AU and UN respond to African security demands

A new AU-UN agreement will improve peacekeeping operations and security challenges in Africa. The Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhancing Partnership on Peace and Security will improve co-ordination and co-operation between the bodies.

Senegalese peacekeepers in Darfur, part of a joint AU/Un operation in 2011. (Image: Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNAMID)

Sulaiman Philip

Africa remains a place of hope and potential, despite the challenges faced by African Union (AU) peacekeepers on the continent. Speaking alongside union president Moussa Faki Mahamat, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “We are witnessing, in Africa, as around the world, changes that force us to have a strategic review of the way peace operations take place.”

The leaders were speaking at a press conference to announce the signing of the Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhancing Partnership on Peace and Security. The new agreement will allow the world body and the AU to better respond to security challenges on the continent.

Keeping the peace in Africa

The decision by the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) – the body responsible for the maintenance of continental peace and security – to intervene in Burundi in January 2015 was seen as a coming of age moment by Africans and global leaders. Critics, some of whom are UN member states, had always considered the AU to be a club of dictators unwilling to censure each other.

Although the Burundian government ultimately denied the AU permission to station 5,000 troops and police in its country, the union had shown itself ready to deal with human rights violations and abuses during conflict and crisis.

As a representative body, the AU has set itself a target of silencing all guns on the continent by 2020. This has strengthened its desire to promote and protect human rights throughout Africa.

Across the globe, by a World Bank measure, conflict is considered the primary cause of suffering and poverty. In underdeveloped Africa, suffering becomes far greater: in Somalia more than half the population is in need of food assistance because of violence; conflict with Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria has displaced 1.8-million people, farmers are unable to grow food and 4.8-million people need help to stave off malnutrition.

The union has come to understand that more food aid is not a solution; it is simply a Band Aid. Aid gets to those who need it, so a lack of food is not the cause of these problems. They exist because violence and conflict make it difficult for Africa to feed itself.

Africa is not looking for ongoing handouts — as it rises it is also trying to find ways to be more self-sufficient and to be able to produce enough food to feed itself. Africans want to be able to stay at home, and of course they desperately want to live on a peaceful continent.

However, keeping the peace is a challenge. AU peacekeepers face attacks from terrorists, hostile host governments, floods of illicit weapons and, sometimes, being deployed for periods that extend beyond their mandate.

Guterres explained: “Peace operations are at a crossroads. Our task is to keep them relevant with clear and achievable mandates, and the right strategies and support. And above all, we look to the [Security] Council for unity, and for clear, achievable mandates.”

The newly signed framework will strengthen the relationship and collaboration between Africa and the UN in matters of peace and security. It will also ensure that the AU and UN have shared and clear mandates. “That is our objective for every peacekeeping mission: to do the job entrusted to it. To save lives. To prevent mass atrocities. To set the stage for stability and sustainable peace. And, from start to finish, to be cost effective.”

This agreement goes a long way to ensuring the AU meets its target of silencing all guns in Africa by 2020. (Image: AU-UN IST PHOTO /Stuart Price)

A new understanding

The new agreement will better align the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to the AU’s Agenda 2063. Mahamat explained that the new agreement would strengthen co-operation in areas ranging from good governance to human rights and sustainable and inclusive development. “The time has come for the AU to critically assess the security challenges in the region and work with the UN to ensure peacekeeping operations on the continent are more effective.”

The agreement was signed after the first Joint UN-AU Annual Conference, where leaders discussed co-operation in the fight against terrorism and the financing of AU-led operations. “The decision of the United States administration to reduce its contributions to peacekeeping operations will affect the effectiveness of the operations. But the AU is working to increase peacekeeping funds [from] African countries,” Guterres explained.

The agreement is further acknowledgement that no single organisation will succeed in addressing security challenges stretching across Africa. AU and UN leadership have stressed the importance of co-operation in maintaining peace and security on the continent.

This treaty builds on the Ten-Year Capacity Building Programme for the AU signed in 2006, and it should ensure more efficient and effective peace and security operations on the continent.