The phrase “early warning and early response systems” (EWERS) have become the by-word of conflict prevention and conflict transformation processes in post-conflict contexts. It is regarded as a critical element and serves as the basis of peacebuilding, specifically as it helps to prevent the reoccurrence and relapse into conflict if fully implemented.
EWERS have become more prominent on the African continent with examples like the African Union’s (AU) Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) Conflict Early Warning Response Mechanism (CEWARN), and the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) West African Early Warning Network (ECOWARN). As such, this paper will examine EWERS within the African continent. Through this analysis, the paper will outline the challenges faced in their implementation and the opportunities that exist for it to achieve full functionality. The paper will conclude by highlighting recommendations to improve and enhance their role in preventing future conflicts on the continent.
Early warning and early response systems (EWERS)
Many definitions and understandings of the EWERS exist, but there is a common understanding of the nature, role, and characteristics of these systems. In the field of peace and security, EWERS are systems that collect, verify, and analyse data in a systematic manner and on an ongoing basis to provide information for a wide range of preventative purposes.(2) These systems should also provide recommendations for action by key decision-makers while providing an assessment of the impact of the situation.
EWERS have achieved their purpose when the information provided is useful in preventing, mitigating, and resolving conflict. Indicators help early warning actors and systems to understand the nature of the conflict, ascertain the expected impact, and determine a sufficient response. George H. Stanton points out that in the case of the Rwandan genocide, there was no “systematic understanding of how genocide develops so that warning signs could not be noticed.”(3) He added that “because policy-makers did not understand the genocidal process, they missed the early warning signs.”(4) Indicators are therefore important in understanding the various contexts and situations that might arise.
EWERMS in Africa
The AU has reached major strides in developing and establishing its CEWS. Notable steps include the drafting of the roadmap for the operationalisation of the CEWS that provides a detailed and in-depth look into the nature and the role of these systems in conflict prevention on the continent. The paper emanating from the Workshop on the Establishment of the AU Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) conducted in 2003 showcases the interest and commitment of the Commission to peace and security on the continent.
The premise behind the CEWS is that early warning and early response on emerging and potential conflicts on the continent would solicit a rapid response from the AU. As a key element of the CEWS, the Situation Room is responsible for data collection, analysis, and dissemination and monitors developments in the 53 member states of the Union, especially conflict and post-conflict zones and potential conflict areas.(5) Sub-regional bodies are in various stages of developing, implementing, and rolling out their EWER. ECOWARN AND CEWARN, as the most significantly advanced sub-regional EWERS on the African continent, will be examined.
ECOWAS has established observation and monitoring systems in its 16 member states.(6) An Early Warning Department (EWD) and Government Focal Points (monitors and reports on the system) also support ECOWARN. A major highlight of the ECOWARN/West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) partnership is the coordination meetings that provide the space to share updates on ECOWARN features, discuss challenges, and locate avenues of overcoming them. CEWARN, established in 2000, was tasked with responding to violent conflicts before they erupt, especially as conflicts have characterised the Horn of Africa for decades. This mechanism has been able to implement its system based on its pool of network of field monitors, country coordinators, national research institutes, and conflict-EWR units. The IGAD created system is the most sophisticated available among the Regional Economic Communities (RECS) as it boasts, amongst other things, a Technical Committee on Early Warning and Response (TCEW) and uses a customised reporting tool.(7)
National EWERS are still lacking on the continent in spite of the progress at the sub-regional and continental level. Countries that have launched these systems include Kenya, where information is obtained from local peace actors. Kenya’s national Conflict Early Warning and Response Unit (CEWERU) is part of CEWARN’s initiative to have a CEWERU in each IGAD member state once it is fully functional.(8)
The value of these continental, sub-regional, and national systems and their contribution to conflict prevention on the continent will depend on how strong the linkages between them will be and how they can adequately complement each other.
Early responses to early warning signals remain rather weak and inadequate. For instance, an early warning communication via e-mail was sent to the United Nations Mission in North-Kivu, on July 30 about rape attacks on women and children; however, it was not reported until 10 days after the incident.(9) After this incident, the Under-Secretary General for peacekeeping operations, Atul Khare, noted the need for peacekeepers to carry out “more spot patrols and random and night patrols”(10) in the prevention of future attacks. He also noted the need for improved communications with troops highlighting that the UN wanted to install signal towers.(11) This case highlights the fact that decision-makers do not rapidly decide on responses based on a wide range of issues. Furthermore, timely response requires that information is clear, easily accessible, and quickly communicated, which is not always the case. After the start of the Rwandan genocide, policy-makers “resisted and misconstrued the facts,” such that “the number of deaths in the early weeks was grossly under-estimated.”(12) Clear information is integral to EWERS as wrong information can lead to a wrong response. It is also important that information is able to reach decision-makers fast enough to make quick decisions.
The resources (financial and human), technical capacity, and technological infrastructure needed for successful early warning and early response are lacking. Without these, information will not be easily accessible and responses cannot be rapid. For instance, CEWARN continues to be bogged down by inadequate information and the absence of a solid early response system.(13) Since its creation in 2002, only a few specialists had been employed by 2009.(14) Moreover, the ECOWAS system faces inadequate and ineffective technological equipment to enhance and facilitate the collection, processing, and sharing of information.(15) A recommendation from the Workshop on the Establishment of the AU CEWS was the need to staff it with trained experts and equip the Situation Room(16) with adequate technological resources so that information is easily and readily available and accessible.(17)
Issues of sovereignty and political interest arise when it comes to collecting reliable data and ensuring a timely intervention.(18) The success of regional early warning and early response systems will be determined by the cooperation from member states to commit to joint efforts and collaboration and lay aside their national interests. The case of CEWARN provides a clear example of this especially as tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea will make it rather difficult and impossible to serve together under a broad IGAD command.(19)
The use of data and reports from early warning processes might not be allowed or encouraged based on the idea that some reports should not be publicly shared due to the information that they might hold. In addition, the issue of data ownership comes to the fore that limits the flexibility on the use and dissemination of the data collected.(20) The politicisation of the EWERS remains evident, specifically the control of political information in cases of (national) security. Information sharing is still lacking between CEWARN and the IGAD member states.(21)
It is important to highlight the significant progress that EWERS have made on the continent and the steps taken to make sure they are fully functional. In spite of the challenges that exist, there are a few opportunities that must be explored further for the continued success of these systems.
The engagement between ECOWAS and WANEP has been rather positive and showcases a solid example of cooperation between sub-regional bodies and civil society organisations. The selection of WANEP as a facilitator of ECOWARN creates the opportunity for easier and faster collection of information and more involvement from the grassroots level. WANEP’s strength lies in its national network offices in key member states, namely Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. WANEP has been involved in capacity building and sensitisation, design, and implementation of the EWERS; participation in coordination meetings; and reporting on the system. In January 2010, WANEP was involved in the Early Warning and Response Design (EWARDS) meeting organised in Abuja, Nigeria, to develop a framework for the West African Conflict Assessment that focused, amongst other things, on bridging the early warning and early response processes.(22) This partnership should be encouraged and duplicated across the continent. More ways in which the African Union can benefit from this partnership is needed.
The support of international actors leads to positive steps in building African capacity in early warning and early response. The establishment and implementation of CEWARN has been strongly supported by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).(23) The IGAD Partner Forum and the Friends of IGAD have also provided this support.(24) More partnerships with other sub-regional and international EWERS will allow for the sharing of good practices and the cross-pollination of ideas.
The value of continental and sub-regional EWERS comes from their ability to provide coordinated early warning and early response support to member states. More importantly, the success of these systems depends largely on strong political will and commitment by member states. The Rwandan genocide provides a clear example of where early warning communication was provided; however, response was not timely. The report by the International Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding stated that the comprehensive study done by Human Rights Watch lists 30 pages of early warning prior to the genocide beginning in 6 April 1994.(25) George H. Stanton argues that the genocide was ignored due to a “failure of political will”(26) by the US, the UK, the UN Secretariat and the UN Security Council in refusing to prevent the genocide. He further adds that political will is stronger when “governments must perceive and understand the crisis and have realistic options to resolve it.”(27) The role of early warning information is very important in building this understanding and perceptions.
Technological advances have contributed to more concrete and rapid early warning responses. For example, the information communication technology for conflict prevention and the CEWARN Information Communications Technologies (ICT) 4 Peace project has been helpful in transmitting important information of early warning information. Success stories of effective response interventions, based on timely information, received through the radios to mitigate potential conflict in Uganda have been reported.(28)
Moving forward, continental and regional organisations have a lot to contribute to EWERS on the continent, but can only be successful with closer engagement with grassroots actors and organisations. Numerous conflicts emerge from the grassroots, thus much information can be gained from that level. The role of traditional and local leaders, community-based organisations, and faith groups become more prominent in providing information, as they will also have to make decisions on early response options. Of utmost importance is that EWERS must be embedded in good governance structures, democratic institutions and leaders, and closely linked to ongoing peacebuilding efforts on the continent.
(1) Contact Dorcas Ettang through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Conflict & Terrorism Unit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(2) Preventative purposes include war, armed conflict, generalized violence, state failure, riots, coups, protests and demonstrations, pastoral conflict, and terrorism.
(3) Stanton, G.H., 2009. The Rwandan Genocide: Why Early Warning Failed. Journal of African Studies and Peace Conflicts, 1(2), pp. 6-25.
(6) Conflict Management Division of the Peace and Security Department, African Union Commission, (ed.), 2008, Meeting the Challenge of the Conflict Prevention in Africa: Towards the Operationalisation of the Continental Early Warning Systems (CEWS). Report of the Workshop on the Establishment of the AU Continental Early Warning System (CEWS).
(7) Cilliers, J., 2005. Towards a Continental Early Warning System for Africa, Institute for Security Studies Paper, pp. 1-25.
(9) ‘UN “failed” DR Congo rape victims’, Al Jazeera News Agency, 08 September 2010, http://english.aljazeera.net.
(12) Stanton, G.H, 2009. The Rwandan Genocide: Why Early Warning Failed. Journal of African Studies and Peace Conflicts, 1(2), pp. 6-25
(13) Wulf, H. and Debiel, T., 2009. Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanisms: Tools for Enhancing the Effectiveness of Regional Organisations? A Comparative Study of the AU, ECOWAS, IGAD, ASEAN/ARF and PIF. Crisis States Working Paper Series, No.2, pp. 1-38.
(15) Conflict Management Division of the Peace and Security Department, African Union Commission (ed.), 2008, Meeting the Challenge of the Conflict Prevention in Africa: Towards the Operationalisation of the Continental Early Warning Systems (CEWS). Report of the Workshop on the Establishment of the AU Continental Early Warning System (CEWS).
(16) The Situation Room is also responsible for producing a wide range of reports such as news highlights, daily reports, flash reports, and other ad-hoc reports. Sources of information include AU field missions, continental and global Internet based sources, as well as international organisations, like the United Nations (UN), think-tanks, and the media. These processes and tools are fed to the AU’s Peace and Security Council and decisions are then taken on whether to deploy the African Standby Forces (ASF).
(19) Wulf, H. and Debiel, T., 2009. Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanisms: Tools for Enhancing the Effectiveness of Regional Organisations? A Comparative Study of the AU, ECOWAS, IGAD, ASEAN/ARF and PIF. Crisis States Working Paper Series, No.2, pp. 1-38.
(20) Conflict Management Division of the Peace and Security Department, African Union Commission (ed.), 2008, Meeting the Challenge of the Conflict Prevention in Africa: Towards the Operationalisation of the Continental Early Warning Systems (CEWS). Report of the Workshop on the Establishment of the AU Continental Early Warning System (CEWS).
(21) Cilliers, J., 2005. Towards a Continental Early Warning System for Africa. Institute for Security Studies Paper, pp. 1-25.
(22) ‘WANEP-Nigeria Quarterly Reports’, January – March 2010, http://www.wanepnigeria.org.
(23) Wulf, H. and Debiel, T., 2009. Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanisms: Tools for Enhancing the Effectiveness of Regional Organisations? A Comparative Study of the AU, ECOWAS, IGAD, ASEAN/ARF and PIF. Crisis States Working Paper Series, No.2, pp. 1-38.
(25) ‘Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide - Report of the International Panel of Eminent Personalities’, http://www.africa-union.org.
(26) Stanton, G.H., 2009. The Rwandan Genocide: Why Early Warning Failed. Journal of African Studies and Peace Conflicts, 1(2), pp. 6 -25.
(28) ‘Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism 2010: The CEWARN ICT 4 Peace project: Use of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Conflict Prevention’, http://www.cewarn.org.
Written by Dorcas Ettang (1)