UN, AU strive for peace in Africa

Janine Erasmus

Delegates at the 10th African Union (AU) summit convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss peace in the strife-torn western Sudan region of Darfur, strengthened relations between the African Union and the United Nations (UN), and conflict resolution in other African countries. The summit took place from 25 January to 2 February 2008.

The proposed reform of the UN Security Council was also raised, with UN General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim noting that he hoped the AU leadership would help drive “the pressing need to make progress on Security Council reform”. Kerim also praised the AU for its “impressive history of constructive participation in the General Assembly’s work”.

Africa has long been known as a particularly conflict-prone continent, and, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, it is in the interests of all that bodies such as the AU and UN work together. In his address at the opening session of the AU summit Ban said, “Close partnerships are crucial for addressing the continent’s peace and security challenges.”

As post-election violence continued to wreak havoc in Kenya, Ban urged President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga to “do everything possible to resolve the sources of the crisis peacefully”. At the same time the secretary-general mentioned that the UN was involved in peace initiatives in other troubled African nations such as Burundi, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.

At a high-level UN Security Council meeting held in Pretoria in September 2007, Ban remarked that while African governments and people have made progress in some areas, on their own they could not tackle all the conflicts. He said that strengthened ties between the UN and regional organisations such as the AU would “enhance the capacities to address conflicts. Together, we must respond in a more timely and complementary manner to the crises in Africa.”

At the same meeting South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki highlighted the importance of Africans finding solutions for African problems, saying that greater resources would be needed to give the continent the best chance of successfully tackling key challenges and establishing a lasting framework for peace and security in Africa. South Africa is currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council – the country’s membership ends at the end of 2008.

Fruitful collaboration between AU and UN

Speaking at the more recent AU summit, Ban Ki-moon described the establishment of a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force in Darfur as the advent of a historic phase in the “long-standing and fruitful” collaboration between the two organisations. The partnership between the UN and AU, said Ban, was also fundamental in helping to resolve conflicts elsewhere on the continent, such as in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), northern Uganda and Somalia.

The UN and the AU have been working closely together towards a settlement to the Darfur crisis through negotiations currently taking place in Sirte, Libya, between the Sudanese government and opposing groups. South Africa has already participated in initiatives to resolve conflict in Burundi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Kenya, among others – with varying degrees of success. In November 2007 the government of Sudan formally asked South Africa to mediate in the Sirte peace talks.

The Darfur peace talks follow on from the July 2007 endorsement by the UN and the Sudanese government of the joint UN-AU peacekeeping force. The joint force, headed by Nigerian General Martin Luther Agwai, officially took over from the AU peacekeeping mission on 31 December 2007. The AU mission was installed in June 2004 following an AU-mediated ceasefire, but for various reasons has been largely ineffective. These reasons include insufficient troops, equipment and training, as well as a lack of consistent funding from the AU, although the European Union, the United States and other donors have contributed.

In fact, the AU mission was set up mainly for the purposes of monitoring but as civil violence continued in Darfur the force’s mandate was expanded in October 2004 to include the protection of endangered civilians it encountered during the course of its normal operations. While the AU force numbered a mere 7 000, the new force will include up to 26 000 personnel although currently only a third of that number has been installed. According to an AU spokesman it will take some months to build up the force to its full capacity – it will then be the largest peacekeeping operation in the world.

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad, speaking at a briefing on 18 January 2008 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, said that South Africa has already deployed about 900 troops and around 100 police officers as part of the joint force. He added that the country would willingly contribute more personnel if required.

Joint AU-UN operation in Darfur is “unprecedented”

In a 2007 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, assistant secretary-general for UN peacekeeping operations Jane Holl Lute described the joint operation as unprecedented, adding, “Never before in the history of the United Nations have the UN and UN peacekeepers worked explicitly with another international organisation – in this case, the African Union – in a single integrated operation that is fully funded by the United Nations assessment mechanism and under the integrated command structure and the rules, procedures, and processes of the UN.”

The Darfur Peace Agreement, signed under AU auspices on 5 May 2006 between the Sudanese government and one of the rebel factions (two other factions rejected the agreement), has also failed to halt the violence in the region.

While the Sudanese government and UN approved the joint force in July 2007, it was only on 4 February 2008 – after months of international pressure on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to admit the troops – that an agreement regarding the terms of deployment was reached. This represents a significant step forward, said officials, as the lack of consensus in this regard was seen as a major barrier to progress.

However, reports say that the Sudanese government is not yet wholly satisfied with the agreement and may seek further discussion.

The Darfur crisis has already led to the death of some 200 000 people and the displacement of another 2.2 million – these people, states a report from the independent non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch, are living in camps. Thousands more have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Chad. In addition to those displaced, there are an estimated two million additional people who are regarded as “conflict-affected” by the UN – many of these need assistance in obtaining food.

Millennium Development Goals

Ban also reiterated the UN’s commitment to working with developing African nations to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals adopted by the UN in 2001 to help people triumph over obstacles to progress such as extreme poverty, gender inequality, lack of education, and poor health services. These goals are also commonly accepted as a framework for measuring development progress.

Looking to strengthen ties between the AU and UN, the secretary-general held meetings with leaders from several African nations including Algeria, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Discussions ranged from humanitarian issues and elections to the UN Security Council. Ban also met with the prime ministers of Somalia and Guinea and the presidents of Benin and South Africa.

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