Many African Nations Making Progress in the Rule of Law



Alexandre Zouev
  • Opinion by Kingsley Ighobor (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

In an interview with Kingsley Ighobor of Africa Renewal, Alexandre Zouev discusses OROLSI’s initiatives in Africa, rule of law on the continent, recent coups and their ramifications, and youth’s role in fostering peace and development.

The following are excerpts:

What’s the Office of the Rule of Law and Security Institutions about?

We deal mostly in five major areas, which are: the Police Division, Justice and Corrections Service, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Section, Security Sector Reforms, and Mine Action Service.

How would you assess the current state of the rule of law in Africa?

As you know, lately, we’ve witnessed some global geopolitical tensions that don’t help the rule of law. Over the last one to two years, the rule of law eroded globally, in many, if not the majority of countries. Latest data indicate that up to 6 billion people globally live in a country where the rule of law is weakened. We are concerned about this trend.

Talking about Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, the rule of law deteriorated in more than 20 countries. However, I must note that about 14 African countries managed to strengthen their rule of law over the last 12 months, including Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania and Cote d’Ivoire.

Do you ascribe the deterioration of the rule of law in African countries to geopolitical challenges?

Of course, global challenges to peace and security have implications for the rule of law. In terms of organizing elections or managing the judiciary or penitentiary, many African countries still depend on external technical assistance.

In many of these situations, there are also internal drivers such as a lack of access to justice, the absence of adequately trained law enforcement and an independent judiciary. So, it’s a combination of regional and global instability and internal factors.

There appears to be a resurgence of military coups, especially in West Africa.

You are right. We have witnessed the military taking power, especially in the greater Sahel Region. It doesn’t help the rule of law if, instead of a civilian justice system, you have military forces playing a role in political and judicial systems.

How are you helping these countries address these challenges?

As I said earlier, Africa is our major focus, especially sub-Saharan Africa. And it’s due to different reasons: some gaps in the rule of law in some countries and because of certain development challenges. Generally, poverty is very much linked to criminality and ill-functioning judiciary systems. Budget deficits and lack of effective fiscal management will prevent any state from allocating adequate resources to the rule of law sector. In an ideal situation, the rule of law should be very well-resourced but not every state can afford it.

Do you also work with, for example, civil society organizations in countries?

We invest efforts in working with civil society organizations. In our view, women and youths are very important agents of peace. We have many strategic frameworks with the African Union (AU). The AU and the EU are two major regional organizations partnering with UN Peacekeeping, including my office.

At the sub-regional level, we have different degrees of engagement. For example, we partner with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel(UNOWAS), Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), Southern Africa Development Commission (SADC), and other subregional organizations.

How important are security sector reforms (SSR) to the rule of law?

It’s a small but very important part of my office because SSR deals with sometimes sensitive military and security issues with important political implications. And not all governments want to be scrutinized.

To support SSR requires reliable statistics. For example, how much is being spent on the military, civil defense, secret services? When states request, we can help bring to them best practices and ways in which to build the capacity of their security sector. You do this kind of work with full respect to independent decision-making by host countries, their sovereignty, confidentiality of processes, and non-disclosure of information to third parties.

Do you support countries where there are no peace operations?

Absolutely. OROLSI has a system-wide service provider mandate. We are increasingly focusing on prevention, which is much more cost effective. One of the main tools we developed for that is the institutional development advisory programme. We piloted this programme in the Sahel region. We deploy institutional development advisors to help national governments and the UN system address the main challenges facing the rule of law and security institutions.

So, the IDAs are not transactional or mission-driven like assistance. We rely on the resident capacity within the UN system. We work with other UN partners, especially United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)— OHCHR because, in many cases, the rule of law requires the promotion of a culture of human rights. So, IDAs help integrate inter-agency collaboration. It has so far proven very successful.

Many countries confront violent extremist groups such as Boko Haram. What role do you play in helping tackle this problem?

Peacekeeping was not established in the UN system for counter-terrorism operations. Therefore, we collaborate closely with the Office of Counterterrorism (OCT), and the Counterterrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), which was established by the Security Council.

Almost all UN agencies and departments are involved in the prevention of violent extremism. And we are no exception. Our comparative advantage lies in building the capacity of host states to counter terrorism and prevent violent extremism through strengthened rule of law and security institutions and programmes to assist affected populations including through community policing and DDR.

If you look at some terrorist organizations such as ISIS, it’s not only about men and women fighting with arms; they have their families, sometimes even children, who are indoctrinated. Some left their countries, and to reintegrate them is not easy.

Do you see positive outcomes from your work in Africa?

Generally, we are getting a lot of resources from the assessed budgets of the United Nations and extra-budgetary contributions of our donors, but it’s not sufficient.

Investment in any kind of reform or capacity building in the rule of law sector is a multi-year exercise; you cannot do it overnight, in one week, or one month. We are going in the right direction, but maybe not with the speed that I would like.

Do the closures of peacekeeping missions in Africa, such as in Mali, complicate your work?

What complicates our work is not the closure or liquidation of missions; it’s how it happened in a hostile environment and under unrealistically short timelines. evacuating, liquidating, phasing out and drawing down missions can be challenging. However, we successfully closed our missions in Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mozambique.

Countries like Mali and Sudan are, maybe, more challenging environments. To close our mission in Mali, which was one of the largest missions with about 13,000 personnel, thousands of vehicles, and armored carriers, the government gave the Security Council only six months. It was almost mission impossible, but we managed to do it.

What role do you think young Africans can play in fostering peace and development of the continent?

As you know, the Secretary-General has an Envoy on Youth. I believe in investment in our future, which young people represent. It doesn’t matter if it’s in Africa, Asia, or Europe, it’s important to involve young people—for the sake of not only my generation but also that of my children and grandchildren.

When young people are educated, they become important agents of change. I am not necessarily talking about political or legal education. Sometimes, it may be engagement in sports or cultural events.

Can you envision an Africa without war?

Dr. Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.” I, too, have a dream that one day we will shut down this shop . If there are no wars and no conflicts, there will be no need for peacekeeping.

Looking into certain developments in sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb in the north of Africa, you saw what happened in Libya over the last few years; you see what’s going on in Sudan; in Somalia, we still have the confrontation between al Shabaab and the Somali government.

Realistically, we cannot stop these conflicts overnight. So long as they exist, we should invest more in certain types of peacekeeping operations, perhaps AU-led. I believe that African problems can be solved by Africans.

We need partnerships with regional organizations such as the EU and the AU, and other sub-regional organizations in Africa. The private sector should play a special role, including African business leaders. Some of them already invest in peacebuilding and sustainable economic systems.

We need to get the best out of all of us.

Source: Africa Renewal, United Nations

Africa Renewal is a United Nations digital magazine that covers Africa’s economic, social and political developments, and the challenges the continent faces and solutions to these by Africans themselves, including with the support of the United Nations and international community.

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