African mediation in the shadow of COVID-19

EBRAHIM HAMID/AFP via Getty Images
EBRAHIM HAMID/AFP via Getty Images

The lockdown-type measures adopted by governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has deprived mediators and facilitators of the opportunity to use these important tools to resolve African conflicts and consolidate the implementation of peace agreements. However, we hope for a successful fight against COVID-19 in Africa that will reopen opportunities for mediation in Africa.

COVID-19 has tormented the whole of humanity, in all dimensions.

Throughout history, humanity has faced many kinds of deadly pandemics, such as the plague, the Spanish flu, HIV/Aids and Ebola, which have devastated human lives since antiquity – at least for some. Whilst their impacts on human lives were significant, many aspects of those pandemics were and are still unknown. The limitations of scientific and communication knowledge did not allow us to fully understand their extent and impact. Nowadays, with the benefit of scientific advances, and with communication technologies and social media at our disposal, we have made it easier for every infection or death in every corner of our planet to be known by everyone.

We hope for a successful fight against COVID-19 that will reopen opportunities for mediation in Africa – Prof Mohamed Al Hacen Lebatt, #AU Special Envoy for Sudan #C19ConflictMonitor

Mediation processes in African and international crises face the same fate. The African paradigm of mediation and facilitation shows a variety of examples. For instance, the success of the fight against terrorism, reconciliation efforts, transitional justice and post-conflict reconstruction in Somalia was affected by COVID-19, despite continual efforts of the African Union (AU) through its peace support operation – the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) – and from other segments of the international community. Political initiatives scheduled to build confidence and collaboration between the central government and local federal administrations have mostly been suspended. The demands for health and sanitation protection against the spread of COVID-19 became the main priority.

The mediation efforts undertaken by South Africa and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to support the implementation of the peace and reconciliation agreement and restructure political power in South Sudan has also been affected by COVID-19. Fortunately, ethnic violence has not spread throughout the country. But most of the expected political outcomes remain in a stalemate. Mediation efforts have stalled here.

In Sudan, the peace process between the transitional government and the armed movements in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile has been suspended, despite the best efforts of President Salva Kiir to mediate between the parties. The implementation of the political agreement reached on 17 August 2019 under the auspices of the AU and Ethiopia has been paralysed by the spread of COVID-19 in Sudan, as mediation efforts were curtailed by the restriction of movement, and the ban on air travel. There is no doubt, though, that the main actors – in particular, the Sovereignty Council of Sudan, led by President Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the civilian government, led by Dr Abdalla Hamdok – are still working constructively in the framework of that historical agreement. However, they need more support to solve some crucial issues, such as the transitional legislative parliament, the appointment of governors, transitional justice decisions and other economic and political challenges. The current delay in this negotiation is obviously due to the impact of COVID-19.

Despite significant progress, the peace and reconciliation agreement reached in the Central African Republic (CAR), under the auspices of the AU, still requires more effort and mediation support from the AU working with the United Nations (UN). These organisations have to continue their support to CAR to consolidate the peace process in the country and to prepare for elections, scheduled for December 2020.

In Libya, the civil war and external interventions are escalating dangerously. Many Libyan political actors continuously ask for African support to a political solution in the country. The AU High Committee on Libya and the International Contact Group, both led by President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, have expressed their strong commitment to assist the Libyan parties to come together in inclusive negotiations to establish a new political dispensation. However, the spread of the pandemic has mostly paralysed their efforts, unfortunately resulting in the postponement of the inter-Libyan political conference, among others. Today, Libya is Africa’s major crisis. Therefore, without a strong mediation jointly conducted by the UN and AU and other regional actors, the conflict will never come to an end and alleviate the suffering of the Libyan people. Experience has shown that any political approach to resolve a crisis in Africa – such as that in Libya – which excludes Africa from playing a major role in finding a solution, is unlikely to succeed. The principle of African solutions for African problems has direct relevance for the situation in Libya.

Mediation is a social art. It loses its efficiency and chances of success if it is not conducted through direct contact with the parties. Warm interaction, mutual relationships and socialisation in brotherly and friendly exchanges are a significant part of fostering and nurturing agreements between parties. Despite the current COVID-19 pandemic on the continent, Africa should remain mobilised to play its full role as soon as the situation allows.

Professor Mohamed Al Hacen Lebatt, AUC Chairperson’s principal strategic adviser and Special Envoy to Sudan

Mohamed Al Hacen Lebatt, AUC Chairperson’s principal strategic adviser and Special Envoy to Sudan, was born in Moritania on 25 July 1953. Lebatt graduated from Dakar University’s Business Administration and Law department, and then received his master’s degree from Toulouse University’s law school in 1983, and his doctoral degree in 1987. Since 1987, he has served as a Professor of Law at the University of Nouakchott, where he also was the President of the School of Social Sciences between 1987-1990.

Lebatt served as Moritania’s Secretary-General for Human Rights, Head of the Democratic Constitution Writing Committee, Head of Legal and Judicial Committee of Maghreb Countries Parliament (CHOURA), and President of the University of Nouakchott. He was appointed as Foreign Minister in 1997-1998. His postings following this period include International Organisation of the Francophonie’s Special Envoy for Burundi Peace Process, Director of UN National Dialogue Office for Democratic Republic of Congo, Moritania’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, South Africa, Permanent Representative to the AU and ECA, International Adviser at the UNDP and UN Department of Political Affairs, AUC Chairperson’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic and Head of the AU Mission for the Central African Republic and Central Africa (MISAC). Since 2018, Lebatt has been serving as AUC Chairperson’s principal strategic adviser and Special Envoy to Sudan.

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