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.
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.
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 (email@example.com) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lina Benabdallah*