The African Union (AU) has lofty ambitions - not only to stop conflict on the continent, but also to make sure that lasting peace is achieved through post-conflict reconstruction and development (PCRD) efforts.
To do this, it is relying on South Africa to pull its weight, especially since the government of President Jacob Zuma has emphasised its intention to assist.
Recent Institute for Security Studies (ISS) research, drawing on interviews with stakeholders at the AU in Addis Ababa, found that the country is expected to lead on PCRD initiatives - yet, South Africa should do more to put its money where its mouth is.
In February 2014, Zuma opened the first African Solidarity Conference as a side event to the AU's 22nd Ordinary Session. It aimed to mobilise funding for PCRD in eight African countries identified by the AU.
This conference, however, was grossly under-attended, and the pledged financial contributions only totalled around US$3 million.
This was a paltry amount compared to the US$300 million in donations that were made later that same afternoon to the AU mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA).
South Africa didn't pledge any money, but promised to help with 'in-kind' technical assistance. This made it clear that African states, including South Africa, are still prioritising crisis management rather than addressing the root causes of violence.
"African states are still prioritising crisis management, rather than addressing the root causes of violence"
There can be no doubt that South Africa, at least on paper, is committed to the continent. The White Paper on South African Foreign Policy clearly prioritises Africa, and states that 'South Africa will continue to play a leading role in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.'
South Africa is also now establishing the South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA), which is intended to coordinate and deepen South Africa's developmental engagements. It is an ideal mechanism to drive PCRD assistance to the AU.
To date, though, these plans are not always followed up. South Africa has not yet filled its quota of permanent positions at the AU, which could be the first step to providing greater technical support.
Expectations about what South Africa should do are often contradictory. On the one hand it is expected to be a major player in driving the peace and security agenda in Africa; yet it has been subject to criticisms of hegemony.
This has been brought to the fore by the controversial election as Chairperson of the AU Commission of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in 2012. Given the acrimony around this, any engagement must be undertaken in a way that reflects the consensus-based approach of the AU.
South Africa has an abundance of skilled experts who can contribute to PCRD in various ways. The country has previously been involved in a number of PCRD activities, including in South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Admittedly, these occurred predominantly on a bilateral and trilateral basis, and were not linked to AU PCRD activities. South Africa chaired the AU Ministerial Committee for PCRD in Sudan, but this needs to be revitalised and refocused in the wake of South Sudan's split from the north.
In the future, South Africa should establish what its comparative advantages are and link its strengths to the six pillars set out in the AU's PCRD framework.
These are security, political governance and transition; human rights, justice and reconciliation; humanitarian assistance; reconstruction and socio-economic development; and gender.
It should also consider the five principles enshrined in the AU's PCRD framework, which include African leadership, national and local ownership and capacity building for sustainability. South Africa's new SADPA could be employed to promote its PCRD activities, and to provide a comprehensive list of experts and organisations that could be used if requested by partner countries.
The AU also has to strengthen its PCRD structures. Currently, the PCRD unit only has one permanent staff member, and none of the structures set out in the AU PCRD framework, which was developed in 2006 to safeguard its activities, have been set up. There is also a lack of clarity over roles and responsibilities around the implementation of this framework.
The African Solidarity Conference that took place earlier this year was another effort to strengthen PCRD. It was organised under the auspices of the AU's African Solidarity Initiative (ASI), which was launched by the AU in July 2012.
Yet, the principal facilitator of the ASI is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and works for an organisation unrelated to the AU. There is also a lack of clarity over how the US$3 million raised at the conference will be utilised.
South Africa is an important global player, with political and economic clout both on the continent and internationally.
The country now has the opportunity to prove that it can take the lead in promoting long-term sustainable solutions to conflict, and that it is fully committed to the continent.
The AU's PCRD framework and the ASI both provide ways for South Africa to engage more extensively. South Africa could also draw on its engagements with other multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations, the Brazil Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) grouping and the India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum to promote PCRD activities.
The time has come for South Africa to stop punching below its weight when it comes to PCRD - one of the most important guarantees of a peaceful future for the continent.
This article is based on a new ISS paper, 'Enhancing South Africa's post-conflict development role in the African Union.'
Amanda Lucey, Senior Researcher, Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria