African Solutions to African Problems

Clan elders meet in Belet Weyne, Somalia in 2013 for a discussion of issues affecting the region.

The phrase "African Solutions to African Problems," however difficult it may be to define, remains crucial to finding ways of improving peace and security in Africa, according to Africa experts interviewed in this final episode of Carnegie Corporation's Peacebuilders podcast.

Featured in this Episode: Caroline Njuki, Nanjala Nyabola, Wilfred Muliro, Elissa Jobson, Obi Anyadike, Solomon Dersso, Funmi Olonisakin

Funmi Olonisakin, of Kings College London and the African Leadership Centre, points out that the independence struggle against colonial powers gave Africa coherence as a unitary idea and actor. "If you look at the liberation leaders as it were," Olonisakin says, "they were still pursuing a continental agenda because the story was by and large very common across the continent. Right after that, of course the situation changed, and the new situation was that these leaders as well - alongside the populations they were governing - needed to have a common conversation about the terms on which they will live together. And that never did happen, in many, many parts of the continent."

"In this current era," Olonisakin continues, "you could also see a collective narrative that might connect the youth of Africa because of common experiences of exclusion across the countries, because of common patterns of poor governance by the leaders across the countries."

Apart from such an internal discussion based on the shared experience of poor governance and common patterns of exclusion, the experts in this podcast focused on internal-external dynamics. For Carolina Njuki of IGAD, the notion of African solutions lacked coherence given that the problems Africa faces tend not to be confined to the continent: "I wonder what African problems could be in a rather globalized world," Njuki says. "We are so interconnected as humanity that I feel talking about African Solutions to African Problems is a little simplistic."

Obi Anyadike, of IRIN News Agency and the Open Society Institute, suggests that the time for the African Union to take control of African solutions has passed: The African Union cannot fund large-scale peace and security operations on its own, but international actors like the U.S. and the EU are losing interest in helping it do so. "Maybe that deal is going to be hard to make now, given the political, geopolitical situation we face," she says.

The waning of rich-country interest in African problems was acknowledged by several of the experts. "You look at countries like Central African Republic and South Sudan and the DRC and it's basically: no one's coming," Kenyan political commentator Nanjala Nyabola says. "You guys need to figure this out on your own. No one is coming."

An exception to the pattern is European policy on migration. "Europe's response is largely driven by this fear of this wave of migration, which has been driven partly by terrorism," says Elissa Jobson, African Union advisor for International Crisis Group. "The liberal establishment within Europe has been sufficiently threatened that it is actually prepared to pump money into peace and security in Africa. Europe is trying to set up its border on the African border, rather than its own. It has outsourced its border control."

Jobson argues that this might lead to Europe creating problems in Africa that will be difficult for Africans to solve. For example, Jobson sees economic integration as necessary for both prosperity and security in Africa, which is consistent with decades of African thinking. But European efforts to require African states to restrict emigration operate against the free movement of people that is needed for economic integration. As she points out, "the majority of people moving in Africa are not moving to Europe. They're not moving to the U.S. They're moving within the continent." In that context, restrictions on movement are leading to a situation where some European policy solutions are "actually becoming part of the problem in the continent."

For Solomon Dersso, of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and Amani Africa, African solutions are about power and pragmatism. "It's not about getting it right or wrong," Dersso says. "It's about what are the things that you could be able to prevent at least from happening, and the extent to which the things that you end up doing would have the chance of sticking. I think the opportunity for erring should be there. Making mistakes. African actors, particularly those most affected by those events, need to be at the center of that process. It doesn't mean that others are out. It's not exclusivity. Those who are affected by events should be the ones, and should have the most engagement, the most role, in the search for the solution for that problem. So it goes back to the question of self-determination."

This is the final episode of Peacebuilders. The interviewers are Aaron Stanley, a program assistant with Carnegie Corporation's International Peace and Security program, and Scott Malcomson, an author, journalist, and former government official and NGO executive. Malcomson was a Carnegie Corporation media fellow (2015–18) and is currently a fellow in international security at the New America Foundation and director of special projects at Strategic Insight Group.

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