African solutions to African problems: United Nations – Africa Partnership for Conflict Prevention and Resolution

Andrea Cofelice
Research Fellow at the Centre for Studies on Federalism, Torino, Italy

Chapter VIII of the UN Charter represents the legal basis for the involvement of regional organizations in maintaining international peace and security, a task which is (or should be) the main purpose of the UN Security Council. However, its provisions, as well as many other provisions of the Charter, have been largely disregarded throughout the Cold War period.

It was the collapse of the bipolar system, with its corollary of new challenges to global security and increased local and regional armed conflicts, which determined a renewed interest in regional organizations and their role in maintaining peace and security.

After initial and sporadic contacts during the 1990s, it is only in the last twenty years (in particular when transnational terrorism has clearly emerged among the new global threats) that the relations between the Security Council and regional organizations have begun to assume a more stable and systemic character. In the broader framework of relations between the UN and regional organizations, the Council is currently giving priority to cooperation with three regional actors: the OSCE (the first organization to be consistently associated with the Council's work since 2001), the African Union (since 2007) and the European Union (since 2010).

Among the aforementioned partnerships, the most structured is undoubtedly the one between the Security Council, on the one hand, and the African Union and sub-regional African organizations, on the other. In addition to several annual meetings at the highest levels, it is endowed with two ad hoc strategies (the 2017 Joint United Nations-African Union Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security, and the 2018 African Union-United Nations Framework for the Implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) and with specific institutions. To date, the UN-Africa partnership has been built on three main pillars: strengthening the capacity of African regional actors to prevent and autonomously respond to peace- and security-related challenges in Africa (based on the principle "African solutions to African problems"); operational cooperation through joint peace missions; UN funding of AU peace missions.

The most promising results have been undoubtedly achieved under the first pillar dealing with capacity building. The political will of the AU to deploy peace operations has often been undermined by the lack of “skills” in key sectors, including staff training, logistics and specific military techniques. Consequently, several technical cooperation programmes were launched jointly by the UN Secretariat and the African Commission with a view to overcoming these gaps, by promoting the participation of AU staff in UN training programs and field missions; facilitating personnel exchanges; drafting military operation manuals, etc.

The strengthening of the institutional framework is as much noteworthy. On the one hand, the UN are technically and financially supporting the development of the African Peace and Security Architecture (established by the AU in 2002), especially those bodies charged with implementing forms of preventive diplomacy, namely the Continental Early Warning System, the Observation, Monitoring and Mediation Unit and the Panel of the Wise. On the other hand, they have set up two ad hoc offices to deal with the AU: both “on the ground” (i.e. the UN Office to the African Union, established in 2010 in Addis Ababa), and at the UN headquarters (the Office of the Deputy-Secretary General for Africa within the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs), with the mandate to provide unified, strategic, political and operational support to the African Union on conflict prevention and resolution.

At the operational level, the primary objective is to establish a joint decision-making mechanism between the Security Council and the African Commission, allowing to plan and authorize AU peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, set their mandate and monitor their effective deployment and results. In this regard, a first proposal was presented by the UN Secretary General in 2017 (doc. S/2017/454): nevertheless, the Security Council just took note of it, without taking any executive decision. In the meantime, the development of field cooperation between the UN and African organizations appear rather uneven.

Empirical evidence shows that, in general, the success rates of this cooperation tend to increase as long as crises maintain a local or sub-regional dimension. This is exemplified by the cases of Liberia and Guinea Bissau in West Africa. In the latter case, the lengthy political crisis affecting the country was resolved on the basis of a road-map jointly managed by the UN, ECOWAS, AU, the Community of Portuguese-speaking countries and the European Union, which led to regular legislative and presidential elections in 2019. Although the overall political situation remains fragile and unstable, significant progresses have also been reached in Central and East Africa, where the UN, AU and sub-regional organizations (namely the Economic Community of Central African States and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development) have worked together to consolidate the peace processes taking place in the Central African Republic (which culminated in the 2019 Bangui Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation) and South Sudan. On the contrary, there is no evidence of joint efforts by the UN and African organizations when “external interference” (or “conflicts by proxy”) are intensive, as in the case of Libya and Somalia.

Finally, the most sensitive political issue causing major frictions in the Security Council deals with the proposal to establish a regular financing scheme for the AU peace missions. It is a fact that, to date, all AU peacekeeping missions had to rely on external donors or partners for their effective deployment. The financing scheme for the African Peace Facility, established in 1993 by voluntary contributions from AU member states, increased from about 5 million dollars in 2016 to 89 million in 2018, but is still largely underfunded if compared to the 2021 target of 400 million dollars set by the African Commission as the minimum threshold to become effective. Since 2016, therefore, Security Council’s African members have repeatedly requested to make use of the UN ordinary budget to finance the AU peacekeeping missions. The main UN contributors, however, remain particularly reluctant to commit part of the Organization’s budget to this purpose. The United States, in particular, openly refused to consider this option (threatening to use its veto power), unless the AU adopts adequate benchmarks to guarantee full financial transparency, and to monitor the conduct and discipline of the military personnel engaged in these missions, as well as their respect for human rights. However, it is likely that this issue will remain at the top of the agenda of the next Security Council meetings dealing with the cooperation with the AU.

Generally speaking, the case of the UN-Africa Union partnership sheds light on the increasingly important role played by regional organizations in the UN collective security system. It is legitimate to assume that such organizations will seek, in the future, formal recognition for their role at the political-institutional level. This will create the momentum for a serious debate on the possibility to establish, if not “regional” seats in the Security Council (a topic which now is out of the agenda), then at least a global forum for coordination, information exchange and trust-building between the UN and regional organizations.

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