Early Warning: CSOs’ Drive on Conflict Prevention in Africa

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Abimbola Akosile reports on the vital deliberations and outcomes of a regional meeting of Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) towards the effective implementation of Early Warning systems for conflict prevention across Africa

A consultative workshop on African Union/Regional Economic Communities-Civil Society Organisations (AU/REC-CSO) engagements towards the effective implementation of continental and regional Early Warning systems (EWS) was held recently in Lagos, Nigeria.
The two-day forum, with a theme ‘Enhancing IGO-CSO engagement towards the effective implementation of Continental & Regional Early Warning systems’, was organised by the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Participants were drawn from WANEP’s Peace Monitoring Centre, ECOWAS PAPS Department, (Early Warning Directorate and Department of Political Affairs including the Commissioner for PAPS), the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) of the AU, CEWARN of IGAD, Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) and CSOs from Eastern, Southern, Central and Northern Africa, NPI; PSIA; GIZ; PSIA; WANEP and the media.

Proper Concept

The fragility of peace and stability in Africa demands vigilance and close monitoring of the state of security. The various civil wars and violent conflicts on the continent give impetus to the need for an effective multi-stakeholder’s system that can track them and other emerging conflict trends.

In order to achieve this, experts believe a multi-sectorial approach to early warning and early response that is centred on the people is imperative. Also, the need for effective multi-tiered, multi-national and multi sectorial platform that enhances human security, peace and development has been recognised worldwide as the panacea to violent conflicts and humanitarian crises.

Effective people-centered early warning systems are in great demand for several reasons: More intra state conflicts are emerging and replacing the traditional interstate conflicts; ending armed conflict and disasters which has devastating consequences to human security is fostered by the development of preventive mechanisms that respond to climate change, rapidly expanding urbanisation and increasing environmental degradation, all of which contribute to the risks of conflict and disaster threats.

The objective of people-centred early warning systems is to empower individuals and communities exposed to hazards to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life and damage to property and the environment.
In this regard, legal frameworks and policies at both state and IGO level have continued to be restructured to shift from the traditional state –centric early warning to a more people approach. This has raised the crucial role and contribution of civil society in the prevention and mitigation of conflict particularly at the community, national, regional and continental levels.

Within the African context, various legal and normative frameworks and instruments geared towards the operationalisation of effective Early Warning and Response mechanisms at both the continental and sub-regional levels have been developed.
In line with the critical role of civil society to human security discourse, it is imperative for RECs and the African Union to seek opportunities for collaboration to address the broader goal of peace and security within the continent. The WANEP–ECOWAS collaboration represents a good practice of IGO-CSO partnership.

Through the operationalisation of Early Warning System otherwise known as ECOWARN, a broader preventive approach to peace and security has been achieved in West Africa. The data collected and analysis and policy recommendations made by WANEP and ECOWAS have been vital in curtailing potential threats to peace and security in various countries across West Africa.
Although much of the challenge of operationalising effective early warning systems between AU and RECs have revolved around funding and obstacles posed by state sovereignty, the seeming absence of an effective framework that would facilitate CSO contribution to IGOs such as the AU and the RECs remains a major challenge.

For instance, the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) recognises the role of CSOs for the attainment of its 2016-2020 roadmap. The operational limitation of IGO is an obstacle to the effective engagement of CSOs in peace and security at the regional and continental levels. Nevertheless, the impact and expertise of CSOs is in invaluable to the furtherance of effective Early Warning mechanisms in Africa.

It is widely accepted that collaborative effort amongst IGOs, sub-regional groups (RECs) Civil Society Groups and Research Centres is critical to the development of effective strategies for Early Warning and Response.

While CSOs in most RECs have been engaged on ad hoc basis in Early Warning and conflict prevention, WANEP’s formalised partnership with ECOWAS on the operationalisation of its Early Warning and Response System (ECOWARN) provides justifiable case on the impact a structured CSO–IGO collaboration.

The workshop involved presentations and sharing of experiences of Early Warning mechanisms and operations at the REC and the continental level. This was followed by breakout sessions to deliberate on strengthening legal instruments and frameworks for CSO-REC engagements in Early Warning and improving the functionality of Early Warning and Response Systems at the REC and Continental level through CSO-IGO collaboration.

Vital Remarks
In opening remarks by the Executive Director, WANEP, Mr. Chukwuemeka Eze, he appreciated the African Union and ECOWAS for the opportunity given to WANEP to demonstrate CSOs capacity and capability to contribute and accompany the state in its quest for peace and stability in Africa.
Eze noted that the Lagos meeting was a revalidation of the confidence in the WANEP-AU-ECOWAS partnership for peace and security in West Africa and Africa in general.
“We are yet to fully tap into the potentials of early warning mechanisms, which that have been availed to us at the level of the African Union and at the Regional Economic Communities. Early warning leads to early action and thereby plays an important role towards conflict prevention.

“We are hoping that the opportunity offered by this workshop strengthens our approach across the regional blocs and at the continental level of learning from one another and brainstorming on best approach to CSO-IGO partnership for early warning and response taking cue from the ECOWAS-WANEP experience. Let us realise that without a bottom up approach created by a people-state collaboration to peace and security, we cannot win the “new war” that threatens our countries and the continent.

Arising Challenges
At the end of deliberations, some challenges were identified as inhibiting effective operationalisation of early warning at regional and continental levels, according to information supplied by Head of Programmes, WANEP, Ms. Bukola Ilemobola Ademola-Adelehin (Akosile).
These included: the difficulty for AU/RECs to adapt their early warning systems to address new and emerging peace and security threats; coordination of Early Warning systems at the regional and continental levels; funding and sustainability of CSO early warning activities; different levels of collaboration between CSOs and RECs on early warning; linking Early Warning and Response to structural conflict prevention, while some RECs have not identified CSOs to collaborate with on early warning in their respective regions.

Next Steps
These, according to the participants, include steps by the RECs to map relevant CSOs they can work with to operationalise early waning mechanisms in their regions by April 2017, and developing concrete modalities for coordination of regional early warning systems between RECs and CSOs at the regional levels and with the AU/CEWS by July 2017.
The forum also saw the need for capacity building for RECs and the lead CSOs on methodology, tools for data collection and analysis on early warning. On this aspect, the AU/CEWS is to take the lead in providing capacity building by October 2017.