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Keeping the Peace in Africa: Why “African” Solutions Are Not Enough

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


Since the early 1990s, a variety of African and Western governments alike have often suggested that finding “African solutions to African problems” represents the best approach to keeping the peace in Africa. Not only does the empirical evidence from post-Cold War Africa suggest that there are some fundamental problems with this approach, it also rests upon some problematic normative commitments. Specifically in relation to the problem of armed conflict, the “African solutions” logic would have at least three negative consequences: it would undermine the UN; it would provide a convenient excuse for powerful Western states that wished to avoid sending their own soldiers to peace operations in Africa; and it would help African autocrats fend off international, especially Western, criticism of their policies. After providing an overview of the constituent elements of the “African solutions” approach, this article sets out in general terms the central problems with it before turning to a specific illustration of how these problems affected the international responses to the ongoing war in Darfur, Sudan. Instead of searching for “African solutions”, policymakers should focus on developing effective solutions for the complex challenges raised by the issue of armed conflict in Africa. To this end, Western states in general and the P-3 in particular should give greater support to conflict management activities undertaken by the United Nations, develop clearer guidelines for how these should relate to regional initiatives, and facilitate the efforts of civic associations to build the foundations for stable peace in the continent's war zones.

Copyright © Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs 2008

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1 See, e.g., Gaspar Martins (Angola), UN doc. S/PV.5043, September 23, 2004, p. 13, and Center on International Cooperation, Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2008(Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2008).

2 Human Security Brief 2007(Vancouver: Simon Fraser University, 2008); available at http:\\

3 Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: An Ongoing Crisis(New York: International Rescue Committee, 2008); available at http:\\

4 See, e.g., the debate in the UN Security Council organized by South African President Thabo Mbeki, UN doc. S/PV.5868, April 16, 2008.

5 Cited in Susan E. Rice, “Why Darfur Can't Be Left to Africa,” Washington Post, August 7, 2005, p. B4.

6 Transcript of a press conference, Kigali, Rwanda, February 19, 2008; available at http:\\

7 UN doc. S/PV.5868, April 16, 2008, p. 34.

8 Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, “Powell Promises U.S. Support but Says Africa Must Help Itself,” May 29, 2001; available at

9 See, e.g., Lt. General Walter L. Sharp, DoD News Briefing, “Changes to the Unified Command Plan to Create an Africa Command,” February 7, 2007; available at http:\\

10 “Prime Minister Blair Pledges Millions for African Union Peacekeeping Fund,” May 30, 2007; available at http:\\

11 For a more general defense of pluralism, see Robert H. Jackson, The Global Covenant(New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

12 Linda Melvern, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide(London: Zed, 2000).

13 IISS, Strategic Survey 1996/97(New York: Oxford University Press for the IISS, 1997), p. 223.

14 Author's interview with former AU official, January 23, 2008.

15 Report of the Commission for Africa, Our Common Interest(London: DFID, 2005), p. 167.

16 Other relevant instruments at the continental level include the Common African Defence and Security Policy, the early warning system, and the Panel of the Wise.

17 AU doc. PSC/AHG/ST(X), May 25, 2004, para. 1.

18 For an overview, see Jackie Cilliers, The African Standby Force: An Update on Progress(Pretoria: ISS Paper No.160, 2008).

19 Roadmap for the Operationalization of the African Standby Force(AU doc. EXP/AU-RECs/ASF/4(I), Addis Ababa, March 22–23, 2005), p. A-1.

20 For an overview, see Raymond W. Copson, The United States in Africa(London: Zed, 2007).

21 Tom Porteous, Britain in Africa(London: Zed, 2008).

22 GPOI's budget is about $80 million to $100 million per year. To count toward the 75, 000 goal, individuals must receive at least 24 hours of training on approved tasks. Units trained collectively must use similar standards, and each member must be present for at least 80 percent of the training and show 80 percent mastery of the skills they have learned. Roughly 5 percent of the troops trained are trained as “trainers”. By mid 2007, roughly 27, 500 African troops had been trained, 1400 as trainers. Alix J. Boucher and Victoria K. Holt, US Training, African Peacekeeping: The Global Peace Operations Initiative(Washington, D.C.: Stimson Center Issue Brief, July 2007), p. 3.

23 Since 1990, the UN has deployed to Africa twenty-four peacekeeping operations involving a combined maximum deployment of approximately 144, 375 uniformed personnel.

24 Center on International Cooperation, Annual Review of Global Peace Operations 2008: Briefing Paper, p. 6; available at http:\\

25 The other sources of funds were $18 million from the OAU/AU's regular budget and $4.5 million of other contributions from AU member states. These figures are from Festus B. Aboagye, “Global and Regional Approaches to Peacekeeping and Security in Africa,” presentation to the Potsdam Spring Dialogue, April 4–5, 2008; available at http:\\

26 UN General Assembly, 2005 World Summit Outcome(UN doc. A/60/L.1, September 15, 2005), para. 139.

27 Ben Kioko, “The Right of Intervention under the African Union's Constitutive Act,” International Review of the Red Cross 85, no. 852 (2003), p. 821. See also Jeremy L. Levitt, “The Peace and Security Council of the African Union: The Known Unknowns,” Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems 13 (Spring 2003), pp. 125–26.

28 The Common African Position on the Proposed Reform of the United Nations: “The Ezulwini Consensus” (AU doc. Ext/EX.CL/2(vii), March 7–8, 2005), p. 6.

29 Jeffrey Herbst, “Crafting Regional Cooperation in Africa,” in Amitav Acharya and Alastair Iain Johnston, eds., Crafting Cooperation: Regional International Institutions in Comparative Perspective(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 138.

30 See AU Assembly, “Decision on the Scale of Assessment” (Doc. EX.CL/192 (VII)), Fifth Ordinary Summit, July 4–5, 2005, Sirte, Libya.

31 Herbst, “Crafting Regional Cooperation,” p. 139.

32 Ibid., p. 144.

33 Regionalization is commonly understood as the idea that “each region … should be responsible for its own peacemaking and peacekeeping, with some financial and technical support from the West but few, if any, military or police contingents from outside the region.” Marrack Goulding, Peacemonger(London: John Murray, 2002), p. 217.

34 Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Unvanquished: A U.S.-UN Saga(London: I.B. Tauris, 1999), p. 306.

35 Goulding, Peacemonger, p. 217.

36 Jean-Marie Guéhenno, “Everybody's Doing It,” World Today 59, no. 8/9 (2003), pp. 35–36.

37 Michael Pugh, “The World Order Politics of Regionalization,” in Michael Pugh and Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, eds., The United Nations and Regional Security(Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2003), pp. 31–46.

38 IISS, Strategic Survey 1996/97, p. 224.

39 See John Hillen, Blue Helmets: The Strategy of UN Military Operations(Washington, D.C.: Brasseys, 2000, second edition).

40 Cited in Roberta Cohen and William G. O'Neill, “Last Stand in Sudan?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists(March/April 2006), p. 53.

41 “Tanzania Takes African Union Rotating Chair,” Sudan Tribune, February 1, 2008; available at http:\\

42 Final Communiqué: African Mini-Summit on Darfur, Tripoli, October 17, 2004; available at http:\\

43 The Commission of Inquiry subsequently concluded that although the GoS and janjawiid forces were responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law, “the Government of Sudan has not pursued a policy of genocide.” Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the Secretary-General, Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1564 (2004) of September 18, 2004(UN doc. S/2005/60), annex, para. 318.

44 The AU deployed a team of 80 military observers protected by a force of 300 troops in order to help monitor the Addis Ababa agreement of May 28, 2004, which included the formation of a Ceasefire Monitoring Commission. The mission was then increased to 3, 320 personnel in October 2004 and to approximately 7, 700 uniformed personnel in April 2005.

45 The light support package was to involve a logistics, personnel (approximately 200), equipment, and humanitarian aid component. The heavy support package was to include a signals unit, communications unit, and logistics staff as part of 2, 250 military personnel. IRIN, “Sudan: New Hope for Darfur as Government Accepts UN Support Package,” April 20, 2007.

46 See the chapters by Laurie Nathan, Dawit Toga, and Alex de Waal in Alex de Waal, ed., War in Darfur and the Search for Peace(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), pp. 214–83.

47 AU doc. PSC/MIN/2(XLVI), March 10, 2006, para. 13, p. 7.

48 In this sense, the recent decision by the U.S. government to cut its funding for UN peace operations is a significant step in the wrong direction.

49 The most recent attempt to do this is Report of the Secretary-General on the Relationship between the United Nations and Regional Organizations, in Particular the African Union, in the Maintenance of International Peace and Security(UN doc. S/2008/18, March 24, 2008).

50 Some relevant practical ideas can be found in Alex de Waal, ed., Demilitarizing the Mind: African Agendas for Peace and Security(Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2002).

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