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The Role of the African Union in the Resolution of conflicts in Africa

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The modes of conflict are various and variant, so too are the methods in resolving them. The world is in constant search for novel methods to resolve disputes as conflict is a recurrent decimal in the equation of human existence. This chapter establishes the ancient origins of conflict resolution and traces the blueprint regional organizations through the background to the study, unravels research problems associated with research question, articulates the intellectual stimulus for the research in the statement of the problem, discusses the objectives of the research as well as the significance and justification for the study. This chapter further highlights the limitation and scope for the study, reviews literature, identifies the knowledge gap and explains the theoretical framework of the research and concludes with a synopsis of chapters


The notion of conflict resolution is archaic; it is deeply rooted in the history and culture of man, since humans have always waged conflict, they have always engaged in various ways to end them.[1] The ways to end conflict or settle disputes varies with society and have evolved over time. Meanwhile negotiation and mediation are the most popular means to resolve conflicts; it is an open secret that settlement by treaty or by conquest remains the earliest forms of conflict resolution; where more often than not, one side coercively imposes its will upon the other side.[2] The evolution of conflict resolution can thus be separated in two eras; the traditional and the contemporary.[3] The former reflects on the period of man’s earliest development, this was characterized mainly by boarder disputes as most countries sought to expand their dominance and influence by conquering  new territories, thus most conflicts were resolved by imposition of certain terms by the victor on the vanquished or by peace treaties.

Contemporary conflict resolution differs significantly from the traditional method.[4] The difference ranges from the variety of methods involved in the resolving conflicts to the focus of modern conflict resolution processes. Modern conflict resolution emphasizes on conflict processes like negotiation, mediation, arbitration, good offices, conciliation et cetera that generate solutions yielding some mutual gains for the opposing sides and extends its focus above stopping violence to incorporate building conditions for peace, including post-violence reconciliation, enhancing justice, establishing conflict management systems.[5] These new processes and wider scope/focus ushered in by contemporary conflict resolution theories are a massive improvement to peace treaties and conquest predominantly used in the past as means to resolved disputes.

The advent of contemporary conflict resolution processes was the bedrock on which internationalism developed.[6] This new era and its methods afforded states the possibility to come together to solve disputes amongst or relating to them. The initial stages of were moves toward the congress system to address conflict between nations; the congress system was a means whereby disputing countries were invited to a dialogue table alongside others as mediators to broker a peace deal or find lasting solutions to current issues. The congress system failed for reasons associated with its inability to take binding decisions due to the fact that parties merely had a suggestive capacity on issues brought before them. The failure of the congress system in resolving disputes counted as one of the reasons for the outbreak of the First World War. After the war, the blueprints for the first international organization tasked with conflict resolution was laid in Paris[7]; the first draft of the covenant of the league was submitted on February 14, 1919, approved in a revised version on April 28 and finally inaugurated on January 16, 1920,[8] which brought an end to the Paris Peace Conference. However, by the 1930’s the league which had mandate to ensure world peace and security through collective effort was fast failing in its designated objectives.[9] The failure of the league as a global conflict resolution body led to the outbreak of yet another global confrontation in 1935.[10] The end of the Second World War in 1945 saw the birth of yet another international organization with a mandate to resolve conflicts and promote peace; the United Nations Organization (UNO) was born and had the unenviable task of doing better that the defunct League of Nations which recorded some successes in the early part of the 1920’s[11] but failed tremendously in the 1930’s[12] the inability for the prevention of Japanese invasion of Manchuria on the 18th of September 1931, Italian invasion of Abyssinia, Hitler’s Invading Poland led to the collapse of the League and the outbreak of the Second World War.

The United Nations Organization was the outcomes of the San Francisco Conference. The conference brought delegates from China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States. The delegates deliberated on proposals and came out with the charter of UN which was eventually ratified by other nations.[13] The UN has a legal and institutions framework to resolve conflicts; the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the General Assembly of United Nations, The Security Council, The Economic and Social Council and other specialized arms of the organization are all directed towards conflict resolution amongst other things.

 In recent times, the mandate to resolve conflict is not solely limited within the confines of an international organization; many regional organizations have developed with the same purpose in all continents. In Europe, the European Economic Union (EEU), European Parliament and European Union are instrumental in maintaining peace and stability within the region. In addition, the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN),[14] Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Regional Forum (ARF), Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). In Africa the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) to name a few are key vectors in resolving conflicts within the continent.[15]

The AU is the regional model of the UN and its membership is universal across the African continent.[16] The AU was officially launched at the Durban summit in 2002. The African Union’s vision is to build an Africa that is integrated, prosperous and at peace, led by its citizens and constituting a dynamic force on the world stage. The peaceful re solution of conflicts is in particular at the heart of its concern. The goal of the AU has modified over the years; from its initial objective to decolonize the continent and forge African unity under the OAU (Organization of African Unity) as it then was, to a more contemporary motive to promote unity, solidarity, peace and stability on the continent. It is in one of these new motives of the organization that this thesis is situated.

Though the African Union is a major actor in resolving conflicts in Africa, there are other sub-regional organizations are also involved in the conflict resolution process. The East African Community (EAC) is one of the well-known examples of the regional organizations that has attempted to manage conflict, including conflict in South Sudan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. EAC was first established in 1967 between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, however, due to lack of ideological and economic harmony, the organization collapsed and was reactivated in 1999 after Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania signed a mediation agreement and established the East African Community.

More so, other sub-regional economic bodies like the ECOWAS, CEMAC, and ECCAS play a key role in conflict resolution. For example; ECOWAS was successful in  resolving the post electoral dispute in the Gambia; where outgoing president Yayah Jahmeh refused to vacate power after losing elections to incumbent Adama Barrow and others.[17] The body gave the former a prescribe time line to concede defeat and handover office else risk military intervention from the block, the latter eventually obliges and relative calm returned to the Gambia.[18] Also ECCAS played an important role in resolving the conflict of Central African Republic (CAR) when they participated in consolidating peace mission in CAR from 2008 to 2013 even though this initiative was a join task mission by ECCAS member states. ECCAS further coordinated the establishment of peaceful transition of powers to a democratic regime in the CAR in 2015. [19]

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, CEMAC have increasingly addressed peace and security issues by responding to conflicts in the region, This development can be gleaned from the formation of the Force Multinationale en Centrafrique (FOMUC), a peacekeeping mission deployed by CEMAC members in the Central African Republic (CAR) from 2002 to 2008[20].

Despite the fact that the goal of some regional organizations in Africa might have been initially created to enhance and support sustainable economic growth and trade between countries, for more than four decades, this regional bodies have played a significant role in conflict resolution in Africa. Regional bodies have been called upon from time to time to provide security and in other cases to offer conflict management, conflict prevention, mediation, peace keeping and even peace building in  and across the African continent.

Regional bodies not only have a role to play in economic integration and development but also have emerged as feasible framework in maintaining regional security and peace. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was actively involved in the Sudan peace process which was conducted with the comprehensive peace Agreement. IGAD was also involved in talks that eventually helped facilitate the South Sudanese referendum and laid the ground for declaring South Sudan one of the newest states in Africa-These regional bodies are part of the UN’s 1992 Agenda for peace which had set out the vision for maintaining security and peace especially in the post-cold war period.


Many conflicts have plagued the African continent, making it difficult for the African Union to effectively play its role in resolving these conflicts. It is widely believed that a united Africa is a strong Africa. The African Union was formed as a regional instrument to foster unity with the continent as well as a role to ensure peace, stability and security. The AU therefore has a constitutional mandate to resolve conflicts in Africa. However, despite the authority and capacity of the AU to resolve conflicts in Africa, the organization though a group of independent African countries is hardly independent. Decisions and actions of the organization are often heavily influenced by the developed world especially former colonial masters. There is still the sense of loyalty of most AU member’s states towards their former colonial masters which goes to question the autonomy of the AU and its capacity to make independent decisions. To make matter worst, these former colonial masters finance huge fraction other organization budget which further subjects the authority of the organization to questioning.  Critics have often indicated the organ as serving the interest of the West World and labeled it as a tool for continuous colonization. The structural weaknesses of the AU has rendered it very weak in the resolution of conflicts. The AU has neither standing army nor executive arm to enforce its decision;[21] three-quarters of the resolution or decision of the AU or its structures over the last two decades have not been enforced or ignored by member states[22]. There is no laid down mechanism to compel states to comply with its regulations or decisions. The sovereignty of each state sometimes acts as a stumbling block with regards to the compliance of certain resolution of the AU. This has been used as an excuse by most seat tight African leaders to keep the AU in the dark with regards to the chaos within their countries, they simply tag it an internal affair to avoid international pressure. This contributes to limiting the competence of the AU to bring genuine solutions to conflict in Africa because, irrespective of the nature and strength of an international organization, without enforcement, international law falls to the ground and more or less becomes innocuous.


  • To what extent has the African Union been in the resolution of conflicts in Africa?

1.3.2. Specific Research Questions

  • What is the concept of conflict resolution and its mechanisms?

  • What is the nature of conflicts in Africa and how has the AU attempted in resolving these conflicts?

  • How effective and what are the challenges faced by the AU in resolving conflicts in Africa?

  • What policy recommendations can be made to enhance the capacity of regional organizations to resolve conflicts in Africa?

1.3. Objectives of the Research

1.3.1 General Objective

  • To critically examine the extent to which the African Union has been in the resolution of conflicts in Africa.

1.3.2 Specific Objectives

  • To analyze the concept and nature of conflict resolution and conflict resolution mechanisms.
  • To assess the nature of conflicts in Africa and the extent of the AU’s role in conflict resolution.
  • To critically examine the effectiveness and challenges faced by the AU in resolving conflicts in Africa.
  • To propose policy recommendations to enhance the AU’s capacity to resolve conflict on the continent.


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