Africa: [Podast Transcript] African Solutions to African Problems

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

AARON STANLEY:  Welcome to Diffusion, a podcast of Carnegie Corporation of New York.  I'm Aaron Stanley.
SCOTT MALCOMSON:  And I'm Scott Malcomson.  In the ninth and final episode of this series we are discussing the phrase African Solutions to African Problems.

[In this episode: Caroline Njuki, Nanjala Nyabola, Wilfred Muliro, Elissa Jobson, Obi Anyadike, Solomon Dersso, Funmi Olonisakin]


STANLEY:  We began with Caroline Njuki, senior program coordinator at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development's Regional Secretariat on Forced Displacement and Mixed Migration, whom we spoke with in Episode 7.
CAROLINE NJUKI:  I wonder what African problems could be in a rather globalized world.  We are so interconnected as humanity that I feel talking about African Solutions to African Problems is a little simplistic, because the African problems, or what we call African problems, have got roots in issues like trade, in issues like international security, arms - Africa does not produce [arms], and those arms perpetuate conflicts, for instance.  So we are bound by a set of international norms about how we should behave in war when people are displaced, in trade, etcetera.
So the African solutions maybe is - that the Africans want to lift more in solving their own problems, but I don't think it's purely African problems or purely African solutions.  It's a partnership, and it is where we are as humanity.  I don't think the Europeans would talk about European solutions to European problems because there are very few European, strictly, problems.
And that is why you see that being a community of nations -I'm talking about migration.  The reason why we see more people leaving is poverty has become more entrenched, poverty and inequality.  Governance, as we think of it in countries, the space for people to express themselves continues to shrink.  But there is also, that many people know what is out there.  They have TV.  They have Facebook accounts.  So they know what opportunities the world out there presents, and so they are attracted. They know: aha, I would be able to pursue my individual determination better and pursue my dreams in another country, compared to where I am today.
And so to be able to address such an issue, we have to work together, because is the countries of origin.  We need to look at what are the root causes, what are the root drivers of migration or displacement, and is that something that we need to deal with?
STANLEY:  Nanjala Nyabola is a Kenyan political commentator and independent researcher who was featured throughout the series but most prominently in Episode 3 on the Militarization of Peacebuilding.
NANJALA NYABOLA:  And I worry especially about the countries that I've mentioned, Central African Republic, South Sudan, DRC, the Rohingya in Myanmar.  I worry about places that we - the people in those places that we forget. Because we sold them a promise.  We told them that help would come.  We told them if they went along with the system and showed up to New York every September, that if things went wrong someone would show up and someone would help, and it's not happening.
And for those kinds of communities, the international system matters a great deal.  You look at countries like Central African Republic and South Sudan and the DRC and it's basically: no one's coming.  You guys need to figure this out on your own.  No one is coming.  There is no help on the way because you have nothing to offer anybody.  For countries like the Central African Republic having some kind of help, not intervention, not military intervention per se, but some kind of global solidarity system - it matters a significant amount.
MALCOMSON: Wilfred Muliro and Elissa Jobson featured in Episode 4 on the African Union and Regional Economic Communities.  Wilfred is a lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya.  Elissa is the African Union advisor for International Crisis Group.
WILFRED MULIRO:  There are no peace and security problem that Africa - you know, it's just a problem in Africa, but it's not like you look at it and it's so unique you say this is a problem that is African.  So that's why the person was saying that there, that in the first place the definition of African Solutions to African Problems was wrong. They should say too: a problem in Africa. Because the reason is the same thing we have been discussing here, that no matter the case what happens there, there are other partners that come in to support, because that problem that we want to label as an African problem is actually a global problem.  In my view, the UN should still, you know, it has the primary responsibility of international peace and security.  What should remain, in my view, is that continuously that problem that we may say is an African problem we are saying most of them become global.
MALCOMSON: Let me suggest an alternative scenario though, where … what you're suggesting is, the idea that African problems are global problems, how does that work?  I mean, how does that get defined apart from just simple human connection, which is historically a fragile basis for these kinds of decisions?
Terrorism has provided a way for so-called African problems to be world problems. You can imagine a scenario where major countries who would fund operations of this kind would decide that in fact terrorism, while no doubt awful in say Kenya or anywhere else in Africa, actually doesn't bleed over the, it doesn't cross the ocean.  It does not really represent a serious threat to American peace and security or Canadian or French or British.  It's possible to make that argument.  It might even be a fairly accurate argument, depending.  So that's one source.
The other big source of sort of stated international interest in African problems of the peace and security sort has to do with refugees.  So let's just say theoretically you remove the terrorism tie.  You're left with population movements as the only remaining reason - maybe piracy would be another one - by which these rich countries would be willing to continue to fund, whether they are coalitions of the willing and interested or AU-supervised coalitions of a different kind or regional economic bodies.  Then you start having a situation where, if there are going to be solutions to problems in Africa they will almost have to be African solutions because nobody else is going to do very much to solve them.
ELISSA JOBSON:  I think we're partly seeing what you're talking about already if you look at Africa in terms of Europe.  One of the things about conflict is that it pushes people to move.  I mean if we're being honest, 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.
MALCOMSON:  Right.
JOBSON:  But in Europe at least there's a sufficient perception within the general public that people are leaving the Middle East and leaving Africa in droves to come to their countries to get their benefits and to flee from war.  And what we're seeing, Europe's response in particular at the moment, is largely driven by this fear of this wave of migration which has been driven partly by terrorism, and there's a link that Europeans are making, largely through the media but it's also in the sort of popular consciousness, between migrants and terrorists.  You've got these breeding grounds in the Middle East but also in Africa, and people are coming to Europe and many of them are refugees.  And it's difficult to separate the two issues.
We are actually already seeing this in Europe, and the sort of liberal establishment within Europe has been sufficiently threatened that it is actually prepared to pump in 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 in certain - in many ways to Africa and that's actually having - causing problems for the continent, whom we've seen the restrictions that the EU is trying to get Niger to place on flows of people coming through Niger trying to get to, get through to Libya, through to Europe, that was actually contravening ECOWAS Freedom of Movement protocols.
MALCOMSON:  ECOWAS is the Economic Community of West African States.
JOBSON:  Some of the solutions which, you know, African solutions, that sort of economic integration, which is probably the one thing that will actually eventually lead to the greatest reduction in conflict in the continent, I think when we see greater economic prosperity and also greater economic integration, as we've seen in Europe, the effects that that can have on reduction of conflict.  The measures that the EU is currently taking are actually impeding this, and they're actually becoming part of the problem in the continent.
MULIRO:  Maybe we have had a blessing.  It's like nature or deliberate arrangement by the AU or international community has, like, a projected plan to win Africa to stand on its own.  If you look at that, we started by: we take over, you come in, cease fire, we take over.  We have worked with you in Sudan together, despite the problems. Then we have left you to test how you can bring your own troops on the ground in AMISOM.  So move, we can - if you can have coalition of willing with interest, we'll finance that.
So I think by the time what you are foreseeing happens, the EU should have come up with a very organized framework of pursuing its own peace and security in the absence of heavy financing, or in the absence of even deliberate UN intervention to support its peace and security efforts. Because already it is now - these should be taken as lessons to learn.  It should not just be something to whine about and say that, Why is international community pulling out?  Why is the U.S. - basically at the end it is about national interests, as you say.  Even African states themselves are realizing that even when they do this it's about their national interests. So it's a valid observation that what if all these links that make the international community interested in peace and security in Africa are not there.  Then I think we must come back to the African Solutions to African Problems.
MALCOMSON:  Obi Anyadike is an Open Society Fellow and the Editor at Large at IRIN News Agency.  Obi featured in Episode 3, Militarization of Peacebuilding.
OBI ANYADIKE:  I feel a little bit sorry for the AU, God bless them.  I think they, the AMISOM adventure was a really interesting experiment.  I think the idea that AMISOM doesn't have the money to intervene everywhere it should.  It wants to be the African Solution to African Problems and yet relies on Western assistance to be able to affect those interventions.  But when the AU started talking about reform, that we're going to put in a significant amount of our own money, the whole AU reform process, which in a sense means that Africa will start paying a much greater amount of its peacekeeping bill - now is the wrong time unfortunately.  This should have been done before Obama left, if they'd got their house in order and sorted this out.
So in a sense you can come to the UN, the AU and the UN do see eye to eye in the sense that regional organizations should play a much greater role in terms of peacekeeping, and the UN can help in terms of logistics, etcetera, and that kind of legal cover that allows an intervention to occur.  But now we're stuck in the process where I don't see that window coming again for a while, where the AU can strike a deal and say: We'll shoulder the burden as much as we can, see the changes that we've made, see how we've reformed ourselves, you just need to come and give us a little bit of help to allow this to actually work.  Maybe that deal is going to be hard to make now, given the political, geopolitical situation we face.
MALCOMSON:  Solomon Dersso is the Commissioner at the African Commission for Human and People's Rights and Executive Director of Amani Africa.  He is featured throughout this series.
SOLOMON DERSSO:  Peace and security is not something that you would say is divisible.  Given the level of interconnectedness of peace and security issues across the world, I think the relationship for example between the AU and the UN shouldn't be one which is confined to finances only, because if that's what is going to happen then what it means is, should that time come when Africa is able to mobilize the funding then Africa is going to say to hell with you.  We'll do whatever we wish and however we feel like it.  We have the funding.  Therefore, we are not going to care about what you and the UN are going to say. Because if we were going to reach that point, then it would be extremely difficult, in the sense that this could lead to the fragmentation of the international peace and security framework, all right?  So this issue is beyond and above financing for me.  It is at the core of the sustenance of the collective security arrangement of the world.
African Solutions to African Problems, I think, at times I have a sense that is a concept that is misunderstood, whereby people say to me that - so does this mean that you guys are saying hands off, so nobody comes in and participates in trying to create peace on that?  I say no, absolutely not!  That's not what it means.  What it means is basically, for so long the diagnosis of the challenge for peace and security on the African continent, and the analysis about this challenge, and also the formulation and articulation of the solutions to these problems, have been heavily dominated by perspectives and views coming from outside.
All right.  So what African Solutions and African Problems first and foremost, so to do is basically to say: I think we should be able to make sense of what these problems are on our own, where when I say on our own it doesn't mean that there wouldn't be drawing on inputs and knowledge and analysis from outside.  What it means is: but we should be the ones to say this is what it is, all right.  And also engaging in that exercise of also policy development to respond to that, all right.  So I look at it from a perspective of the diagnosis, analysis, and formulation of policy response perspective.
MALCOMSON:  In some ways the thing that I find most problematic about African Solutions to African Problems is because it misses the fact that so many of Africa's problems require in some ways non-African solutions, because the problems come from outside Africa anyway, and so - the idea that you have to have African Solutions to non-African Problems is crazy.  You know what I'm saying?
DERSSO:  Yeah, I see your point, to the extent that these problems are not necessarily originated from and to the extent that they have very substantive external dimension.  I fully get your point.  All right.  But whether--
[Crosstalk]
MALCOMSON: African solutions to European problems is kind of difficult.
DERSSO:  But it doesn't dispense with the need for basically - for example, what is the extent of hearing and space that you give to those who are affected by what happens?  All right.  I mean Libya is a very interesting example of recent periods whereby the AU went and said it's better that this thing is handled through an unarmed process than through the kind of intervention that happened, all right.  The fear with that, the ramifications would be so huge that the people who would ultimately be affected would be those in Libya and in the neighboring countries.  And that had come to pass.  This is not at all to say that because you are affected and you are engaged in it you would always get it right.  That's not what it means.  No.  It doesn't assume that.  It's not about right or wrong. It's not about getting it right or wrong.
MALCOMSON:  Right.
DERSSO:  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.  I don't think that rebuilding a society, like what we have in Somalia, back to a stable political condition can happen without Somalis erring.  All right.  So I think--
MALCOMSON:  [Interposing] When you say "erring" you mean being - making mistakes.
DERSSO:  Making mistakes, exactly.
MALCOMSON:  Yeah, yeah.
DERSSO:  Making mistakes.  Absolutely.  African actors, particularly those most affected by those events, need to be at the center of that process.  Sometimes it's put this way:  You have to be at the center of it.  It doesn't mean that others are out.  It's not exclusivity.  It is about what is given, if I may put it: which one is highlighted the most.
MALCOMSON:  That seems to me to imply that one reason the phrase African Solutions to African Problems is misleading is because it's so general. It suggests that somebody from Mauritania and somebody from Angola has an equal insight into, an ability to help resolve, a conflict in the Horn as somebody from Ethiopia or somebody from Kenya or somebody from Somalia.  And that's simply not the case but what--
DERSSO:  [Interposing] No, that's--
MALCOMSON:  --but what you're implying when you say that the contact of those who are most affected by it, that pretty much inevitably means that African Solutions for African Problems has a kind of subordinate thought contained in it, that really it's the people in the area where the problem is, however you define area, but that it isn't, there isn't anything generically African about it at all. Do you see what I'm getting at?
DERSSO:  [Interposing] I am--
MALCOMSON:  [Interposing] I'm avoiding the word "regional" because I don't want--
DERSSO:  [Interposing] No.  I fully appreciate what you are saying.  I mean, here are two things.  One is, so if there is a possibility to imagine a situation in which Africa becomes a unit of analysis.  So if we agree that there is a possibility, to imagine a possibility to imagine Africa as a unit of analysis, then we can still talk about Africa, all right, as we commonly do, all right.  So what are the points and the issues in relation to which you talk about Africa as a unit of analysis?  I think that's where the question is.  All right.  So that is one side of it.
The other side of it is when you talk about African problems or African solutions it's like assuming or suggesting that the boundaries of the problems is confined to this territory called Africa.   That their source doesn't have origin, or doesn't have any link whatsoever, with anything outside of Africa.  All right.  That is very problematic obviously, very problematic -
MALCOMSON:  [Interposing] Yeah.  Yes, indeed.
DERSSO:  - stuff.  All right.  So I understand there is something problematic about the saying of African Solutions to African Problems -
MALCOMSON:  [Interposing] Right, right.
DERSSO:  - in its generic sense.  All right.  But in its very refined sense, and the way it has been tried to be approached and articulated within the African Union over the years, obviously what it says is: it rejects one thing.  It rejects, for example, an interventionist approach, okay, whereby basically you throw in solutions or interventions--
MALCOMSON:  [Interposing] Right.
DERSSO:  - from outside and then imagine the possibility of that bringing about solution or anything like that. I mean there is that side of it.  But in its really refined sense and form, what it means is basically 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, the question of agency.
MALCOMSON: Funmi Olonisakin is vice principal international and professor of security, leadership and development at Kings College London.  She is also founding director of the African Leadership Center.
FUNMI OLONISAKIN:  Let me try to compare then and now.  When you look at those, if you call them nationalist leaders, or if you look at the liberation leaders as it were, in some of the countries, they were still pursuing a continental agenda because the story was by and large very common across the continent.  You find that history connects, and connected actually, much of the continent at the time.  That everyone was experiencing commonalities and in particular with - and the liberation conversation began to converge and that became the agenda of that moment.  And those leaders were continental leaders in that form because there was a collective conversation about the common situation and the goals they will pursue in response to that common situation.
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.
The situation in this current era is that 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.
And therefore, the conversation is becoming transnational: what connects people that have been undertaking all manner of responses through violence, and what connects people with the radicalization narrative, is all about the same stories of exclusion.  And so you need to then think about how to cumulate narratives of wellbeing, of peace and security, and positive approaches to peace and security, and how to get there among a new generation in a way that there's a naturally occurring pattern. Because they have - they can articulate the ideas, they can sit in places where there will be a difference, if they articulated those ideas, it could make a difference.
STANLEY:  This has been a podcast of Carnegie Corporation of New York, produced by Matt Fidler.  We'd like to thank everyone who lent their time, voice, and perspectives to this podcast series.

See What Everyone is Watching

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 700 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.