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The Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa

Highlights:

* This was the first of what is intended to be an annual meeting “aimed at promoting dialogue as a fundamental, peaceful and durable means to resolving conflict, and to demonstrate that diversity is strength, and not a source of conflict.” Chaired by former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo,……. Among those present were Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Ismail Guelleh of Djibouti, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed of Somalia, the foreign minister of Rwanda, Louise Mushikiwabo, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, and Mozambique’s former prime minister Luisa Diogo, and a number of other officials past and present from governments and regional and sub-regional bodies across Africa, eminent personalities, representatives of African and non-African non-governmental and multi-lateral bodies, academics and others.

* The guiding themes for discussion were “Managing diversity to promote peace and stability”, focusing on diversity governance as a structural conflict prevention measure, and second, “State fragility and the prospects of peace in Africa”, with a focus on clusters of protracted conflict and regional response”.

* A central aspect of the discussions was the need for effective “African-led solutions” to the continent’s peace and security challenges. It was of critical importance for Africa to own and control the processes. Cooperation with others would be possible but ownership must remain in Africa.

Last weekend, 14th-15th April, the High-Level Forum on Security in Africa was held in Bahr Dar, the capital of Ethiopia’s Amhara Regional State. Coordinated by Addis Ababa University’s Institute for Peace and Security Studies, the Forum is an independent initiative under Professor Andreas Eshete, former President of Addis Ababa University and now Special Adviser to the Prime Minister. This was the first of what is intended to be an annual meeting “aimed at promoting dialogue as a fundamental, peaceful and durable means to resolving conflict, and to demonstrate that diversity is strength, and not a source of conflict.” Chaired by former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, informality was a key element despite the attendance of several heads of state and government, past and present.  Among those present were Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, President Ismail Guelleh of Djibouti, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed of Somalia, the foreign minister of Rwanda, Louise Mushikiwabo, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, and Mozambique’s former prime minister Luisa Diogo, and a number of other officials past and present from governments and regional and sub-regional bodies across Africa, eminent personalities, representatives of African and non-African non-governmental and multi-lateral bodies, academics and others.  Dr. Hesphina Rukato, the Forum coordinator, said: "We wanted to create a different type of gathering, more a retreat than a conference, and with the wide participation of people who are concerned and open to share their experiences." 

The aim was to provide a free and open discussion and act as a catalyst to raise fresh ideas and insights on security issues. At the opening session to emphasize this aspect, Obasanjo removed his formal traditional robe; and the media were kept out apart from the opening and closing sessions, in order to encourage uninhibited conversations among the participants and open discussion in the sessions as well as in the corridors and around the venue on Lake Tana. It largely succeeded. As one delegate noted “There was real substance as to what was being said. Issues were really coming out in the discussion and that’s very unusual."  There were only very few examples of people confining themselves to stating government positions and the Forum succeeded in its aim of providing equal access interaction for debate between  for presidents, ambassadors, academics, activists, AU officials and others. 

The guiding themes for discussion were “Managing diversity to promote peace and stability”, focusing on diversity governance as a structural conflict prevention measure, and second, “State fragility and the prospects of peace in Africa”, with a focus on clusters of protracted conflict and regional response”. 

A central aspect of the discussions was the need for effective “African-led solutions” to the continent’s peace and security challenges. It was of critical importance for Africa to own and control the processes. Cooperation with others would be possible but ownership must remain in Africa. Diversity in Africa should be seen as a strength not as a source of conflict, though it needed to be managed. It was in any case a fact of life. The opening session noted that overall there had been a decline of conflict in Africa though there were references to Sudan in recent years as an example of how not to manage diversity. Speakers called for more collective efforts to build a united continent. Diversity had been a source of conflict because “leaders fail to identify those diversities, accept them and attend to them in their form”. Recognition and respect for all forms of diversity would promote peace and stability. Africa should follow a political system that entertains diversity of ethnicity, languages, religion and culture equally. The need for political will and committed leadership to avert security challenges in Africa and to realize prosperity and development were stressed. Tolerance, peoples’ perceptions, traditional mechanisms and the need to find a common position were important. It was necessary to avoid imposing solutions. Identity and ethnicity should not be manipulated as a political approach.

The issues that drive fragility were defined as weak institutions, economic pressures, manipulation of issues by elite groups and the failure of development policies. The need to build up institutional structures in the continent was emphasized as was the value of pan-Africanism as an inclusive and comprehensive program. The Peer Review Mechanism and its benchmarks for effective and good governance and its efforts to help create effective state institutions were praised. The importance of a functional democracy to provide legitimacy and of the developmental state were emphasized, and the necessity of the role of women and youth was underlined. Also important was the way to frame the issue of legitimacy and authority. Most African states were colonial constructs and therefore questioned at birth. They had to build legitimacy in the eyes of their peoples, move away from policies of divide and rule and design or re-design a social transformation, democratizing as well as state building. In other words move to the concept of a democratic developmental state, establishing the social contract. Another issue that led to extensive discussion was the merits or demerits of federalism as opposed to centralism, a matter on which several leaders disagreed. It was suggested that it was the collective responsibility of the global community to provide stability for fragile states.  

Professor Mahmood Mamdani, the executive director of Uganda’s Makerere Institute for Social Research, and one of the panelists in the second session of the Forum, said subsequently that one use of the Forum lay in putting politicians in touch with scholars and academics who were not employed by them and who had more freedom to talk. Politicians normally are present-minded, fixed on the moment, impatient with scholarly talk.  They use consultants "who know which side their bread is buttered and tread softly when it comes to critiques”. Scholars criticize policymakers for rushing to solutions but never solving problems because they never really understand them. The value of the Forum was to straddle this divide and most participants felt the Forum had made a good start in that direction. One youth leader noted that the opportunities he might have to sit and speak in the same room as a prime minister normally were close to zero and it had never happened before. He also noted that the lack of protocol was a big advantage, “you are able to understand how structures, institutions and certain personalities think." Another participant noted that there was acceptable informality with people being “very candid” on sensitive issues. At least one president referred to it as providing “serious brainstorming.” In all, participants saw it as a good beginning and a model worth continuing.

Source: A Week in the Horn – April 20, 2012 issue.

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