On the eve of the AMANI II exercise in South Africa, the head of the African Union (AU) Peace Support Operations Department (PSOD) Sivuyile Bam spoke to Annette Leijenaar, head of the Institute for Security Studies’ Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division, about the African Standby Force (ASF) and its rapid deployment capability to solve crises in Africa.
He shed some light on the relationship between the ASF and the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), which he says was an interim measure.
Leijenaar: What outcomes do you expect from AMANI II?
Bam: We expect a reconfirmation that the AU can mandate operations, because that’s the aim of the exercise. Besides that, we are expecting AMANI II to have identified the gaps related to issues of resources and other matters in order to assist the AU to address these in future.
We must give kudos to our region SADC [Southern African Development Community], which is providing additional resources. They are bringing in huge, huge numbers at their own cost. The other regions have been able to put some funding forward, but we need more.
Lastly, for us, and we think it’s a message that needs to come out of AMANI, we need to move away from this concept of looking only at operations. One of the things I raised in the conference that I had with the planning team for AMANI Africa II was that they exercise control of AMANI. I hope that they will pass on my message to our principals, that mandate does not start the time the PSC [Peace and Security Council] sits and decides to deploy or not. A mandate starts way before that. At the time they get the early warning. Otherwise we will miss the value of understanding how the African Peace and Security Architecture [APSA] needs to work.
How many countries are participating in AMANI II?
We didn’t count the countries per se, because the pledges come from the regions and that is what is most important. We are testing the ASF concept, so it’s the region that is participating.
And all the regions are participating?
All the regions, RECs [regional economic communities] or RMs [regional mechanisms] as we call them, are participating in the exercise.
Is there political support from AU member states for a strategic review of the ASF, including a scenario review?
Yes, there is. That process is ongoing. At the last meeting of defence ministers in Zimbabwe [May 2015], the commission was directed to, among other things, work out modalities of how to work with regional communities or RMs, and to make sure that there’s proper understanding of how they would plan for future operations.
What do you think is the future of funding for APSA, considering the challenges from traditional funding sources such as the European Union?
There is a realisation within the AU that there is a need to provide additional resources for the AU’s projects overall, including projects related to peace and security. In that regard, the summit that was held in South Africa in June 2015 resolved that there is a need to increase the assessed funding of AU member states to the AU Peace Fund. So yes, there is some momentum in this, but the reality is that the AU Commission and the AU itself is a reflection of its own member states. So if member states’ economies are not growing there is no way they will be able to commit the additional resources that are expected of them.
What challenges does the relationship between the AU and the United Nations (UN) pose to your work as head of the PSOD?
The main challenge concerns the relationship itself between the AU and the UN. This relationship has evolved over time. You might be aware that a few years ago there was no concept of the AU and the UN working together; even if they were, it was very ad hoc.
Then we started introducing the issue of the meetings between the UN Security Council [UNSC] and the PSC, which now has become institutionalised.
The main discussion now between the AU and the UN should firstly be, is the UN willing to provide assessed funding for nine UN operations? This comes from the HIPPO [UN High-level Independent Panel on Peacekeeping Operations] report. And if it is, then we can talk about areas and scales of support. I think we have been working very closely together, but there’s still room for improvement.
What can be done to streamline the UN and the AU authorisation process, which is required to legalise an intervention?
The key is the closer working relationship between the councils [UNSC and PSC]. There’s no way around it. Then when the time comes to deploy an operation, everybody is on board. Rather than for one organisation to do its own assessment, go ahead and say, well, I think we need 3 000 troops – oops, where do we get them? And then somebody says, well, I can raise my hand, I have them or I’ve got the resources.
So the earlier the councils get involved in this situation the better, which means the totality of APSA should be looked into. Do you, as the UN, have those early warning indicators? Do you as the UN and the AU respond on time to those early indicators? Is there consensus on those issues?
The biggest challenge for the ASF is the lack of a reliable support mechanism, such as logistics, finance, human resources and equipment. How could the AU and the UN deal with this challenge?
Currently there are discussions between the AU and the UN on how to address the challenges that are being faced by the AU, within the concept of UN support to regional mechanisms. Suffice to say that it’s going to take quite some time for the AU to develop a capacity to the extent that it can manage the kinds of resources that are going into operations.
If the AU was expected tomorrow to handle a US$1 billion operation with the current capacity it has, we would be overwhelmed. It’s going to take time. You need highly specialised people to be able to deal with this and these skills are in short supply. Those member states that have them, often retain them. They don’t want to share with us, or they’re reluctant to do so.
What challenges do you encounter as head of the PSOD in dealing with the PSC?
The PSOD’s overall challenge has been that over the few years it has operated there has been a perception that the PSC does not pay enough attention to peace support operations issues. This varies from budgets that have to be approved to reporting timelines, to issues taking place within the mission and especially the generation of forces. Force generation has always been looked at as a technical issue, but force generation is not a technical issue, it is a political issue.
But there’s an improvement. The PSC has now started to pay attention to the budget, especially for AMISOM [AU Mission in Somalia], and it has requested that the budget be forwarded to the Permanent Representative Council [all African ambassadors to the AU] for approval.
We do feel that the PSC needs to play a more active role in engaging host countries, like Somalia for example. We would like the PSC to ask, where are we in the political process?
Do you think that the ACIRC can replace the Rapid Deployment Capacity of the original ASF structure?
However, the member states, in the evolution of the ACIRC and the ASF, and I guess also in the evolution of their increasing participation in UN peace operations, are preparing one capability.
So if you are country A, you have pledged a battalion, you just prepare battalions and put them on standby. Whoever comes through the door gets it first. So if it is your region, they’ll get it first. If it is your continental organisation, or the UN [they get it]. So you’re working on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Even those member states within the ACIRC have clearly stated that what they have pledged to the ACIRC is what they have pledged to the regions. So there is no option or alternatives to the ASF or the Rapid Deployment Capacity. What the ACIRC has done is actually accelerate the procedures that we would need to have tested for an ASF.
How do you think the unevenness between RECs should be rectified with regard to support for the ASF, its Rapid Deployment Capability and the ACIRC?
Well, let me say firstly, we think it’s unrealistic to expect the RECs and the RMs to be even. However, we think the emphasis should not be on ‘everybody is bringing two apples, and everybody is bringing two oranges’.
The evolution of the ASF and APSA since 1997 has shown that that expectation should be tempered with realism. We cannot have everything. Yes, you can still have a basic table of organisation and equipment, and so if you bring a battalion it must be 800, it must have these organic elements inside it. But if you are country A, and you can bring strategic lift and you can bring communications, well, so be it. We can’t then hit you on the head and say, you know what, we don’t need strategic lift, we need battalions. That’s why, in this discussion we’re going to be having with the rest in 2016 on the modalities with the planning elements, the emphasis is going to be on that, to say, we have verified the pledges, who has got what? How can we make these pledges that we have more functional in the long term? Otherwise it is going to be impossible for us to extract the RECs to have that.
What are the most challenging issues faced by the PSC?
The PSC will be best placed to answer that question, but from the perspective of the PSOD the main issue is resources, resources, resources. The ASF concept is unlike the UN. The ASF concept says forces must be prepared, irrespective of whether there is an operation or not, which means the forces that must be deployed in the area must be predictable. Which means they must go on standby, you must know them, you must verify them.
If you look ahead five years, what type of ASF would you like to see? And let’s look at that from a political, diplomatic, military and policing perspective.
As far as it is an ASF that is able to respond to the requirements of the AU in its hour of need, the question is, is it mobile? Is it deployable on time? Does it have the capacity to be deployed? And can it self-protect, can it achieve its mandate, can it sustain itself? If we can have that then that’s what we need in an ASF. And we must state quite upfront, the issue with the ASF is not numbers. I mean, we get battalions every day. It’s always whether they are properly trained, are they equipped, can we sustain them when they’re in the mission area? Those are the key challenges that we have. And if we can answer those, that’s the ASF we need in future.