A New Emphasis on Strategic Planning as Key to the Success of Peace and Security Programs in Africa

Peace and Security in Africa: What is the situation?

The situation of peace and security in Africa remains alarming, with multiple political and security crises at national and transnational levels. According to Alert 2019!, an annual report on conflict,  human rights and peacebuilding; of the 34 armed conflicts recorded in 2018, 33 were still active at the end of the year, including 16 in Africa. Armed conflicts therefore remain a reality in Africa to which solutions must be found!

Who are the major actors?

Actors in African conflicts are heterogeneous and becoming increasingly more so. Conflicts have traditionally had as protagonists rebel groups and militias opposing regular armies. To this must be added today the waves of protests and popular uprisings that are spreading across countries either because of the longevity of some leaders in power, or simply bad governance. In many countries these are countered with state violence.  Finally, for over a decade, African states have been increasingly facing attacks by terrorist organizations. From Ethiopia to the Sahel via Sudan, the countries of the Lake Chad Basin and the Maghreb, the continent is now a solid base for various jihadist groups and the scene of numerous terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Islamic State (IS) organization, Boko Haram, Al-Shebab, Al-Murabitoune, Ansar al-Sharia, Ansaru, etc. are all jihadist groups that regularly operate on the continent, creating multiple and sometimes vast areas of instability. Boko Haram is the most active and deadly actor in West Africa. Since 2009, this group has recorded more than 2,350 events and caused more than 27 000 deaths (ACLED data September 2019). In the Horn of Africa, more than 8,400 events involving Al-Shabaab since 2008 have claimed more than 22,000 lives (ACLED data September 2019).

What are the current major hotbeds of instability in Africa?

In 2018, the African continent hosted the largest number (16) of the 34 armed conflicts in the world (47%). A third (5/16)  of these conflicts were of high intensity and were located in Libya, Mali, in the region of Lake Chad (Boko Haram), Somalia and South Sudan  (Alert! 2019). The most affected conflict areas in 2019 form a belt across the continent from the Maghreb, to the Sahel Zone, through the Lake Chad Basin, into the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region as The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, from ACLED presents.

Source: https://www.acleddata.com/dashboard/ September 2019.

What are the major factors contributing to conflict in Africa?

The complexity of the current situation of peace and security in Africa stems from the multiplicity of threat factors as well as the manner in which these factors feed upon one another and create cyclical conflict.

cyclical conflict.

Conflicts often arise from the lack of good governance linked to struggles for power and resources.  Poor governance results in economic difficulties, high rates of unemployment, lack of social services, etc.  Some governments feeling threatened will focus on conserving power rather than delivering services to the population. Conserving power is done through a variety of mechanisms including removing term limits, confiscating power at all levels including the judiciary and legislative, rigging elections to the point where they become power conservation tools, etc.

To make these power conservation mechanisms effective, governments will use ethnicity, religion, violence, electoral fraud, etc.  This will result in large groups in the population feeling disenfranchised and marginalized, creating fertile ground for recruitment by groups who have chosen to fight with arms. The presence of such groups will further threaten the government which will crack down with increased violence and the cycle continues.

Due to prolonged conflicts, today some states have large ungoverned spaces lacking in government security, basic services and administrative institutions, therefore opening the way for all manner of illegal activities. Armed groups as well as government factions illegally exploit mineral resources, levy illegal taxes on commercial activities and extort the population in order to finance themselves and enable a steady stream of weapons into the continent. The illicit circulation of these weapons together with mercenary activities continue to fuel insurrections and rebellions.

It is the complexity of this context which requires that we take a look again at the strategic planning tool for peace and security programs on the continent.

Strategic Planning, a key tool for peace and security programs in Africa

National governments, state agencies, international organizations and NGOs all try to find solutions at sub-national, national and regional levels to the complex situations described above.  For institutions and organizations trying to build peace, regularly assessing the situation on the ground and developing or adapting approaches and programs to end conflict and build peace is a challenging, complicated endeavor.

In this context, the strategic planning process becomes ever more important.  Both national institutions and international organizations must resist falling into a trap that makes planning routine or superficial.  Strategic planning provides the opportunity to periodically carry out an in-depth analysis of the conflict situation, obtain a better understanding of the actors and dynamics at play in order to develop strategies that adequately address the situation on the ground.

After years of assisting institutions and programs that work on conflict management and peacebuilding, STRATEGIES! has realized that in addition to the classic strategic planning methods, five key tools enable programs to carry out more robust and realistic planning.

Finally, at STRATEGIES! we have learned the importance of building peace from the ground up.  This means that strategic planning for peace programs must also be structured in several phases that involve stakeholders from the grassroots to the grass tops. National and international level political decision-makers will only make good decisions if they are informed by those experiencing and dealing with conflict at grassroots level.

It is therefore important to structure the strategic planning process as a process with facilitates inclusive dialogue and inclusive decision-making.  This suggests more time, effort and resources must be dedicated to the strategic planning process in peacebuilding programs at the time of conception and throughout the life of the program.

The old saying “who fails to plan, plans to fail” is especially true when we are in the complex arena of ending conflict and building peace.

For more than a decade, STRATEGIES has collaborated with local, regional and international organizations in the areas of good governance, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. Through its work, STRATEGIES! supports government agencies, organizations and international and regional institutions in developing effective and innovative strategies to address the complex challenges of improving local, national and regional governance structures for peace and security in Africa.

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