Regional Economic Integration in Africa cannot coexist with Conflicts

In February 2023, African leaders convened in Addis Ababa to discuss implementing the continental free trade agreement. The summit was an event of the 36th Ordinary Assembly of the African Union (AU) session. Talk followed sustained violence in the Sahel, driven by insurgency, climate change, and clan wars. African leaders have touted the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) as Africa’s economic savior. However, economic freedom on the continent cannot coexist with wars.

The continental body should prioritize addressing the root causes of conflicts, including human rights violations, by investing in appropriate interventions. It should openly condemn countries and actors involved in such violations through public statements and declarations. Further, AU should provide sufficient funding to operationalize the African Standby Force (ASF).

The African Union (AU) established the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) in 2002 to end war and violence in Africa. The African Standby Force (ASF) was subsequently established as part of APSA. The force comprises soldiers, civilians, and police from all African regions. The ASF was designed for rapid deployment at short notice. However, despite being declared ready for action in 2016, the force meant to maintain peace in Africa has never been deployed. Instead, the AU has relied on United Nations missions and regional interventions to stabilize volatile regions within the continent. Adequate funding is necessary to support the ASF.

The African Union must also address underlying causes of conflicts, such as human rights violations and the lack of respect for constitutionally imposed term limits.

According to the African Union (AU), the African Standby Force (ASF) required at least $1 billion to become operational. However, in 2018, the organization reported that the ASF had only received 37 percent of the funding needed to be fully functional. Consequently, the AU floated the idea of seeking donor support to compensate for the deficit. The implications for dependency on unpredictable external sources of financing have repeatedly jeopardized the organization’s ability to sustain its operations.

In January 2016, the European Union (EU) cut its funding to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by 20 percent. The EU expected that AMISOM troop-contributing countries would cover the difference. Instead, some of the mission’s troop contributors threatened to withdraw their forces from Somalia due to reduced funding.

The AU must, therefore, enforce the implementation of the 0.2 percent levy on imported goods in Africa to finance security operations. Since adopting the levy in 2016 as part of the historic Kigali decision on funding the union by member states, only 31 percent of the members have implemented the agreement.

To implement the agreement, AU could consider adopting transparency measures, such as the quarterly publication of payment data from individual member states. Presently, the AU seldom provides such information, except in some instances. Some members object to disclosing data on specific states, viewing it as a form of naming and shaming. Nevertheless, the system seems efficient. It is especially so for countries that do not remit their payment after the stipulated grace period of six months provided by the AU. 

For instance, in June 2020, it became public that the AU banned South Sudanese officials from attending continental meetings. The ban resulted from Juba’s failure to pay its annual contributions, which amounted to over $9 million in the stipulated time. In response, South Sudan quickly reduced its arrears to lift the sanctions and regain access to AU meetings.

The AU must re-evaluate the effectiveness of the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS). CEWS is one of the five pillars of APSA. CEWS should anticipate and stop conflicts in Africa before they deteriorate. Over time, the system, though it relies on timely data collection, has yet to predict potential conflicts in Africa. Part to blame is the poor data collection, low adoption of technology use in data collection, and poor funding that has rendered it ineffective.  

CEWS needs more linkage to civil society organizations (CSO) within the AU member states that are on the front line documenting violations perpetuated by different actors. The AU needs to strengthen its partnership with CSOs by providing these groups with funds and other support.

CEWS requires enhanced collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs) in AU member states, particularly those actively documenting violations by various actors. The AU should strengthen its partnership with CSOs by allocating funds and offering necessary support. 

Tapping into the network of CSOs can further enrich AU data collection capacity. The AU should fast-track the adoption and integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. Such technologies would better predict impending conflicts six months to a year upfront.

The AU must also address underlying causes of conflicts, such as human rights violations and the lack of respect for constitutionally imposed term limits. For instance, the March 2023 protests in Kenya were partly due to police brutality against demonstrators. As a result, there were gross violations of the rights to peaceful demonstration and assembly. The AU should warn Kenya strongly, urging them to refrain from using force by issuing statements condemning those actions and calling for an end to the violence. 

To maximize the potential and benefits of AfCTA, the AU must end protracted conflicts that have curtailed Africa’s development. To achieve this, the AU must adopt the strategy of resolving the causes of conflicts instead of waiting until they begin.

David Marii is a writing fellow at African Liberty.

Photo by AMISOM via Iwaria.