Interview with Dr. Adekeye Adebajo on the EU and Africa

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Dr. Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR), described the relationship between the European Union and Africa as “a work in progress,” that began in 1884-85 with the negative impact of the partitioning of Africa by colonial powers, though more recently, he said, the relationship has become more equal.

“I would say that, in some areas, the EU may be more important than the United Nations. For example, in the sphere of economics, there’s a closer relationship, I would say, between Africa and the EU just because the EU is the largest trading partner of many of the African countries,” he said.

“But in the area of security, I would say that the UN is more important. 70% of the UN's peacekeepers are deployed in Africa–about 7 out of 15 missions. I think that Africa looks more to the UN than the EU in terms of peacekeeping.”

When asked for his assessment of the current state of the African Union-United Nations relationship, Dr. Adebajo cited the lack of progress with the UN’s support of the African Union's African Standby Force. “The UN has provided support to AU peacekeepers in both Darfur and Somalia, and there is now a UN office at the AU that's been established in Addis Ababa, but what has been done has been largely ad hoc, and not really systematic or institutionalized. Certainly the resources that are needed to create an effective African Standby Force have not been provided.”

Dr. Adebajo also discussed the state of politics in South Africa, where he and his center are based, and the upcoming presidential elections in Kenya, which is drawing concern because of the widespread election violence in 2008. He said the terms agreed upon to end the 2008 violence were deeply flawed because they didn't reflect the will of the people. “That could be storing up problems for the future, and that would be one of the lessons I would say we would need to avoid.”

When asked his view of the two candidates in Kenya who are wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), he said, “Well, one has to accept the principle that people are innocent until they've been proved guilty, so even though it's a very awkward situation, I think that the Kenyan people will have to have their say.”

“But it wouldn't obviously be a very good situation if one of them becomes president and is then convicted by the ICC. I think it would put the whole country and the international legal regime in a very difficult situation.”

The interview was conducted by John Hirsch, Senior Advisor at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript:

John Hirsch : Good afternoon, I'm John Hirsch from the International Peace Institute. We're here together with Professor Adekeye Adebajo, the Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, South Africa. We're here for the launch of an edited volume from CCR on EU and Africa: From Eurafrique to Afro-Europa.

Ade, could you share with us your perception of the relationship between the European Union and the African Union. Is this a relationship where both sides are benefiting from each other?

Adekeye Adebajo : Thank you very much. I think the relationship is a work in progress and what we've tried to do with this book is to put the relationship in an historical context. So we've gone all the way back to the conference of Berlin in 1884-85 where European powers effectively set the rules for the partition of Africa and that history wasn't so positive in terms of the impact that it had on Africa–generally negative. But in more recent times, there's been at least an effort to have a more equal relationship. Europe still remains the largest trading partner of Africa even though China is increasingly becoming a large trading partner and in the sphere of security, the European Union has also sent peacekeeping missions to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Chad Central African Republic and so the whole relationship is important. I think there is an effort now to make it more strategic with the African Union Commission in Addis and the European Commission in Brussels meeting more frequently.

JH : We're here in New York City, the headquarters of the United Nations is across the street from us. Could you compare the relationship between the African Union and the European Union to the relationship between the African Union and the United Nations? Is this relationship here–this AU-UN partnership–more important to Africa than the one between the EU and Africa, or are they somehow all integrated in a co-equal set of relationships?

AA: I would say that in some areas the EU may be more important than the United Nations. For example, in the sphere of economics, there’s a closer relationship, I would say, between Africa and the EU just because the EU is the largest trading partner of many of the African countries and there have been tensions also–which are dealt with in this book–on the economic partnership agreements that the EU has tried to negotiate with African countries, with the Africans accusing the EU of acting in a heavy-handed way and forcing them to open their markets up to things like procurement and others, where they feel that they're not ready and not having the full access to European markets that they've had in the past. But in the area of security, I would say that the UN is more important. 70% of the UN's peacekeepers are deployed in Africa–about 7 out of 15 missions. I think that Africa looks more to the UN than the EU in terms of peacekeeping.

JH : Just one more question in this area. What is your assessment of the current state of the African Union – United Nations relationship? It's now almost 8 years since the 2005 World Summit where the UN made a decision to support the strengthening of an African peace and security architecture. Where do matters stand?

AA: Well some things have been done. This actually came out of, in my own recollection, Kofi Annan's In Larger Freedom report in 2005, where he called for a 10-year program to support the African Union's African Standby Force, which is being set up. Ban Ki-moon, the current UN Secretary-General, reviewed the progress of this support in 2011, and it was actually very disappointing in terms of what the review came out with. There wasn't a properly funded program that had been established halfway through the ten years. But some things have been done. For example, the UN has provided support to AU peacekeepers in both Darfur and Somalia, and there is now a UN office at the AU that's been established in Addis Ababa, but what has been done has been largely ad hoc and not really systematic or institutionalized. Certainly the resources that are needed to create an effective African Standby Force have not been provided.

JH : I'd like to switch our discussion to South Africa. CCR is located in Cape Town. Many newspaper articles in the United States have highlighted the continuing problems of great gaps in housing, education, health, almost 20 years after the end of the apartheid era, and there's been a great deal of criticism of the government led by Jacob Zuma.

At the African National Congress meeting in December, a decision was taken to elect Cyril Ramaphosa, the former head of the National Union of Mine Workers and a very successful businessman, to be the vice president of the ANC and is widely expected that he will have a similar role in the next governmental elections next year. Could you comment first on the general state of governance in South Africa and then whether you think that the elections–what is the significance of the election of Cyril Ramaphosa–given these serious problems?

AA: Thanks. I think, first of all, one must not ignore the deep-rooted structural problems that still continue in South Africa. I mean, you have a 40% unemployment rate even though the government says it is 25%. But generally, I think if you count everything, I think it's 40%. South Africa is the most unequal society in the world. Some of the same criticisms that Jacob Zuma is facing were the same criticisms that his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, faced between 1999 and 2008.

But, having said that, there are worrying signs of an increase in corruption, for example, and the perception that it is getting out of hand and has got worse. I think what Cyril Ramaphosa represents is that because he left government, at least front-line government in terms of playing a role in the cabinet in 1994, he’s seen as relatively untainted. He enjoys great respect among many communities, in society, in business, trade unions, academics, and others tend to respect him, but I think it would be too much to expect that one individual is going to deal with such deep-rooted problems. But I think that at least having somebody like Cyril Ramaphosa, who is seen as having clean hands and is also very charismatic and very thoughtful, will at least increase the image of the government both domestically and internationally.

JH : There was a letter in The New York Times over the weekend noting that Cyril Ramaphosa has become very wealthy and is part of the elite, while most of the South Africans continue to live in poverty. It kind of questions whether he has the interest of the South African people at heart, or whether his focus is primarily on the business sector and that therefore things might not change much, notwithstanding the points you've just made. I wonder if you have any further comments on the possible impact of his role in altering the government's economic policy?

AA: I think the government’s economic policy has been set since the time of Mandela, after 1994, and it's a policy that very much focused on macroeconomic stability and growth, on trying to attract foreign investment. I don't think that Ramaphosa’s arrival in government is going to change any of that. I must say that while praising Ramaphosa, he was also implicated in some email exchanges in which he asked for very tough and decisive action over the Lonmin mines in Marikana, in which 34 miners were killed. So that created quite a negative impression of him because he seemed to be asking for very tough action even though of course he wouldn't necessarily have expected what happened there. I think the fact that he's rich in a country with such widespread poverty could also count against him, because he may be seen as out of touch and not really empathetic to the suffering of common people within South Africa. So I think one has to look at both sides of the equation in terms of assessing Ramaphosa.

JH : My last question has to do with the upcoming elections in Kenya. As you know, 5 years ago there was considerable violence during the elections and Kofi Annan, who had just finished as Secretary-General of the United Nations, became the envoy of the African Union to mediate the end of the violence and the setting up of a new government. At the time this was hailed as a positive example of the implementation of the concept of the responsibility to protect. I know you are attending a seminar on this topic later this week. First of all do think that Kofi Annan's role then was indeed an example, a positive example, of R2P, and secondly, what lessons–if any–do you think the government and the international community should draw from that experience to avoid a repetition of the violence in the forthcoming elections?

AA: It's a very good question, and I think one can see this as an example of the Responsibility to Protect because my own understanding of it is basically, if a government is either unwilling or unable to protect its citizens, then the international community has an obligation to step in. The violence that was happening in 2007 was reportedly fueled by several of the political actors there and has resulted in some of them actually indicted to stand trial by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. That violence was something that I think the international community needed to do something about, and after thousands of deaths, the international community stepped in decisively and Kofi Annan led the intervention there. The agreement that came out in terms of the transitional government where Raila Odinga became the prime minister and Kibaki continued as president, is one that is deeply flawed because many–including myself–believed that it didn't necessarily reflect the will of the people. That could be storing up problems for the future, and that would be one of the lessons I would say we would need to avoid. We need to make sure that the electoral commission is completely free of political interference and that whatever results come out of these elections are credible and fair and the political actors also have to act in a responsible way in seeking any redress through the courts rather than urging their supporters to take part in perpetuate violence.

JH : Finally in this regard, what is your view of the two candidates who are wanted by the International Criminal Court competing in these elections?

AA: Well, one has to accept the principle that people are innocent until they've been proved guilty, so even though it's a very awkward situation, I think that the Kenyan people will have to have their say. But it wouldn't obviously be a very good situation if one of them becomes president and is then convicted by the ICC. I think it would put the whole country and the international legal regime in a very difficult situation.

JH : Thank you very much. These have been very useful points and we look forward to our continuing relationship with CCR. Thank you.

AA: Thank you.



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