The Emerging Global Order, Multilateralism and Africa

Background Paper for African Union Annual Mediators’ Retreat

This paper examines the position of Africa in the current world turmoil, focusing on the role played by multilateral norms, institutions and mechanisms in promoting peace and security and other international public goods. The multilateral world order is currently in turmoil, with leading powers—notably the United States—adopting transactional politics as their modus operandi. This has far-reaching implications for peace and security in Africa, including the expansion of rivalrous and militarized power politics in the Greater Middle East to encompass half of the continent, and the ascent of cynical power politics in the domestic and regional arena across all of Africa.

The paper argues that Africa, as a weak continent, has much to gain from multilateralism, and especially from its stronger more normative versions. The past seventy years witnessed substantial gains which should be recognized and defended. However, today’s crisis in multilateralism and the ascent of transactional politics need to be understood so that they can be managed and transcended. The starting point of this is the nature of multilateralism, which is more than collective bargaining by sovereign nations in pursuit of their immediate interests.

The paper examines how Africa can respond to its emerging threats with a strategy for conflict prevention and mediation and enhanced peace support operations. This requires a fuller implementation of the norms of the African Union and strengthening its institutions and mechanisms. It also requires further developing the AU’s inter-state conflict management capacity to complement its existing capacity that focuses on intra-state conflicts, with special attention to developing a peace and security strategy for the ‘shared spaces’ of the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden and Mediterranean/Sahara.

Armed conflicts need to be prevented, mediated, managed and resolved at multiple levels, from the local through the national to the regional and trans-regional. This poses complex challenges for Africa’s peacemakers.

The full paper is available here as a pdf download. 

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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