We are too broke to keep peace in Africa

Monday April 4 2011

By SCOLA KAMAU

Maxwell Mkwezalamba, Commissioner for Economic Affairs at the African Union in Addis Ababa spoke to the The EastAfrican, on the challenges the continental body faces.

Is the African Union currently overwhelmed by the political unrest in the continent and why is there grumbling over the body’s performance?

Unrest has been there in Somalia and Sudan now it’s in Ivory Coast and in North Africa; for the AU to clearly play its role in peacekeeping it must have adequate resources. That is the big challenge.

Does it mean the Union is currently in a financial crisis?

Maintaining peace requires adequate resources to deploy troops in the stricken countries. The AU does not have adequate funds to finance soldiers in those countries. Our expenditure budget is currently constrained to meet the ever rising demand for intervention.

How much does the AU spend in peace and security annually?

Different years have different budgets depending on the available funds. For 2011, the AU has set a $250 million budget and only eight per cent is for peace and security implying that we have to rely more on other partners.

How much does the AU require to finance the number of troops the countries currently faced by political conflicts?

It would be a costly venture. We’ve been spending $20 million every month to maintain the troops in Somalia; a similar amount would be required in all crisis-stricken countries, coming to $240 million per year in each country.

Besides, member countries that pledged to deploy troops have not done so, leaving the AU weaker to face the ongoing unrest.

Thus, the Union has to heavily depend on donors for extra support which is scheduled for a given period of time.

For example, the European Union gives the Union a fund of euros 300 million ($420 milllion) over a three-year period while the US and other partners have set patterns.

Unrest can’t be predicted it just comes. Worse, you can’t tell how long it will take. This further constrains the Union’s budget.

Why have the members not met their commitment and what impact does this have on the continent?

Apart from Uganda and Burundi that deployed soldiers in Somalia, other countries have lacked resources despite expressing interests.

Troops from two countries cannot contain the current political situation in the continent meaning we have to look at other ways of financing more troops.

The funds are meagre at the AU and many countries are yet to deploy troops. Will the Union sit back as member countries struggle to maintain peace and security in war-torn areas?

We are preoccupied with preventing the occurrence of unrests. One of the ways we do that is by conducting a continental survey identifying looming problems in different countries. Solutions to situations likely to spark uprisings would be availed instead of waiting to intervene when actual outbreaks occur.

Does it mean with the survey, deployment of troops and funding would no longer be required?

Not at all, we are looking at mobilising other resources to finance our budget. We have proposed an increase in import levy, insurance and tourism sectors. We anticipate member countries will come to an agreement to implement these recommendations for additional resources.

Are the current political crises a big threat to economic development in Africa?

Without peace and security, there can be no development as resources that would have been invested in the Millennium Development Goals — like job creation and poverty eradication — are diverted elsewhere.

For example, political unrest causes infrastructural damage, displacement and slow tourists inflow and trade. All these have an impact on the government expenditure leaving fewer funds for development-driving sectors like setting up of industries.

The continent is currently pursuing regional integrations. Are the political uprisings hampering this process?

When citizens flee war-stricken countries, they seek refuge in neighbouring countries, adding pressure to the existing problems of urbanisation and unemployment in the new settlements.

They also hurt integration and trade because goods cannot be transported from one place to another with such political situations.

Landlocked countries also lack means to transport their goods therefore a single economy can affect all others.

It renders continental integration hard as states have to first solve internal conflicts in order to have a strong basis for integration.

Integration is thus slowed down or taken back altogether.