The African Union (AU) and its interventional peace and security architecture could be seen as an institutional expression of the phrase "African solutions to African problems". This has become a popular mantra to mobilise and most probably explain certain policy positions adopted by the AU in addressing certain crises. The basic principle that Regional Economic Community (RECs) are the building blocks of the African peace and security architecture, speaks volumes of how much this phrase has become embedded in African policy circles.
What does this mean? Is it aimed at mobilising Africans to solve their problems? Or is it a cop-out? Is it merely there to explain inaction from the international community? Or does it provide a self-serving shield to protect African dictators such as Robert Mugabe and others from international scrutiny? Considering Africa's capacity constraints, is it a reality or empty rhetoric?
In the face of international indifference or at times unhealthy meddling in certain African conflicts, "African solutions to African problems" reflects the justifiable need for greater African responsibility, autonomy and the imperative to develop indigenous conflict prevention and management capacities. As the Ghanaian economist and author George Ayittey points out, if you formulate your own solutions to your problems, you would have every reason and incentive to see them work. External or foreign solutions are not viable in Africa since they were either "imported" or "dictated" to Africans.
African or local ownership in developing and implementing policy options is not synonymous to international disengagement or desertion. The phrase should be deciphered within the context of the international security architecture that has been put in place. Thus, within the framework of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, the phrase is evidence of Africa's acceptance of division of labour and sharing of responsibilities - at least from an African perspective. The complexity of Africa's problems requires a collective and collaborative approach premised on a range of partnerships that should seek to establish coordination both on the international and continental levels.
The crises in Somalia, Chad, and Darfur raise a serious polemic. Is the promise of "African solutions" just an expression of intent? Does the AU have the requisite capacity to see through some of its good intentions? Rather than demonise the AU for its very apparent early weaknesses, shouldn't the international community focus on strengthening its capacity so that it can provide a credible opportunity for the continent to tackle its security problems? The point here is that the effectiveness of the AU cannot be measured by its objectives or intentions; rather its capacity to execute its mandate is a necessary condition. Most often in examining the effectiveness of the AU, one falls into the trap of measuring consequences or reflecting a phenomenon and in the process demonising the AU rather than engaging in a critical analysis of its capacity constraints.
Developing the capacity of the AU is much more than a technical question. It goes beyond resource mobilisation, planning and execution of peace support operations. It is also a political question that is anchored on the distribution of power amongst states, sub regional organisations, the AU, the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council (UNSC). As such, since states are the foundation and RECs the building blocks of the African peace and security architecture, one could argue that the AU's capacity constraints are a reflection of the weakness of African states, taking into consideration the realities of the contemporary global political economy. Against this backdrop, the AU's institutional constraints could be traced to the nature of African politics and how Africa's political leadership perceives and conceives the AU.
While it might amount to pessimism arguing that African political leadership never intended a robust AU, a close look at the design and function of the AU suggest that the AU was conceived as a coordinating mechanism without any proper mandate or mechanism to breach state sovereignty. The concept of "African solutions to African problems" is certainly desirable to realise the African Renaissance. However, the AU needs to move beyond good intentions. Achieving the African Renaissance, Ujamaa or Ubuntu requires a strong AU built on functioning and accountable national structures. Meanwhile it should be kept in mind that "African solutions to African problems" is not an excuse for international indifference, or a substitute for reforming the UNSC.
This Article is an abridged version of the introduction of a forthcoming Book Chapter entitled "African Solutions to African Problems: Assessing the Capacity of the African Peace and Security Architecture" written by Jakkie Cilliers and Chrysantus Ayangafac.