Considering the impact of conflict on the continent and the African Union’s (AU) role in managing these crises, the Peace Fund is arguably one of the AU’s most important initiatives. Yet the fund has never been a priority for Africa’s leaders, despite being set up almost three decades ago, in 1993. That could change at the upcoming AU summit from 5-6 February.
Hopes were raised in 2018 when the fund was revitalised, but even with this renewed attention, it’s yet to be put into practice. And although member states’ contributions total over US$231 million, the money hasn’t been used as intended to deal with crises on the continent.
Given Africa’s pressing political conflicts and violent clashes, delays in establishing modes and criteria for disbursements are hard to fathom, especially since the fund meets all the normative standards set by the AU itself. The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) identifies the fund as a mechanism for African ownership and leadership of peace efforts. The fund is also imperative to upholding the ‘principle of African solutions to African problems.’
The PSC has made some progress, but whether it’s enough to see the funds being used in 2022 remains to be seen. In October 2021, the council reached consensus on milestones for Peace Fund implementation. These include setting a common African position on financing peace and security activities and preparing a revised draft United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution on accessing UN-assessed contributions by the AU. Peace Fund workflow processes and strategic priorities were also flagged for funding. These items are expected to be endorsed at the AU’s February summit.
Sticking points remain, however, and must be settled before the executive council meeting in February if the summit is to endorse the fund’s use in 2022. Accountability and oversight of the AU’s finances are major concerns for member states and partners alike due to allegations of unaccounted funds from various missions and projects. So before the Peace Fund comes into effect, member states want strict oversight frameworks.
A board of trustees that includes representatives from Africa’s five regions was appointed to undertake financial and administrative oversight of the Peace Fund in 2018. However, there were delays in setting up the fund’s additional administrative and governance systems, including its secretariat. About 90% of management instruments required for the fund are now in place, and the structure has been embedded in AU financial rules and regulations, with set political and fiduciary oversight mechanisms.
Pending the recruitment of a Peace Fund director to manage the secretariat, day-to-day operations are coordinated by the AU Commission deputy chairperson and the commissioner for political affairs, peace and security. This shows that some member states’ reservations about management and oversight of the fund have largely been addressed. Also, a major challenge to the use of the Peace Fund – its management – has been resolved.
The PSC is tasked with setting the fund’s priorities and direction. Progress in this area shows that the council wants to use the fund even as it works towards reaching its target of US$400 million. It has identified 21 peace and security priorities to be financed and has approved the budget line for each. These include crosscutting continental issues, regional crises and country-specific situations under three funding windows.
The first window includes mediation and preventive diplomacy and covers early warning, prevention of violent conflict, and management and resolution of conflicts. The second focuses on institutional capacity building for AU liaison offices and financial oversight by regional economic communities. The third window includes AU-led or -mandated peace support operations (PSOs), including observer missions, preventive deployments, peace enforcement and stabilisation interventions, and responses to complex national and transnational security threats.
There’s been disagreement about whether the Peace Fund should finance African-led PSOs. However the PSC now agrees that the AU will pay for 25% of Africa’s peace and security activities and will try to secure funding from UN-accessed contributions, including for AU-led PSOs. The Peace Fund contribution for PSOs will be limited to pre-deployment phases, human rights observers and smaller missions. It will support troop airlifts, deployment of the African Standby Force, needs assessments and the continental logistics base.
While the past year’s progress has been encouraging, there are still obstacles to the sustainable and predictable use of the Peace Fund. The assessment for countries’ contributions and the fund replenishment strategy have divided member states. Those in central, eastern, western and southern AU regions have agreed to use the general assessment scale for the fund’s regular budget.
However most northern African countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Libya, disagree. They want a regional scale through which the central African region would contribute 10% and other regions 22.5% of the expected total of US$325 million. They also suggest that each member in each region pay according to the general assessment scale.
They argue that three northern African countries (Algeria, Egypt and Morocco) are among the highest contributors to the AU budget based on the general scale. Using the same scale to calculate contributions to the Peace Fund skews the burden on northern countries. Notwithstanding these reservations, the AU executive council has endorsed the general assessment scale to calculate contributions.
The northern region hasn’t been paying its assessed contributions on time, but it is not the only defaulter. An executive council decision in February 2021 lifted sanctions imposed in 2018 on 18 non-paying member states. More states may be sanctioned at the February 2022 meeting, including those from the northern region, unless they agree to abide by the February 2021 decision.
How and when the Peace Fund will be replenished is another issue for tabling at the upcoming summit, as parties seek sustainable and predictable financing for Africa’s peace and security priorities.