“Civil society must take things in hand to make itself heard within the Africa-EU partnership”
Emmanuel Bombande, you were at the second Africa-Europe Civil Society Forum in Brussels How do you see the Forum’s role?
The human dimension must be at the heart of Africa-EU relations. I do not see how you can speak of partnership if you fail to include a key partner such as civil society that represents men and women from both continents.
In Africa, the role of civil society is recognised through the ECOSOCC, the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union. But the proposals to eliminate the expert groups, as well as the only other JAES joint bodies in which civil society has the opportunity to be active, threaten to marginalise us. I believe that, rather than sitting with arms folded waiting for politicians to grant it a space, civil society must itself get organised to make its voice heard and ensure that the benefits it can offer to the Africa-EU Partnership in terms of expertise and knowledge of the field are clearly understood.
What, specifically, could be the role of the CSOs within the JAES?
Let me give you one example. This week, the 15 ECOWAS Member States met in Abidjan to discuss early warning systems for conflict prevention. A preventive framework already exists at the regional level and it is now a matter of creating them at the national level. Civil society is participating in this work and my organisation, WANEP, is contributing its field expertise. Our role is not therefore limited to giving our opinion once the decisions have been made by the political leaders. We are involved from the outset in developing a project and we ensure that the people concerned are heard. That is what makes the difference.
What do you think of the proposal to merge the Partnership on peace and security with the Partnership on democracy, governance and human rights?
I do not support such a merger, even if there are clear connections between the two. We must be very clear about our priorities. Today the need is to face new dangers such as fundamentalist extremism. We must concentrate 100% on this threat to peace and security and not mix everything up. That does not mean we cannot strengthen the links with the Partnership on democracy and governance.
Do you agree with those who say that peace and security is one of the eight Africa-EU thematic partnerships that has achieved the most success?
I share this opinion. The EU has invested a great deal to support Africa in its military responses, in terms of capacities, logistics and funding peacekeeping missions. But this money was used for military responses after a crisis had erupted and not to prevent it. There is a need for permanent actions to encourage dialogue within populations and to prevent young people from becoming extremists. That is what should have been done in Mali, for example, to stop the crisis from degenerating. What we must do at all costs is invest in crisis prevention and the objective of human security.
You cannot expect everything from governments. Civil society plays an essential role in prevention and peace education. WANEP and others have worked a great deal with women who go to markets. One of them, in Monrovia, told me that she had in the past seen youngsters buy cigarettes not by the packet but by the carton, and sugar in bags of 10 or 20 kg. That was a signal that war was being prepared. Women have an essential role in prevention. Within the Partnership on peace and security the CSOs can help draw up peace education programmes with young people and students and mechanisms designed to defuse conflict situations.
Have you already had the opportunity to share your experiences in the framework of the Africa-EU Partnership?
One day we were informed that a European Commission delegation was coming to Bamako to meet the Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Committee. WANEP was able to have contacts with the European delegation and they appreciated our work. We should see more exchanges of this kind.