Workshop Summary, by Salim Latib
At the heart of deliberations, during the ‘European Union and the African Security Regime: Institutional Cooperation’ workshop, held on the 20th to 21st October 2011, at the University of the Witwatersrand, was uneasiness with the implications, for partnerships and multilateralism, of the events that unfolded in North and West Africa and the difficulties that arose in the relationship between the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU). The papers presented and the associated discussions served to provide a sobering assessment of the challenges embedded in on-going Africa-Europe partnership efforts and the many actions and inactions that serve to fracture relationship or undermine the efficacy of established approaches towards resolving conflicts.
African approaches to inter- and intra-state conflict and violence have taken time to establish and are reflected in numerous mediation efforts and the general progress made towards affirming the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) as the channel and framework for conflict resolution and prevention. Establishing the mechanisms and capacity of APSA has taken time and to a large extent unfolded because of the encouragement from international partners, such as the EU. Even as support for African efforts unfolded, unilateral and non-partnership approaches to conflict in Africa demonstrate that inconsistency and the absence of decisive leadership create a propensity for the fracturing of relationships and hence the impossibility of introducing innovative solutions to complex politically-driven conflict situations.
Just as participants in the workshop expressed an appreciative understanding of the limits of African ownership and leadership, there was recognition that deeply embedded in current Africa–EU partnership arrangements, is the exercise of authority and influence over actions or inactions through the allocation and use of resources. Moving outside of current constraints and the exercise of power, in a manner that renders multilateralism effective, would require further research and reflections on the evolved partnership arrangements and the complexities that emanate from the propensity towards mimicking European institutional forms in Africa. Partnership arrangements, such as is reflected in the Africa-EU Joint Activity Plan on Peace and Security, whilst technically sound and capable of enhancing ‘African ownership’, have limited efficacy if they are not located in the wider political and policy context and the formal exercise of power by African states. A deeper understanding of the technical-policy interface could, over a period of time, serve as the essential foundations for new and more effective relationships.
Deliberations on wider conflict resolution experiences, as in the case of Zimbabwe, Somalia and Guinea-Bissau, demonstrate that peace and security interventions are complex and, in practice, are often shaped by interests and influences that find expression outside of formally established partnership modalities. Even as approaches are established that go beyond the resource provision constraints that characterise existing partnership arrangements, it is proving equally important that there be exploration on how general capabilities can be improved and the factors that would contribute towards enhancing a ‘strategic multilateral culture’ in Africa. Power dynamics and the exercise of influence by individual states have often been a matter of secondary analysis in understandings of the multilateralism and partnership arrangements.
Both in the case of Europe and Africa, the workshop inputs demonstrated that the ‘efficacy of multilateral policy and actions’ is often determined by the exercise of individual state power. Even as it is becoming more difficult to establish that there is hegemony either in Europe or in Africa, it is evident that some states are more ‘pivotal’ in shaping action and hence it would seem important for the future to try and understand points of influence and strategies for exercising decisiveness in multilateralism. In as much as a mapping of Africa-EU relationships would serve to enhance practices directed at equalising relationships, it would be just as significant and perhaps more so if African influences could be mapped in order to understand and perhaps reshape the authority and influence of existing ‘more able’ African Union Member States.
Analysis of the contradictions and hypocrisy that characterise multilateral and bilateral interventions in Africa served to imply that future interactions, between Africa and the EU, will most likely become much more an act of balance that goes beyond the diplomatic cordiality that characterises existing partnership modalities. Even as reality requires that there be appreciation of the resource allocation powers that shape existing approaches, unequal relationships and arrangements that reinforce unilateralism in the relationship are not sustainable and hence there needs to be forward-looking reflections on partnership modalities that would work. Such consideration would not only serve as a critical step in moving beyond relationship inequality, but would also be an important measure to counter perhaps unproductive, competitive overtures from other, equally important, global centres of power and influence, such as from South America and Asia.
The intellectual and reflective unease with recent experiences and concomitant fractures in relationships between Africa and the EU stems from a simple reality, we don’t know enough or understand sufficiently the factors that shape African multilateralism. Nor do we understand the strategies and paths that could act as leverage to shape or reshape the future. Even as participants were appreciative of the value of more and wider intellectual reflections, there was a deeper empathy with the immediacy of the African multilateral challenge and the importance of bridging the gap between contemplation, research, policy and action. The real value of the workshop resided not only in the agenda for reflections and actions that it established, but also in the fact that it served to affirm the role of ‘autonomous’ reflective processes in the search for solutions for societal challenges. It affirmed that the University can and should be the central point for deliberative reflective dialogue on the current policy impasse, fractured Africa–EU relationships and institutional let-downs in African peace and security multilateralism.
Salim Latib is a visiting Research Fellow at the Graduate School of Public and Development Management. He has, for a number of years, worked as a consultant on Governance and Capacity Development issues at the African Union Commission (AUC). His current research focuses on exploring the value and efficacy of multilateral interventions in Democracy, Rule of Law and State Development.