The Panel of the Wise: Its Role in Preventing Violent Conflicts in Africa

Special Envoys And Mediators of the African Union, United Nations, European Union, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, League of Arab States And Regional Economic Communities at the 5th African Union High-Level Retreat, Meeting to Discuss “Silencing the Guns, Owing the Future: Realizing A Conflict Free Africa”. Arusha, Tanzania. October 2014. ©African Union

I.      Anchoring of Women and National Peace Infrastructures in the African Peace and Security Architecture

The insufficient participation of women in formal conflict prevention and at the peace table is an important area of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) that remains poorly implemented. The significant contribution and strong role of women in local mediation and conflict prevention initiatives continue to be largely unrecognized and weakly supported. Thus, since 2010, the African Union (AU) Panel of the Wise—already with a mandate to draw the public’s attention to largely overlooked issues—has considered ways to strengthen the participation of women and youth at the peace table and raise awareness of the impact of war and sexual violence against women and children, through a document entitled “Mitigating Vulnerabilities of Women and Children in Armed Conflicts”. The report advocates for at least four key actions to be taken by the African Union Commission: a) the establishment of the Office of the Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security; b) the launch of the AU five-year Gender Peace and Security Programme (GPSP) 2015-2020; c) the implementation of an Open Session of the Council on Women, Peace and Security; and d) the launch of the African Network of Women in Conflict Prevention and Peace Mediation (FemWise).

The above recommendations were endorsed by member states through a decision of the AU Assembly in July 2017, which formalized the establishment of FemWise-Africa as a subsidiary body of the Panel. FemWise-Africa is called upon to focus on strengthening the role of women in conflict prevention and mediation efforts in the context of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) by providing a plat- form for strategic advocacy, capacity-building and networking aimed at enhancing the implementation of the commitments for women’s inclusion in peacemaking in Africa. It will ensure that peace processes in Africa are shaped with the contribution of women’s leadership and participation. FemWise-Africa has already launched its operations by pro- viding technical and mediation supports to four ongoing peace processes in Africa, and was mandated in July 2017 by the Chairperson of the AU Commission to undertake efforts to fully operationalize its steering committee.

II. The Fourth Panel of the Wise

At the twenty-ninth ordinary session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 3 and 4 July 2017, leaders endorsed the proposals made by the Chairperson to appoint five new members of the Panel of the Wise. As the AU is preparing to inaugurate its fourth Panel of the Wise in October 2017, it is an opportune time to recall its remarkable decade-long journey as a key conflict prevention and resolution instrument, contributing by the sheer will and determination of its members to strengthening the Union’s ability to better address the scourge of violence on our continent.

In keeping with the practice and modalities of operation developed by the members of the first Panel of the Wise appointed in 2007, it is anticipated that the incoming members will continue to strengthen this key pillar of the African Peace and Security Architecture through preventive diplomacy and mediation activities, agenda-setting and raising of critical peace and security issues affecting the African continent. It is also expected that they will support the Peace and Security Council (PSC) and the Chairperson of the Commission. The new members of the Panel of the Wise are: Dr. Specioza Wandira Kazibwe from Uganda (for the Eastern Africa Region), Mr. Amr Moussa from Egypt (for the Northern Africa Region), Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia (for the Western Africa Region), Mrs. Honorine Nzet Bitéghé from Gabon (for the Central Africa Region) and Mr. Hifikepunye Pohamba from Namibia (for the Southern Africa Region).

The Union’s expectations for the Panel of such a calibre are, understandably, very high. Each new member has demonstrated unwavering commitment to Africa and to the African Union’s quest for peace, stability and development for all peoples of the continent. Their individual and collective experience and knowledge will undoubtedly strengthen the AU efforts in the prevention, management and resolution of violent conflicts. In anticipation of the upcoming inaugural ceremony of this fourth Panel of the Wise a cursory glance at the functioning, actions and operations of this critical pillar of the APSA is appropriate.

III.   Defining the Context, Framework and Criteria for the Panel of the Wise’s Interventions1

The original mention of the need for a continental Council of Elders can be traced back to the 1991 “Towards a Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Co-operation in Africa (CSSDCA)”, adopted by the Organization of African Unity’s Assembly of Heads of State and Government at the summit in Kampala, Uganda. It made a specific call for the establishment of an “Africa’s Elders Council for Peace” which would become today’s Panel of the Wise. The Panel was created through Article 11 of the “Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union”, primarily to support the efforts of the Council and the Chairperson of the AU Commission, particularly in conflict prevention. In creating the Panel of the Wise, the African Union recognized the importance of traditional conflict resolution mechanisms and their continued relevance in preventing and mediating disputes and conflicts in contemporary Africa.2

Moreover, as stipulated in the PSC Protocol, “at the request of the Peace and Security Council or the Chairperson of the Commission, or at its own initiative, the Panel of the Wise shall undertake such action deemed appropriate to support the efforts of the Peace and Security Council and those of the Chairperson of the Commission for the prevention of conflicts, and to pronounce itself on issues relating to the promotion and maintenance of peace, security and stability”.3 The latter provision gives it the unique ability to have a voice of its own as well as to support, facilitate and initiate a variety of preventive diplomacy measures aimed at ongoing disputes. Yet this provision, perhaps more than any other, has generally been misinterpreted as giving the Panel the “authority to facilitate and mediate potential or ongoing disputes on its own volition”.4 Hence, it is important to reiterate the PSC Protocol’s clear enumeration of the Panel’s advisory role as well as its more operational role, which relates very specifically to matters of conflict prevention and not mediation sensu stricto.

Furthermore, the first Panel of the Wise was appointed in 2007, five years after the PSC Protocol came into force and roughly three years after the inauguration of the PSC in May 2004. The fact that it was one of the last pillars to begin the implementation of APSA is, in many important regards, symptomatic of the prevailing dominance of a reactive, rather than preventive conflict management approach by the institution.

The modalities for its functioning, adopted by the PSC on 12 November 2007, ensure that the Panel can “facilitate the establishment of channels of communication between the Council and the Chairperson of the Commission, on the one hand, and parties engaged in a dispute, on the other hand, in order to prevent such dispute from escalating into conflict”.5 Panel members can carry out fact-finding missions and conduct shuttle diplomacy between parties to a conflict.6

The adoption of confidence-building measures and effective reconciliation processes are also part of the Panel’s modalities of action.7 In post-conflict situations the Panel can also provide support to mediation teams, “assist and advise parties on how to resolve disputes related to the implementation of peace agreements” and encourage them to “carry out reconciliation processes”.8

At their first statutory meeting on 18 December 2007, in Addis Ababa, Panel members agreed to undertake regular consultations with experts, academics and civil society on emerging threats to peace and security through the yearly production of thematic “horizon scanning” reports designed to enhance their ability to anticipate and identify new conflict situations requiring the Panel’s and the Union’s attention. Panel members hence have produced four thematic reports to date: “Election-Related Disputes and Political Violence” (2010), “Peace, Justice and Reconciliation in Africa” (2013), “Mitigating Vulnerabilities of Women and Children in Armed Conflicts” and “Strengthening Political Governance for Peace, Security and Stability in Africa”.9 In furtherance of these reports, the Panel has advocated for the strict implementation of its recommendations by the Commission and, at times, it has also acted as the Commission’s implementation arm.

The following paragraphs will provide concrete examples of the Panel’s proactive operational interventions, in line with criteria delimitated by Panel members themselves in 2007:

  • The degree to which a conflict situation already receives regional and international attention.  Conflicts that have been neglected for lack of resources or other reasons may be especially appropriate cases for the Panel to engage with;
  • Whether the PSC is already seized with a particular conflict situation and whether additional attention by the Panel may add further value to existing efforts;
  • Whether a given situation has remained in conflict for a considerable amount of time or in danger of descending into conflict, despite multiple mediation and negotiation efforts. In such a situation, the Panel may advise and strengthen existing efforts, inject new urgency to mediation processes, or take a fresh look at the conflict dynamics at play;
  • Whether a conflict situation has experienced a sudden and speedy decline; and, finally
  • Whether a conflict situation has experienced difficulties in implementing a peace agreement and, therefore faces the risk of reverting to conflict.10

IV. The Panel of the Wise Turns Ten: Overview of its Institutionalization, Activities and Contributions from 2007 to 2017

A discussion of the gradual institutionalization of the Panel over the last 10 years provides key reflections that can inform the Panel’s operations in the future. The first Panel of the Wise (2007-2010) primarily oversaw the operationalization of its mandate and transformation of its modalities of operation into realities on the ground. Inaugural members broke new ground in establishing firmly “horizon scanning” to monitor, reflect and pronounce itself on key emerging threats to peace and security, bringing them to the attention of the AU organs in a yearly thematic report. They began, tentatively at first, to engage directly with preventive diplomacy and peacemaking, especially through numerous missions to countries holding elections, even in the face of severe resource limitations and, at times, resistance of member states.

Members of the First African Union Panel of the Wise

(December 2007 to December 2010)

 

Member name

Country of origin

Regional representation

Ahmed Ben Bella*

Algeria

North Africa

Miguel Trovoada

São Tomé and Príncipe

Central Africa

Salim Ahmed Salim

Tanzania

East Africa

Brigalia Bam

South Africa

Southern Africa

Elisabeth Pognon

Benin

West Africa

* Chairperson of the African Union Panel of the Wise

The tenure of the second Panel of the Wise (2010 to 2014) demonstrated the centrality of this mechanism, which is characterized by an expanding portfolio of activities, the development of closer relations with other institutions within the Union, and the diffusion of the Panel through the creation in May 2013 of the Pan-African Network of the Wise (PanWise), a continental net work of mediation actors and institutions. The Panel and its secretariat became key in the development of the now traditional “Cairo Retreats”, and in acting as a mediation support unit within the Commission by facilitating training, capacity-building and knowledge generation, among others, to the Union’s Special Envoys, Special Representatives and mediators on the ground.

Members of the Second African Union Panel of the Wise

(December 2010 to September 2014)

Member name

Country of origin

Regional representation

Ahmed Ben Bella*

Algeria

North Africa

Marie Madeleine Kalala-Ngoy

DRC

Central Africa

Salim Ahmed Salim

Tanzania

East Africa

Kenneth Kaunda

Zambia

Southern Africa

Mary Chinery-Hesse

Ghana

West Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Chairperson of the African Union Panel of the Wise

The third Panel of the Wise (2014 to 2017) devoted significant efforts to the facilitation and provision of mediation functions to political dispute processes very high on the agenda of the AU PSC, as well as the United Nations Security Council, advancing the women, peace and security agenda by convincing the AU Assembly to permanently mainstream women’s participation in the APSA structure, through the establishment of the African Network of Women in Conflict Prevention and Peace Mediation (FemWise).

Members of the Third African Union Panel of the Wise

(September 2014 To September 2017)

Member’s name

Country of origin

Regional representation

Lakhdar Brahimi

Algeria

North Africa

Albina Faria de Assis Pereira Africano

Angola

Central Africa

Specioza Kazibwe

Uganda

East Africa

Luísa Diogo*

Mozambique

southern Africa

Edem Kodjo

Togo

West Africa

* Chairperson of the African Union Panel of the Wise, the first woman to chair the Panel since its inception.

V.     Different Approaches for Different Contexts: Illustrating the Panel of the Wise’s Evolving Conflict Prevention Approaches with Concrete Examples

The first mission of the Panel of the Wise—to the Central African Republic in 2007—was in fact conducted “shortly after the appointment of the Panel members and thus even before the modalities had been adopted and the Panel officially inaugurated ”.11 This mission provided, in many ways, a template for the type of missions, and the specific value addition that the Panel could bring to the Union’s conflict prevention and peacemaking efforts, and therefore, to APSA. During this mission, members of the Panel assessed the political situation in the country and the preparations for the convening of an inclusive political dialogue. The Panel conducted a series of consultations with national political parties, trade unions, civil society organizations and members of the diplomatic community accredited to the country. Following the mandate given to the Panel by François Bozizé, President of the Central African Republic, to consult armed insurgencies, the Panel duly did so outside the country. The Panel subsequently compiled and presented a report to President Bozizé, concluding and recommending that a national dialogue be convened.12

By the time the Panel held its second statutory meeting from 17 to 18 July 2008, the prevention of conflicts emerging from disputed elections was high on its (and the Union’s) agenda and duly chosen as that year’s thematic reflection, a decision “influenced by the post-electoral violence that had afflicted Kenya in January and February 2008, as well as the crisis generated by Zimbabwe”.13 The Panel agreed that “its members would undertake information-gathering missions aimed at evaluating the situation and examining the modalities of the involvement of the Panel” in cases where election-related violence is a possibility.14

The Panel’s work on election-related violence is also an example of what is regarded as the Panel’s discovery phase: it reveals that it is finding its niche and a specialization in the prevention of election-related violence. Since then the Panel has conducted numerous missions to countries holding elections—even if faced with resource limitations and the resistance of member states.

The statutory meetings of the Panel, held on a quarterly basis, have also provided an opportunity for direct interaction with parties and stakeholders in conflict situations—as the example of the consultations held with Somali stakeholders during the 4th statutory meeting in November 2008 or that of the consultations with Tunisian government officials during the 12th statutory meeting in April 2012 illustrate. Moreover, at several of these meetings, the Panel has invited stakeholders and experts to provide specific briefings on ongoing conflict situations.

In August 2010 in Cairo, the Panel of the Wise launched what would become a key annual meeting with relevance to its own work and that of the Commission overall: “The AU High-Level Retreat on the Promotion of Peace, Security and Stability in Africa”. Eight years later, the retreat continues to bring together senior officials, Special Envoys and Representatives of the AU, the Regional Economic Communities (R ECs) and Regional Mechanisms (RMs), the United Nations, the European Union, the League of Arab States and others to discuss operational and strategic issues. These gatherings have become pivotal for the work of the organization in regard to preventive diplomacy and mediation. What would become known as the “Cairo Retreats” (which have since taken place in Abidjan, Arusha, Windhoek, and Sharm El Sheikh) also includes a closed one-day meeting between the Chairperson of the AU Commission and all AU Envoys, Mediators and the Panel of the Wise to promote the exchange of experiences and strategic planning.

The first months of 2011 would be marked by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and the gradual deterioration of the situation in Libya. In Tunisia, the announcement on 19 March 2011 of a constitutional referendum and the preparations for presidential and legislative elections scheduled for September and October of the same year, prompted renewed mitigation efforts by the Commission, involving the Panel of the Wise. Among others, these included good offices and fact-finding visits by the Chairperson himself to Tunisia and Egypt in March 2011, followed by the Panel ’s series of visits to Tunisia in April 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The situations in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia would take centre stage at the Panel’s 10th meeting, held in Addis Ababa on 12 May 2011. Representatives of the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) Council of Elders and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Committee of Elders were in attendance.15 Moreover, during its meetings on Egypt in the first half of 2011, the PSC would request the Commission to undertake periodic evaluation missions, and to facilitate the completion of the transition.16 Following this request the Panel was deployed to Egypt along with members of the Committee of Elders of COMESA.

Within the framework of AU efforts to promote a peaceful and transparent second post-conflict electoral process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Panel has been involved in the country since 2011 until early 2017. It undertook a series of information and fact-finding missions and facilitated dialogues with high-level representatives of COMESA, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).17 In order to sustain the momentum already established, the Panel’s missions would be followed by missions of the Chairperson of the AU Commission, accompanied by one of its members. These efforts demonstrated the importance of the type of engagement, which only a structure like the Panel can provide, aiming to give a platform and a voice to the many Congolese opposition political parties thereby nurturing inclusivity in the process, as well as strengthening the level of cohesion between partners. Through these missions, the Panel has gradually tested the doctrine it developed in its first thematic report regarding the purpose, timing and focus of such missions.

In January 2012, the Panel undertook several pre-election missions to Senegal with ECOWAS, which resulted in the effective mediation of the country’s political and electoral standoff, marked by violent demonstrations in the capital against President Abdoulaye Wade’s attempt to run for a third term in the presidential election.

Continuing its effort at joint missions with the RECs, the Panel, the Committee of Elders of COMESA and representatives of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) also visited Kenya in January 2013 on a pre-election assessment mission ahead of the March 2013 general elections. The mission consulted with a variety of stakeholders with the aim of supporting “the efforts of the government of Kenya, all political actors and civil society, in working to create a conducive environment for the holding of free, transparent, credible and peaceful elections” as well as to launch the very first AU long-term elections observation mission to the country.18

Concluding Thoughts

“The Panel of the Wise’s role in preventing the outbreak of violent conflicts in Africa” was meant to provide information and analysis on the experiences, to date, of an important pillar of APSA. The objective was to discuss the gradual institutionalization of the Panel over the last 10 years and provide reflections that can inform the Panel’s operations in the future. An understanding of the Panel of the Wise begins with its legal and normative dimensions as well as the modalities governing its operations, in addition to the rationale, some would say philosophy, underpinning its very existence. Yet, if these go some way in delineating the institutionalization of this structure within the African Union, it is in the domain of action, of operations, that the real value and potential of the Panel can be reflected upon.   

Notes

1      For a detailed history of the Panel of the Wise, covering the period from 2007 to 2015. Refer to João Gomes Porto and Kapinga Yvette Ngandu, “The African Union’s Panel of the Wise: a concise history”(Durban, South Africa, African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), 2015). Available at http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/aupow-book2-.pdf.

2      Ibid.

3      African Union, Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (Addis Ababa, 2002), article 11, para. 4.

4      See, for example, Jamila El-Abdellaoui, “The Panel of the Wise: a comprehensive introduction to a critical pillar of the African Peace and Security Architecture”, ISS Paper, No. 193 (Pretoria, Institute for Security Studies, August 2009); Tim Murithi and Charles Mwaura, “The Panel of the Wise”, in Africa’s New Peace and Security Architecture: Promoting Norms and Institutionalizing Solutions, Ulf Engel and João Gomes Porto, eds. (Farnham, Surrey, England, Burlington Vermont, Ashgate Pub. Co., 2010), p. 78.

5      African Union, Modalities for the Functioning of the Panel of the Wise as Adopted by the Peace and Security Council at its 100th Meeting Held on 12 November 2007 (Addis Ababa, 2007), sect. III (1b).

6      Ibid., sect. III (1c, d).

7      Ibid., sect. III (1e).

8      Ibid., sect. III (1f, g, e).

9      See African Union Panel of the Wise, “Election-related disputes and political violence: strengthening the role of the African Union in preventing, managing, and resolving conflict”, Report of the AU Panel of the Wise (New York, International Peace Institute, African Union, 2010); African Union Panel of the Wise, “Peace, justice, and reconciliation in Africa: opportunities and challenges in the fight against impunity”, Report of the AU Panel of the Wise (New York, International Peace Institute, African Union, 2013); African Union Peace and Security Council and Panel of the Wise, “Expert report on eliminating vulnerabilities of women and children in armed conflicts”, Addis Ababa, 2014; and African Union Panel of the Wise, “Strengthening Political Governance for Peace, Security, and Stability in Africa”, Final Report, Addis Ababa, 2012.

10   African Union Panel of the Wise, “Draft programme of work for 2008”, Inaugural Meeting of the Panel of the Wise, PoW/3(I)”, Addis Ababa, December 2007. Available from http://www.peaceau.org/uploads/draft-paper-programme-of-work-eng-.pdf.

11   El-Abdellaoui, “The Panel of the Wise”, p.5.

12   El-Abdellaoui, “The Panel of the Wise”, p.6.

13   Murithi and Mwaura, “The Panel of the Wise”, p. 82. See also Ramtane Lamamra, “Preface,” in Panel of the Wise: A Critical Pillar of the African Peace and Security Architecture, Secretariat of the Panel of the Wise (Addis Ababa, African Union, 2008).

14   African Union Panel of the Wise, “Press Statement”, 2nd Meeting, POW/PR(II), Addis Ababa, 17 July 2008.

15   African Union Panel of the Wise, “Communiqué”, 10th Meeting of the Panel of the Wise, POW/PR/COMM(X), Addis Ababa, 12 May 2011.

16   African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government, Report of the Peace and Security Council on its Activities and the State of Peace and Security in Africa, Document Assembly/AU/4 (VII), Assembly, Fourteenth Ordinary Session, Addis Ababa, 1 July 2011.

17   These organisations were respectively represented by Ambassador Simbi Mubako (Zimbabwe), member of the Committee of Elders of COMESA; Mme Liberata Mulamula (Tanzania), executive secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR); Hon. Judge John Billy Tendwa (Tanzania), chairman of the Electoral Advisory Council of SADC; and Yaya Mahamat Liguita (Chad), chairman of the Electoral Commission of Chad. African Union Peace and Security Council, Press Statement, 298th Meeting, PSC/PR/BR.2 (CCXCVIII), Addis Ababa, 17 November 2011.

18   See African Union Panel of the Wise, Press Release: AU and COMESA High Level Officials on Pre-Election Assessment Mission and the Launch of AU Long-term Elections Observation Mission to Kenya, Addis Ababa, 16 January 2013.