Solving Africa’s Security Challenges the Tana Way

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Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia welcoming participants

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African Leaders discusses and proffer solutions to security challenges facing Africa at the just ended two-day Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

| By Maureen Chigbo, reporting from Ethiopia |

THE 5th Tana High Level Forum on Security in Africa may have come and gone but its echos will continue to resound in the continent. This must be especially so in the hearts and minds of hundreds of participants who attended the two-day event which ended on April 17, in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. The forum with the theme: “Africa in the Global Security Agenda” provided the participants opportunity to know the current state of security challenges in countries in Africa, rob minds and proffer solutions to them.

Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, set stage for discussion of the security issues in Africa when he gave the background that led to the formation of Tana and what it stands for. According to him, when the idea of Tana Forum was conceived five years ago, the purpose was to provide a unique, neutral and informal setting for serious discussions among African leaders, opinion makers, change agents, academics, practitioners and partners on African security challenges with a view to forge African solutions to African problems. “We are now on our fifth annual event. The growing attendance and diversity of participants demonstrates the growing recognition of the Tana Forum. Thanks to your unwavering support and immense contributions, Tana Forum has become an invaluable platform for the exchange of views, best experiences and innovative approaches to the fast changing security challenges facing our continent and the global community,” Desalegn said.

He is of the view that no single challenge in Africa can be considered an only African one. In its impacts or underlying causes or implementation of proposed solutions, every challenge in Africa, in one way or another, involves, implicates or requires non-African actors. “The truth is that we are living in an increasingly interconnected and complex world, where apparently isolated and small problems will have global and non-linear consequences; where effective solutions require active collaboration of nations and stakeholders.

“What ‘African solutions’ means is two things principally. First, information about problems, causes and solutions ought to be primarily collected and analysed by those who understand the African context. Collection and analysis of information is not necessarily an objective exercise. It is influenced by the particular frame of reference and embodied values of whoever is undertaking this exercise. In addition, intimate and deeper local knowledge is required for effective design of solutions”.

Obasanjo and Thambo Mbeki
Obasanjo and Thambo Mbeki

Secondly, he said the quality of delivering institutions is as important as the quality of the diagnosis and prognosis. “African institutions’ have to be the principal ones that should be entrusted with the responsibility to deliver. The colonial powers characterised informal governing institutions in Africa as backward and barbaric. They undertook massive efforts to install formal institutions of governance, informed by their own experience and knowledge. Formal institutions were superimposed on informal institutions, without acknowledging the latter. It later became painfully clear that these exercises were not only ineffective but also counterproductive,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that the good thing is that we have started the complementary design and use of formal and informal institutions in many areas. When it comes to peace and security, the experience is limited at best.

The notion of ‘African solutions’ is not limited to continental and regional processes and institutions. It also includes national institutions. “If we cannot first develop and implement Ethiopian, Nigerian, Egyptian, Kenyan, Rwandese solutions and institutions, how come we expect to develop and deploy African solutions and institutions?” he asked.

Agreeing that it is important to devise African solutions to African security issues, Prof. Andreas Eshete, special advisor to the prime minister of Ethiopia and deputy chairperson of the Tana Forum Board, in his presentation on “The Spirit of Tana” narrated how in 2010, a few African leader came to the not-so surprising realisation to explore alternative — but complementary spaces for frank, relevant, candid, unencumbered and vigorous dialogue devoid of the unwholesome niceties are typically associated with formal gatherings of inter-governmental and multilateral institutions. At the avant garde of this quest was the much younger, but no less determined, Meles Zenawi, late prime minister of Ethiopia. According to him, Meles was cognizant of the popular saying that you can only go far if you go together and recognized that bringing such a grand idea to fruition is bigger than- and should therefore outlive- him. This was perhaps the impetus that led him to turn to someone much older, almost by twice his age, but with uncommon pedigree as well as encyclopedic understanding of Africa: at various times, ex-Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo. “It is gratifying to report that this event has, in total, attracted almost two scores of serving, and former, Heads of States all of whom share the same vision and fervent commitment to the ideals of Tana in its myriad ramifications. In their own unique ways, each of the Heads of States- former and currently serving; especially those that accepted to serve on the Board of the Tana Forum, have demonstrated that they have imbibed the Spirit of Tana. It is my wish that they would continue to pass on the touch to their colleagues, and other illustrious sons and daughters of Africa in due course,” Eshete said. He emphaised the key attributes of Tana Forum of inclusivity, collectivity and ‘collegiacy’, adding that those who nurtured Tana must be hugely proud- perhaps even surprised- that it has now metamorphosed into a vibrant and veritable platform for informal- but no less timely deliberations on the most pressing peace and security challenges we face as a continent. Giving some insights into how the Tana Forum has become like a baobab tree that cannot be hugged by one person but by a collective, he said no single person has a monopoly of knowledge and that’s why Tana has become THE PLACE to air a wide range of contrasting viewpoints: from the mundane to the mainstream and discordant, and to the sometimes alternative or deviant. The only common denominator is that these viewpoints are genuinely expressed, and within the remit of securing the much-desired unity of purpose to better set the agenda for the socio-economic and political emancipation of Africa and its peoples. Thus, whether in terms of attracting distinguished participants from all walks life; the choice of the nagging issue to be debated in an informal setting; the conscious decisions to accommodate a diversity of voices that would otherwise be excluded, or even the preference for inter-generational conversations, the sole raison d’etre of the Tana Forum is be a place for frank, immersive, real-world and real-time debate placing premium on African-inspired and African-led solutions. Because no one is excluded on the basis of any of those yardsticks typically used to divide us, Tana has become an umbrella under which every participant can enjoy immunity in expressing their opinion or taking a controversial stance, he said.

According to him, “There is no need to belabor the point that Africa urgently needs- and should delineate for itself- a space where it can tell its story; by itself, for itself, but also for others to listen. For too long, the African agency have been muffled, undermined or completely ignored in the international arena; including on those issues with direct and adverse effect the continent and its citizens.

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