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Dr. Monde Muyangwa is an expert on conflict resolution and peacebuilding in Africa, democracy and governance, gender, US foreign policy, and the African Union. She currently serves as the director of the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center where she leads programs designed to analyze and offer effective, practical solutions to Africa’s most pressing current and future issues. Among these initiatives is the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding, a consortium of research and policy organizations from across Africa which aims to foster local knowledge production and dialogue, and to increase the visibility of African perspectives on peacebuilding within the U.S. policy arena. To make peacebuilding policies sustainable, she argues, “you have to listen to…and incorporate African knowledge.”
Prior to joining the Wilson Center, she served as Academic Dean at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University for 11 years. She also worked as the Director of Research and then Vice President for Research and Policy at the National Summit of Africa as well as Director of International Education Programs at New Mexico Highlands University. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees at Freedom House and previously served on the Advisory Council of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, a project of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
Dr. Muyangwa joined us for a wide-ranging conversation about her current projects and the field of African peacebuilding in general, including the changing nature of insecurity in Africa “both in scale and nuance,” the need for comprehensive peacebuilding frameworks on the continent as opposed to focusing primarily on conflict management, developing peacebuilding partnerships that are African-driven in terms of resources and agenda-setting, the gap between academic knowledge and policymaking, and the role of leadership and good governance in development.
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Mwangi Thuita: Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Monde Muyangwa. So, given your experience in high-level policy and research circles—you’ve been an academic dean, a professor, a research director, vice president for research and policy at the National Summit on Africa, and currently, a program director among other things—what have you found to be the main challenges in building productive partnerships to support peacebuilding and development in Africa?
Dr. Monde Muyangwa: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me, I’m looking forward to this conversation today.
I think, for me, the question about challenges to partnerships in peacebuilding and development is very broad and there’s a lot one can talk about, so I want to narrow it down to just the peacebuilding element.
I think one of the challenges to peacebuilding in Africa is the changing nature of insecurity in Africa itself, which keeps morphing. So it’s very difficult to keep up with the nature of insecurity, both in scale and nuance. The partnerships, in some way, have tended to lag behind that evolution of insecurity in Africa.
I think a second dimension of it that I would focus on is what I see as the lack of comprehensive peacebuilding frameworks on the African continent. In many ways, the peacebuilding frameworks that we have tend to privilege the conflict management aspect of it and not so much the peacebuilding dimensions of it. Because you have to look at peacebuilding as a continuum, right? And, unfortunately, I think globally and even on the continent itself, the focus has been so much on conflict management. So the conflict management partnerships are strong but as you look across the continuum of peacebuilding itself I think you find that they’re weaker on other elements of peacebuilding.
And then I think many Africans would argue, and I would dare say that they’re correct, that most of the partnerships in terms of resources and agenda-setting have not been African-driven. And that those two dimensions have really been driven by outsiders—mostly the West—which has made it very challenging in terms of imbalance within the partnerships themselves. The partnerships are there but there is an imbalance when it comes to resources but also agenda setting that impacts, I think, the overall nature and texture of the partnerships around peacebuilding.
Mwangi: One of the Africa Program’s key initiatives is the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding, which seeks to foster dialogue and increase the visibility of African perspectives within the US policy arena with the goal of supporting the development of informed and mutually beneficial US-Africa policy. Why is it important to you that African scholars and practitioners play such a key role? And what influence do you hope the initiative will have on the field of peacebuilding knowledge and practice, especially as it relates to US-Africa relations?
Monde: Thank you. This is actually one of my favorite projects. I really think it’s a really, really important project and I thank Carnegie Corporation of New York for funding this project. For me, it’s important for several reasons.
First, I think that if peace is to be sustainable, it has to be locally owned. It cannot be driven from the outside. And what we have seen overall, as you look back over the years, is that in many cases African voices and African knowledge is missing from our approach to peace and peacebuilding. And so I think this project itself speaks directly to that gap. Which is why it’s really important that unless we can find a way of more effectively bringing African knowledge and African practical experience to peacebuilding in Africa, we’ll always be dealing with peacebuilding at a very superficial level. If we are to deepen peacebuilding and if we are to make it sustainable, you have to listen to African knowledge, you have to incorporate African knowledge and African approaches for it to be sustainable. So for me, this is a big part of why this project is important.
When you bring that local context that is driven by local knowledge and actors to peacebuilding, then you get to real peace. And so, this is why this is important from my perspective.
Mwangi: And Africa continues to be of great interest to the world’s current and emerging powers. Based on your experience working with policymakers and analysts here in the United States, how would you see the role of the U.S. in peacebuilding in Africa evolving vis-à-vis the shifting order and Africa’s readiness to engage with a wide range of emerging and established powers?
Monde: That’s a really important question but it is also a very difficult question. I think, traditionally, the United States has been the biggest contributor to UN peacekeeping, which is only one dimension of the larger peacebuilding continuum. And, in fact, the United States shouldered fully 28 percent of the United Nations peacekeeping budget.
Having said that, I think the Trump administration has talked about reforming UN peacekeeping, potentially closing down some peacekeeping missions and has been pushing hard for more equitable financial burden sharing when it comes to UN contributions, particularly in the peacebuilding- peacekeeping area. So, from a US perspective, I think the focus has been very heavy in terms of peacekeeping and not so much on the prevention or perhaps the peacebuilding elements of it.
Furthermore, the Trump administration has still to formally articulate its Africa policy. So it’s very difficult to see how this will shift. I know that USAID, which is also a key actor in terms of dealing with insecurity, poverty, and development and some dimensions of peacebuilding, is also revisiting how it does business. So it’s really difficult to tell at this point how this is going to play out over the long term.
Having said that, Africa has more partners now, as you rightly pointed out, beyond its traditional partners. Potentially, this provides more options for the African continent to engage the broader array of partners. So traditionally it’s been the former colonial masters—the Brits, the French. Well, mostly the Brits and French who’ve played a critical role in this space. But now we have more actors. The Chinese are there. Turkey is also flexing its muscles on the African continent. You have Brazil, Russia, you have India. So you have this broad array of partners.
Even though it presents more options, where you see these partners actually impacting the way Africa does business is in the development space. Actually, development and trade space. You see the role China is playing now in that space as far as infrastructure development, in terms of trade with Africa. You see the role that Turkey is playing, also trying to be a key actor, particularly in the Horn of Africa.
So in terms of trade and development, you see a very clear pattern of how this broad array of partners is impacting Africa. It’s still very difficult to tell how the increased options, the more partners Africa has, how that’s playing out in the peacebuilding field. And so, I think from my perspective, we’ll have to wait and see.
What you do see though, is that all of these partners have a very keen interest in security in Africa. We have seen more countries open up bases—military bases—on the African continent. We have seen more partners engage on the conflict management side, on the security management side in Africa. All of that inevitably will impact peace and peacebuilding in Africa. You just cannot tell how at this point. But it will have implications for the continent.
Mwangi: Given the success that you’ve had in your career, what advice would you offer to young Africans interested in pursuing a career in research and policy in the field of peace, security, and development?
Monde: I think the biggest piece of advice I would offer is—obviously pursue your interests from the academic viewpoint and make sure you get your academic credentials in that space.
Secondly, get some practical, on-the-ground experience, because for me, the knowledge—the academic knowledge—is important. But in many ways, you also have to seek out experience on the ground that enables you to really see the practice and the theory come together.
And then the third dimension, which I think we need to do more on is learning how to bridge the gap between academic theory and policy, which is another reason why I like the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding. And I see that as finding the opportunities to bridge that gap, both in terms of learning how to translate your academic knowledge so that it resonates with policymakers, so you can influence their thinking and influence policy. But it’s also about building relationships with policymakers so that you have those links into the policy world that would enable you to use your knowledge to impact policy.
And I think if we do those three things, you’ll be in a really good place, in terms of really having an impact in your career: one that’s based on solid academic knowledge; one that’s based on practical, on-the-ground experience; and one that understands and can connect with the policy world, in terms of what the issues of peace, security, and development mean to Africans.
Mwangi: There’s a prominent school of thought that identifies the reason for Africa’s persistent challenges, including conflict and poverty, as a failure of or lack of good leadership. What is your response to this theory?
Monde: That – That’s a tough one. Look, I think from my perspective, the issue is this: that leadership is but one component—a very important component—in terms of how Africa advances its development and deals with its challenges in the security and governance areas. It’s a key component. But let’s be very honest.
The baseline that colonialism left in Africa on the development front and governance models was a very, very poor one. And some countries, some leaders, have struggled with building on that baseline and transforming the governance models. Some countries have definitely struggled with that.
And so, yes, leadership is important but we also have to contextualize what is going on in the African continent in terms of where we were 60 years ago when many African countries gained their independence. I think that’s one key element.
The second element of that is—there are and there have been transformative leaders on the African continent who have shown that you can transform the colonial governance model. You can focus on the development of your people. And so, yes, leadership is key.
I think the continent has its fair share of bad leaders who continue to compromise the development prospects of their countries and of their citizens. Who continue to compromise those governance gains that we saw in the ’90s and the ’80s. And the reason for that is because, in many countries today, I would say, what you’re seeing on the continent is the desire for political leadership not in the interest of public service but in the interest of self-enrichment. And that’s a problem and that’s where that leadership deficit is really costing the continent and Africans in terms of development and security.
Self-enrichment, because what you also see is that certain countries are struggling with the issue of corruption. Now, corruption is not an African problem alone. It’s a global problem. But Africa is the continent, in my view, that can least afford it. It is a continent that struggles in the sense that it has the weakest mechanisms for checking corruption and punishing corruption. And so when you look at the cost of corruption to the continent, that’s where leadership comes in. In African countries that have been able to minimize corruption and to address it, it has been leadership engagement that has set the example—that has gone out and created an environment where corruption is not acceptable. And so, where leaders have taken the effort to wean out the corruption, it has really made a difference.
And I think the third area I would talk about is that where leaders have taken a leadership role in terms of inclusive governance, where they’ve taken a role of understanding that theirs is nation-building—in bringing people together and creating an environment in which your people can thrive and bring their best to the table. Those countries on the continent are doing well.
So yes, leadership does matter, but it’s not the only factor. It is an important factor though.
Mwangi: One thing that African Peacebuilding Network and the Wilson Center’s Africa program have in common is an emphasis on the importance of African research and expertise, and its integration into national, regional, and policy debates. How can we best bridge knowledge production about peacebuilding with policy and practice? What, in your view, constitutes some areas of opportunity or success models, based on your many years of working in both research and policy?
Monde: That’s a really good question. One of the things that I have seen over the years is there’s a gap between academic knowledge and policymaking. And so, bridging that gap as you rightly pointed out is so important. So, a few areas of focus that I would see.
One is training academics and practitioners in terms of how to translate their knowledge and their work into “policy-speak” so they can better engage with policymakers. You can produce the most thorough and credible academic knowledge. If you cannot get it into the hands of policymakers in a way that is easy for them to digest and to understand the “so-what” and the implications of policy, then you’re missing an opportunity.
So, I think training academics and practitioners to translate their work into policy-speak, for me, is a key issue.
Secondly, I think it’s about creating fora that facilitate the engagement between academics and practitioners with policymakers. So we’re creating a space on specific issues around peacebuilding and development that allows policymakers and academics and practitioners to engage on those issues and go deep into those issues to talk about how you can use policy to address those issues. So the creation of those fora, sustainable fora that provide for that engagement is key.
I think a third area I would focus on is—I think the academic institutions need to begin training and educating students on the policy dimensions, to do a much stronger job of that than they are currently doing. I know you have schools of public policy and all of that but I actually think you can do a better job of training young people, educating young people about how best to engage with policy.
And then a fourth dimension, for me, really has to do with what I see as the need for a paradigm shift. I see far too many African officials—government officials—who continue to privilege outside expertise rather than African knowledge and expertise. They would rather go hire a consultant from outside, often paying them lots and lots of money when you have African academics and others who are doing this work on the ground. So we do need that paradigm shift. I’m not saying just focus on African academics, but African academics and practitioners have a difficult time sometimes engaging with their own politicians and their own policymakers because their knowledge is not valued. And so, we need to create that paradigm shift where that knowledge is valued as much as, if not more, than the knowledge that comes from outside. And that, I think, would be very, very helpful.
Mwangi: And we already spoke about this a little before, about the changing nature of conflict in Africa. And so some of the main actors in the changing trajectories of conflict, peace and security that we see in Africa are highly mobile non-state actors whose activities threaten to outpace the capacities of governments and regional mechanisms to respond to these new and emerging threats. This calls for new thinking in form of policies that are nimble, flexible, and more impactful. How do you see the scenario unfolding before us and where do you think these innovative solutions for sustaining peace in Africa are going to come from?
Monde: You know that’s a question I think about a lot. You’re absolutely right about the changing nature of insecurity on the African continent and I see a number of things I think that we need to focus on to be able to keep pace and perhaps to even get ahead of this changing nature of insecurity on the African continent.
The first one is the one I raised in my earlier comments: that global frameworks for dealing with insecurity are very traditional and they’re so focused on the conflict management and traditional sense of it. So, if you look at the United Nations mechanisms, you look at the African Union’s mechanisms, and in many cases, the mechanisms of the regional economic communities, they’re still very centered on that traditional definition of conflict.
So you have frameworks that have been outpaced by the evolving nature of insecurity on the African continent. What do we need to do to make sure that these frameworks catch up to the insecurity as it’s playing out on the continent? I think that’s one dimension of it. And just to bring that home to you, I look at the African peace and security architecture. Absolutely a really important development on the African continent. It was one that was long overdue. The African continent has caught up to it. But—and they’ve actually put into this continental framework for dealing with peace and security issues on the continent.
But that framework still heavily privileges conflict management. That framework has not caught up to the issues that we are dealing with, whether you’re dealing with violent extremism, whether you’re dealing with the more localized elements of insecurity that continue to impact ordinary Africans in the villages across the continent. So we need to figure out how we, at the global level, at the African level, how we transform the frameworks that we have to be able to better deal with these issues.
The second issue for me has to do with the fact that I look across the African continent and I see so many African institutions and organizations that are working on various dimensions of security and insecurity in Africa. And yet, they don’t have the platforms—we haven’t brought them into the conflict resolution, conflict management, and peacebuilding frameworks in the way that I think we could and we should. There’s a lot of really good work going on in the African continent that I think needs to be better incorporated and utilized in the name of peacebuilding in Africa and I think we’re falling behind on that.
Again, the third area that I would talk about is looking at how we are educating young Africans in primary schools and secondary schools and universities about the issues of insecurity and peace on the African continent. I’ve visited a number of African countries, I look at the curricula that we have, and in many ways, it is outdated in terms of really understanding both how Africa is transforming when it comes to peace and insecurity but also understanding how the world is transforming and how Africa fits into and articulates on those issues.
So, I think those are just three areas I would point to in terms of where we could potentially focus to come up with a better result.
Mwangi: Dr. Muyangwa, thank you so much for joining us and sharing your brilliant insights.
Monde: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.