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Crisis Prevention and Stabilisation in Africa: three implications for Germany’s National Security Strategy

spotlight 14, 14.09.2022

Germany’s new National Security Strategy should emphasise crisis prevention, stabilisation, and peacebuilding. It should look at not only threats but also opportunities, identify principles for coherence, and ensure greater review of effectiveness, writes Gerrit Kurtz (SWP) in this Megatrends Afrika Spotlight.

As of 2017, Germany has positioned itself as the world’s largest provider of official development assistance (ODA) in the area of crisis prevention, stabilisation, and peacebuilding (see figure 1). The German government has more than doubled its spending in this field over the past decade (see figure 2). German aid now accounts for around a quarter of all peacebuilding funds reported to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Along with Afghanistan (through 2021) and the Middle East, Africa occupies a focal point for Germany’s efforts as the destination of over 30 percent of its total aid spending. In 2020, the focuses were Mali, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is consistent with Germany’s approach to supporting crisis prevention, stabilisation, and peacebuilding, as Africa is home to the highest number of armed conflicts of all continents.

Within this context, the German government has begun a consultation and dialogue process to develop a National Security Strategy, which it intends to present within a year. The Strategy will be the first of its kind for Germany, setting out the key security policy challenges, interests, goals, and governmental instruments.

The National Security Strategy will provide the overall framework also for German peacebuilding in Africa. Its authors should pay particular attention to three areas: opportunities for change, peace policy coherence, and effectiveness.

Identifying not only threats but also opportunities

National security draws attention to threats: Russia’s war on Ukraine, cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, pandemics, and terrorism – to name a few. But sustainable security policy should also include peace policy in line with the broader concept of security that Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock often refers to. Thinking in terms of peace policy also means looking for opportunities for constructive change and recognising the different directions and speeds of political systems.

After all, crisis prevention is a forward-looking, proactive action. Analyses, therefore, should include scenarios with the drivers of crises, identifying entry points for one’s own actions and communicating them to decision-makers. Whether it is a unilateral peace agreement, a military coup, or an elite political deal, the international handling of these events often matters significantly.

For example, in June 2019, Sudan was at a crossroads. After months of nationwide protests, security forces had ousted President Omar al-Bashir and established a transitional military council. However, this did not satisfy the protesters, who were calling for the instalment of a civilian government. They maintained a protest camp in front of the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum. Security forces attacked the camp on June 3, killing over a hundred people. The country was on the verge of slipping back into cycles of deep repression and spiralling conflict.

But on June 30, the non-violent movement mobilised demonstrations on an unprecedented scale. At the same time, the United States and United Kingdom pressured Sudan’s Arab supporters. In Berlin, the German government organised a diplomatic meeting of influential governments from the newly formed ‘Friends of Sudan’ group. Ethiopia and the African Union (AU) mediated between the democracy movement and the military, and shortly thereafter an agreement was reached for a civil-military transitional government. The international efforts, including those of Germany, not only prevented further escalation but helped the Sudanese people to initiate a process of extensive reform – even if it did come to an abrupt end with the coup in October 2021.

In recent years, the German government has invested heavily in strategic foresight and early crisis detection, both within and across its ministries. At the same time, the link between analysis and preventive action, or “early action”, is still often missing – as the German government itself acknowledged last year. In this regard, it is important to use opportunities for conflict transformation even more flexibly. The German government could coordinate existing instruments more closely, for example, as part of the interplay between humanitarian and development policy and peacebuilding measures. It could also work together with partners in the European Union (EU) or at the United Nations (UN).

Principles for coherent peace and security policy

Peace and conflict research has found that not all normative peacebuilding goals can be achieved simultaneously, and that enormous tensions between common goals may sometimes arise. The best known – though often oversimplified – tension is that between peace and justice. However, the same can be said for the rapid reconstruction of war-torn areas on the one hand and fighting corruption on the other.

Peacebuilding also means looking for resilient approaches that don’t just temporarily stop the violence, especially in morally difficult situations. At the very least, such approaches should allow for (later) changes to the systems that were responsible for the violence in the first place. Peace negotiations often reward those who were particularly brutal and violent. Civilian groups, in contrast, have difficulty achieving their goals in repressive systems. People in South Sudan, for example, are well acquainted with this dynamic. There, the unity government that formed after the peace agreement just extended its own term by two years to avoid renewed infighting among its constituents.

How a state actor like the German federal government should behave in concrete situations cannot be determined in advance and in the abstract. However, it is helpful to state the principles that are relevant for decision-making and to openly acknowledge that tensions and conflicting goals will arise. To this end, the National Security Strategy can draw on existing documents such as the 2017 guidelines “Preventing Crises, Managing Conflicts, Promoting Peace”.

The German government’s Advisory Council on Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding coined the concept of “peace policy coherence” and commissioned studies on it with a view to Germany’s Africa policy. In this context, peace policy coherence means that governmental action should conform as far as possible to the four principles of peace policy laid out in the guidelines (human rights orientation; context-specificity, inclusive and long-term action; risk management; and primacy of politics and priority of prevention). These should also be incorporated into the guiding principles of a National Security Strategy.

An important aspect of peace policy coherence is departmental coherence, which is often a challenge. Although guidelines are formal documents relevant to the entire German government, in practice the ideas and approaches surrounding them noticeably differ from department to department – especially between the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Ministry of Defence.

This is particularly evident in the discussion around Germany’s contribution to the UN stabilisation mission in Mali (MINUSMA) following several blockades by the government there. The German ministries’ views of how their respective activities contribute to the overarching goal of sustainable peace are not always aligned.

Defining effective approaches

What approaches have been effective? Given the significant financial and political investments already made in this area, it is particularly important to keep this question in mind. It is difficult to measure the success of prevention; after all, at best, it is a non-event that is the outcome of a complex chain of effects.

For example, a project that supports civil society organisations in building local peace committees may be a building block to preventing violence at the village level. There may be other causes for the same outcome of decreasing violence though, too. At a higher level, elites may have economic incentives to avoid resolving their conflicts through violence, or they may be pressured to avoid violence by regional allies.

It is not enough to evaluate individual projects or programs. Rather, one must see them in the overall context of one’s own actions and the actions of third parties. The National Security Strategy should therefore prepare for further interdepartmental portfolio evaluations of German crisis engagement. In doing so, it can refer to the evaluations on Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan.

Crisis prevention, stabilisation, and peacebuilding already make up an important part of Germany’s international engagement and this should be reflected in the National Security Strategy. Considerations from this thematic field that would be particularly useful within the Strategy include analysing not only threats but also opportunities for change, identifying decision-relevant principles for coherent action, and ensuring a regular review of measures’ effectiveness.

Dr. Gerrit Kurtz is an Associate in the Africa and Middle East Division of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik | German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).