October 7, 2015

Consolidating Peace in Africa: Role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission
By Amb. Ejeviome Eloho Otobo

Review by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze

AmbassadorEjeviome Eloho Otobo’s Consolidating Peace in Africa: Role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission is a very informative and important bookthat examines the genesis, evolution, prospects and challenges of theU.N. Peacebuilding Commission. The book delves broadly into different facets of the conceptualization, history, theory and practice of peacebuilding, and particularly, the past, present and future role and challenges of the Peacebuilding Commission. Its publication coincides propitiously with the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations and therefore, will add fillip to various anniversary assessments of the Organization and its work.

This book is also important given its pioneering bent and the relevance of the Peacebuilding Commission as a critical component of the United Nations peacemaking mosaic. My task as a reviewer is simplified, and perhaps so, for two reasons. First, the book is written in a reader-friendly style and palatable language. Second, I am fairly familiar with the subject-matter; and more so with the author, a longtime friend and Foreign Service and U.N. colleague. I suspect I was asked to serve as the reviewer because he knows that while I will be gracious, I will also be brutally frank in my assessment. Let me first dispense with the mundane. Consolidating Peace in Africa: Role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commissionis a 246-pages and seven-chapter paperback published by AMV Publishing Services in June 2015. It is 6 x 9 inches in dimension, weighs 12.6 ounces and is presently ranked #1,208 on Amazon’s best seller’s book in the Politics and Social Sciences and Politics and Government genre.

As readers will glean from itsintroduction, this book in its narrative and substance, strings together various advisory, evaluation and strategic policy papers by the author, who was the pioneer Director and Deputy Head of the U.N. Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO). That he is well-placed to add fillip to growing popularity, acceptability and relevance of Peacebuilding, is a given. However, this book is strictly about the Peacebuilding Commission – the arrowhead body supported by the PBSO, which also oversee the U.N. Peacebuilding Fund and policies(p36).

One may ask, why the fixation with the Peacebuilding Commission. I can hazard a guess. It is near impossible to discuss the accomplishments and shortcomings of the U.N., now in its 70th year, without discussing peacebuilding and the role of the Peacebuilding Commission. After all, peacebuilding is the direct result of United Nations unending search for credible alternative ways of delivering sustainable peace dividends to our global community. Otobo affirms this point vividly as he recalls the analysis and identification of a critical institutional gap and the conclusion by a UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change that “…There is no place in the U.N. system explicitly designed to avoid State collapse and the slide to war or to assist countries in their transition from war to peace” (p.115). Thus, the panel recommended the creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, with its remit being, “to assist in the planning for transitions between conflict and postconflict peacebuilding; and in particular sustain the efforts of the international community in post conflict peacebuilding over whatever period maybe necessary”(p.115). The goal and mission of the PBC seems certain and clear. But as the author tells us early in the book, evidently from empirical analysis and lessons learned, “Post-Conflict peacebuilding is a complex and painstaking process with results not showing up in the short run” (p.28).

As readers can gleanfrom this work, post-conflict peacebuilding as a multilateral diplomatic discipline and framework is fairly new and draws its impetus from the 2005 U.N. Summit. It also draws on United Nations’ long history of peacekeeping worldwide and particularly in Africa. But the critical reality is that in all the U.N. has done in Africa, there remained a lacuna; a troubling gaping hole, in that institutionally, “no part of the United Nations system effectively addressed the challenge of helping countries with the transition from war to peace.” It is this lacuna that made the creation of the PBC imperative. Yet we are informed of the effort to “avoid giving a global role to the PBC- a role that that the Security Council already performs” (p.97)

Despite its broad value Consolidating Peace in Africa: Role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commissionstands on two vital pedestals; the book is in context and substance historical and analytical. The author, true to his erudite sagacity, proves himself a worthy raconteur of the subject matter, for which his knowledge and authority remains unquestionable.

This book is compartmentalized into seven chapters dedicated respectively to the role of the Peace Building Commission in the following context:1)The New Peacebuilding Architecture: An Institutional Innovation of the United Nations;2)A United Nations Architecture to Build Peace in Post-Conflict Situations;3)The United Nations Peacebuilding Architecture: African Countries as Early Beneficiaries;4)Leading the Peacebuilding Commission: An Institutional History In the Making;5)Facts, Fictions, and Frustrations with the Functioning of the Peacebuilding Commission;6)Reflections on three Important Questions Concerning the Performance of the Peacebuilding Commission; and 7)The Centrality and Challenges of Institution Building in Peacebuilding.

The fact that Chapter 5 is devoted solely to “facts, fictions and frustrations with the functioning of the Peacebuilding Commission”, is a bold and frank acknowledgement that peacebuilding is not all about successes and flourishes. Indeed, we are informed that there were also issues of the personalities, style and idiosyncrasies of the various Chairs of the PCB Country Configuration, which the author characterized as “pushing the envelope” (p.60). Naturally, some Chairpersons were more proactive or even more insufferable than others. Such blunt acknowledgement of mixed results, ties in with the concrete fact that in U.N.’s seventy years of existence, the world has managed with its help, to avoid a catastrophic third world war, but has also witnessed over 150 inter-state and intra-state conflicts, several of which were subject to the peacebuilding regime. Indeed, U.N.’s peacebuilding activities validates Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold’s now famous maxim: “The U.N. was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.”

The history of peacebuilding as an integral building block in the United Nation’s operational mosaic will endure. As Otobo rightly observed, though the peacebuilding architecture is just merely a decade old in 2015, and while it may be too soon to appreciate the full impact of peacebuilding as a collective security tool, the span of ten years “is enough time to make an informed assessment of the progress made and the challenges encountered by any institution” [p.197]. This work is a key pillar in that assessment process. Accordingly, while Amb. Otobo underlines in several instances, that peacebuilding is not perfect and does not provide comprehensive strategies for post-conflict peace consolidation, he provideson balance,concrete evidence that peacebuilding thrives despite its limited remit, and that its strategies have helped in producing salutary, cost-effective and sustainable peace dividends in places like Burundi, Central African Republic, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Other subsequent beneficiaries from the so-called emergency window include, Haiti, Liberia, Guinea-Conakry, Kenya, Nepal and Cote d’ Ivoire.

In writing this book and clearly from an insider’s perspective, Ambassador Otobo has acquitted himself creditably. Most importantly, he offers to policymakers, scholars and students,an unvarnished insight to the inner workings of the United Nations at a time when traditional peacekeeping had comeunder severe scrutiny; and was indeed, being accessed by some as having failed oras having unwittingly become the instrument of the powerful members of the United Nations. This book offers additional critical insight to scholars and observers, who need to tackle the basic, yet universal challenge, commonplace in every country emerging from conflict; the challenge of institution-building and reconciliatory nation-building in a post conflict environment. Undoubtedly, the resort to the institutionalization of peacebuilding was adaptive; it shifted the focus of U.N.’s overall peacemaking modalities away from the use of peacekeeping and peace enforcement to the use of ‘smart’ and ‘soft’ power via peacebuilding blocks. After all, peacebuilding was meant to forestall recidivism to violent conflict. Ironically, the author notes that the Peacebuilding Commission was expected to support targeted interventions aimed at reconstruction and recovery, but not to be involved in development (p.137).

Consolidating Peace in Africa: Role of the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission, adds to the expansive body of historical and analytical work on U.N.’s role in the pacific settlement of dispute, peacemaking, peacekeeping peace enforcement and peace support. Indeed, this book which is about the novel, but real world of peacebuilding, delivers with spirited candour a sweeping overview of peacebuilding, and the Peacebuilding Commission meant to chaperon the process and tangentially, the sufficiency and limitations of the Peace Building Support Office, as the main support organ. The collective policy and institutional challenges faced by these entities, as it relates to institutional turf fights, expectations and frustrations are brought to the fore. Past, present and future values and challenges as well as the caveats are well documented.Collectively, these repeated encounters with obvious PBC hamstrings and uncertainties remain a cause for concern.

As we are informed, “the Peacebuilding Commission was not designed to provide early warning for impending conflicts nor to dissuade countries from resorting to war; but rather, it was designed to ensure that countries under its watch achieve sustainable peace and do not relapse into conflict”(p.28). Indeed, the last chapter of this book is perhaps the most important, since it examines the “centrality and challenges of institution building and peacebuilding.” Therein, we are told that the U.N. Secretary-General in his “No Exit Without Strategy” report, defined the aim of peacebuilding as building “the social, economic and political institutions and attitude that will prevent the inevitable conflicts that every society generates from turning into violent conflicts”(p.164). That this important role had to be fulfilled within a defined ambit is equally troubling.

Nonetheless, the strength and value of this book is that it does not varnish or dodge controversial policy issues or for that matter, institutional shortcomings. It is also gratifying, that this book does not falter on subjectivity or succumb to introspective-institution-validation-malaise, arising from author’s close association with the Peacebuilding Commission. An added vim to the value of this book is the shared knowledge — especially amongst those associated with the U.N. during the formative years of the peacebuilding architecture –that the actualization of the mission of the Peacebuilding Commission was very difficult. It is common knowledge that there was resistance from different quarters: from those who were obligated to provide the funding;from those who saw peacebuilding as an erosion of the credibility and utility of peacekeeping and peace enforcement; from development partners, who feared Peacebuilding Commission’susurper mode and shift of ODA funds to peacebuilding,and from some in Africa, who despite the potentials of peacebuilding, did not wish to countenance the recolonization of Africa under a different yokeor whatever pretext, peacebuilding included. As it were, peacebuilding seemed unequivocally custom-made for African countries with Burundi, the Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone, as the early beneficiaries. Yet, it was through the Peacebuilding Commission that the U.N. found the concrete means of exiting safely from itsvarious peacekeeping missions, without being unduly worriedabout relapses.

Those already familiar with the content and value of this work are full of its praises. The commendations are sweepingly positive, with a flourish of adjectival qualifications. The author’s vantage position as a “prime insider witness”, “consummate insider” who offers an “insider perspective” is well acknowledged and thus, anchor and amplify related views that this book, which “is one of the earliest and most detailed studies of the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission”and “authored by one of the most knowledgeable experts on the subject” is “enlightening and a powerful narrative”. This book will for long serve as a reference material on peacebuilding. It goes well beyond being a swath, blurb or footnote on the subject matter.

Accordingly, it will suffice that I should lend my voice and join those who have already acclaimed this work for elucidating the ways and means peacebuilding was conceived, developed and evolved as well as the halting experiences, limitations and challenges faced by the Peacebuilding Commission,some of which persist till this day. These challenges notwithstanding, we should all be grateful for this very important work, its purposes and merits. This book belongs in the library of every U.N. observer, scholar, student and members of the global attentive public, and I so recommend. Finally, we must thank the author, Ambassador Eloho Otobo for this intellectual and historical enterprise, and for allowing us the privilege of being part of this noble endeavour. We should also congratulate him for a job well done. I thank you for your kind attention.

"Obaze is a public policy adviser and the immediate-past Secretary to the Anambra State Government, Nigeria"


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