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China can help keep peace in growing Africa

By Ambassador Ochieng Adala, Jiang Hengkun and Paul Murphy (Global Times)

08:37, July 10, 2012

Although Africa has become, on the whole, a more peaceful continent in the past two decades, ongoing crises in Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and elsewhere demonstrate that insecurity continues to menace parts of the continent.

So it is welcome that matters of peace and security will receive significant attention in the upcoming Fifth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) high level ministerial conference in Beijing during July 19-20.

China has started to play a more active role promoting peace between Sudan and South Sudan, and discussions at FOCAC could build on this to explore how in the future China can lend its support to the African Union and other African actors who are trying to deal with crises but often lack the necessary leverage over the parties involved in the conflict.

There are millions of illicit small arms and light weapons in circulation across Africa, and many groups have easy access. As a major arms supplier, China has already made concrete commitments to combat illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in Africa, but progress on the ground has been limited.

The fifth FOCAC meeting presents an opportunity to push things forward. For example, China could commit financial and technical assistance for the implementation of existing regional, sub-regional and national initiatives.

China's win-win approach to economic development has been welcomed across the continent and provided benefits, such as jobs and services, which may be more sustainable and transformative than Western aid.

Economic growth after conflict can help address the root causes of instability, so this is another way China can support peace building efforts. Given that half of all civil wars are actually post-conflict relapses, this should also be seen as a way to prevent future conflicts.

However, development assistance can also fuel conflict and resentment when it is seen to favor one group at the cost of another.

China's role in pre-secession Sudan holds important lessons on this. To help minimize these risks, the fifth FOCAC meeting could highlight conflict sensitivity.

China is not the ultimate answer to Africa's security challenges, or its wider development aspirations. Instead, solutions lie in the hands of African governments, political leaders and civil society - but how China chooses to involve itself in these efforts can have a substantial impact.


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