Conflict Early Warning and the Response Nexus: The Case of the African Union-Continental Early Warning System
Date of Submission
Doctor of Philosophy in International Conflict Management (Ph.D. INCM)
Dr. Akanmu Adebayo
Dr. Brandon Lundy
Dr. Nurudeen Akinyemi
The African Union (AU) established the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) in 2008 to identify escalating conflicts before they turned violent. Several studies underscore that early warning signals are not always translated into prompt response decisions. This study asks the following: When do conflict early warnings lead to early response decisions in the African Union’s Continental Early Warning System (AU-CEWS)? This question has not yet been addressed comprehensively in the literature through the use of empirical data. To address the gap, I test three hypotheses derived from political will and organizational culture theories. These hypotheses are the following: (H1) Early warning leads to early response decisions if the organizational culture in the AU-CEWS encourages involvement and adapts to external challenges; (H2) The commitment and consensus among key AU-CEWS decision makers (i.e., their political will) is a prerequisite for early response decision; and (H3) Depoliticization of early warning indicators at the AU-CEWS is a critical factor for triggering early response decisions. I employed thematic analysis of semi-structured interview with 30 experts and decision-makers while referring to pertinent secondary data. I also used process tracing to assess the political willingness of AU-CEWS to respond to the current conflict in Burundi. Analysis of political will indicates that decision-makers were reluctant to discuss early warning signals of powerful African countries, struggled to put continental welfare over national interests, and lacked authority to impose decisions on member states. The organizational culture of the AU-CEWS shows some factors that facilitate early response decisions, but at the same time, it has other factors that limit effective early response decision-making. The consensus based decision-making process within the AU Peace and Security Council facilitates full engagement of the decision-makers. However, AU-CEWS’ limited interaction between decision-makers and conflict early warning experts, hierarchical organizational structure, and the absence of a formal structure to bring early warning into the decision-making process limited the effective flow of early warning information to the decision-makers. Regarding depoliticization, my study shows that the early warning indicators were developed in a technical manner, which limits subjectivity or bias. The use of existing legal instruments as a base to identify conflict early warning indicators, however, partially, and perhaps inevitably, politicizes the conflict early warning indicators. The AU-CEWS has made creditable strides to prevent conflict in Africa, but it needs more political will, a more conducive organizational culture, and the depoliticization of its indicators and analyses to create a more robust and successful early warning-response nexus. Overall, my research findings indicate that conflict early warning signals make a difference only if they are converted into an early response. Effective conflict early response is guaranteed when decision-makers prioritize early response above political interest, when there is a structure to bring conflict early warnings timely and directly to decision-makers, and when the very indicators of conflicts are developed in a depoliticized and technical manner. Early warning institutions should underscore the fact that social factors (political will, organizational culture, and depoliticized warning signals) that guarantee conflict early response decisions remain as indispensable as technical and material capability needed to gather early warning signals.