Peacebuilding in the African Union: Law, Philosophy and Practice, by Abou Jeng

Peacebuilding in the African Union: Law, Philosophy and Practice, by Abou Jeng

Despite its encounters with the international community in the past five centuries, Africa’s socioeconomic, legal, and political development remains a source of grave concern for many observers and scholars. While some trace the source of the continent’s underdevelopment to the foundational problems embedded in its historical engagements with the western world, others maintain that the myriad of existing international neoliberal economic, political and legal ideas and institutions continue to create greater problems for sustainable peace, progress, and development in postcolonial Africa. Thus, transcending the imposition of neoliberal ideas on various aspects of the continent’s governance structures and practices is considered by some to be a sine qua non for sustainable peace and progress. To this end, Abou Jeng’s Peacebuilding in the Africa Union focuses on the African Union’s efforts at tackling conflicts in the continent.

As a means of creating peaceful conditions within which the continent can thrive, Jeng analyzes the emerging transformative approaches to peacebuilding in Africa to the AU’s Constitutive Act. The book “explores the encounters between international law and postcolonial internal conflicts in Africa, and gauges the extent to which an alternative approach to peacebuilding can be conceptualized from the Constitutive Act of the African Union” (p. 9). At the heart of the stasis in peacebuilding efforts in Africa for Jeng is the inability of existing international laws to penetrate African states and serve the purpose of resolving internal conflicts in postcolonial Africa. The overly state-centric approach and emphasis on sovereignty of international law poses challenges to the resolution of intrastate conflicts (p. 35). But as Africa’s postcolonial encounters with internal conflicts and violence have shown, the need to transcend such myopic emphasis has become imperative. Fortunately, in Jeng’s opinion, the AU’s transition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and particularly its adoption of the Constitutive Act suggests that transformative approaches to peacebuilding in Africa are emerging. These are visible in the Constitutive Act through its (i) Article 4 and the "non-indifference concept," (ii) "norms formulation" and (iii) "social integration and interdependence" which together "constitute the African Union’s peace and security framework" (p. 181-182). From these “three distinct but organically interrelated paradigms” (p. 181) of peacebuilding in Africa, some strengths and weaknesses of Jeng’s book can be read summarily along the lines of its subtitle: law, philosophy, and practice.

First, while Jeng’s ability to view Article 4 of the Constitutive Act on non-indifference as a “law” for intervening in Africa’s internal conflicts based on the new AU peace and security architecture (p. 182-185) is commendable, his admission that “Article 4 might also be interpreted as an African perspective on the Responsibility to Protect” (p. 187) flies in the face of his criticism of the R2P doctrine as a “variation of traditional conception of jus ad bellum” (p. 110)–a doctrine of  international law. Notwithstanding, Jeng’s exploration of the “newness” of Article 4(h) in the AU’s peacebuilding framework suggests that it is  an innovative impetus in the effort to build peace in the continent. Second, with respect to explaining the (re)appearance of “integrated norms and formulation and localisation,” the role of Pan-Africanism as an ideology for reinventing peacebuilding in Africa is espoused as a visible paradigm in the AU peacebuilding architecture. Jeng argues that the roles played by African leaders such as Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the late Muammar Ghadaffi in the transition of the OAU to the AU was informed by their Pan-African ideals of finding “African solutions to African problems.” Even though the role played by these leaders is undeniable within the context of the transition from the OAU to the AU, their Pan-African ideals have been interrogated,  given  their governance styles and accusations of corruption or gross human rights violations levelled against some of them. Moreover, some observers are of the view that the similitude between the reformulated AU structures vis-a-vis its EU counterpart is testament to the influence of the latter in shaping the affairs of the continent, a criticism Jeng is unable to sufficiently respond to (p. 178). Third, in his explanation of “social integration and interdependence,” the test of the value of the Constitutive Act in practice is its attempt to engage with African non-state institutions in resolving African internal conflicts. Jeng argues in chapter 7 that the peacebuilding approach of the African Mission in Burundi (AMIB) shows elements of social engagement with traditional restorative approaches which engage communities in peacebuilding. Yet, a detailed explanation of how this works is lacking in the book.

In chapter 8, efforts of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in war-torn Southern Somalia are contrasted to the peacebuilding efforts of clan leaders in breakaway northwestern Somaliland where the AU is not involved, but considerable peace exists. The peace in Somaliland Jeng argues is due to the ability of Somali traditional, albeit moderately modern institutions, to maintain peace using non-western practices, while AMISOM continues to struggle to make any progress in Mogadishu.  The reasons why Jeng chose to use the case of peacebuilding in Somaliland to make the point about the success of “African,” rather than western neoliberal solutions in a chapter supposedly intended to showcase the “success” of an emerging transformative approach to peacebuilding through the Constitutive Act is unclear. This is because AMISOM is supposed to be acting out the “script” of the Act.  The message that nevertheless comes across from Jeng’s book is the need for Africans to seek transformative and durable approaches to peacebuilding on the continent through engagements with non-statist social institutions in Africa. To this end, Jeng’s modest attempt to “undertake what may be called an inspective assessment of a prospective alternative” (p. 13) through his book can be read as an attempt to facilitate dialog on potential ways of imagining new transformative legal and normative orders for building peace in 21st century Africa.

About the Author

Olabanji Akinola is a PhD candidate in the department of political science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. His research interests straddle topics relating to African politics, governance, and socioeconomic development. He is the author of “Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: Between Islamic Fundamentalism, Politics and Poverty,” African Security, 8.1 (2015): 1-29. He can be reached at oakinola@uoguelph.ca.

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