AU Peace Fund Could Be Catalyst for True UN Partnership

UN peacekeeping officials meet with the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic. Kaga Bandoro, Central African Republic, July 6, 2014. (UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina)

One of several landmark decisions taken at the 27th African Union Summit held earlier this month in Kigali, Rwanda, was approval of a funding model for the new AU Peace Fund. Indeed, AU Chairperson Idriss Déby said it was the most important outcome of the summit. “For the first time, the continent is taking charge of its own destiny,” Deby said, adding that the plan would put an end to the “frustrating and troublesome dependency on outside financing.” The announcement moves the AU toward a more complementary relationship with the United Nations. Rather than act as an effective subsidiary of the world body, it will be able to fund more of its own peace operations and work to achieve the overall strategy of the AU Peace and Security Architecture.

In January 2015, African heads of state agreed to pay for at least a quarter of the AU’s peace and security activities by 2020, with the remainder coming from the UN. The outgoing African Development Bank President, Donald Kaberuka, was subsequently appointed High Representative for the AU Peace Fund and asked to formulate a clear roadmap for financing these activities. The recent AU Summit approved Dr. Kaberuka’s recommendations, with the fund expected to gain $65 million a year from each of the continent’s five sub-regions ($325 million total) through a levy of 0.2% on selected imports into Africa. This provision will increase to $80 million per region by 2020. This levy should enable member states to fully fund the functioning of the AU Commission and cover 25% of African peace operations. The central beneficiaries will be the AU’s five peace and security programs: the African Standby Force, the Panel of the Wise, the Continental Early Warning System, Capacity Building, and Conflict Prevention.

Previously, between 2008 and 2011, African states provided just 2% of the AU’s core peace and security activities, with five countries—South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria—covering the bulk of it. The remaining 98% came from international donors, which resulted in a very strong interdependence and a subordinate role for African countries in decision-making. Not only did African peace operations led by the AU need UN authorization—in accordance with Chapter VIII of the UN Charter—but the continent’s leaders were also unable to credibly claim that Africa could solve its own problems. Now, the AU could, for the first time, have a predictable and sustainable funding mechanism that grows over time, providing it with more independence and greater leverage. The new funding model will also lay the groundwork for a more complementary and equal relationship with the UN, which is a long-term goal of both institutions, as highlighted in the African Common Position on the Peace Operations Review, as well as last year’s High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s response to its report.

Some question how the new levy will be managed and enforced within the AU. At the Kigali summit, Kaberuka rejected suggestions that it was too ambitious and said that, because Africa is already organized into a number of free-trade zones, it can be easily implemented by next year. The plan is based upon the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Common External Tariff (CET) adopted in 2006, which is seen as a success in the region. The CET was designed to help expand ECOWAS’s customs union, as well as promote cooperation and integration among member states. It provides financing for the community’s activities, including initiatives around responding to security challenges, and has seen overall trade with the bloc increase.

AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smaïl Chergui is especially pleased with the new funding proposal, and traveled to New York this week to discuss it with the UN. Secretary-General Ban also commended African heads of state and government and members of the AU leadership on achieving agreement well ahead of the initial objective of 2020. As well as improving African peace operations and the partnership between the AU and UN, it could also improve the relationship between the AU and Africa’s regional economic communities in the provision of peacekeeping troops, which has at times been challenging.

A lack of predictable and sustainable financing has in the past been a major constraint for the AU in effectively maintaining regional peace and security. Earlier this year, the European Union’s decision to cut funding of the AU mission in Somalia by 20% resulted in a near crisis that the AU could not step in and rectify. In the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, meanwhile, the UN took over missions earlier than was desirable because the AU and troop contributing countries did not have the necessary resources to continue. In both cases, the UN missions ultimately lacked the same level of flexibility as their AU-led predecessors, which were able to undertake more offensive measures. These challenges could now be more avoidable, including at the mission startup phase, which will no longer depend on voluntary donor contributions.

The AU has fought hard to change the narrative around its relationship with other institutions to one of a strategic partnership, rather than the UN and EU simply acting as political and financial big brothers. There are now usually two formal meetings at the highest level between the UN Security Council and members of the AU’s Peace and Security Council each year, as well as regular meetings between the UN under-secretaries-general of peacekeeping and political affairs and the AU’s commissioner for peace and security and their respective staff. These meetings are rotated between New York and Addis Ababa, which is an important step forward from always being held in New York. There are also collaborative exercises looking at the lessons the AU and UN can learn from the political transitions in Mali and CAR, for example.

Further, there is a growing realization of the complementary role the AU can play in previously exclusive UN peace operations. The AU has a proven track record of being able to deploy quickly, as well as willing to use force to stabilize conflict situations in Burundi, CAR, Darfur, and Mali. Such peace enforcement and counterterrorism operations fall outside current UN peacekeeping doctrine. Nonetheless, the AU does not have the capacity to develop multi-dimensional missions that can sustain peace over the long-term. This is where the UN’s ability to recruit a large civilian component in every mission gives it a comparative advantage. Hybrid missions such as the one in Darfur and the UN’s support for AU missions such as AMISOM in Somalia show that a strategic relationship is possible and, moreover, useful to managing conflict on the continent.

A more balanced financial relationship takes the UN-AU partnership one step further. It is, however, only a subset of a number of larger strategic challenges for the relationship and the evolving notion of a global peace and security architecture. In order to reach a sufficiently strategic partnership, it is necessary to investigate a more clearly defined division of labor and a burden-sharing arrangement that would enhance cooperation and efficiency with the overall goal of providing the most effective responses to conflict. Progress on the financing side will, hopefully, act as catalyst for this broader conversation.

Lesley Connolly works with the Center for Peace Operations at the International Peace Institute. She is an MA candidate in International Relations and International Law at New York University, with a focus on protection of civilians in African peace operations. @lesleyconnolly3