Africa Defense Forum
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A Blueprint for Peace

The AU’s African Peace and Security Architecture Must Overcome Challenges to Fulfill Its Mission

By Tim Murithi/Institute For Justice And Reconciliation

Tim Murithi, Ph.D.
Tim Murithi, Ph.D.

Tim Murithi, Ph.D., is the head of the Justice and Reconciliation in Africa Programme for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa, and a research fellow with the African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town. He is the author of several articles and books on the African Union.

The use of collective African resources to solve security concerns on the continent has long been a dream of African leaders. Among its strongest proponents was Ghana’s founding president, Kwame Nkrumah, who as early as the 1950s imagined an “African High Command” that could be called into action to prevent crises and fight on the side of liberation movements and against foreign occupiers. Nkrumah famously said, “We must unite now or perish.”

Nkrumah’s High Command never came into existence, but his influence was key in creating Pan-Africanism, a concept based on promoting a spirit of solidarity and cooperation among Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. The concept was institutionalized on May 25, 1963, with the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was mandated to eradicate the vestiges of European colonialism, promote solidarity and speak with a common voice on issues affecting the continent. The OAU, however, was not as effective in monitoring and policing the affairs of its own member states. For example, the Rwandan genocide of 1994 occurred on the OAU’s watch.

This led African leaders to create another more interventionist organization through the launch of the African Union (AU) at a Summit of the OAU in Sirte, Libya, in 1999. The AU Constitutive Act was signed in Lomé, Togo, on July 11, 2000, and the organization was officially inaugurated in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa. The AU’s vision remained consistent with the spirit of Pan-Africanism but with a priority of promoting peace, security and development. The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) was established in 2004 and is one part of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). Other elements include a Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), a Panel of the Wise, an African Standby Force (ASF), a Military Staff Committee (MSC) and an AU Peace Fund.

The Peace and Security Council: The 15-member PSC assesses potential crises, sends fact-finding missions to trouble spots, and authorizes and legitimizes AU intervention if and when necessary. Article 4(h) of the AU Constitutive Act affirms the right of the AU to intervene in a member state during a crisis. Article 7(e) of the Protocol Establishing the Peace and Security Council states that the council can “recommend to the Assembly of Heads of State, intervention, on behalf of the Union, in a Member State in respect of grave circumstances, namely, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as defined in relevant international conventions and instruments.” Membership of the PSC, as of April 1, 2014, was:

  • Central Africa:
    Burundi, Chad and Equatorial Guinea
  • East Africa:
    Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda
  • West Africa:
    Guinea, Niger, Nigeria and The Gambia
  • North Africa:
    Algeria and Libya
  • Southern Africa:
    Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa

Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa bring experience in peacemaking and peacekeeping to the PSC. The fact that Nigeria and Chad, members of the AU PSC, also are members of the United Nations Security Council until 2015 allows them to bridge the communication and cultural gap that exists between the two institutions. As of April 2014, the PSC had convened more than 430 meetings. It also has authorized sanctions against several member states and the deployment of peace operations in Burundi (2003 to 2004), Comoros (2008 to present), Somalia (2007 to present) and Sudan (2004 to the present, now jointly with the U.N.). In addition, the AU is involved in the African-led Support Mission in the Central African Republic, which was scheduled to transition to the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic on September 15, 2014. In 2013, the AU participated in and provided money for the African-led International Support Mission in Mali. The African Union-led Regional Task Force, which is mandated to pursue members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, operates in the Central African Republic and the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The AU’s commitment to intervening in crises is hampered by its lack of capacity and self-sustaining resources. As a result, it relies on the U.N. to buttress, and gradually take over, its interventions. This has historically been a contentious issue between both institutions, with the U.N. arguing that it cannot always take on responsibility for AU matters.

The African Standby Force: On May 16, 2003, the Policy Framework for the Establishment of the ASF and the MSC was adopted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The ASF, which is mandated to coordinate the activities of Africa’s subregional mechanisms, is composed of five brigades from each of Africa’s subregions: central, east, west, north and southern. These include brigade formations drawn from the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), notably: the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States. There are also two regional mechanisms in East Africa known as the EASBRIGCOM, and the North African Regional Capability. The operational readiness of the ASF and the decision-making process used by the PSC has been tested through a series of command post exercises called the AMANI Exercise. Despite this “dress rehearsal,” the ASF remains a work in progress. AU member states have not succeeded in deploying the necessary resources to make the force operational.

This has affected logistical readiness because of concerns about the political consequences of having a force that can potentially challenge national sovereignty. The ASF will only be effective if there is much closer coordination between the AU nations’ defense and foreign affairs ministries, and if a stable source of funding is found.

The ASF, which was to be deployable by 2008, has been delayed three times, the latest in 2013. An AU audit indicated it is unlikely that the ASF will be ready by the new target date of 2015.

Readiness varies among the brigades. Western and southern brigades are essentially ready to deploy, but brigades in North and Central Africa are not. Former AU Commissioner of Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra has said the North Africa brigade has been delayed by Arab Spring uprisings. Raychelle Omamo, Kenya’s Defense Cabinet secretary, has said the East Africa Standby Force will be operational by the end of 2014.

In the midst of ASF delays, the AU came up with the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) in 2013. The ACIRC would be a rapid-reaction force composed mostly of voluntary troop contributions by states. Algeria and South Africa are proponents of the ACIRC, according to published reports. They are joined by Angola, Chad, Liberia, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. A “comprehensive report” on the progress of the ASF and the ACIRC was expected in June or July of 2014.

The Continental Early Warning System: Article 12 (1) of the PSC protocol establishes a CEWS with the mandate to provide early-warning information to AU decision-makers. CEWS collects data and analyses it through an Observation and Monitoring Centre at the AU headquarters and coordinates the observation and monitoring units of the RECs and regional mechanisms. The idea behind the CEWS is to identify and prevent conflicts before they spiral out of control. Additional capacity and improved coordination with complementary structures at the regional and international level is required for the CEWS to live up to its promise.

The Panel of the Wise: The panel, established in 2007, consists of “highly respected African personalities from various segments of society who have made outstanding contributions to the cause of peace, security and development on the continent,” the AU said. The panel meets at least three times per year and is charged with supporting the Peace and Security Council, “particularly in the area of conflict prevention.” The five appointed members represent the central, east, west, north and southern regions of the continent and serve three-year terms. In 2010, the panel was expanded to include the Friends of the Panel of the Wise, who also represent the five regions.

South African President Jacob Zuma, left, speaks with then-African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra during an AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2011. [AFP/GETTY IMAGES]
South African President Jacob Zuma, left, speaks with then-African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra during an AU Peace and Security Council meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2011. [AFP/GETTY IMAGES]

The AU says the panel has produced thematic reports on issues “relevant to peace and security such as non-impunity, women and children in armed conflicts and electoral disputes.” The panel met in Cairo in April 2014 for a round of talks between the AU and Egypt and has visited Egypt three times since the country’s June 30, 2013, military coup.

Article 11 of the protocol establishing the panel gives it authority to facilitate and mediate prospective or ongoing disputes on its own volition. Despite the panel’s mandate to take preventive action, it regrettably deploys most of its resources and energy into convening think-tank discussions and issuing statements. The panel’s independence needs to be assured by the provision of an adequate institutional support mechanism to ensure that it has timely information and the ability to intervene on any issue and at its own initiative.

Military Staff Committee: The MSC, staffed by senior military officers or defence attachés of PSC member states, was established through Article 13 to advise the council on assessing the military aspects of its discussions, recommendations and decisions. According to the PSC protocol, the MSC is mandated to convene before all meetings of the PSC at the level of senior military officers. At a minimum, the MSC should aspire to monthly meetings and regular attendance at PSC proceedings. Because of the lack of an adequate representation of defence attaches from the 15 members of the PSC in Addis Ababa, the MSC has not convened regularly and, therefore, remains a low-functioning component of the architecture.

African Union Peace Fund: The initial intention of financing the APSA was to establish a peace fund that would be sustained by a combination of resources from the AU’s regular assessed budget and from voluntary contributions. In practice, the fund has remained notably underfunded, which means the AU does not have the resources it needs to conduct operations and enhance professional capacity. The Peace Fund has relied on resources from the AU’s partners and the donor community. AU member states, therefore, need to back up their ambitious plans to implement the APSA by ensuring that funding is available.

APSA’s Response to Threats and Challenges

The APSA is ambitious and reveals the AU’s emerging interventionist policy. The AU is committed to promoting peace across the continent in partnership with other intergovernmental organizations such as the U.N. and the RECs, which is in stark contrast to the OAU’s unspoken policy of “nonintervention.” The AU is skilled at designing and proposing policy, but it has been less successful at implementing policies due to a lack of political will. This hampers the ability to respond to threats and challenges, even though the PSC makes regular pronouncements. The APSA will succeed only by addressing education and skills training on peace and security through Pan-African and international partnerships.

The APSA is the sum of its integral parts. Even though some of its components, such as the PSC, have started working, others, such as the ASF and MSC, still need to be properly implemented. The African Union exists, but the African continent is still working to become unified. The major problem facing the AU is the lack of integrity among some of its leaders to uphold human rights and democratic governance, and their continuing suppression, dominion and exploitation of their own people, sometimes in collusion with predatory global forces. “Afro-optimism” is necessary for Africans to reach their desired destination of peace and development. Pan-Africanism and the AU’s APSA are vehicles that will help reach that destination. But like all vehicles, they sometimes break down, have accidents or refuse to start. When the car breaks down or won’t start, it is not time to give up on it; the driver must try again or find somebody to help you fix it. The African vehicle has started on its journey toward peace and security; it is rolling along gently but with starts and stops. The APSA can be the engine to ensure that the AU is able to address existing and emerging threats.  

The African Peace and Security Architecture


icon1The Peace and Security Council

  • Composed of 15 member states (2-4 from 5 regions)
  • Sends fact-finding missions to trouble spots
  • Authorizes African Union intervention when necessary
  • Most operational component of the African Peace and Security Architecture

icon2The African Standby Force

  • Made up of five brigades
  • One brigade from each African subregion: central, east, west, north and southern
  • Limited by logistics and infrastructure
  • Regional brigades at different stages of development

icon3The Continental Early Warning System

  • Intended to provide information to decision-makers on crises
  • Includes monitors at AU headquarters and Regional Economic Communities
  • Already providing regular information
  • Not yet operating at full capacity

icon4The Panel of the Wise

  • Advises the Peace and Security Council and the AU Commission chairman
  • Has the authority to mediate disputes

icon5Military Staff Committee

  • Helps the Peace and Security Council assess the military aspects of its action
  • Composed of senior military officers or defense attaches
  • Has not convened regularly

icon6African Union Peace Fund

  • To be funded from the AU budget and voluntary contributions
  • Has been consistently underfunded
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