“Democracy and good governance today is no longer a foreign prescription in Africa. It is driven by Africans themselves, and that’s how we will, over time, change the continent,” said Dr. Jakkie Cilliers, the Executive Director and Founder of the Institute for Security Studies, based in South Africa.
Dr. Cilliers said the African Union has become a much more sophisticated, competent, and professional organization over the past 15 years, but it still struggles with taking ownership for development, which has been the purview of Western governments and institutions. “Telling somebody that you should not be corrupt and you should respect human rights is generally meaningless,” he said. “If Africans develop these standards themselves, and then try, in whichever fashion, to hold themselves to account—both at an intergovernmental level, but also ordinary NGOs, civil society—holding African leaders to account, that is what will provide a thread, that’s where the rubber hits the road.”
“Development by itself is a disruptive, unequal, and often violent process, and one should not expect that Africa will somehow embark upon a smooth and equitably and peaceful process of developing; that would be ahistorical,” he said. Referring to what has been described as unequal economic growth in Africa, he said, “It is up to civil society, governments, donors, and so on, but ultimately, African governments, to try and mediate the distorting impact of growth so that growth is not only excluded to a small sector.”
Dr. Cilliers believes that election violence in Africa is a sign of the extent to which democratization in Africa has taken root. “These elections may not be free and fair; they may not meet standards, and incumbents have lots of advantages, but many more elections are being held every year, and whether you’re Robert Mugabe or you are Jacob Zuma of South Africa, elections are the way to get into power and to stay in power.”
When asked about the African Standby Force, Dr. Cilliers said that “we mustn’t hold our breaths in what the African Standby Force will be able to do down the line, even once it is fully operational, which is supposed to be by 2015.”
“We cannot sustain large peacekeeping missions; this is an international responsibility,” he said. “Africa can assist, it can build towards a peace process as it did in Somalia and in Burundi. But our exit strategy is to hand over to a UN mission, and I think we have to be careful not to think that the African Standby Force is going to take over from UN missions in Africa. I don’t think it can, and I don’t think it should.”
Dr. Cilliers said strong economic growth is a prerequisite for improvements on governance, human rights, and democracy. “We need to build the accountability systems, because, ultimately, it is by changing the nature of government in Africa that this will change. Donors, non-African institutions can play a role, but it is all about African citizens holding their governments to account and other African countries holding their peers to account.”
The interview was conducted by John Hirsch, Senior Adviser to the Africa program at the International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
John Hirsch: We’re here with Dr. Jakkie Cilliers, the Executive Director and Founder of the Institute for Security Studies located in Pretoria, South Africa, and today we have been discussing the ISS paper The Future of Intrastate Conflict Africa: More Violence or Greater Peace?
Jakkie, I want to ask you first about good governance, which you made a major theme of your paper, given that civil or internal wars remain the dominant form of conflict in Africa and are often attributable to poor governance. To what extent do you think that current African leaders are cognizant of the need for reform, and how committed are they to this reform?
Jakkie Cilliers: Thanks for hosting me, John. The paper argues that there are a number of structural conditions that drive intrastate violence in Africa that sometimes are not sufficiently recognized–issues such as the structure of the population and associated processes, Africa having a very young population, transitions to democracy, and so on. A variety of these issues are related to governance. But it’s important, first, to recognize that the direction, the trajectory, of governance, whether you use World Bank indicators or you look at where issues such as the transparency, corruption indexes are going, or you look at the Mo-Ibrahim index, or the work the UN Economic Commission for Africa is doing, all of them would indicate that the quality and the effectiveness of governance in Africa is improving over time.
Governance is largely a function of capacity as much it is a function, as we often like think, of good intentions, of good men or women. It’s about building the intuitions that can hold people to account. Let’s refer to that as the “thickness” of government. Much of Africa, because it’s poor, has got a very thin government. Governance is isolated. It’s a few people sitting that can make any decision. To build that capacity, you need economic development and, over time, the thickness of your government increases – you have more capacity, you can regulate. You can engage in discussions, you can reach agreements with other countries on extradition agreements or to collaborate or to implement your commitments on democracy and human rights and corruption.
So, for me, what I think is happening now in Africa is that the economic development “good news” story that’s coming out of Africa allows Africa to also develop the associated capacity. But what has happened in the past is that Africa has often been told, get your governance right, and you will develop. But, they don’t have the capacity to get the governance right.
Now, with Africa developing, revenue streams and supporters coming online to develop that capacity and, in a sense, the institutions will develop in part. That’s maybe only one part of the story, but I think an important part.
JH: Given what you just said, the African Union and the other regional economic communities have adopted a lot of instruments, committed to democracy, human rights, and good governance. To what extent do you think that young people–people in schools, universities, what we call civil society–is cognizant of these instruments? It seems to me that there are a number of countries in which these instruments are disregarded. People are arrested arbitrarily, a lot of corruption, very little action toward it. I am interested in your view on the impact of these instruments on people who are not in government. Do they feel ownership? Are these instruments therefore of use in putting some kind of pressure on leaders right now, or is there really a disconnect?
JC: You know, I first started working with the OAU, the predecessor to the Africa Union, about 15 years ago, and I’ve seen how at that level, on the continental level, the Africa Union is today a much more sophisticated and competent and professional organization than it used to be under the OAU. A lot of work and a lot of effort is going into trying to translate African governance instruments into practicality. The main challenge that’s often faced, thus, with development is the issue of ownership.
Telling somebody that you should not be corrupt and you should respect human rights is generally meaningless. If Africans develop these standards themselves and then try, in whichever fashion, to hold themselves to account, both at an intergovernmental level, but also ordinary NGOs, civil society holding African leaders to account, that is what will provide a thread, that’s where the rubber hits the road. And I think that a lot of that is happening. It started really with the so-called African peer review process where African countries went through an assessment process, self-assessment process, and then this self-assessment process was presented in front of their peers. And in this process, I think there is much greater traction, there’s much greater ownership by Africans, and an actual fact is a civil society [that] is emerging in Africa that is starting to hold African leadership into account.So, it’s a long, long road to travel, but if you look where we are coming from, we are already in a very different spot. Democracy and good governance today is no longer a foreign prescription in Africa. It is driven by Africans themselves, and that’s how we will, over time, change the continent.
JH: Your paper also highlights the great importance of economic growth as a key factor for ending violence and for improving life on the continent. To what extent, however, do you see economic growth in a number of African countries only benefitting a small elite rather than the population and that therefore economic growth is perhaps a somewhat misleading measure? If we look at Angola, which has had extraordinary economic growth statistically, 99% of the population of Angola lives in terrible poverty. If we look at Nigeria, there’s a certain class that’s wealthy, but the people in the Niger Delta are really, you know, in terrible shape economically, and there’s been all this environmental degradation and so on. So, could you kind of speak more about the distribution of economic growth benefits as a factor in the future development of Africa?
JC: Strong economic growth is a prerequisite for improvements on governance, human rights, democracy, I would tend to argue. The more I look at these issues, the more you realize that growth rates is a prerequisite. The quality of their growth, which is what you’re referring to, is usually important, which is why we need strong institutions. We need to build the accountability systems, because, ultimately, it is by changing the nature of government in Africa that this will change. Donors, non-African institutions can play a role, but it is all about African citizens holding their governments to account and other African countries holding their peers to account.
So, this is the big issue. As Africa develops–and Africa is developing quite rapidly–the nature of that growth is going to be hugely important going forward. Development by itself is a disruptive, unequal and often violent process, and one should not expect that Africa will somehow embark upon a smooth and equitably and peaceful process of developing; that would be ahistorical. Throughout world history, development has often been a brutal and violent process. It is up to civil society, governments, donors and so on, but ultimately, African governments to try and mediate the distorting impact of growth so that growth is not only excluded to a small sector.You mention Angola, Nigeria, you can also mention Equatorial Guinea and a few others—if they do not deal with equitability, a greater degree of sharing of the wealth of their countries, they will run into stability problems down the line. There is no doubt about this. And these are what we should hold our governments accountable for and that is what government is there for.
JH: You highlight the blurring of the lines between criminal and political violence. And as we discussed, transnational organized crime transcends national boundaries. This week, heads of state and government from 25 western and central African countries along the Gulf of Guinea, who met in the Cameroon capital of Yaoundé, tried to address escalating piracy, trafficking, and other illicit activities across this wide region. What impact do you think regional meetings of this kind will have on violence given how pervasive it is and how it transcends state boundaries in a state centric world?
JC: The challenge of organized or transnational crime is a global challenge. The paper makes the argument that the nature of conflict is morphing as it goes forward, and that you can really no longer speak of war and organized crime and instability. It’s sort of the nature of intrastate conflict; it’s much more small-scale conflicts that involve non-state actors that are deeply imbedded in criminal networks, smuggling, piracy, and so on.
This is not only a problem in West Africa, it’s a global problem, and a problem I think the international community and African governments, given their poor capacity, struggle with. There are a number of African governments that are seen as sort of narco-states – that are deeply imbedded in the drug trade between Central, Southern America, and Europe, and if something’s not dealt with in some of these countries, you could see the development of the first narco-states in Africa. I think that this is where regional cooperation is hugely important. I think what is most important is building the national capacities of individual African states to have an effective criminal justice system, that not only tries to look after the concerns of the international system, but firstly looks after the problems for ordinary Africans in their country.So, you’re back to a statebuilding agenda, an agenda that says look after Africa’s interest, the interests of ordinary citizens, and, over time, build upon that to also try and deal with the interests of the international community. The example of what happened in Somalia is very interesting of course when it comes to piracy because after having restored a degree of stability in Somalia, piracy has gone down quite dramatically. The problem in the Gulf of Guinea is not in the Gulf of Guinea, it is in Nigeria, in the areas of Guinea Bissau and the various countries that constitutes the Gulf of Guinea – we need to fix that problem and get accountability and governance and transparency and capacity going in those countries, and that should over time then deal with the transnational challenges to a degree.
JH: Let me ask you two more questions, one about elections and one about the African peace and security architecture. So, with regard to elections, your paper notes that violence directly associated with elections has increased recently, in line with political contestations before, during, and after polls, and that this pattern has been sustained between the 1990s and now. What did these findings mean for the future of democratic growth on the continent? Is it realistic to think that we can see elections in Africa without violence? Or are we almost constantly going to be facing this very, very difficult issue of deciding whether an election is free or fair, and not only in the days of the elections but in the long build-up where there’s a lot of pressure put on people way before any monitors show up to vote for one candidate or another – I wonder if you could talk about the meaning of democratic elections in Africa?
JC: I tend to believe that the violence that is accompanying elections in Africa is a sign of the extent to which democratization in Africa has taken root. Contestation about power in Africa has moved away from the barrel of a gun where insurgent groups fighting for control over the center state are battling out, either in the capital or somewhere in the bush. But contestation has become violent around the electoral process. I think it’s in one sense inevitable because the state is so important economically and politically in Africa, but I think it’s usually a positive story because it tells you, which is what has happening on the continent, to the extent to which the way to power increasingly is through the ballot box. These elections may not be free and fair; they may not meet standards and incumbents have lots of advantages, but many more elections are being held every year and whether you’re Robert Mugabe or you are Jacob Zuma of South Africa, elections are the way to get into power and to stay in power.
And you no longer use unconstitutional means. You manipulate the constitution, the extent to which the rule of law is being respected, the extent to which the electoral process is important, reflects, strangely enough the greater extent of violence on the continent.
JH: Your paper has a very positive commentary on the African peace and security architecture simply stating that today it includes comprehensive early warning mediation and conflict management capacities, as well as the associated institutional structures among which you mention the African Standby Force. However, further on in the paper, you note that in the recent cases of Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, and Mali, the African Standby Force failed its stated mission to be a ready reaction force, able to intervene and stabilize in all three instances, only lumbered into action after the crisis passed. As you obviously know, the commitment of the African Union to the African Standby Force goes back to the early years of this century and the original intention was to have it up and running about now. What is your prognosis? Do you think that four, five years from now, for example, this will be up and running? I ask you this also because the United Nations Security Council, through a large extent, is looking, at least in part, to the Africans to take the lead in some of these situations, as in Somalia, as in Burundi, as in Darfur. So, I’d like to get your assessment of the prospects for APSA and especially the African Standby Force.
JC: I think that Africa has come a long way with its ability to provide conflict prevention management and post-conflict reconstruction. The OAU had always argued that its appropriate role was in conflict prevention rather than conflict management, but what has happened under the African Union is that, at the behest of partners–particularly the European Union–in the wake of the 1993 genocide in Rwanda, Africans said never again and started with a process–with the support of particularly the EU–to build an African Standby Force that can intervene in relatively small challenges, let say Burundi and Somalia, and work towards an exit strategy which is inevitable to hand over a UN mission.
Africa does not have the means or the ability to undertake a kind of operation like MONUC in the DRC or the type of mission that the United Nations is now rolling out in Mali. We don’t have the money, we don’t have the resources, particularly airlift and sustainability. And I think Africa needs to insist that these remain the responsibility of the international community, and I am actually concerned that Africa is setting out missions for itself, for the ASF, that are unachievable. We cannot sustain large peacekeeping missions; this is an international responsibility. Africa can assist, it can build towards a peace process as it did in Somalia and in Burundi. But our exit strategy is to hand over to a UN mission, and I think we have to be careful not to think that the African Standby Force is going to take over from UN missions in Africa. I don’t think it can, and I don’t think it should.So, Africa’s role should be to provide leadership, undertake conflict prevention, but even when it comes to post-conflict reconstruction, our ability and our means is quite limited. So, good progress, particularly on African leadership and engagement, but I think that we mustn’t hold our breaths in what the African Standby Force will be able to do down the line, even once it is fully operational, which is supposed to be by 2015.
JH: Jakkie, thank you very much for your paper, for our discussion today and for your insights in our conversations here. I wish you all the best, thank you very much.
JC: Thank you very much John, I appreciate the fact that the IPI hosted me.