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Panel Discussions - Friday, April 27, 2012

Preventing Conflicts in Africa: The Role of Early Warning and Response Systems

An April 27th roundtable discussion at IPI titled “Preventing Conflicts in Africa: The Role of Early Warning and Response Systems” examined the progress, prospects and challenges of regional and international early warning and response mechanisms to monitor, anticipate, and mitigate potential conflict situations in Africa.

The roundtable discussion was co-organized with the Permanent Missions of South Africa and Azerbaijan to the United Nations. It was attended by over 40 participants including representatives from the United Nations, UN member states, civil society, and think tanks. Experts from the African Union (AU) Continental Early Warning System and the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia took part in the meeting.

The meeting assessed the effectiveness of the AU Continental Early Warning System to collect, analyze, and report on conflict information, as well as its engagement with the relevant decision-makers responsible for policy response. The roundtable also discussed the opportunities for the AU and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to collaborate with civil society organizations and think tanks to further enhance early warning and response mechanisms. It examined the United Nations’ understanding of, and approaches to, conflict early warning, and the increased collaboration efforts developed by the United Nations, the AU, and other African regional organizations towards better conflict prevention.

Four major trends emerged during the discussion:

The AU Continental Early Warning System has developed a comprehensive set of data collection and analysis tools, reinforced by increasing cooperation with other regional early warning and response mechanisms. However, the limited capacity of the AU situation room in terms of staff expertise, material and technical equipment continues to hinder the effectiveness of the CEWS, which is to be fully operationalized this year.

Civil society organizations and think tanks specializing in peace and security can usefully contribute to strengthening the early warning and response mechanisms established at continental and regional levels. Their links with local communities provide civil society with a comparative advantage in accessing open source information on potential conflict. Civil society’s experience in advocacy can also facilitate the preparation of implementable recommendations for policy response. Furthermore, African early warning and response mechanisms can benefit from the political independence and infrastructural capacity of regional and international think tanks.

At the United Nations, early warning efforts aim to strengthen national capacity for conflict prevention, by building the skills of, and developing closer collaboration among, national actors to facilitate immediate response to conflicts. The United Nations considers that “conflict is everyone’s business,” and encourages early interventions which look at both the short and the longer term of conflict causes and issues.

The gap between early warning and early response remains a challenge. Coordinating between early warning actors and decision-makers who are to act on proposed policy options; identifying the relevant actors or institutions to respond to a particular conflict; and mobilizing the necessary capacity and resources are some of the challenges facing the international community. In considering both the existing divergences and comparative advantages of conflict prevention at national, regional, continental or international levels, any early response to conflict should be timely, appropriate, and sustainable.

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