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African Mediation Efforts Have Mixed Results

  • Nico Colombant

Repeated mediation efforts have failed to disarm militias in western Ivory Coast (file photo)

Repeated mediation efforts have failed to disarm militias in western Ivory Coast (file photo)

Africa has a history of producing mixed results on mediation efforts to end conflicts. Successes include Mozambique. Failures include Somalia and eastern Congo. Our correspondent spoke with several Africa experts in the United States about lessons learned and what seems to have worked.

The list of African countries going through the process of conflict mediation is long, from Madagascar in the south, to Sudan in the east, Ivory Coast in the west, and others in between.

The director of Boston University's African Studies Center, Timothy Longman, says having a major figure bring conflicting parties to the same table is crucial, such as when former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere was appointed mediator in Burundi in the mid-1990s.

"People like Nyerere, who mediated in Burundi and then was followed by Nelson Mandela, are such widely respected figures that they can have a lot of impact," said Timothy Longman. "More recently, Kofi Annan in Kenya. People who have a reputation for being well-known and well-respected can have a lot of influence. But there are always limitations, so that even when you have these big personalities, sometimes it can take a very long time to negotiate things."

A former U.S. ambassador in Africa, David Shinn, says having a deal signed has also proven much easier than implementing its content.

"There are many examples of failed mediation in Africa, but there are also a fair number of examples of what appeared initially to be successful mediation, and then it came apart in the implementation," said David Shinn.

He cites Somalia as an example. More than a dozen mediation attempts in Somalia have failed to bring peace and stability.

Shinn says he is worried about the future of a comprehensive peace agreement between North and South Sudan. It calls for South Sudan to vote on independence from the North in a referendum next year. But critical issues have yet to be resolved, including those involving water, oil and borders.

Shinn points to Mozambique, where a 16-year war ended with a peace deal in 1992, as a case study for successful mediation. The former ambassador says it is very important for major world powers, such as the United States, China and Russia to be involved in the implementation stage.

"So there is some real muscle behind the implementation effort," he said. "So by all means, you have to have that commitment and that commitment has often been lacking."

The director of the Africa Security Research Project, Timothy Volman, says it is vital to recall that world powers are sometimes implicated in Africa's conflicts.

"They have a responsibility first of all to not exacerbate the conflict, the role of arms sales, military training programs, other forms of security assistance by the U.S., by China, by other external actors," said Timothy Volman. "I think it is a central factor [in] a lot of the conflicts, the kind of military support that both state and non-state actors count on."

Volman also says warring parties often count on resource exploitation over territories they control, and that factor is often underestimated when trying to end a conflict.

"An awful lot of these conflicts are driven by the desire for control over access to resources," he said. "You use the resources to fund the conflict, to maintain military forces, which is one reason that I think so many of these conflicts are so prolonged, [it] is that there is a financial incentive on the part of different armed groups to continue fighting indefinitely, because war is profitable. And so to the extent that the profit factor could be taken out of these conflicts, I think that would also contribute to reducing the level of conflict."

One relevant example is in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where Congo's military and political establishment, as well as other countries, foreign-owned businesses, militias, rebel groups, and local criminals all compete for minerals.

Congo's war overall ended after peacekeepers entered the country, a power-sharing government was installed and elections were held. However in the east, repeated efforts to end recurring fighting and lawlessness have failed.

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