On the surface it had all the trappings of a gathering of current and former heads of state: Legions of presidential bodyguards speaking into their sleeves, electronic security at every entrance, rooftop snipers, road closures and a small army of waiters serving snacks and coffee on the banks of Ethiopia’s Lake Tana.
To the casual observer it was indistinguishable from any meeting of African Union (AU) luminaries, but at the opening session of the inaugural 14-15 April Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, chaired by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, it became apparent diplomatic protocols were to be dispensed with: In an act of pure theatre Obasanjo removed his formal traditional robe to highlight the intent of informality.
The Tana conference, coordinated by Addis Ababa University’s Institute for Peace and Security Studies, borrowed elements from the Munich Security Conference founded by German publisher Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, who recognized diplomatic protocol can often stymie debate.
Oliver Rolofs, spokesperson for the Munich conference, told IRIN the meeting provides an “open forum and free discussion” and acts as a “catalyst” for security issues providing fresh ideas and insights for when participants return to the niceties and strictures of diplomacy.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in his welcoming speech to the delegates acknowledged he had been influenced by the style of the German conference and hoped for more of the same at the Tana gathering.
A soft approach
The architecture of Africa’s peace and security structures since the launch of the AU in 2002 and the subsequent May 2004 ratification of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) endowed the continent with a comprehensive security armoury allowing for intervention in states to resolve or prevent conflicts, using such instruments as the yet-to-be-constituted African Standby Force (ASF) and the Panel of the Wise – an AU five-member consultative body drawn from the continent’s five geographical regions, to provide views and opinions for conflict prevention and resolution.
A delegate at the Tana conference lauded the AU’s peace and security structures, but noted these were rigid and “hard”, that did not allow for a “soft” approach to the issues, and the Tana conference was envisaged to provide such a layer of interaction, where there was equal access to debate for presidents, ambassadors, academics, activists and AU officials.
Source: IRIN News – 20 April 2012