The African Union (AU) is currently developing a Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) in Africa. The aim is to detect social situations that may evolve into conflict. Clearly, this is an ambitious undertaking as there is no one theory that explains how a conflict erupts. Scholars disagree on what it is that trigger conflict behaviour, and what kinds of societal features that can be used as indicators of a nascent conflict. Furthermore, the traits that can be used as indicators of e.g. pastoral raids are not necessarily the same as the ones indicating state failure. For the AU to reach its goal of monitoring all kinds of conflict, a wide range of issues needs to be monitored.
In this master thesis I discuss the capability of the AU to create an early warning system that looks into the causes of all kinds of conflict in the Horn of Africa. I aim to answer the following research question:
What are the kinds and causes of conflict that need to be monitored in the Horn of Africa, and to what extent does the AU seem capable of anticipating these conflicts in its Continental Early Warning System?
Because the AU hopes to use sub-regional mechanisms in Africa as the main suppliers of information to CEWS, I discuss the AU’s co-operation with one of these organisations. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the Horn of Africa has progressed further than the AU in developing an early warning system of its own. IGAD has already decided on what features to monitor, and the Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN) presently focuses on pastoral conflicts in cross-border areas.
I answer the first part of the research question by identifying relevant theoretical contributions on the causes of conflict in this region. I establish a normative ideal, and argue that such a system needs to have a broad approach. For example, political systems, state structures, trans-national processes, ethnic differences, and the fight over resources add to the risk potential in this area. All these features ought to be monitored by such a system. Early warning differs from intelligence systems in the sense that human security guides the efforts. Traditionally, intelligence systems only emphasise the need to protect the state, thus making its focus much more limited.
The second part of the research question concerns the capability of the AU. I do a capacity assessment of the organisation, and find that the AU only seems partly capable of establishing an all-encompassing mechanism. The organisation faces both theoretical and practical challenges. The first concerns the theoretical disagreements related to the identification of the causes of conflict. The second is related to features that seem to limit the AU’s ability to act. The organisation relies on a decision-making procedure that is guided by the principle of consensus, and it depends on a constant flow of resources from its members. Elements like these give sceptical member states opportunities to stall at least some of the progress.
The AU states its willingness, but it is possible to question the actual willingness of some nations to create a wide-focused system. Little has been made on the establishment of CEWS, and the AU has difficulties making all member states agree to a comprehensive set of indicators. IGAD and CEWARN struggle with the same obstacle. To illustrate, the sub-regional organisation had to narrow down the agenda, and limit the ambitions, to reach agreement on the implementation of CEWARN. So far, this mechanism only has one entry point, and it does not look into all kinds of conflict in the sub-region. Lack of political will seems to impede the work both on CEWARN and CEWS.
Also, the two intergovernmental organisations have yet to clarify how they will co-ordinate their efforts. The AU’s ambitions go far beyond the ones that currently guide CEWARN. Still, the continental organisation does not have the mandate to impose a comprehensive set of indicators on IGAD. This lack of co-operation limits the AU’s ability to construct a system with a wide focus. In sum, the many challenges that are facing the AU and IGAD indicate that it will take some time before a comprehensive fully operational early warning system is established in the Horn.