Hard Truth with Anant Mishra: Efforts to Consolidate Peace in War torn Africa

February 23, 2015 OPINION/NEWS




Anant Mishra


“In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams” – African Proverb.

We define Peace Consolidation as a process in line with post conflict efforts after the ending of conflicts in interstate and intrastate levels. The primary objective is to maintain law and order through peaceful structured means within the society and to prevent the hostile actor’s reappearance. This can be found through peaceful institutions and social relations.

West Africa is comprised of the 15 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member nations along with Mauritania. All of these nations have a low economic and human development index followed by political instability as stated in a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on Africa. Additionally, numerous conflicts have plagued the region both politically and agriculturally during the post Cold war conflict.

Conflicts occurring within the state are multidimensional, multi casual and moreover interconnected. Implications like these have strong affects on the people of Africa, however conflicts involving intrastate disrupt their lives more, leaving them no option beside displacement from their locality. Talking of West Africa alone, the conflict revolves mostly over land and natural resources creating massive political instability in the region. Moreover the local and central government lack good governance, continuous instability and poor economic growth followed by increasing organised crime creating difficult conditions for African families to flourish.

With the increasing situation and violent clashes between government forces, extremist and non state actor’s efforts to consolidate peace are failing. Social problems like unemployment, poor economy and poverty create insecurity in a region which leads to criminality. Also, exclusion of large populations from political and economic groups add fuel to an already deteriorating situation. However increasing incidents involving organized crime are a major concern for Africa. This fuels the political instability and results in corrupt officers in the government or law enforcement agencies which then become a major financial source for terrorism.

Activities such as drug trafficking, the illegal weapons trade and human trafficking take its pace although drug trafficking remains lucrative especially due to its heavy presence in Latin America and parts of Mexico and Europe. Recently the large production of the Methamphetamine drug in the region of West Africa and some parts of the East has concerned the third world nations as the issue has escalated from trafficking to production.

West Africa has witnessed political instability in the past which involved the internal conflicts in Liberia during the 1980’s followed by mass killings, political assassinations and coups in Sierra Leone, Guinea – Bissau and Cote d’Ivoire in the early 1990’s. Currently the situation is controllable, subsided mostly making this a unique opportunity to start nation building and implement sustainable development measures.

“Nations such as Liberia, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone have gone from nations gripped in war and terror to nations in constitutional control”, cites the report submitted by OCHA to the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon of the UN.

Although many African nations are enjoying calm, solidarity and stability,  if we talk about constitutional reforms and institutional working, governance and economy, they are surrounded by poor governance, institutional weakness, slow economic recovery and financial insufficiency.

Organizations such as the Economic Community of West African States and United Nations General Assembly have specifically been discussing on various occasions, peace and security in West Africa. ECOWAS has been discussing with numerous organizations, heads of state and heads of various international firms on designing a mechanism to deal with the growing instability. ECOWAS has developed a mutually beneficial profitable partnership with the organizations such as African Union and the United Nations.

Organizations such as ECOWAS, the African Union (AU), UN and European Union have been discussing agreements on security and conflict in the region. In nations such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire, United Nations peace keeping missions have had great success in establishing peace in the region. The protocol designed by ECOWAS’ Democracy and Good Governance has bought support to the nations as, the designed protocol worked as a framework for nations and they were able to introduce significant changes in their constitution. This has proved a major step in providing good governance and democracy. Many nations have now adopted the Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, followed by other protocols and conventions to bring peace and security. They have also taken measures to fight gender inequality, youth unemployment, money laundering and terrorism by creating support centres and liaisons with other organizations and international peace keeping units.

Slowly but surely peace and security is gripping the nations of West Africa. These changes will be more effective and flourish among other nations if nations ensure democracy as the primary factor in governance. That “West Africa is on the verge of attaining peace, security and most of all democracy, for the first time in decades”, is an undeniable truth.


International Involvement

To increase efforts for maintaining peace and security, the United Nations and other international organizations are working closely with the African Union (AU) under an umbrella that referred to as the “Ten Year Capacity Building Programme.”  The programme was designed to support the nations in governance and provide electoral assistance. The Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance was adopted by ECOWAS in 2001 to assist the nations in maintain peace and foster good governance.

A Regional Action Plan was developed by ECOWAS in 2008 and achieved full working capability at the end of 2011. The plan was designed to address problems related to drug and organized crime and to promote more interagency cooperation such as logistics support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). ECOWAS adopted the Conflict Prevention Framework in 2008 making it a leading organization to ensure proper structural support. However the Regional Programme for West Africa, which covers a period from 2010 to 2014, but now extended to 2015, is an organization that watches over interstate and intrastate issues often undermined globally.

It is tasked to respond towards national and international threats towards health and security, assisting numerous organization globally as all civil society actors maintain peace and security in the region. It is also tasked to promote sustainable growth in the nation via partnerships and joint task force establishments to ensure continued ownership. With this initiative in mind, the West Africa Coast Initiative (WACI), a joint program between ECOWAS, the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), along with International Police Organization (INTERPOL), was established in 2009 to counter criminal activities such as drug trafficking and organ trade in the region. This imitative was prioritised in the ECOWAS Regional Action Plan which also led to the establishment of Transnational Crime Unit in each African nation. The primary role of the organization was to promote international support in combating transnational crime.


The United Nations

“Peace building relies heavily on the United Nations”, is a fact that no one can deny. UNOWA was established in 2002 as a principle UN entity involved in preventing conflict and promoting peace and prosperity in the region. It monitors political developments in West Africa, promotes good governance and preventive measures to stop terrorism. UNOWA is also tasked to promote the sharing of information between UN agencies active in the region and acts as a bridge between the UN system and governments of member nations.

The ECOWAS and AU have developed close links with UNOWA and accordingly the whole UN system. UNOWA covers a broad range of issues at country, along with regional levels. It promotes good governance focused on the importance of rule of law followed by the importance of human rights, ensuring free and fair elections. Although its mandate expired in 2013, the Security Council is discussing to extend its mandate post 2016.


The United Security Council

The United Nations Security Council has the power to ensure peace and Security by military means but prefers to ensure peace by dispute settlements, judicial assistance or through social regional agencies. Even in the past the Security Council intervened in many conflicts. It recently passed a Resolution 2101 (2013) on Côte d’Ivoire, to target the issue of illegal weapons trafficking in the region. Additionally, the Security Council is tasked to monitor the missions and operations along with the safety and security of offices and personnel deployed in the region of West Africa, such as the United Nations Integrated Peace building Offices in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL).

However the poor coordination between national, international and regional actors is a major concern for the Security Council in the region, as well as the issue of the implementation of Security Council resolutions. However, UNOWA’s support is also important as it plays an important role in combating issues such as piracy, terrorism, drugs, and crime. The Security Council is currently discuss extending the boundaries of UNOWA’s operation as doing this will play a more influential role in promoting peace building mechanisms in the region. Moreover the Security Council interacts regularly with the African Union Peace and Security Committee (PSC) to ensure preventive measures to prevent conflict in the region and promote collaborated efforts for peace in the future.

Violent Non State Actors

Violent Non State Actors (NSAs) consist of extremists, arm groups, drug traffickers, arms dealers and violent political military wings that pose a threat to international, national and regional security. They have been exploiting the structurally and morally weakened governments, especially those involving conflict borders and poor socio economic conditions. Other factors such as arms smuggling, drug abuse, widespread corruption, poor governance and a history of political assassinations and hostage crisis in the region of Sahel, have opened the gates for Islamic militants and other rogue military benefactors. Thus the increasing militancy in the region has overshadowed the presence of drug trafficking.


 Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) 

AQIM is one of the widely known and verified existing Violent Non State Military Organization that operates widely in the region of West Africa. AQIM is a Non State Military Organization with its origins in Algeria (North Africa). Its operation capability has gripped nations such as Mali, Mauritania and Niger (nations in West Africa). It is widely believed that operatives have the basic technical knowhow which is why it is presumed that many of the fighters have previously fought or trained in Iraq and Afghanistan. AQIM has control over the lawless part of regions along the Sahara desert, where nomadic tribes and local loyalties are in support.


Some acts committed by AQIM in past are as follows –

  • In Mauritania, in December 2007 four French tourists were murdered by attackers linked to Al-Qaida.

  • In February 2008, gunmen alleged to have links with AQIM opened fire on the Israeli embassy in the capital, Nouakchott.

  • In September 2008, twelve Mauritanian soldiers were killed in an ambush claimed by AQIM.

  • In August 2009, AQIM claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack directed at the French Embassy.

  • In December 2009, Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for kidnapping two Italians, weeks after kidnapping three Spanish aid workers.

  • In July 2010, Mauritania adopted new anti-terrorism law to enhance the powers of national security forces to combat AQIM.

  • In September 2010 the Mauritanian air force launched attacks at suspected Al-Qaida militant bases in Mali, after kidnappers crossed into Mali with seven foreigners who had been abducted in Niger.

  • In December 2008, in Niger, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Niger, Robert Fowler, and his aide were kidnapped by Al-Qaida. (They were both subsequently released in April 2009.)

  • In April 2010, a French national was kidnapped near the borders with Mali and Algeria, with Al-Qaida claiming responsibility. The hostage was killed after a failed French rescue raid in Mali.

  • In September 2010 seven foreigners were kidnapped in northern Niger.

  • In January 2011 two French nationals, kidnapped by suspected AQIM militants, were killed in a rescue attempt involving French military forces.

  • In April 2010 Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria established a joint command to deal with the threat of violent non-state actors.



Hezbollah, and more recently the Taliban, have been identified by the Central Command Centre of the CIA as having links with regional extremist groups and have been supporting them financially by money laundering in the region. The increasing Lebanese personnel in the region points to this fact, or at least its financial nature, here for Hezbollah.

The growing issue of money laundering and connected links with terrorist organizations are a growing threat to West Africa. GIABA in its May 2010 report stated that “Because the size of the informal economy in West Africa (constituting the equivalent of about 60 to 70 percent of  the formal regional GDP), the nature of tax evasion in the region, the problem of corruption (which has a corrosive impact on state capacity, with state officials using their positions of privilege to aid in laundering) and the region’s role as a drug transit point, money laundering and the financing of terrorism would be particular problems.”

The report further notes that “the growing concern in West Africa is the Lebanese Political Party, Hezbollah”. “The increasing Lebanese activity has something to do with the funding network in the region”, Mike Douglas a former diplomat said. Talking to a reporter he said, “If you go down the road you will see enormous charitable fund raising in the region, which is undoubtedly legitimate, as all of the funding will be provided to extremist organizations as financial aid”, “You never know when they started buying surface to air guided missiles”, he added. Other concerning activities are that of Al-Qaida in the Maghreb, which controls most of the Sahara desert.


The Taliban

The existence of Taliban role in the conflicts came to light when Liberian soldiers arrested 5 Taliban operatives on 10th and 12th of February, 2011; they were later transferred into the custody of the US. The five were sentenced in the Abu Gharib prison in connections with selling illegal weapons to assist the Islamist extremists in the region along with drug smuggling.

The five extremists were responsible for establishing a drug trafficking network in Benin. (Two Americans were linked to the same plot and were arrested in Romania. They were charged with conspiracy to sell automatic arms along with guided surface to air missile system to the operatives of Al Qaeda.)

These arrests took place during a joint operation by Liberian and US agents undercover, posing as Taliban, thus explaining the intensity of threat in the region along with vulnerabilities that could easily be exploited by extremists group in the region.


Growing Piracy

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) listed the coast of West Africa within the top 10 ports vulnerable in the world. Piracy has gripped Africa due to it’s political and economic failures. It is often the case on these ports that there is less or almost no law vessels. Many coasts in parts of West Africa fulfil this category. Besides Somalia (nation in East Africa), West Africa witnesses some of the most volatile and dangerous seas.

Besides some of the factors contributing to piracy the major concern for the third world nation is the illicit arms smuggling in the region, many incidents arising due to recent civil wars and poor state control, in turn leading to high rises in youth unemployment. Unemployed youths are forced to work with criminal organizations and are lured into criminal acts such as kidnapping and the theft of crude oil (also known as oil trafficking).


Growing Effects

The effects of Piracy are broad and far reaching. In recent developments pirates, after capturing the ships, demand the release of their senior leaders in prisons or do what their commanders order them to do which creates a grave threat to the country. Piracy drastically impacts domestic economies and creates political instability in the region. The worst part of piracy is that it disrupts the fishing industry and harms local economies, people as a result suffering and becoming impoverished. As these attacks increase, the state feels helpless in combating the pirates,  as a result they lose their economic capacity as trading companies refuse to negotiate in foreign waters creating a pressure on the government altogether. This drastically affects foreign direct investment and trade.

When pirates become successful in their operation, loss of goods hampers trade. Such incidents not only hamper trade relations between countries, they also add as a disincentive to the trade organization shipping in international waters, adversely affecting the global economy. Looking at the piracy gripped nation Somalia, this hampers international economic development, reducing globalisation in developing and developed countries.




Recently, a framework to address the issue of growing security followed by cross border threats and inclusive governance was presented to the United Nations Security Council by the United Nations Special Envoy for the Sahel. The strategy designed focuses on various issues with respect to governance, security, humanitarian requirements and development. This framework covers nations such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

Now the priority is to implement the resolutions and the designed strategy in cooperation with the UNDP, with an aim of achieving short term development goals to begin the long term ones. However financial support plays an important role; as the Security Council is not a financier by working, primary steps should include regular consultation from international development organizations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. Meanwhile the issue of growing terrorism is necessary to deal with; hence the Security Council should work along with regional and national law enforcement organizations in tackling this growing issue.







Anant Mishra

Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to United Nations. He is an Associate Member of Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, New Delhi specializing in counter terrorist operations and foreign policies in Africa and Middle East.


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