When a Kenyan thinks about Tana, I have no doubt that would be the Tana River, whose waters feed from the Aberdare mountains in Nyeri County. The river winds around Mt Kenya in search of a way to bequeath her water to the Indian Ocean.
Tana River County is named in her honour. En route to the Kenyan Coast she feeds Kenya’s hydroelectric power dams Masinga and Kiambere and passes through Meru, Kitui and Garissa counties.
The African Union may have been inspired by Kenya’s impressive, practical utility river, or maybe not. The AU nonetheless in 2012 named an important security initiative the Tana Forum, also known as the Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa.
The forum is composed of African thought leaders and strategists, who get together each year in April to exchange ideas on African-led solutions to peace and security challenges.
Each year they chose a different theme and invite scholars, policymakers and people who influence decision-making to a series of discussions that will hopefully bring Africa closer to sustainable peace and security for her nations. The chosen theme for 2018 is “Africa’s ownership of peace and security provision: Financing and reforming the AU”.
It is about time Africa took ownership of her security challenges. The first step may be the realisation that any lasting solutions will have to be home-grown. The second step may be to accept that you can only use peace as an export commodity if you already enjoy it in excess at home, hence the need to share some of it with your neighbours.
As such, each of the individual nation states in the African Union need to realise that they are solely responsible for the peace and security of their nationals before they can seek the collective efforts of AU member nations.
The AU has a very ambitious agenda, which includes food security, trade liberalisation, migration, sustainable use of natural resources and energy migration.
The challenge of security, however, should take top priority as it might be next to impossible to accomplish the others in the absence of peace and security. It is also interesting that many of the goals of the AU are disruptive of peace and or security.
Security challenges take many forms in Africa, including uncontrolled migration into hostile environments. Libya is currently setting the trend by selling fellow African immigrants as slaves. The saddest issue with this situation is that the captured were not aspiring to be Libyan citizens, but are in transit to European nations. Isn’t it time African governments made their own countries better than death, as their citizens seem to choose obvious death than remain home?
Terrorism is slowly becoming a “boring” item on the news due to the frequency of attacks. Nations such as Kenya send peace-keeping forces to Somalia, in an effort to apparently secure peace in the region. But in the meantime, Kenyan citizens are regular targets of the same terrorists.
This may not be peculiar to Kenya and governments may assume that the general public do not understand these “international matters”. But rational and irrational should be very clear to AU member states. As an old African proverb cautions, “Be careful when a naked man offers you his shirt”.
The aim of national politics seems to be to cause division in African nation states. Again Kenya, though not isolated in this situation, is a very good example of divisive politics. A government and ruling party (some clever person will have to write about where one begins and the other ends) that is so hard-line in its political position, treating the opposition as if they are not nationals of the country who may have a contribution to make.
This is often combined or even supported by an opposition that does not have nor intend to achieve any particular objective for the electorate or the nation.
CULTURALLY AWARE INITIATIVES
The Institute for Peace and Security Studies and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa will hold a pre-forum on “strengthening regional integration through reforms in the AU” in Addis Abba on February 27-28.
It would be very comforting if the AU adopted culturally aware initiatives as they permanently seem to receive less attention than economically and politically aware interventions.
Whereas the former are not often tested, especially at the national level, and hence their value has remained unspoken, the latter are part of an overused script whose conclusion is often more things to do than money to do them and regional trade that cannot be liberalised as long as security remains a dominant issue.
Cultural heritage is a very powerful tool to use in bottom-up approaches to post-political and armed conflict resolution. It is not clear why Africa, with her rich cultural resources, has not considered it as a peace-making instrument or integrated it into the peace-making initiatives.