The Africa Union (AU) representative at SADC, Dr Alhaji Sarjoh Bah leaves the regional economic bloc headquarters at the end of February a happy man, knowing that the AU-SADC partnership is at an all-time high.
Bah, who came to SADC specifically to set up office in November 2012, boasts of successfully meeting his mandate as the AU office is now fully functional and recognised in the SADC region. Among the highlights of his term of office is that response tool for the AU and the Regional Economic Communities under the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) successfully hosted an exercise called AMANI AFRICA II.
However, what would have been a great celebration is spoiled by the Lesotho government led by Dr. Phakalitha Bethuel Mosisili as they are still to comply with all the efforts made thus far in order to bring the situation in that country to normalcy. Asked to state his views on what action has to be taken in order to normalise the situation in Lesotho, Bah, who is a diplomat of note, said that AU has provided political support to SADC on Lesotho.
“But looking at the present situation, AU may need to scale up its engagement as it was the case with Madagascar so as to help resolve the current impasse”, he said. Speaking to the Botswana Guardian this week, Bah said the main objective for the establishment of the African Union (AU) liaison office to SADC was to promote and improve relations between the AU and SADC.
The liaison office is established in accordance with the protocol relating to the sstablishment of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), which requires the PSC and the Chairperson of the commission to harmonise and coordinate the activities of Regional Mechanisms (RMs) in the field of peace, security and stability and to ensure that these activities are consistent with the objectives and principles of the Union as well as the Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the area of peace and security signed between the AU and the RECs- RMs in January 2008.
He revealed that the opening of the Liaison Office is also in pursuance to the Protocol on Relations between the AU and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) signed in 2008, where the AU pledged to open a liaison office at the headquarters of each REC to deal with all aspects of AU-RECs relations.
Moreover, the AU liaison office to SADC is mandated to contribute in the full implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), “as well as to strengthen cooperation and closely coordinate all the various AU and SADC activities, particularly in the areas of peace and security, and regional integration more broadly”.
Bah said the relationship between the AU-SADC and other regional economic communities is underpinned by the principles of subsidiarity, complementarity and division of labour.
It would be recalled that SADC and the other regional economic communities such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are the building blocs or pillars of the AU, so, improving the relationship between these organisations is a critical factor in the AU’s quest for a “prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own people and occupying its rightful place in the international arena.”
AU- SADC accomplishments
Bah is happy that so far the two organisations have achieved a lot, key among them the improved communication, cooperation, collaboration and dialogue on a range of issues including peacemaking efforts in the region. AU and SADC successfully partnered in resolving the political and security crisis in Madagascar which had festered on for over six years.
The country is now on the track to recovery and has been readmitted to both the AU and SADC after it was suspended following the military coup d’état.
AU- SADC on DRC
AU supported and partnered with SADC in standing up and developing the Intervention Brigade which has been successful in neutralising the threats posed by some of the armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), most notably, the M23, which was defeated by the Intervention Brigade, which consists of three SADC Member states - Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa.
Bah said that SADC initiated the idea of the Intervention Brigade (IB) in Eastern DRC. The IB is operated under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission. (MUNUSCO) and the UN paid for the expenses. Currently the AU and SADC act as the guarantors of peace, security and stability framework for eastern DRC and the region.
The framework provides the best opportunity to resolve the long-standing conflicts in DRC and the great Lakes region of Africa, according to Bah.
AMANI AFRICA II
During his term of office, AU and SADC jointly planned and hosted the first-ever continental military, police and civilian exercise, codenamed AMANI AFRICA II in Lohathla South Africa. The exercise, which was held in November last year brought together over 5,500 military, police and civilian personnel from across Africa with military hardware including aeroplanes, tanks, helicopters and other motorised armoured vehicles.
The exercise was focused on testing the decision-making and employment of rapid deployment capability of the African Standby Force (ASF). The ASF is a key response tool for the AU and the Regional Economic Communities under the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).
Following the successful exercise, Africa now has the capability to respond in a timely manner to situations of mass atrocities and, or genocide for as long as the political will to do so can be generated.
AU and SADC are increasingly working together in election monitoring and observation in the SADC region. The two organisations have fielded separate but well-coordinated elections observer missions for all elections in SADC including the general election in Botswana in 2014.
The pronouncements by AU and SADC on the conduct and outcome of elections are increasingly becoming a litmus test of the credibility of elections in its member states. Their pronouncements also help to provide a sense of stability in situations where the parties dispute the outcomes.
AU- SADC 2050
Bah pointed out that on broader integration issues, the AU and SADC are collaborating in harmonising the main provisions of the AU’s Agenda 2063, especially the first ten-year plan with SADC’s Vision 2050.
Additionally, the two institutions are working on other joint efforts such as the recently launched negotiations for the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), and Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMA).
Africa Day celebrations
The AU liaison office in partnership with the African Diplomatic Corps in Botswana and with the Support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation hosted the first-ever celebrations of Africa Day on 25 May 2014, in Botswana.
Former Botswana president, Sir Ketumile Masire and representatives of the Botswana Government, the diplomatic community, the private sector and the media graced the event. Bah engaged the local media on the World programme to discuss the significance of Africa Day for Botswana and the continent as a whole.
This is now an annual event that provides a unique opportunity to showcase the activities of the AU on the continent in furtherance of its continental integration agenda.
Africa Against Ebola campaign
The AU Liaison office with the support of Orange Botswana mounted a successful Africa Against Ebola campaign through SMS messages and other communication outlets.
The Africa Against Ebola campaign raised awareness about the Ebola disease, addressed issues of stigmatisation and more critically, raised over P22, 000 which was collected by Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) and transferred to the AU to support the over 1,000 medical volunteers who responded to the AU’s calls for volunteers to stem the tide of the deadly virus.
The three most affected countries namely Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all been declared Ebola free by the World Health Organisation and efforts are now underway to rebuild the public health and other response systems in those countries.
The health volunteers personified the concept of being one brother’s or sister’s keeper as they marched into the battle knowing the potential deadly consequences to them but they were not deterred. The AU partnered with 10 Mobile Operators in 41 countries in Africa covering over 600 million African citizens in the campaign.
The Africa-Against-Ebola campaign is perhaps the most spectacular successful African solidarity drive since the establishment of the OAU Liberation Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa from white minority rule and apartheid.
AU has access to SADC meetings
Dr Bah leaves SADC a happy person, he says that currently improved confidence between the two institutions is demonstrated by the fact that AU representative has access at all levels to both open and closed sessions of all SADC statutory and non-statutory meetings be it officials, ministerial and heads of states summit.
This was not the situation three years ago and it brought the two institutions closer together. Moreover, the AU is now starting to consult with SADC and other RECs as it develops the agenda for its bi-annual Summit of Heads of State and Government.
This practice, if consolidated, would go a long way in promoting harmonisation of policies, programmes and activities, and would give the RECs a sense of ownership of the AU’s continental programmes and activities
Who is Dr Bah?
Alhaji Sarjoh Bah is head of the AU liaison office to SADC. He was the lead facilitator of an executive Post-Graduate Programme at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University.
Bah was Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation where he served as programme coordinator of the peace operations and lead scholar and editor of the annual review of Global Peace Operations.
He worked as a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies and was a guest lecturer at the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP), and is on the editorial board of the African Security Review, Africa’s premier journal on peace and security.
He has published widely on issues of peace and security and is the co-editor of A Tortuous Road to Peace – The Dynamics of Regional, UN and International Humanitarian Interventions in Liberia, Institute for Security Studies: Pretoria, South Africa, 2005.
He has been a consultant to several international organisations including the African Union, European Commission, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Fundaciónparalas Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE) and the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue among others.