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Q&A with Mehari Taddele Maru

By Paula Akugizibwe and Mehari Maru

 Mehari Maru is an Addis Ababa-based consultant on international law, security and governance. He previously worked at the African Union Commission as Legal Expert, and as Coordinator of the AU’s Programme on Migration.

 

CHRONIC: Two things stand out about the AU compared to the OAU – one is its willingness to intervene in member states, whereas the OAU staunchly supported the sovereignty of those states. The other is the emphasis it places on governance and civil society participation. Do you see a relationship between these two?

 Mehari Maru: The emergence of regional and sub-regional structures [under the AU], like the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), SADC and Ecowas, structures not necessarily state-led and with more authority than individual states, can diminish state sovereignty. It’s the reconceptualisation of sovereignty, where if the national system fails, you have a ‘back up generator’ that kicks in immediately and intervenes to provide the necessary authority.

These structures also have elements of civil society, that is part of the AU’s policy. The idea that you don’t have to be in government in order to influence government is new… some governments see it as contamination of power. There are still some things that are exclusively government terrain – for example the use of violence, unless you’re talking about private security companies or military contractors. But otherwise, to some degree the sovereignty of states can be put into question if they’re not governing within a legal framework to allow civil society to play their role.

 CHRONIC: So do you think that the emphasis on “a legal framework for civil society involvement” being a requisite for state sovereignty has broadened space for intervention – given regional or sub-regional structures more space to override the sovereignty of the state?

MM: Completely. Also remember that the core functions of civil society range from service delivery to agenda-setting. Especially when there is an acute lack of legitimacy for a single group to govern a country – you see a lot of advocacy work, agenda-setting work, lobbying and so on. So civil society organisations can be very important actors in limiting some of the power of the state, because states are forced to negotiate with dispersed power centres.

To use an analogy, you can look at civil society as the shock absorbers of the vehicle. When the vehicle is not able to run properly because the road is rough, they to some degree absorb the shock that the car is facing – civil society plays that role. That was not the case before, where if you had that kind of shock, the country went to the brink of collapse.

Like in Libya, Colonel Gaddafi had previously controlled everything, and there was no institution that could replace that. Even if Nato was able to remove Gaddafi, the other institutional mechanisms were so weak that they were not able to act as shock absorbers. Some of the problems that the Libyan government is facing now are the result of that.

CHRONIC: Looking at Libya and Mali – the two main crises in the Ecowas region – it’s an interesting case study of the AU’s stance on intervention. You have Libya on one hand where the AU was vocal in condemning Nato intervention, and Mali, where they were strongly welcoming the French military. Why such a different approach to these two crises?

MM: In Libya, it was an attack on one of the leaders who was active in the AU and who had good relations with some African states. In Mali, the attack was against a terrorist group, which was also concerning a lot of neighbouring states. So with Mali, it was easier to have consensus on who the enemy was – in Libya you didn’t have that consensus. You also had more suspicion of international corporations and their motives for involvement in Libya. So there was division among African leaders on Libya. Whereas, in Mali, they wanted the rebels out.

But I was surprised by how they accepted the French intervention. The AU has been saying they will use the African Standby Force for such crises, and Ecowas has been saying that they have close to 7,000 forces ready to be deployed. In the Cote d’Ivoire violence, chief of staffs had announced that they were ready to intervene. At that time, the French role was endorsed without strong opposition. The same thing in Mali – even if Ecowas was ready to send troops, they endorsed the French intervention fully!

Maybe it’s because they were too slow, the French moved very quickly. But that shows the lack of leadership within the AU and Ecowas. If the standby force is always standing, or sitting, why do you have it? It’s a big question for the whole African peace and security architecture.

I actually think the main force that convinced the French to intervene was Sanogo’s group – the military guys who carried out the coup d’etat. They were not happy, that if Ecowas intervened it would be against them. Sanogo was requesting from the international community and the AU one thing only – give us arms to fight against the rebels. But the international community was saying the solution is not arms, the solution is political; it is in Bamako, not in Azawad or Kidal.

 CHRONIC: So the AU was insisting on a purely political solution to Mali’s problems in Bamako, but at the same time it was endorsing French military intervention in the north? Isn’t that a contradiction?

 MM: You should understand that the AU and Ecowas have a different procedure from the UN [on conflict resolution] – there is more emphasis on the political than on the military. That’s why in Mali the AU was first saying let’s have a political solution, there should be elections, counter-insurgency should follow elections, though later they endorsed the French intervention. In the long-term, most of the problems in Africa emerge from political problems – it makes sense to move from the hard military approach to more a soft security approach: poverty, democracy, governance…

Civil society is important for this soft security. For hard security, civil society will also have an increasing role, but their military interventionist role is more indirect – showing that there will be a humanitarian crisis and more crimes will be committed if there is no intervention, or an appeal to the international conscience to act and limit the power of governments where there is a serious problem. This role will have a serious impact.

 CHRONIC: Governments often criticise CSOs, especially when they contribute to such pictures of crises in countries, as being agents of foreign donors. Yet the AU is also dependent on donor funding. To what extent, do you think, is the AU in control of its own agenda?

 MM: Whether the AU can one day be relevant or not to the average person on the street will be dependent on how it will fund its activity. Even in Addis, people know about the AU only as the tall building that the Chinese built, and the traffic jams during the summit.

The AU needs assistance – financial and technical. Now, the AU doesn’t have its own budget to implement any programme. It only has its own budget to pay salaries, per diems, meetings, those kinds of things – most these core expenses are covered from contributions of the member states.

But when you look at the overall 2013 budget of US$278 million – only 125 million is from member states. So about 55 per cent of the budget is coming from international partners. For the actual programmatic costs – not salaries, but the activities that the AU has to implement in its different programmes – 92% of programmatic costs are covered by donors.

On top of that, considering the various leadership and working inefficiencies, it is not able to use more than 40 per cent of the budget. Of the 2013 budget, it will not use more than $100 million. Most of the money it gets from partners is returned to them.

 CHRONIC: Are there any areas that are particularly good or bad at absorbing funding?

Peace and security has the highest absorption. Furthermore it has funding from the EU African Peace Facility, which is not included in the AU’s annual budget, but paid directly. The programme has a lot of technical support from international partners, in general it is more active, it recruits on time and uses the programmatic funding effectively. Departments such as social affairs could be much more effective in utilising of budget, because they can apply it well ahead of time by planning, but they use only 12% of their budget.

CHRONIC: Is there as much technical support provided to the social affairs department?

MM: From international development partners there is not as much engagement in the social affairs department, even though the peace and security problems are results of political problems, which are entrenched in social and economic challenges in the African continent. These are not military problems and that’s why the focus should shift from peace and security to social and political issues.

CHRONIC: Why do you think the focus remains on peace and security?

 MM: Most of the time, foreign policy is formulated to cater to urgent matters – not important, long-term matters. It is much easier to declare war on terror and then act accordingly, than to build bridges and work on development aspects. The main interest of the West is on counter-terrorism measures. Their focus is to solve this once through a military intervention. It can be like Aspirin or Panado, but in the long term the political issues are the problem.

This comes back to the doctrinal difference between the UN and the AU forces. The UN system is highly dependent on the military component. But when this happens ahead of the politics you create administrative vacuums, human rights vacuums. This military interventionism is short-sightedness on behalf of the international community.

 CHRONIC: There is also a particular pattern in how the AU and its international partners apply military intervention. If you think of some of the countries with a big AU/UN presence – Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Libya – they all have lucrative resources. I haven’t heard you mention this in your analysis of peace and security dynamics. Do you think it plays a role?

 MM: No question – I am assuming that this is something that goes without saying, that’s why I didn’t even mention it. Look at how the UN acted on Libya, the no-fly zone was imposed at the speed of light. The reason why the South Sudan/ North Sudan conflict gets a lot of attention is not only that the danger to people is large – it is the corporate issue. There are also huge resource issues in Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, DRC etc.

Currently, with the discovery of new resources in many places, the periphery is becoming the centre for peace and security. The impact of this is huge. There is no question that resources will influence the international community in deciding where to intervene.

CHRONIC: In this light, coming back to the earlier question, do you think the AU is in control of its peace and security agenda?

 MM: It depends on the leadership. In Libya, no. In Madagascar, the West – especially France – was actively going against the AU. But in some places where there is strong leadership – for example the South/North Sudan negotiation panel, Thabo Mbeki is the head of it, he’s strong, he can say no to Western manipulation.

CHRONIC: Yet, the South/North Sudan negotiation process, even though it is often held up as an example of successful AU mediation, keeps breaking down, and South Sudan has expressed strong suspicion towards the AU’s handling of the negotiation?

MM: Mediation or peacekeeping can never be called successful. You cannot be 100 per cet fair to all sides. The question is – what would South/North Sudan have looked like if we didn’t have the AU? You can’t talk about success here – it’s prevention and mitigation. In the long term, success will be about whether AU will act on the political sphere, change political forces internally.

In Sudan, we also saw, before the UN came in, a time when the AU had thousands of troops and equipment on the ground.  But the funding from the EU and other donors was not coming on time, so they could not fly helicopters, move tanks, and salaries of peacekeepers could be delayed for years. They were stranded. So there can be no ownership of peace and security.

But I’m sure you are aware of the proposal on alternative sources of funding that’s been put forward by Olusegun Obasanjo. If that proposal is implemented soon, we might be able to raise sufficient funds for ownership.

 

 
CHRONIC ISSUE 2This article was originally published in the Chronic (March 2013).

In this issue, artists and writer from around the world take on the philanthropic complex to unravel the philosophies of dependency and power at play in the civil society of African states. To read the article in full get a copy in our online shop or visit your nearest stockists.

 

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