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Strengthening Africa’s security architecture is vital, yet progress is slow

Strengthening Africa’s security architecture is vital, yet progress is slow
Members of the Dutch Commando Corps patrol from Gao to the village of Ansongo to support the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, 26 May 2014. (Photo: EPA/Evert Jan Daniels)

Among other things, the African Union has yet to establish the 25,000-strong African Standby Force, a continental contingent that can be deployed in cases involving war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

The paradox of United Nations peacekeeping in Africa is that while African peacekeepers are more than willing to undertake such missions, they often lack the capacity and resources to do so. UN peacekeepers deployed in Africa are much better resourced than regional peacekeepers, but often avoid dangerous enforcement missions to protect civilians due to the political risks entailed in such deployments.

This situation is exacerbated by the political interests of external actors like France, Russia, and the United States (US) in Africa. Within this context, UN peacekeepers have faced credibility challenges as their first deployment to Africa failed to prevent the assassination of popular Congolese prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, in January 1961.

Since then, Burundi, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, and Sudan, have all expelled UN peacekeepers from their territories, with Mali and the DRC being the latest in 2023 to demand that the UN withdraw its troops from their countries.

Read more in Daily Maverick: DRC president asks UN peacekeepers to start packing up this year

The presence of French and American troops, as well as Russian-based Wagner mercenaries in countries such as Chad, Djibouti, Niger, Mali, and the Central African Republic (CAR) are also often seen as more self-interested interventions rather than genuine efforts to strengthen Africa’s security architecture.

Enhancing Africa’s Security Council role

In order to strengthen the presence of the UN in Africa, the decision-making role of the continent within the world body should be urgently enhanced. The 15-member UN Security Council — with primary responsibility for global peace and security — is inherently hierarchical, with a two-tiered system of membership, making it difficult for non-permanent members to influence major decisions.

The Council consists of five veto-wielding permanent members (P5) — the US, China, France, Russia, and Britain — alongside 10 non-permanent members (E10), elected by the UN General Assembly for two-year terms.

This has created an institutional imbalance that often results in unequal representation, with the veto-wielding P5 often dominating decision-making.

Africa has three rotating seats — the Africa Three (A3) — on the Council. Although 84% of UN peacekeepers are deployed on the continent and 60% of its deliberations typically focus on Africa, the continent is not adequately represented on the council and lacks veto power.

Regardless, the A3 has increased coordination between the UN and the African Union, so that positions taken in Addis Ababa by the 15-member AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) are fed into the deliberations of the UN Security Council in New York.

The African Union’s right to intervene

Article 4(h) of the Africa Union Constitutive Act of 2000 empowers the continental body to intervene militarily in cases involving war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

The continental organisation is thus seeking to enhance its supranational powers, since decisions to intervene do not require prior authorisation from affected member states. Decisions on interventions are instead taken by the AU Peace and Security Council, following a two-thirds majority, in the absence of consensus.

Four factors have, however, often prevented this article from being effectively employed. First, the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government makes the final decision on interventions and is seldom united on decisions to intervene. For example, the AU Peace and Security Council’s recommended intervention in Burundi was rejected by the Assembly in January 2016.

Second, the AU has yet to establish the 25,000-strong African Standby Force (ASF), a continental contingent that is expected to be deployed whenever Article 4(h) has been triggered.

Read more in Daily Maverick: African Standby Force risks becoming white elephant without regional peace and security architecture

Third, other institutions such as the AU Commission, the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), and the African Court of Justice (ACJ) have not been active in the continental security architecture and thus have little or no meaningful supranational powers.

Fourth, the AU governance architecture has been unable to address fundamental rights violations and has failed to build an effective early warning system.

Protecting civilians in Africa

The need for proper understanding and implementation of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is increasingly apparent in Africa, since conflicts have become more durable and complex. This has created increased humanitarian crises in Sudan, South Sudan, CAR, Chad, the DRC, Somalia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.

There are also current and looming climatic crises including droughts, floods, and cyclones. In 2000, international humanitarian funding was $2-billion, increasing to $25.21-billion in 2023, which is half of the $54.8-billion required.

According to the UN, a total of 81 million people required humanitarian assistance in 2014, a number that had increased to 363.2 million in 2023. Eastern and southern Africa have the largest number of people in need at 76.8 million. DM

Dr Samuel Igba is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

The University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship (CAS) in Pretoria, South Africa; the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala, Sweden; and Trust Africa, Dakar, Senegal, jointly convened a research seminar titled “Beating African Swords into Ploughshares: From Military Security to Human Security” at the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden. The meeting involved members of the academic, policy, and civil society communities, and covered such issues as: Strengthening Africa’s Security Architecture; Enhancing Africa’s Role on the United Nations (UN) Security Council; The African Union’s (AU) Right to Intervene; and Protecting Civilians in Africa.


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  • John Patson says:

    Bit of confusion here in my humble opinion.
    Armies are for fighting, peace keepers are to keep a peace, and humanitarian missions should be carried out by life saving organisations, whether they are a uniformed organisation, like a fire brigade, or not.
    Having more Africans on the UN Security Council will change nothing — at the moment there is a very real risk of a second multi nation African war breaking out around Goma in DRC, and surprise surprise the UN’s “peace keeping” mission will be taking part, with the support of countries like South Africa.
    Will having an AU “peace keeping” mission magically transform the situation?
    It shows the absurdity of demanding “peace keeping” when there is no wish for peace.
    Africa could set up a uniformed, multinational, un armed humanitarian organisation to help when needed.
    But the chances of that happening are slim. And at the moment, the only way African leaders would contemplate it was if non-Africans paid for it.

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