ARMED: A Malian soldier sits in a Malian army pickup truck mounted with a machine gun in the town of Diabaly on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS
ARMED: A Malian soldier sits in a Malian army pickup truck mounted with a machine gun in the town of Diabaly on Saturday. Picture: REUTERS

DESPITE impressive economic growth and political progress in many parts of Africa, the new year has begun with three cases of instability: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Central African Republic. Three key subregions — the Great Lakes, West Africa, and Central Africa — could thus be plunged into eruptions that could spread their deadly lava across borders.

If Africans are to establish what Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui described as a Pax Africana, it will be important to address the domestic, regional, and external dimensions of this instability.

The first challenge is the fragility of many African states. The fact that fewer than 350 rebels could start civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the early 1990s exposed the absence of leviathans able to monopolise the use of legitimate force over their territories. The roots of many of these conflicts lay in poor governance as well as meddling by other countries. These morbid symptoms are still present in these three cases. Governments are, in effect, unable to govern, while their legitimacy remains threadbare.

Assorted groups have filled the vacuum. In the Congo, the M23 rebel group temporarily took over the mineral-rich eastern city of Goma before Uganda mediated a withdrawal. In northern Mali, al-Qaeda-linked militants have made common cause with Tuareg irredentists. In Central African Republic, a motley crew of rebels is challenging the autocratic rule of Francois Bozizé, who acquired power by force in 2003.

At the regional level, the African Union (AU) and Africa’s subregional bodies are still struggling to establish an African Standby Force to quell local conflict. In the recent conflicts, the Southern African Development Community agreed to deploy 4,000 troops to eastern Congo to calm the situation. Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger are deploying troops as part of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali’s efforts to retake northern Mali from Islamist rebels. In mineral-rich Central African Republic, troops from Chad, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon were deployed to assist the Bozizé regime.

Further afield, Nigeria led an Economic Community of West African States mission to stabilise the tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau last year. Ethiopia continues to provide the backbone of a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s Abyei region, while Uganda, Burundi, and Kenya form the core of an AU mission seeking to stabilise Somalia.

But the real powers behind some of these African thrones appear to be external actors. France has often acted like a pyromaniac fireman in Africa, propping up or deposing assorted autocrats. It is thus ironic that it has taken the lead in deploying troops to Mali. Although the French presence could help to stabilise the situation, the return of this discredited gendarme underlines the weakness of Pax Africana. A better solution would be to support UN — rather than French-led — interventions in Africa; the world body has deployed about 70,000 troops to seven African territories.

Concrete actions are required to end these conflicts. African governments must observe rules of democratic governance as a condition for obtaining regional and external support. The capacity of well-governed states to provide social services to their citizens and to extend state authority throughout their territory should then be supported by the international community.

Regionally, Africa’s rapid-reaction capability must be urgently strengthened through the African Standby Force. African peacekeepers must be provided with logistical and financial resources if such missions are to succeed. An effective division of labour must also be established between the UN and Africa’s fledgling security organisations.

African-led peacekeeping missions must be taken over by the UN after six months to ensure that the burden of these international conflicts is more equitably shared. To end the current system of mostly African and Asian UN peacekeepers being deployed to the continent, more medium-sized western countries must also contribute troops.

Finally, since in nearly half of the post-Cold War cases, war-torn countries have relapsed into conflict within five years as a result of inadequate peace-building, the international community must urgently provide the resources needed for post-conflict activities, particularly restructuring national armies and disarming and demobilising fighters. Countries such as Liberia, the Congo, Burundi, and South Sudan should be more generously supported by a frugal donor community, as has been done in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.

If these tasks remain unfulfilled and a "fire brigade" approach to tackling conflicts persists, the elusive quest for Pax Africana will continue.

• Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town and author of UN Peacekeeping in Africa.