Preventing conflict-induced forced displacement in Africa

UNHCR, the AU and the rhetoric and realities of ‘Root Causes'

Authored by: Marina Sharpe

Routledge Handbook of African Peacebuilding

Print publication date:  May  2022
Online publication date:  May  2022

Print ISBN: 9780367181949
eBook ISBN: 9780429060038
Adobe ISBN:


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With forced displacement reaching alarming levels, contemporary law and policy on forced external displacement now typically emphasizes ‘root causes’, with conflict prevention an essential issue. However, the principal forced displacement actors in Africa, UNHCR and the AU Commission’s Department of Political Affairs (DPA), rarely move beyond rhetoric. This chapter argues that it is because while forced displacement in Africa is caused primarily by violent conflict, the organizations tasked to respond do not have peacebuilding mandates. They are structurally precluded from engaging with prevention: per its Statute, UNHCR’s work must remain apolitical, while the AU’s entities responsible for forced displacement and for conflict prevention and resolution are distinct. To move beyond rhetoric to progress in practice, UNHCR and DPA must transcend mandate-based silos through cooperation with organizations mandated to prevent conflict.

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