Knowledge management and early warning systems : the case of Southern African Development Community's conflict prevention strategy
Africa’s socio-economic reconstruction and development is constrained by the spate of violent conflicts afflicting the continent. Internecine strife and humanitarian concerns have prompted international debates surrounding the efficacy of existing conflict prevention, management and resolution strategies. With Africa seemingly in a semi-permanent state of tension and crisis, and the inability of the global and continental systems and structures to effectively deal with these situations, it requires a disentanglement of a “complex interplay of institutional-bureaucratic and political dynamics,” that place the continent at the centre of intervention dilemma. At the end of the Cold War, violent conflicts on the continent did not wither away, but have become so complex, thus confounding efforts to achieve sustainable peace. This complexity requires greater efforts to improve international, regional and subregional institutional capacities and contingency instruments to facilitate effective responses. The key emphasis within the international community is to enhance instruments to facilitate early detection of conflict situations in order to initiate preventive actions. Put differently, conflict prevention can be facilitated through the dynamic improvement of the processes, structures and functions of (conflict) early warning systems (EWS). In addition, political will is crucial towards the operationalisation of such systems to ensure swift and coordinated implementation of preventive actions. Cedric de Coning argues that conflict early warning systems can “improve our ability to generate the political will necessary to authorize preventive action much earlier in the conflict cycle, by improving our ability to estimate the potential future cost of inaction, and the way we bring this information to the attention of decision makers.” Schmeidl also argues that “early warning needs to be seen as a precondition to developing political will, and thus initiate (or better inform) reasonable response strategies.” However, existing organisational structures crucial for facilitating and expediting conflict prevention initiatives, suffer from “inertia” due to entrenched political structures, hierarchies and competing interests. The United Nations (UN) is an international body with the authority to facilitate conflict prevention. However, it is constrained by organisational complexities such as sectional political self-interest and the “bureaucratic red tape in large bureaucracies”, thus hampering its ability to swiftly and with the correct mandate, to respond to a call for preventive intervention. Hence the devolution of the responsibilities for the settlement of conflicts to the regional and subregional bodies. Conflicts have also “tended to pay little respect to State borders, proving the necessity for inter-State cooperation.” Because of the regionalisation of conflicts, the case of inter-regional collaboration has become increasingly vital as the “appropriate initial actors in seeking to defuse tensions and resolve local disputes within the region.” To this end, stronger intergovernmental mechanisms to facilitate early recognition of conflict situations and early intervention to prevent eruption or mitigate escalation have to be maintained. African countries, as a result, bear the burden of peace interventions from the African Union (AU) which consists of 53 members, to regional economic communities (RECs) such as Southern African Development Community (SADC), which consists of 14 members. These organisations are attenuated by bureaucratic ineptitude for adaptive behaviour that impact on swift and flexible responses. Nation states with diverse historical backgrounds, different political systems and unequal economic strengths are inclined to have fundamental inequalities in power and influence. Consequently, opposing political values, national interest and competing rationalities underlining their actions become sources of contention and impede the establishment of a common ground. These hurdles breed tensions and suspicion that impact on coordination of effort and information sharing regarding conflict situations. Thus, to surmount these barriers, it is imperative to reconcile competing interests through comprehensive inclusiveness, cooperation and effective collaborative partnerships among various stakeholders, particularly civil society and political decision makers. ‘Preventive action’ must, insists the International Peace Academy (IPA), “not be considered as an expedient product or event, but as a continuous, organic process that necessitates a highest degree of inclusiveness and multisectoral participation in dialogue and peace-building. These aspects should be institutionalised within the inter-regional organisations to establish the culture of common effort for common purpose. In the interest of collective effort and to expand AU’s capacity for conflict prevention, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) was established in 2003. The PSC is defined as “a collective security and early warning arrangement to facilitate timely and efficient response to conflict and crisis situation in Africa. Apparently, the PSC, as an instrument of conflict prevention on the continent, is also aimed at achieving unity of thought in dealing with the threats to peace and stability. In conflict situations, state sovereignty, political desirability and competing goals often render peace processes ineffective due to differences regarding the best course of action. The PSC is regarded as the means to create a platform for shared understanding and common vision regarding the challenge of conflict prevention. Still, to be more effective, it requires a strong collaboration with subregional organisations (e.g. SADC) and multisectoral participation of, for example academics, research institutes, civil society organisations (CSOs), non-governmental (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs). The main thrust should be to create a shared framework for political decision makers to make “collective sense” of the problems on the continent, and be in a position to synchronise efforts to achieve peace and stability. Conversely, the AU and also SADC remain politically diverse organisations. As such, operationalisation of conflict prevention initiatives is likely to encounter obstacles emanating from, as Gina van Schalkwyk indicated, “conflict around political values amongst states in the [sub]region and …disputes on the basis of divergent interpretations [of policies]. This creates a paradox between the necessity of conflict prevention and the divergent national interests. Convergent thinking and creating a shared outlook in the existing organisational frameworks (e.g. SADC) is imperative in order to generate political will and to facilitate improved decision making and implementation of proactive responses in the prevention of conflicts.