You are here

Africa Day Webinar on “The African Union @ 20: Addressing Peace & Security Challenges”

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • May 24, 2022
    Only by Invitation
    1530 hrs

    The Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) in collaboration with the African Studies Association of India (ASA India) organised an Africa Day Webinar on the theme “The AU @ 20: Addressing Peace and Security Challenges” on 24 May 2022 at 1530 hours IST. The welcome remarks were delivered by Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, Director General, MP-IDSA and the special remarks were delivered by H.E. Mr. Alem Tsehaye Woldemariam, Ambassador of Eritrea to India and Dean of Diplomatic Corps, India. The introductory remarks were given by Professor Ajay Dubey. Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, chaired the panel discussion. The panelists included Professor Eghosa E. Osaghae, Ms. Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Dr. Alex Vines OBE and Ms. Ruchita Beri. The concluding remarks were delivered by Ambassador Shashank. Ms. Sindhu Dinesh proposed the vote of thanks. The webinar was attended by MP-IDSA scholars and guest attendees including African Heads of Missions in India, officials from the Ministry of Defence and members of various think tanks and universities.

    Executive Summary

    The webinar brought out perceptive inputs on the theme “The AU @ 20: Addressing Peace and Security Challenges”. Ambassadors, eminent scholars and experts from India and Africa served on the panel. As the African Union (AU) celebrates its 20th anniversary, its achievements in building regional consensus and efforts in transforming the continent were acknowledged. The peace and security challenges facing the African continent are diverse and complex. The AU faces several hurdles in dealing with these challenges. It must be recognised that foreign intervention is proving to be counter-productive and African countries must rely on themselves to solve the problems.

    Some speakers emphasised the continent's pressing governance and security issues. Under the auspices of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), the African Union (AU) and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) have engaged in violent conflicts using a variety of non-military tools. However, rising conflicts in Africa have demonstrated that APSA has failed to fulfil its mandate after more than a decade of existence. Many speakers further emphasised the significance of "African solutions for African problems".

    Another theme of the webinar was the importance of India-Africa relations and the necessity of keeping the pan-African tier of engagement. There was a strong push for South-South cooperation, particularly in areas such as clean technology, climate-resilient agriculture, and counter-terrorism cooperation. It was underscored that institutionalised mechanisms like the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) and India-Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) were important in promoting India-Africa ties and must be regularised.

    Detailed Report

    Inaugural Session

    The webinar began with welcome remarks by Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy (Director General, MP-IDSA). At the outset, he acknowledged the distinguished speakers and guests for their presence, the collaborative partner ASA India for jointly organising the webinar and extended a warm welcome to all the participants. Sharing that MP-IDSA has been organising an Africa Day Round Table for the last six years to commemorate Africa Day, he stated these dialogues had provided well-established platforms to deliberate on India-Africa relations. He remarked that the increased high-level visits to African nations over the last eight years and the initiatives taken under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Modi were aimed at transforming India’s ties with Africa. Ambassador Chinoy shed light on the historically close ties and maritime links of India and Africa, the role of diaspora, India’s steadfast support for Africa’s liberation from colonialism and apartheid, and the mutual support between the two in their struggle to attain independence.

    Stating that the theme of the webinar was timely and of great interest, he recognised the commendable achievements of the AU in resolving regional conflicts and promoting sustainable development. Mentioning the impact of the Ukraine crisis on food and energy security amidst the challenge of a pandemic, Ambassador Chinoy assessed that the three foremost important objectives for African nations will be economic recovery, healthcare and food security. Stating that security arrangements in Europe and the multilateral system had failed to deliver peace and security, he appreciated the AU’s efforts in building regional consensus.

    Ambassador Chinoy underscored the importance attached to institutionalised mechanisms like IAFS and IADD in promoting India-Africa ties. Stating that India is committed to being a reliable development partner for Africa, he highlighted India’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme, timely medical and humanitarian assistance to African countries during the pandemic, India’s contribution to the United Nations Peacekeeping (UNPK) operations in Africa and anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), and shared maritime interests in developing a blue economy. He opined that strong India-Africa ties would strengthen multipolarity and expressed optimism that the webinar discussion would help build a better future together.

    Professor Ajay Dubey (Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Secretary General, ASA India) acknowledged the guests and participants on behalf of ASA India and thanked MP-IDSA for partnering with them. Underscoring that Africa is an important continent for India, he shed light on the old and diverse academic engagements in Indian universities on African studies. Stating that the AU celebrating 20 years is a culmination of the African dream of Pan-Africanism, he spoke about the initial formation of the organisation in 2002 and its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) established in 1963. Remarking that peace and security were important objectives that African people have decided for themselves, Professor Dubey opined that in its approach to peace and security, the AU had learnt from organisations like South African Development Community (SADC) and others with similar objectives.

    Professor Dubey assessed that the major challenges for AU in addressing peace and security include terrorism in all its forms, internal terrorism, cross-border terrorism, religious terrorism and violent extremism; democratic backsliding which is giving rise to conflicts; threats to maritime security; challenges emanating from underdevelopment which include human security and climate security issues besides the pandemic and other common problems facing the continent. He agreed with Ambassador Chinoy that models like the IAFS and IADD were important and need to be continued.

    H.E. Mr. Alem Tsehaye Woldemariam (Ambassador of Eritrea to India and Dean of Diplomatic Corps, India) began his special remarks by thanking the webinar organisers and appreciated India’s steady commitment to developing India-Africa relations which he has witnessed during his tenure in India. He remarked that the webinar theme was timely and of critical importance to the African continent. Sharing the multifaceted peace and security challenges facing Africa that range from inter-state and intra-state political instability to foreign interventions and unemployment, he stated that the problems facing Africa were as diverse as its countries and people. He identified that there was no single or quick solution to these problems and opined that the contemporary history of Africa proves that external intervention was instead prolonging their problems. He argued that the best if not the only solution was for African countries to solve their problems themselves.

    Ambassador Woldemariam shed light on several other challenges like the arbitrary boundary demarcation by the colonisers which has led to separatist movements intertwined with terrorist activities. He underscored that Africa which accounts for 41 per cent of ISIS attacks has become the main target of international terrorism. He assessed that the economic cost of terrorism which has surged to USD 171 billion could have instead been invested in the continent’s development and betterment of livelihood. Ambassador Woldemariam strongly opined that multipronged and collective efforts would help address the root causes of conflict in Africa and achieve socio-economic development. He added that strong government, sound policy, efficient institutions and corruption-free civil service were also among the many requirements along with strengthening cooperation between regional and sub-regional organisations in Africa.

    Ambassador Woldemariam stated that all these efforts must be supported at the national and regional levels through institution building based on principles of partnership. Recognising AU’s efforts in transforming the continent, he argued that one of its hurdles was excessive dependence on foreign financial assistance which comes with conditions that compromise policy independence. Ambassador Woldemariam underscored that the spirit of South-South Cooperation should be bolstered to solve common problems and stated that India was at the heart of this framework. He concluded by calling for unconditional cooperation between India and Africa and expressed thanks to the Government of India for its support to African countries.

    Panel Discussion

    The panel discussion was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (Former Ambassador of India to Libya and Distinguished Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF)). He started the discussion by stating that we frequently think of Africa as a single entity, despite the fact that this identity is fading. He continued by saying that Africa is a kaleidoscope of culture, civilization, colours, and beauty that one should see and experience.

    Ambassador Trigunayat mentioned how the pandemic has affected the African continent and how India has tried its best to be a part of Africa's and AU's journey, whether it is peacekeeping, capacity building, or providing infrastructural assistance at all times. He underscored that Prime Minister Modi's event in Kampala provided a clear vision for strengthening cooperation and mutual capacities in combating terrorism and extremism across the continent.

    Professor Eghosa E. Osaghae (Director General, Nigeria Institute for International Affairs, Nigeria) began by indicating that AU's principal goals have shifted from political integration to economic integration, the prosperity of African people, and the need for peace and security in the continent. In terms of addressing peace and security concerns, the first thing that has become increasingly evident is that peace and security challenges in Africa must be viewed holistically. As the world deals with the repercussions of the Ukraine crisis, it is clear that whatever occurs in one part of the world influences what happens in other areas of the world.

    Professor Osaghae also briefly noted the AU's peace and security architecture's admirable achievements, particularly the actions of the "Panel of the Wise" since its inception. African peace and security architecture also envisions a strong partnership between the EU and regional organisations such as SADC in South Africa and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in West Africa, among others. It has been more challenging than ever before, but Africa today recognises that terrorism, insurgency, and human rights violations are not merely African issues, but also significant global concerns. 

    In his final remarks, Professor Osaghae emphasised that Africa would do well to handle what it is capable of doing, but Africa does better when it can collaborate with global players. He added that India has been a strong supporter of Africa, and that as the AU celebrates its 20th anniversary, partners like India will provide even more motivation to move forward.

    Ms. Elizabeth Sidiropoulos (Chief Executive Officer of the South African Institute of International Affairs, South Africa) opened her presentation by expressing concern that the current geopolitical framework may exacerbate some of Africa's peace and security challenges. She explored institutional realignment, increased civil society engagement, operational efficacy, and financial independence in her speech.  The lack of good governance has limited the government's authority to function, notably in preserving peace and security, as well as fostering economic growth and wealth creation, which are required to combat poverty and foster human development in the case of many African countries. Ms. Sidiropoulos went on to argue that rather than focusing primarily on hard-core peace and security concerns, African communities, citizens, and African leaders should prioritise good governance.

    Ms. Sidiropoulos concluded by referring to the Afrobarometer survey, which stated that unemployment remains one of the most pressing issues that Africans want their governments to address. As per the survey results, South Africans are dissatisfied with the government's handling of income disparities, price stability, and the economy in general. She emphasised that perceptions towards the AU are shifting, and the fundamental problem that African countries must tackle on their own is a lack of accountability in governance mechanisms.

    Dr. Alex Vines OBE (Director, Africa Programme, Chatham House, UK) began on a positive note by emphasising some of the AU's recent gains in terms of peace and security. He did, however, argue that there has been a sense of urgency to reform, evaluate, and rethink as the African continent transforms. He used the example of how standby forces do not always meet the issues that continental security necessitates. The Lake Chad basin countries' Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to collaborate against Boko Haram insurgents has been plagued with crises due to varying commitment to the force, budget issues, and fragmented planning.

    Dr. Vines reiterated that there have been areas of the AU vision that have been less impressive over the previous 20 years, notably on the legislative side. Traditional and technological organs have remained poor. The Pan-African Parliament and the Economic, Social, and Cultural Council are essentially advisory organisations with hardly any power. The AU's Peace and Security Council is faced with tough choices. He stated that the process of reforming the organisation, led by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, had created discord among the Commission's leaders. For over five years, the procedure paralysed employees and damaged the AU Commission. In his closing remarks, he cited the Afro-barometer survey mentioned by Ms. Sidiropoulos, which stated Africans are frustrated that jobs are not being created on the continent and that 35 per cent of citizens regard the AU as completely irrelevant to their daily lives. This poses a significant challenge for the AU to become more people-centered, serving the needs of its own people.

    Ms. Ruchita Beri (Senior Associate and Coordinator, Africa, LAC, and UN Centre, MP-IDSA) shared her thoughts on three themes. She began by discussing the AU's recent achievements in terms of leadership in addressing the COVID-19 Pandemic, peaceful elections, and so forth. She also considered the significant hurdles that AU continues to face, such as, rise in conflict, unconstitutional changes of government and terrorism. Recognising the challenges that post-Covid-19 peacebuilding faces, she focused on how the AU might promote complementarities at the strategic and operational levels throughout the peace–development nexus.

    Ms. Beri drew attention to the growing threat of terrorism and the need for AU to work on concentrated and coordinated efforts to address the fundamental root causes of terrorism and violent extremism. She also discussed the continent's food security concerns and why the AU should prioritise agriculture and food security as the foundation for economic development and progress. She concluded her speech by bringing up India-Africa relations in the current scenario. Ms. Beri proposed the next IAFS should be held soon, in partnership with the AU. She also proposed that India invite African Union to open a mission in India. She hoped that the organisation shall redouble its efforts to confront the challenges.

    During the Q/A session, the panellists discussed the rational foundation of the lived values and attitudes entrenched in African ethics by situating them within global ethics and the developing new world order, analysing their validity, and potential contributions. Prof. Osaghae believes that African values are an essential component of global values. Furthermore, global values will be meaningless if there is no African or Asian component - all of those elements work together to generate the composite known as global values.

    Concluding Session

    Ambassador Shashank (Former Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India) made the concluding remarks at the webinar. He advised that African countries should consider utilising India's assets to promote their own internal cyber capabilities. He also recommended that if small and medium-sized enterprises in India and Africa worked together, they might set up with an aim to give employment, inspiration, and so on to young people, similar to the Nirvana movement that began in India.  Ambassador Shashank suggested that people-to-people exchanges between India and Africa in a range of domains, including professional, legal, business, and grassroots occupations should be prioritised.

    The vote of thanks was proposed by Ms. Sindhu Dinesh (Research Analyst, MP-IDSA), after which the webinar concluded.

    The report was prepared by Ms. Sindhu Dinesh, Research Analyst, Africa, LAC and UN Centre, MP-IDSA and Ms. Bulbul Prakash, Intern, Africa, LAC and UN Centre, MP-IDSA.