HomeOpinion & AnalysisThe African Union’s conflict early warning system is no more, what now?

The African Union’s conflict early warning system is no more, what now?

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BY UIf Engel
Since 2017, the African Union (AU) has undergone institutional reforms to increase its efficiency and effectiveness. The gist of these reforms was proposed by the so-called Kagame Report commissioned by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government.

An advisory team led by Rwanda president Paul Kagame took on “the chronic failure to see through African Union decisions”. This had led to the AU being seen as having limited relevance to African citizens.

The team also addressed financial overdependence on external partners, the underperformance of some organs and institutions, and the ambiguous working relations between the African Union Commission, and regional entities and member States.

One reform proposed was the merging of the Political Affairs and Peace and Security department in 2021. It’s now called the Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Security.

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However, the result was that one of the five pillars of the African Peace and Security Architecture — the Continental Early Warning System — has disappeared. Established in 2002, the early warning system was created to anticipate and prevent conflicts on the continent.

It was recently argued that the warning system’s functions would be incorporated into the new portfolio department.

However, its major functions are no longer be performed.

These include co-ordination and harmonisation with regional economic communities, and assisting member States in conflict analysis and mitigation.

As a former advisor to the African Union’s Peace and Security Department, I am deeply concerned about the effect this will have on the continent’s capability to prevent violent conflict.

The warning system’s major achievements include analytical reports that informed the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Peace and Security Council on impending conflict situations.

It also established regular, direct relations with the council and helped regional economic communities develop their own early warning systems.

It further facilitated early warning exchanges across the continent, and helped member States to address issues of structural stability and root causes of conflict.

The continental system additionally offered regular analyses in pre-election situations that had in the past escalated to violent conflict.

Establishing the system

The African Union’s Continental Early Warning System became operational in 2012, 10 years after its formation. This followed the careful design of its systems, workflow and structure.

Historically, the core of the system was the Conflict Management Centre. This was set up in 1993 for the Organisation of African Unity, the AU’s predecessor.

The early warning system functions included information monitoring and collection.

Second was conflict and co-operation analyses. Third was the formulation of response options for decision-makers. The first was carried out by the so-called Situation Room while the second and third were carried out by analysts.

The early warning analyses were to be used by the chairperson of the African Union Commission: to advise the Peace and Security Council on potential conflicts and threats to peace and security in Africa, and recommend the best course of action to be taken.

Early warning practices

Numerous early warning reports were developed, such as the automated Africa News Brief or Daily Reports. There were also in-depth, analytical early warning reports that offered concrete policy recommendations.

The early warning system also developed a strong dimension of long-term conflict prevention practices. It resulted in strategies that countries could use to assess their potential for conflict and develop mitigation strategies. In 2017 and 2018, Ghana became the first country to voluntarily go through this process.

Another problem to be overcome was the “silo mentality” among African Union Commission stakeholders who were acting in isolation.

For this purpose, a separate conflict prevention framework was established in 2015. The taskforce was partly operational, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit the continent.

  •  UIf Engel is a professor at the Institute of African Studies,University of Leipzig

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