We can all remember the justified indignation that led Africans to call for African solutions to African problems. It was in response to foreigners dictating solutions that often did not work. And they did not work for a number of reasons.
Such foreign-generated solutions were usually dictated by the interests of the countries proposing them, often in total disregard of any local input or interest. They did not therefore take into account, or were ignorant of local realities and sensibilities.
And because they were designed in far off places, away from situations they were meant to resolve, they stood little chance of success, at any rate for any length of time. That’s why they have a tendency to unravel at the first real test.
And so, it was felt that the best results would be obtained if Africans, preferably neighbours, were involved in the search for lasting answers to political conflicts and similar issues. The argument was attractive as it was thought that neighbours understand the local context and history, and know the protagonists very well. And because of this, it was assumed that good results could be got by one or both of two things.
Indeed some leaders in this region have been reported telling foreigners to keep off local conflicts. These are our people; leave them to us, one said recently.
It was also assumed that this sort of understanding would inspire a certain level of trust, and also produce some amount of firmness where necessary, including even the knocking together of heads.
All very good and reasonable, except that it hasn’t always worked out that way. One problem seems to have been overlooked: neighbourliness does not always equate with impartiality or disinterestedness. It often turns out that some of the neighbours have a vested interest in keeping the waters muddy.
There are a couple of reasons why they want it this way.
First, the existence of trouble spots in the region helps some maintain a pre-eminent position as an arbiter, peace-maker, or kingmaker. They then sell this assumed position to external powers for diplomatic leverage.
Second, maintenance of a troubled status quo or even a deliberate stirring of trouble can be an instrument to keep in check other neighbours perceived to be a threat to one’s pre-eminent position.
Solutions by Africans to African problems, including mediation, have been initiated, but problems have persisted. East African has had its fair share of these problems and mediation efforts, but there are no results to show for it.
For instance, Burundi has been smouldering for the last three years. Thousands of people have been, and continue to be, killed. A lot more have fled the country and sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Mediation by neighbours has been going on but the situation does not get any better.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), from which Burundi withdrew, has even decided to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against humanity in the country. Some in the region will hear none of that, insisting that the ICC has no business in Burundi’s affairs.
Not many in Africa like the ICC very much. But equally, no one likes what is going on in Burundi. They want to see some movement towards its resolution.
The current crisis in Burundi can, in fact, be traced back to an earlier mediated settlement of essentially the same problem. The outcome was a fragile and unstable arrangement on which the political system is built. Its breakdown was inevitable. It probably makes sense to ask those who put it together to fix it, but clearly, not in the same way they did it the first time. New approaches are needed.
South Sudan has been in self-destruction mode for most of its short independent life. A regional mediation effort has been going on for all this time, and perhaps that’s why the country has not yet gone up in flames. Still, the situation there could have improved. But it has not because some of the neighbours are known to have divergent interests in South Sudan. Various individuals in the leadership of South Sudan have made investments in these countries and maintain homes there.
However, this is not to say that the notion of African solutions to African problems has not worked. It has, in places, and is the right way to go. But it must not be allowed to be an excuse for continued inaction or an instrument of foreign policy of some countries. The search for solutions should also produce results and cannot go on endlessly.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.