ISS: 26th AU Summit – Can the AU walk the talk?


Africa’s objective of silencing the guns by 2020 must be clearly presented in all African Union (AU) strategies and responses if it is to move beyond a written statement and translate into concrete action.

The African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) Roadmap 2016-2020 is an opportunity to achieve this, but to be effective it needs a cohesive approach by all stakeholders, with the necessary resources, skills and interaction among the APSA pillars. Also, some critical questions have to be asked – for example, how can the priorities identified in the APSA Roadmap contribute to a more effective AU?

Currently being developed by the AU Commission, the roadmap provides a set of strategic priorities and the routes for attaining its goals. For instance, one priority relates to the AU’s role in conflict prevention. The organisation has become more proactive by focusing on intervening before violence occurs, but it still has a long way to go in developing structures and mechanisms to address the root causes of conflicts.

The AU acknowledges that there is a need to improve the connection between early warning and direct response systems. In this regard, it should not only plan to build stronger mechanisms for information gathering, analysis and timely dissemination to those who need it, but also enhance the critical role of policymakers to ensure that early warning equates to early responses.

Improved coordination across different levels will improve the overall quality of the AU’s conflict prevention efforts. The AU will also need to use its early warning mechanisms in a way that enables a timely response from a wider range of actors.

This would ensure that early warning becomes more than a reactive process, which is intrinsically linked to the strategic outcome of reducing the likelihood of conflicts to emerge.

Another strategic priority for APSA relates to conflict management. Successful conflict management requires synchronised and streamlined legal processes, which will allow for the rapid deployment of resources needed. These decisions can only be made when joint, timely and professional analysis is available at all levels. These analyses would also assist political and military decision-makers in their increased mediation efforts. The process of enhancing the AU’s rapid deployment capacity will increasingly rely on planning, which in turn depends on harmonised policies, guidelines and standard operating procedures.

Highly capable peacekeepers from the military, police and civilian spheres remain one of the most valuable assets to resolve conflicts. Much more attention must be paid to conducting just-in-time, mission-specific and standardised training. The continued development of the African Standby Force (ASF) is therefore crucial to ensure such timely deployments. Also of crucial importance is the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises’ final integration into the ASF. The outcome and impact of these efforts must be monitored and evaluated during and after deployment.

The APSA roadmap is further expected to emphasise the AU’s Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) framework. To date, the AU’s PCRD unit has lacked capacity and is often overlooked. The AU will have to draw on partnerships with other AU departments, regional economic communities (RECs) and AU member states to overcome these hurdles.

Continental and regional PCRD approaches and institutions will have to be aligned and better engaged with international processes, including those from the United Nations (UN). Additional mechanisms to enhance such engagements must still be created. Proposals are likely to include a Multidimensional Committee on PCRD (to interact with international actors on the continent); a Peace and Security Council (PSC) Standing Committee (to monitor actors on the continent), as well as regular briefing sessions to the PSC, national ministerial committees on PCRD and interdepartmental task forces.

PCRD strategies will also have to be tailored to suit specific country needs, at different stages of the conflict cycle. This requires holistic strategies, linked to interventions made in the early recovery phase. It also includes wider planning elements that enable countries to create conditions of sustainable peace.

The anticipated AU roadmap will also focus on improving the effectiveness of responses to a number of strategic security issues. These include the illicit flow of small arms and light weapons, mine action, reducing weapons of mass destruction, counter terrorism, illicit financial flows and organised crime.

The 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy, which, until now, has only been weakly integrated into APSA, should also gain prominence. This should happen through the development of a revised plan of action for the 2015 strategy, the mainstreaming of maritime security into continental early warning systems and the alignment of the strategy with those of the RECs and regional mechanisms (RMs).

Finally, coordination will be critical in enabling the AU to operate optimally. Looking forward, it will be important for the AU to ensure that problems in its relationships with RECs/RMs are addressed. While these relationships have, in principle, received praise for being the building blocks of APSA, they have in practice operated independently from the AU.

This has often happened in a competitive manner, necessitating clearer descriptions of roles and responsibilities. Creating stronger relationships and building trust among them will be essential.

Among the challenges that the AU must address is the uneven development, as well as unequal access to resources among planning elements in the RECs and RMs. A pragmatic understanding of these discrepancies is vital. The importance of strengthening the PSC’s guidance in decision-making to member states and RECs/RMs to achieve set outcomes cannot be overstated.

To become a reality, the APSA Roadmap needs to achieve more than just identifying strategic priorities; it requires strong leadership from member states and RECs. The AU must broach the thorny issue of changing member states’ attitudes to fund longer-term, more complex and deeply political approaches, where immediate results are harder to demonstrate.

The AU’s approaches to conflict prevention, resolution and management must address the political nature of dealing with conflict, as stressed in the UN’s recent peacekeeping and peacebuilding reviews.

The leadership provided by the AU’s PSC should be empowered to enforce and ensure compliance with decisions made. Sound risk management is vital in identifying potential threats and weaknesses. The need to improve timely and constructive coordination between the AU’s PSC and the Department of Political Affairs, especially the link between the APSA and the African Governance Architecture, is extremely important.

To truly walk the talk, the AU requires far more than policy frameworks and political agreements. It requires a strong emphasis on realistic planning, which would enable it to become the game-changer it ought to be. The AU needs to link its roadmaps and strategic plans to a tight implementation strategy that tracks and monitors progress, and identifies viable technical and political solutions to everyday challenges.

Written by Annette Leijenaar, Head; Amanda Lucey, Senior Researcher; and Gustavo de Carvalho, Senior Researcher; Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria

Republished with permission from ISS Africa. The original article can be found here.