To Improve Peacekeeping, UN and AU Need to Improve Partnership

Residents of Shangil Tobaya, North Darfur, queue up to receive medical treatment from the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), as part of a medical campaign in the area. (UN Photo/Olivier Chassot)

The Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, in the words of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, is part of a new attempt to mobilize political action around the United Nations peacekeeping reform process. The A4P is structured around overcoming the inadequate performance of peace operations through the four “Ps” described in the 2015 High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO): people, politics, partnerships, and performance. More than developing new recommendations, the A4P aims to bring together elements of different reviews of the UN peace and security architecture as a means to create a cultural shift in the organization, and ultimately to realize better results for peace operations in the field.

The inclusion of partnerships in this process creates the need for a closer look at one of the UN’s most important partners when it comes to peacekeeping, the African Union (AU).

Since its creation in 2002, the AU has been able to showcase some of its comparative advantages in responding to new demands for peacekeepers, including in environments facing asymmetric threats. The increasing demand for organizations to step in can be seen by the wide range of peace operations mandated by the AU, as in Burundi (2003-2004), Sudan (2004-2007), Somalia (2007-to date), or Mali (2013). In recent years, the AU has also authorized a range of more offensive types of operations led by countries in a specific region, often referred to as ad hoc security initiatives, such as the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram (MNJTF) and the G5 Sahel Force.

At a strategic level, the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) have increased their interaction, including through the hosting of joint bi-annual meetings. Operationally, the partnership takes place at several levels, from joint mission specific planning and desk-to-desk meetings. One example is the UN-AU joint task force on Peace and Security, that aims at reviewing the status of the engagement between the two organizations, and is represented by senior officials from both the UN Secretariat and the AU Commission.

The Joint UN-AU framework for enhancing the partnership on peace and security, launched in April 2017, is often seen as a culmination of efforts to boost coordination between the two organisations strategically and operationally. One year on, however, there is still much to be done in ensuring a greater degree of coherence and coordination between the two institutions, particularly when it comes to ensuring continued buy in that strengthens their relationship.

The challenges facing the relationship between the two institutions have been quite accurately described. UN-AU relations, according to research, are at times “characterised by considerable conflict, mistrust, and tension, often hindering the predictability and conduct of effective peace operations.” Examples of challenges can be identified in 2017 when the Security Council refused to approve funding of the G5 Sahel Force or current challenges in ensuring continued support to the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

What Can be Done to Enhance the UN-AU Partnership?

At a strategic level, there are many opportunities for the AU PSC and the Security Council to engage beyond their bi-annual meetings, which are often criticized by limited implementation and insufficient follow up of their communiqués. Hosting more regular meetings between the AU PSC and the Security Council could be a useful way to further develop political processes and coordination of day-to-day decisions. This could, for instance, be done by further using the Security Council ad hoc working group on conflict prevention and resolution in Africa as a means to provide a structured space for engagements between the two organizations. While achieving common visions between the two organs will remain a challenge, more constant interaction between them could assist in increasing mutual understanding of opportunities and constraints for coordination.

In order to achieve such a shift, the role of the three African members (A3) in the Security Council is critical. In 2018, the A3 is composed by Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, and Ethiopia, and in 2019, Ethiopia will be replaced by South Africa. By championing AU voices in the Security Council, the A3 have a key responsibility to further ensure that AU practices and discussions can support strengthened cooperation between the two institutions. Therefore, addressing divisions among A3 members and limited coordination between positions taken in Addis Ababa and New York are critical. This would be particularly relevant when the Security Council shows willingness to respond or support processes led by the AU.

Both organizations will also have to further clarify their roles and responsibilities in the deployment of ad hoc security initiatives. The G5 Sahel, for instance, was politically supported and authorized by both the Security Council and the AU PSC, but neither organization controls (or funds) the deployment of the operation, which is done directly by its troop contributors and other external partners. The inability of the Security Council to resolve its divisions regarding the types of support to the G5 Sahel and use of UN assessed contributions for funding of the force, especially between France and the United States, showed there is much to be done in resolving the differences between UN members on how to ensure sustainable and predictable funding to the AU.

In current and future ad hoc deployments, it is important that both organizations develop the appropriate policy guidelines, including issues related to funding, command and control, and doctrine, that can further clarify roles and responsibilities between them and their level of engagement and mutual support.

Part of the problem between the two institutions relates to the fact that their issues are not simply political, but bureaucratic. States are ultimately responsible for the political direction and accountability of international organizations like the UN and the AU, but bureaucrats still enjoy substantial design leeway due to the need for bureaucratic expertise.

One way to increase bureaucratic coordination between the UN and AU relates to more frequent and structured joint planning, analysis, and desk-to-desk interaction. While this should be done between the two organizations, it is however clear that there is still a great capacity gap between them. Expectations of what either party can contribute should therefore be realistic.

A capacity comparison between the UN Secretariat and the AU Commission shows very different levels of capacity between the two institutions. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations of the UN, for instance, has around 500 staff based in New York. Its AU counterpart, the Peace Support Operations Division, has a much more modest structure, with a few dozen staff in Addis Ababa.

Both organizations have liaison offices to the other. The UN office to the African Union (UNOAU), has considerably increased in size and relevance since its creation in 2010. The office now has around 50 staff, with the specific task of enhancing the partnership between the two organizations, focusing particularly in developing the AU’s long-term capacity building and short-term operational support.  However, as shared by the head of the UNOAU, Haile Menkerios, it is still important to minimize competition and duplication between UN and AU, through improved understanding of the dynamics, limitations, and challenges of each organization.

Many external partners have seconded staff to the AU Commission as a means to increase its capacity. The UN could consider seconding a larger number of personnel that are imbedded within the AU Commission. Such secondments are useful not only because they provide increased capacity to the AU, but also because they could improve the UN’s own understanding of how the AU Commission operates internally in the long term.

The AU, on its part, needs to strengthen its presence near UN headquarters. At the moment, the AU only has a small office in New York. During fieldwork in New York in April 2018, many stakeholders shared a degree of frustration with the overall capacity of the office to influence policy processes at UN headquarters. This limited role was attributed to the size of the office as well as limited clarity regarding its role, reporting lines, and decision-making processes.

The UN and AU have, as mentioned, stepped up their attempts to strengthen the effectiveness of their partnership. According to one AU official, the partnership should be based on mutual trust and support. Speaking to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), the official expressed that there is still a sense of competition between the two institutions in their engagements. Therefore, it is important that better burden-sharing through a clearer division of labor, mutual trust, and burden-sharing arrangements is agreed upon. Only then can the organizations move toward a true partnership.

Gustavo de Carvalho is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.