For several decades, a number of factors in Africa -- including ideological differences among the continent's young states, the unfinished nature of its liberation, and profound external, non-African interference -- prevented any meaningful regional cooperation in the field of peace and security. But with the end of the Cold War, the concomitant proliferation of conflicts throughout the continent, and Africa's sudden marginalization in world affairs, the states of Africa were galvanized into regional security cooperation in the late 1990s.
Since then, much has been achieved. Regional organizations like the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), or the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have forged ahead with institutionalizing elaborate mechanisms for conflict prevention, management and resolution. At the same time, the African Union (AU) has slowly consolidated its strategic leadership role within an innovative institutional set-up that includes a sophisticated Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) and a 15,000-troop African Standby Force (ASF). A number of all-African missions, ranging from a small observer mission in Burundi to full-blown enforcement operations in the Comoros, Cote d'Ivoire, Darfur, Liberia and Somalia, have been conducted, and administrative, financial, institutional and operational structures have been established to serve as benchmarks and guidelines for future missions. At the same time, several international initiatives have made great progress in addressing the significant capacity deficiencies of African countries and their intergovernmental organizations.
Remarkable in themselves, these positive developments are all the more noteworthy against the backdrop of the economic marginalization and underdevelopment of the majority of the states involved and the prevalence of violent conflict throughout large parts of the continent. They not only raise the question of how the continent's states managed to break with their longstanding inability to provide an institutional basis for inter-African security cooperation, but also to what extent their experiences hold lessons that could be applied in other regions.