Capitalizing African Identity and tapping the African Diaspora for Afsol

By Eyob Asfaw Gemechu*
The principle of ‘African-centered Solutions’ is a search for a better framework which can encompass practical positive advantages. That is to mean, the African identity along with its stakeholders, champions and sympathizers shall not be marginalized from solutions; especially the supposed primary actors such as member states of the African Union. Indeed, it is so inspiring and encouraging to have the first and the second Afsol Workshops (26 – 27 September 2014 and 6-7 March 2015) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, underscoring the identity of the ‘African’. When we talk about being African, would that description be based on our history, geography and identity? ‘Who is an African?’ I advocate for widening the concept of the ‘African’ from a mere geographic inhabitant to add flexibly trans-national African identity and the African Diaspora. The very characteristic of the African identity is found in continents other than the place called ‘Africa’. This was due to the trans-continental slave trade and the post-colonial migration of Africans. Ever since decolonization, globally and continentally the African identity has been inter-twinned with Pan-Africansim.
The earlier versions of pan Africanism, reverberated by Macus Garvey and Du Bois, transcend the ‘geographic Africa’. The historical success of such pan-African movement that transcended the geographic Africa, worked so well, to the extent that it should be recognized as exemplary for any forthcoming African-centered agenda. Thus, the identity was not mere sympathy on biological and racial grounds, rather on sharing the multifaceted sufferings of colonialism and transatlantic slavery. Similarly, much of off-Africa countries with African descendants’ are the current ‘Global south’. The African Diaspora recently dispersed across the globe and the transnational African identity has to be tapped for potential contribution for the new venture for ‘Afsol’.
Arguably enough, a very tight conceptual limitation of African-centered Solutions, to and by, African inhabitants and African citizenry only may end up devoid of its potential of extension to people of African descendant and the diaspora. Once again, Africans need to understand that capitalizing on people with African ancestry whose aspirations is to identify themselves with the African inhabitants, is in every way advantageous. The Afro-Canadian Anthropologist, Kamari M. Clarke (2006), argued that there is an increasing demand for African membership, as it is increasingly deterritorialized.
Thus, AU, starting from 2003, unleashed several conventions and remarkable achievements to engage the African Diasporas in the continental Affairs (ISS today, 30 May 2012). With the portrayal of the African Diaspora as the sixth region of Africa, where the continental union was functionally live also through its regional blocks in a manner different than other continental unions. To illustrate some novel experiences of AU’s engagement with African Diaspora is the establishment of ‘Western Hemisphere Diaspora Network (WHADN) in Washington DC in December 2002, with an interactive interface with the AU Commission, including the core activities of the commission. To the best virtue of its peculiarity, the Network had come up with the mission ‘to encourage and facilitate the utilization of the collective talents and resources of the African Diaspora in the Americas and Caribbean to advance the collective interests of Africans on the continent and throughout the Diaspora. Such initiatives at the AU shall result in meaningful actions, along the possible spectrum of the traditional remittance contribution to the overall quests of the continental union.
A demonstration of the Diasporas engagement can be illustrated with their involvement in current affairs, such as Ebola or Boko Haram, in line with AU’s ‘call for collaboration’ on those crisis with other international actors. The efforts of individual countries to engage their respective Diaspora dispersed across the globe & having little interaction with their motherland, has to be attended to by AU. Several African countries tried the scheme of engaging diasporas, albeit their current citizenship. Despite the right of individual countries to operate under their own citizenship policies, AU can craft a model African Citizenship Policy, with ‘multi layered African citizenship’. This Scheme is somehow in line with the repeatedly contested ‘African Union Government’ and can be a setting ground for creating an enabling environment for a better ‘inclusive African-centered solutions’.

A model of importing similar deterritorialized alliances that had an enduring success is not entirely peculiar for Africa, pan Arabism is an example whose members are drawn from more than one continent. The historic reasons of capitalizing on earlier dispersed African Descendants in Americas, pacific islands and recent African Diasporas is so helpful for ‘African-centered solutions’. Exerting the right conceptual balance to the proposed inclusion of African identity is not without its challenges. Perhaps the benefits outweigh these potential challenges.

Reference
 Kamari Maxine Clarke (2006) Mapping Transnationality: Roots Tourism and the Institutionalization of Ethnic Heritage IN Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. Edited by M. Kamari Clarke and Deborah Thomas. Pp. 133-153. Durham, NC: Duke University Press

*Eyob Asfaw Gemechu (eyob.asfaw@aau.edu.et )is a lecturer, at Addis Ababa University, also serving as community services expertise at the office of Vice President for Research & Technology Transfer of the University. He earned his MA in Federal Studies in 2012 and a BA degree in Sociology and Social Anthropology in 2008, from Addis Ababa University. His area of interest includes managing diversity, cultural diversity and identity.
All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact research@ipss-addis.org

AfSol II: Towards a Sustainable African-Centered Approach

By Lina Benabdallah*
As AfSol continues to build on the conceptual grounds and pillars identified in the first workshop – namely ownership, shared values, and commitment – this piece takes stock of the highlights of Afsol II by synthesizing the common threads and debates addressed. It also proposes integrating evaluation mechanisms as a forward-looking step for future AfSol workshops.
The Importance of Demand-Driven Solutions
The workshop case studies once again highlighted the importance of conducting a needs analysis, learning and understanding of the conflict context, listening to the individuals/groups affected by the conflict and tailoring programs that fit the specific needs. In basic political economy terminology this approach puts premium on the demand side of the supply-demand-chain of distribution formula. That is to say, rather than focusing on supply, by applying conflict resolutions that use skills and resources already available, AfSol II experts insisted on the importance of including indigenous expertise and an understanding of the terrain before curating responses. Indeed, many interventions during the workshop have highlighted the importance of joining grass root-level work with state-level resources to maximize efficiency and insure implementation.
Replicability
Necessarily given the experts’ stress on the uniqueness of each of the case studies presented during AfSol II, a recurrent question pondered the extent to which AfSol solutions can travel across cases in order to inform more standardized operating procedures. This conundrum between on the one hand advocating custom-fit, demand-driven, context-specific solutions and on the other hand the necessity to expand the scope beyond sporadic isolated case studies is one worth paying attention to. It seems a reasonable way out of the catch-22 situation is to adopt a pragmatic approach where paying attention to local contexts does not mean being closed to communicating and learning from other examples.
The evident challenge of applying solutions that worked in a specific case to other cases without serious needs-analysis and careful implementation is simply unintended consequences. These can be significantly reduced if one pays close attention to past experiences and learns from them. Indeed, the suggestion of one of the participants for IPSS to keep open channels of communication to share experiences fits very well with this piece’s suggestion to start a project pooling and compiling a database of experiences, stories, and solutions to consult for brainstorming purposes prior to implementation. The database can be searchable by conflict zone or by themes so as to ensure ease of access and use.
How African are External Africa-Centered Solutions?
Another recurrent concern expressed at AfSol II revolved around the question of Africaness of Africa-centered solutions. Existential dilemmas of organizations in terms of financial dependency on external funds as well as military equipment and (wo) manpower for the realization of APSA and ASF were brought up as major challenges to the total independence of AfSol or similar endeavors. This and other elephants in the room (as highlighted by another participant) such as the question of sovereignty and interventionism were highlighted. However, it seems that in light of the previous section’s argument that a way forward is to adopt a pragmatic stance with regards to funding sources so long as the principles and core values are negotiated. Whereas the financial autonomy of African solutions is extremely crucial and the ideal-type AfSol would not have to depend on external resources, the case in point is that the current realities of who is willing to fund invite for a more pragmatic approach. Making sure that contextualized and demand-driven solutions are at the core of solutions or policies is central to the Africanness of African-centered solutions.
Evaluation Mechanisms
The primary goal of this piece was to take stock of the main discussion points introduced and debated during the workshop. Yet, this is not the only goal. Indeed, missing from the conversation on how to draw lessons from the successful stories of African-centered solutions for the purpose of replicability are evaluation mechanisms. Adjacent to the suggestion earlier to establishing a Bank or a Database to keep track of projects and solutions implemented throughout the continent for the purpose of inspiring creativity for conflict resolutions, is the step to evaluate implemented projects. Indeed, how do we know that a given project resulted in a solution or in further complications? There needs to be an evaluation mechanism integrated within the mandate of any given “Prospect” solution or policy. The evaluation mechanisms, I believe, should not be started years after a certain project has been implemented but need to work hand in hand with the implementation. I find AfSol’s three core pillars to be a good start for a standardized evaluation mechanism. That is to say, one can ask these questions in order to assess each solution within its unique context:
– Does this project emphasize the demand-driven needs?
– Does this project respect the shared values?
– Does this project meet the expectations set in the first two questions?
The greater advantage of keeping evaluation as an on-going process from the beginning lies in the fact that close follow-up allows for adaptation. If for instance at a given phase of implementing a solution, evaluation teams judge that one (or more) of the three core pillars is not successful, the project-leaders are incentivized to revise, adapt, and improve their prospect solutions. In sustainability literature, this is commonly referred to as “Adaptive Management”. Its goal is to argue against mega-projects because their unintended consequences tend to be large scale and difficult to mitigate. From sustainable adaptive management perspective, small-scale solutions with their unanticipated consequences are manageable and fixable without extravagant costs. For this reason my primary recommendation to the AfSol team is to establish an evaluation team (or several) who will be tasked to assess and evaluate conflict resolution projects as they go (as opposed to post-facto). The evaluation teams, for the purpose of efficiency and efficacy, have to present no risk of conflict of interest with any given project. For this reason, an eclectic team of experts can be designed to evaluate different projects assigned randomly or blindly.
* Lina Benabdellah (linaben@ufl.edu) is a PhD Student of International Relations at the University of Florida, USA. Her research centers on studying the concept of power at the international level and zooms into Sino-African power relations as a specific specialization.
All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact research@ipss-addis.org

Sharing the concept behind AfSol Workshop series, from 6 to 7 March 2015

By Sunday A. Okello (Ass. Prof.)*

African Union Heads of States and Governments adopted the Tripoli Declaration on the “Elimination of Conflicts in Africa and the Promotion of Sustainable Peace” in 2009. In the declaration, the Heads of States recognized that peace and security in Africa lacks intellectual foundation and therefore poses an “intellectual challenge”. The Institute for Peace and Security Studies, IPSS, was mandated by the African Union Executive Council Decision (AU) (EX.CL/567 (XVI), and the follow-up Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two institutions, to take up the intellectual challenge of defining African-centred Solutions (AfSol) through training, research and advocacy around African peace and security issues. With the mandate from the AU, IPSS has positioned itself to provide a veritable and honest platform for the incubation and exchange of innovative ideas, and translating such ideas into concrete action.

IPSS launched the AfSol workshop series to provide the leading African institutions, especially the AU and RECs, with state-of-the-art knowledge and expertise on how to grapple with the intellectual challenges provoked by the quest for African solutions in peace and security .

Outcomes of the First AfSol Workshop

This second African-centered Solution in peace and security (AfSol) workshop follows from the expert workshop, which was held at IPSS from 26th to 27th September 2014.

From the first workshop series, a number of pertinent and foundational issues and questions were raised inter alia: Why do we need to consider and discuss AfSol in the first place? What is the genealogy of the idea of AfSol, and what are its underlying assumptions? When we talk about being African, who is an African, and would that description be based on our history, geography and identity, or what else? “who is an African” “who defines AfSol, and for whom” and  “Is AfSol an ideology, a concept, philosophy, policy, or pure practice”.

AfSol is understood and deployed by IPSS, emphasis is on peace and security priorities as there is a need to frame, situate and elevate the discourse on AfSol to meet pressing peace and security challenges; and by so doing mobilize appropriate and timely solutions. As such debates about AfSol during the inaugural workshop were converging around key principles of ownership, shared values and commitment and as to how these core principles help us to understand existing and emerging peace and security trends in Africa.

Objectives of the Second AfSol Workshop Series

This second workshop series represents a deliberate desire to expand and deepen debate around the above issues and concerns. Generally, the interpretation of defining and operationalizing AfSol has relevance to the ontological position of creating awareness and consciousness along the essence of Pan-Africanism. The operationalization and interpretation has to follow from this ontological position, spread through to the key principles of ownership, shared-values and commitment. Therefore, the interpretation of these three key principles is desirable- indeed, sorely needed- at this time. IPSS shall provide a veritable platform for establishing a clear linkage between theory, policy and practice. AfSol workshop series provides not only a platform to take a retrospective glance at the past but also because it seeks to mobilize a corpus of knowledge and innovative ideas capable of shaping the future.

The broad objective of the second workshop is to build upon the modest successes recorded during the inaugural workshop by moving from theory to practice.

The specific objectives, among others, are as follows:

  • To demonstrate the practicality of the principles of AfSol established by the inaugural workshop;
  • To engage all levels of African societies in the shaping of AfSol debate and operationalization so as to provide an opportune platform for a more nuanced and open discussion on AfSol;
  • To introduce and mainstream the philosophy and practices behind AfSol into different research, advocacy and policy sectors;
  • To produce a state-of-the-art book that documents the best and most innovative perspectives on AfSol.

Participation:

The Second AfSol Workshop brings together a mix of experts drawn from prominent members of organized civil society groups, academia, practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders.

*Sunday Okello (s.okello@ipss-addis.org) is an Assistant Professor and Senior Researcher at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), Addis Ababa University.