In this post-cold-war era, where leaders around the world are searching for new paradigms, a consensus is emerging in the way the international community should address African conflicts.
Throughout the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union were often able to dictate the course of conflicts and the method of their resolution, in large part due to billions of dollars in military and economic aid. Now, both the US and Moscow have much less leverage and strategic interest in Africa.
In this vacuum, African regional groups increasingly are taking the lead in peacemaking efforts. Meanwhile, interested countries and institutions from outside Africa - particularly the US - are providing relevant behind-the-scenes support, only occasionally and briefly taking leadership roles.
To some, the mantra "African solutions for African problems" is code for global abandonment of that continent. At its most meaningful, though, the phrase encapsulates the assertion of African leadership that should be and is being aided by the United Nations, the US, and other key international actors.
Although this new involvement won't prevent wars, there is now greater certainty that the neighboring countries will create mechanisms of conflict resolution before problems spread, and outside actors such as the US will find constructive ways to contribute to such efforts.
In the roller-coaster graphic that depicts trends in African conflict, the last year witnessed a depressing spike in destructive warfare throughout the continent. No corner has been untouched - from Sierra Leone in the west, to Angola in the south, to Congo in the center, to Sudan in the north, to Somalia in the northeast. Ethiopia's continuing deliberations over the latest peace plan with Eritrea are a stark reminder of the intractability of newer conflicts, which is worse with wars decades old.
In the face of these fresh horrors, and despite a predictable rise in fatalism about Africa's future, Africa and its global friends are responding. Progress is slow, learning curves are huge and continuous, and many wars rage on. But the basic approach to peacemaking - African regional organization leadership with donor government and UN support - is being enhanced with promising results for the future. Some examples are worth noting.
*In response to the eight-nation war centered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, neutral members of the Southern African Development Community, led by Zambia, negotiated a complex and tenuous cease-fire accord in August. The agreement lays the groundwork for addressing both internal and regional sources of conflict. Zambia's efforts were supported by Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania, with continuous and timely interventions by the US, European Union, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, among others.
*Efforts to resolve the world's deadliest conflict, the civil war in Sudan, have intensified in the last few months. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional organization, is building an ad hoc peace secretariat to undertake the complex negotiations necessary for ending this deeply rooted war. The donor community, led by Norway, Italy, and the US, is funding this intensified effort, contributing ideas for accelerating the talks, and constructing a set of incentives and pressures that might be applied at key junctures to maximize leverage on the parties in the interests of peace.
*In the horrific and regionally destabilizing war in Sierra Leone, key countries in the Western Africa organization, Economic Community of West African States, strong-armed the warring parties into a deeply flawed agreement that nonetheless is superior to the alternative of continuing war. International support during the negotiations was vital, and support for its full implementation now is critical.
*The continentwide Organization of African Unity, in close coordination with the US, has led intense efforts to resolve the fratricidal war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The peacemaking effort has reached a critical juncture, and will continue to benefit from the close collaboration between African and international actors in preparing for the implementation of the agreement or preventing further military engagements.
Slowly, both the regional organizations and the international community are exploring the best ways to resolve conflicts. They are learning when African neighbors should lean on their warring brethren or utilize their intimate knowledge of motives and causes to identify potential compromise. With military and economic aid far below cold-war levels, donors must continue learning how to work together in a supportive role, maximizing multilateral leverage and contributing to the building blocks of peace: democratic participation, human rights, and economic development.
President Clinton's legacy on Africa, already assured by the personal attention he and key officials have given that continent, could be enhanced if the last 15 months of his tenure were marked by further peacemaking efforts. Institutionalizing and enhancing the regional partnerships on conflict resolution would yield immediate effects and lay the foundation for a stable Africa in the new millennium.
*John Prendergast is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, in Washington. He was director of African affairs at the National Security Council from 1997 to 1999.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society