Summary Report: The Annual Conference of the Advisory Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding

02 December 2020   ·   Advisory Board to the Federal Government for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding

On 2 October 2020, the Advisory Board to the Federal Government for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding hosted its second annual conference in a virtual format. Under the motto “What do Crises Teach us?” almost 300 participants discussed the lessons learned from the EU’s and Germany’s civilian crisis prevention, above all in the Sahel region. A review.

This year, the Advisory Board’s annual conference was held under the theme “What Do Crises Teach Us? Civilian Crisis Prevention in Germany and the European Union”, at the background of the German EU Council Presidency and the Africa-EU Summit. The event focused on strengthening the topic of peacebuilding, initiating an EU-wide political consensus on peacebuilding, and how to achieve more policy coherence at EU level as well as among member states. Representatives from different backgrounds as well as civil society partners from the Sahel – the focus region for this year’s conference – were involved in the discussions. Three years after the adoption of the federal government’s guidelines on “Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflict, Building Peace”, the conference presented a key moment to draw political lessons from current approaches, and discussed proposals for the further development of strategies and instruments at the European level. Key takeaways involved the need for more coherent policies, better interlinkages between departments and ministries, and more efforts to get local actors on board.

Dr. Kira Vinke and Bodo von Borries, Co-Chairs of the Advisory Board, highlighted the question of what can be learned from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic for early action and conflict prevention. “Warning signals by science and civil society were ignored”, Kira Vinke stated. “We want to explore perceptions of crises, early action mechanisms, and coherence in policy responses”. Bodo von Borries pointed out the need for long-term approaches and the primacy of civil conflict prevention. He named the military coup in Mali as an interruption of the rule of law and asked for new perspectives on security sector reform (SSR) and EU engagement in the Sahel region.

In his keynote address, Niels Annen, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, stressed that the German engagement in stabilization and conflict resolution always “requires a close link to civil society and academia, both in Germany and in the countries affected by armed conflict.” He named the climate crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as important challenges and stated that Germany is on an ambitious journey during its current EU Council Presidency. Minister of State Annen invited all participants to “be members of the Advisory Board for one day and to be open and critical.”

The Way Crises Are Perceived Shapes Prevention Efforts

The first panel put the spotlight on the Sahel region. The panel’s facilitator, Dr. Astrid Irrgang, Deputy Director of the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), pointed out that the Sahel is a region with multiple crises, and how insights from these conflicts can shape both German and European approaches.

Dr. Gilles Yabi, Director of the think tank Citoyen de l’Afrique de ‘Ouest, stressed a historical perspective. The simultaneous processes of state building, the creation of political systems and of economies have to be taken into account. 90 Billion US-Dollar of illicit financial flows generated in natural resource exploitation are leaving the continent every year. On the perception of migration, he noted that most migration still occurs within Africa. Countries such as Mali or Senegal have a long history and tradition of migration, where it is a key provider for the economy. Yabi explained that the political dimension of the question will be hard to change and needs a political debate within Europe.

According to Maria Klatte, Head of the Africa Department at Misereor in Germany, inclusive and open dialogue with local actors is the key for successful crisis prevention. One way for Germany and the EU to support the potentials of already existing local and regional civil society movements by youth, religious leaders, and women, is to institutionalize their participation.

Dr. Chukwuemeka Eze, Director of the West African Network for Peacebuilding, stressed the intertwining conflicts and the multitude of actors with different strategies, objectives, and priorities in the Sahel. It is necessary to create a shared understanding of those crises. The EU’s Sahel strategy needs to look for long-term stabilization and peacebuilding with a range of at least ten years. He advocated for conditioned support from the EU. If all countries in the Sahel have long-term development strategies, then the EU can support the growth of national state institutions, assist in creating a sustainable architecture of peace, and support the legislative sector, the diversification of economies, as well as the reduction of corruption.

Walter Bartsch, Head of EUCAP Sahel’s Field Office in Agadez, focused on perspectives from Niger and mentioned the gap between providing long-term strategic advice and achieving quick impact to maintain the people’s support for international missions.  According to Bartsch, it is key to integrate all countries in the Sahel into one regional approach.

All panelists agreed that a focus on bilateral cooperation and central state approaches without the inclusion of civil society will not work.    

Comprehensive Approaches to Weapons’ Control Lead the Way to Success  

The first panel was followed by five workshops in parallel sessions. In the first workshop “Irregular Armed Groups – Privatization of Security”, the four panelists Albrecht von Wittke (Head of Division OR10 at the Federal Foreign Office), Claudio Gramizzi (Conflict Armament Research), Frederick Ampiah (Partnerships and Compliance Advisor for UNDP Liberia) and David Lochhead (Senior Researcher at the Small Arms Survey) discussed the topic with moderator and member of the Advisory Board Professor Andreas Heinemann-Grüder (Bonn International Center for Conversion).

To stimulate the discussion, research findings on the flow and transfer of small arms and light weapons in the Sahel region were presented. The panelists proposed a comprehensive approach beyond pure stockpile management that includes the judiciary, governors, parliament, local communities, and civil society organizations. They also highlighted the need for the creation of a regional roadmap for small arms and light weapons control in cooperation with ECOWAS member states, implementing partners, and international donors. They named several key elements for the success of such a roadmap: a long-term perspective, the ECOWAS member states’ ownership, the improvement of legislative frameworks, risk assessments, awareness raising, and the involvement of civil society. Finally, the discussion focused on the regulation of state-linked militias: the solution lies in absorbing them into regular, formalized structures and providing members with alternative options to secure their livelihood. Similar approaches in the Niger Delta and other places have proven to be quite successful and the lessons learned there should be taken into account.

Science- and Fact-Based Governance Is Necessary to Address Non-Traditional Security Threats

Dr. Kira Vinke facilitated the second workshop: “Non-Traditional Security Threats: Pandemics and Climate Change”. The five panelists Dr. Susanne Dröge (German Institute for International and

Security Affairs, SWP), Ambassador Hinrich Thoelken (Director for Climate and Energy Policy and Digital Transformation at the Federal Foreign Office), Jennifer Tollmann (Policy Advisor, E3G), and René van Nes (Head of Division ISP.2 Conflict Prevention and Mediation Support, European External Action Service) took a look at the vulnerability of German and European economic and social systems when threatened by external global shocks. Non-traditional security threats are crosscutting issues and have a multiplier effect. The panelists stressed that all their variables and proxy indicators must be combined in an integrated approach, with policy coherence as a precondition, and embedded in German and European early warning systems.  

It was highlighted that the EU is leading the international debate on climate change but needs to increase its own early warning and preparation measures. The panelists emphasized the importance of interlinkages between different departments and ministries to develop political cohesion and to get all relevant actors on board. New approaches and additional efforts are necessary. These include, for example, the adoption of early warning mechanisms like the Preview Tool to better capture climate and health risks, an increase in finances and building capacities in environmental peacebuilding, mediation, the science-policy interface, and training personnel to address non-traditional security threats in the EU and UN systems. Furthermore, the panelists agreed that multiple non-traditional threats are already occurring simultaneously and need science- and fact-based governance. 

Strengthen Security Sector Reform by Enhancing Efficiency, Legitimacy and Focusing on Human Security 

Christoph Bongard (German Platform for Peaceful Conflict Management) facilitated the third workshop “Bringing More Harm than Peace? Safeguards and Operational Procedures for the European Peace Facility”. The three panelists Emily Knowles (Oxford Research Group), Dr. Olivier Guiryanan (Executive Director BUCOFORE), and Tjorven Bellmann (Commissioner for Security Policy at the Federal Foreign Office) discussed the new European Peace Facility, an off-budget fund that will allow the EU to supply security actors in unstable environments with arms and ammunition.

Participants agreed on the risks associated with military and security assistance programs. Such risks include the diversion of weapons, fostering corruption, human rights abuses by more effective yet unaccountable troops, as well as reinforcing corrupt systems of governance. These render safeguards and risk mitigation instruments all the more important. One speaker outlined how military assistance programs in the Sahel region and especially in the Chad reinforce systemic corruption and weaken the legitimacy of government security actors towards parliamentary control as well as civil society. The panelist fundamentally questioned how democratic security sector reform approaches could be successfully pursued in contexts where the entire governance system and the political economy of the state is built on the objectives of regime and elite protection and predatory behavior. According to one government representative involved in the still ongoing negotiations, the need to adopt safeguard mechanisms is widely shared among the EU member states, but different strategic cultures, varying experiences with the conduct of military assistance programs, and different constitutional prerequisites make it a challenging endeavor to find a compromise on the specifics of such safeguards. The participants also named concrete policy recommendations for successful European engagement in SSR and military assistance. Key aspects are a thorough context analysis, local ownership, a focus on efficacy, the legitimacy of local security actors and security government structures, as well as a clear focus on human security. Another requirement is the implementation of an integrated peacebuilding approach and coordination.  

Empower Civil Society to Implement a Forward-Looking Approach Vis-à-Vis Africa  

The fourth workshop took a look at scenarios for the future of the African continent: “The Future of Africa: Do Strategies respond to Challenges and Opportunities of the Continent?” Member of the Advisory Board Melanie Hauenstein (UNDP) facilitated the workshop. The panelists were Levinia Addae-Mensah (West Africa Network for Peacebuilding), Ambassador Robert Dölger (Director for Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel at the Federal Foreign Office), Dr. Jakkie Cilliers (Chairman of the ISS Board of Trustees and Head of African Futures and Innovation Team), and Dr. Annamarie Sehovic (University of Warwick).  

The discussion focused on lessons for the current COVID-19 pandemic that can be drawn from previous health crises, such as HIV or Ebola. A more institutional governance response in connection with a global and multinational response is needed, as pandemics do not stop at borders. To ensure the inclusion of minority groups, focus should be placed on human security rather than state security. The panelists identified key topics that have to be improved: investments in prevention, more civil society participation, more coordination and involvement of platforms, and increasing the role of women. They also put the spotlight on recent developments in Sudan and the German-Sudanese cooperation. The basis of these partnerships are the Africa policy guidelines and the federal government’s guidelines on preventing crises, resolving conflicts and building peace. The panelists advocated that the speed and effectiveness of the actions taken, and the involvement of women in particular should be increased. They described multiple reasons for the gap in average incomes between Africa and the rest of the world: demographic transition, a revolution in agriculture, getting Africa into manufacturing, and the impact of carbon emission. In conclusion, it can be said that a forward-looking approach with Africa requires an inclusive and integrated practice that empowers the local level, including civil society. A well-coordinated multilateral partnership that takes lessons of the past into account can support Africa’s potential.  

Focus on Local Perspectives, Politics, and Priorities  

The fifth workshop focused on “Policy Coherence for Peace in German and European Africa Policy” and was facilitated by two members of the Advisory Board: Dr. Melanie Coni-Zimmer (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt) and Ginger Schmitz (German Platform for Peaceful Conflict Management). Their discussion partners were Dr. Christine Hackenesch from the German Development Institute, Michael Keating, Executive Director of the European Institute for Peace, and Philipp Goldberg, Director of the FES Peace and Security Competence Centre in Dakar, Senegal.  

The discussion focused on the difficulties of formulating and implementing coherent policy responses to (violent) conflicts, in particular in the Sahel. First, the discussion about German Africa policy highlighted that different ministries and strategies have different approaches. These approaches often acknowledge that peace is a precondition for economic development but do not define sustainable peace as a main goal. While inter-ministerial coordination has intensified during the last years, it is not clear how this is implemented on the ground in conflict regions. Second, the level of European foreign policy was discussed, highlighting the difficulties of establishing a coherent approach of the EU and its 27 member states in Brussels and in conflict regions. The proposal by the German EU Presidency to develop an EU Consensus on Peacebuilding could help shape the EU’s and its member states’ objectives and engagement in peacebuilding and thereby help to improve policy coherence for peace. Thirdly, it was discussed how policy coherence for peace can be achieved on the ground in conflict regions, such as the Sahel. A key message from the workshop was that the EU is faced with a double challenge of addressing urgent short-term needs in the Sahel region while at the same time needing to invest in strategic long-term thinking on crisis prevention. It is not only important to improve coordination and cooperation between donors but peacebuilding strategies also need to be based on a thorough analysis and should display local ownership. It is therefore of utmost importance to include local perceptions and to involve local civil society. The latter is a persistent challenge for the EU and its member states.  

Invest in Context and Conflict Analysis, Knowledge Management, and Joint Learning  

Andrew Gilmour, Executive Director of the Berghof Foundation and facilitator of the final panel, pointed to the tensions between the countries of the Western Alliance, the paralysis in the United Nations Security Council, and the weakness in some major countries’ leadership, which regard the EU as a threat, whereas for many others the EU is „the last hope“. Germany’s role within the EU is crucial in enabling the union to play a more vital role in crises prevention and peacebuilding. No other organization can provide the necessary tools, funds, and expertise like the EU.  

Christine Toetzke (Acting Director General at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) stated that a big portion of EU funds is already going to fragile states and is slowing down crisis aggravating trends. She named two important documents on the EU level that are going to frame the development cooperation for the next years: The EU Consensus on Development, including a strong chapter on peacebuilding, and the Post-Cotonou-Agreement. Stefano Tomat (Director for Security and Peace at the European External Action Service) focused on elements of conflict prevention that will play a bigger role in the future: the whole conflict cycle with a focus on the early action system and supporting dialogue. He stated that “the EU is currently a key mediator in the world” and for example involved in negotiations in Iran, Libya, and Yemen. It also works as a silent mediator in multiple other conflict settings. Ottmar von Holtz (Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Civil Crisis Prevention, Conflict Management and Comprehensive Action of the German Bundestag) agreed and added that the EU needs to improve visibility of where it is involved and where it is spending its money. He also listed short project cycles as a burden for many peace projects. Lastly, Ottmar von Holtz advocated for an institutional reform within the European Union to strengthen civil society involvement in decision-making processes, and an increase of “the documentation of experiences from the ground”. Sonja Reines-Djivanides (Executive Director, European Peacebuilding Liaison Office) added that evaluations must include gender analyses, knowledge management, and an evaluation of the EU’s actions. Furthermore, she stressed that other policy areas need to be included: “trade negotiations are also a key part of peacebuilding and conflict prevention.” Michelle Ndiaye (Former Head of Secretariat, TANA Forum) discussed how the EU can take the lead in a new framing of security, away from state security towards a focus on human security and the creation of a new security paradigm. New strategies need to be put in place in order to continuously adapt existing tools, mechanisms, and knowledge that civil society and other actors generate on the ground.  

In their concluding remarks, Dr. Kira Vinke and Bodo von Borries stressed the objective to develop a future EU political consensus and strategy on peacebuilding. They advise for a continuous formal consultation with civil society actors in preparing this consensus as well as for the future EU-AU-Strategy to be agreed on before the AU-EU-Summit in 2021.

Politikkohärenz Krisenprävention Sahel

Advisory Board to the Federal Government for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding

The Advisory Board for Civilian Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding pools civil society and academic expertise on crisis prevention and peacebuilding and advises the work of the Federal Government. Please contact Laura Berger, coordinator of the Advisory Board, if you have any questions: