Fifteen countries were elected to the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) at the continental body’s recent summit in Addis Ababa. The PSC faces some tough years ahead, considering the four main obstacles limiting its effectiveness.
First, the council continues to be largely reactive rather than proactive. Second, it is bogged down by bureaucratic procedures and review processes. Third, the PSC and regional economic communities (RECs) have not created effective ways of collaborating on governance and security responses. And fourth, the perennial question of funding has yet to be resolved.
Apart from these internal challenges, the summit noted that all five of Africa’s regions were experiencing turmoil. This includes political tensions and violence at intra- and interstate levels, violent extremism, organised crime and border disputes. Sectarian and resource conflicts, secessionist agitations, maritime insecurity and strained diplomatic relations were also mentioned. Given these worrying trends, the AU and particularly the PSC must be more decisive in its deliberations and decisions.
Five of the newly elected council members will serve for three years, and the remainder for two years. North African members are Morocco (three years) and Tunisia. West Africa has Nigeria (three years), The Gambia, Ghana and Senegal. Cameroon (three years), Republic of Congo and Burundi represent Central Africa. East African members are Djibouti (three years), Uganda and Tanzania. Namibia (three years), South Africa and Zimbabwe were elected from the Southern Africa region.
The elections were fiercely contested, with 22 initial candidates competing for 15 seats. Seven contenders vied for three eastern region places, and in Central Africa, there were five nominees for the three available seats. On voting day, 19 candidates participated, with some seats requiring several rounds of voting. The lively competition for PSC seats suggests a recognition of the council’s important mandate, which if used more effectively, can boost Africa’s governance, peace and security.
Of the 15 members chosen, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Burundi and Djibouti were re-elected. Nine are new members who have had a previous stint on the council, although Senegal and Tunisia are returning after a hiatus of over 10 years.
The re-election of six candidates should bring continuity to the council and help with some outstanding dossiers from the past two or three years. Since meeting readouts are not a PSC practice, some members are relied on to carry institutional memory. Nigeria has been on the council every year since 2004, so it would be best placed to carry that memory.
From its new composition, it is not immediately clear how the PSC will swing on difficult issues. Will it make strong pronouncements and decisions? Will countries continue to allow tabling of only certain issues, particularly country-specific ones, and block others? Dynamics will be shaped by the council’s composition, members’ internal challenges, and their regime types.
Perhaps a critical mass of states will emerge to give new impetus to PSC actions. For example, South Africa and Senegal could form the backbone of such a drive. South Africa has indicated that it will ensure the implementation of the AU’s frameworks and instruments. And during his inaugural speech as chair of the AU for 2022, Senegal’s President Macky Sall noted that Africa faced a ‘peace and security emergency.’
This kind of commitment would be welcome. The PSC needs to transcend bloc mentality and create synergies across regional groups on priority issues.
Should the status quo prevail and the RECs not step up to the plate, AU responses may continue to have little impact on conflicts and crises. A more decisive, consistent and coherent PSC would give the continent a fighting chance. Although the council alone cannot resolve complex security threats, it must make a more significant contribution to finding solutions. The pressure is on for the PSC to be more proactive.
West African members could be helpful here. They may be less reluctant than other regions to place contested matters on the agenda such as Ghana did in 2021 with the Ethiopian situation.
Despite violent extremism and recent military coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, West Africa is sending countries to the PSC that have addressed their internal governance challenges. Also, the Economic Community of West African States is reviewing its protocol on democracy and good governance. This is expected to lead to amendments to better tackle unconstitutional (civilian and military) changes of government and weak governance.
Other RECs, however, including the Southern African Development Community, have not seen eye to eye with the AU on several occasions. So the gains from some council members tabling contested issues may be offset by differing views or competition between the AU and a REC. Subsidiarity and the claim to sovereignty could remain obstacles to a more decisive PSC. The central and northern regions may continue to hold up the achievement of a bolder council.
Despite these dynamics, the PSC will be called on to be more decisive on difficult situations such as the ‘transitions’ in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan. The coups in West Africa (four in the past two years) create the fear of more overthrows in the region, especially after the attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau on 1 February.
The PSC also needs to continue dealing with instability in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Libya and Somalia. It will also be expected to address violent extremism across the continent as Africa’s need for better security and governance becomes more urgent.
Written by PSC Report, ISS Addis Ababa.