalia in 2012, initiatives in the Madagascan crisis, elementary advancement by the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to contain the M23 rebel group in DRC, the ongoing Malian crisis, as well as containing the Ivory Coast case. Its devolved approach to work through the sub-regional economic communities such as the ECOWAS, SADC, IGAD and the ICGLR allows it to respond quickly and effectively to conflict while maintaining regional sensitivity.

To this point, a general thesis can be drawn as to the prospects of the various African mechanisms to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts. The allocating of 6% of the total AU annual budget to AU-PSC, repealing remaining clauses prohibiting the OAU/AU from interfering directly in intra-state conflicts, and the positive relations and readiness of the United Nations Security Council to endorse above 75% of AU-PSC deliberations are all positive signs that a peaceful and stable Africa can be entrusted to this organ. The growing association of the AU with other African NGOs such as the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) and the establishment of African Court on Human Rights, also show that there are positive prospects for these mechanisms.

Still, the African Union and Africans to contain some of the remaining challenges that, if not addressed, can threaten peace and stability. The challenges include a lack of well trained Africans to negotiate better for Africa, overdependence on external donations for the Peace Fund, lack of proper capacity building, lack of permanent seats in the UNSC, relative weakness of Africa leaders, and the negative influence of international powers.

Way Forward

To keep these hopes of a peaceful and stable Africa, the AU through its PSC should work on some practical issues, some of which are: strengthening the unity among the African states so as to form a strong bargaining force to push for UN Security Council reform, AU walking its talk in implementing what it plans as support to the AU-PSC, and greater capacity building of the actors involved in the maintenance of peace. There is a pertinent need for good and visionary leadership that can push an African agenda in world politics; questioning and interrogating international influence relative to the AU, as well as a need for building and consolidating democratic practices, the peaceful transfer of power and respect for human rights, as well as giving attention to traditional conflict resolution mechanisms instead of solely adopting and implementing European models of conflict resolution, and being ready to commit the financial resources necessary to undertake the task of maintaining peace in Africa.


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__________, (2002). Africa’s Search for Peace, Addis Ababa: Edit Publishing House.

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Muruthi,T.,(2008). “Africa indigenous and endogenous approaches to peace and conflict resolution” in Francis, D. J., (ed.). Peace and Conflict in Africa, London: Zed Books Ltd. pp. 16-30.

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MASABO, Conrad John is a master's student at the Pan African University Institute for Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences (PAU-GHSS), studying for an MSc in Governance and Regional Integration. He is a teaching assistant in the Facuty of Education of the Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE) a constituent college of the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. His reseach interests are in African affairs ranging to African Peace and Conflict, History, Politics, Gender and Development.