The Critical Peace and Security Issues Driving the Upcoming UN-AU Meeting

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat hold a joint press conference after their meeting in Addis Ababa on July 9, 2018. (Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Advances in the United Nations and the African Union (AU) relationship come at a time when partnerships are indispensable to navigating complex security and stabilization challenges. The 12th Annual Joint Consultative Meeting of the UN Security Council and AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC)—scheduled to take place on July 19 in New York—follows the UN-AU Conference held last week in Addis Ababa and is an opportunity to further this partnership.

The 2017 Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security exemplifies the advances made in the UN-AU partnership in recent years. The framework details the principles, themes, and modalities for the partnership and covers the peace, security, development nexus. It further builds upon the recommendations and analysis outlined in the report of the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations and the Independent Review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture—and resolutions of the Security Council and AUPSC, as well as annual reports from the respective organizations.

A complementary relationship with the UN is vital for Africa, while Africa and the AU are integral to the success of the UN’s peace and security agenda. African countries contribute over 49 percent of the 91,585 troop and police contributions stationed across 14 peacekeeping operations (as of June 2018), affording them significant potential to influence how the UN operationalizes its most complex and visible peace and security tool. With a continent comprising 54 member states, Africa collectively constitutes one of the most influential blocs in establishing UN policy, whether through the General Assembly’s Fourth Committee, Fifth Committee, C-34 Sub-Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, or through the A-3 Members of the Security Council.

While the Joint UN-AU Framework drives the day-to-day collaboration between the two organizations at the political and operational levels, the bi-annual meetings of the Security Council and AUPSC provide a platform for the two organizations to engage in open conversations about core strategic issues.

Building off meetings in recent weeks, below are some of the peace and security issues most likely to drive the upcoming UN-AU meetings:

1. Aligning strategies on fragile political processes

Streamlining political engagement in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will be front and center. Both situations involve complex, UN-mandated multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations that regularly confront challenges in delivering sustainable, inclusive political processes and implementing protection of civilians (PoC) mandates while maintaining host-state consent.

For South Sudan, the UN and AU must collectively work to support the peace process led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Recent efforts to reinvigorate the implementation of the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) Agreement include: the 2017 High-Level Revitalization Forum, the 2017 Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access (ACoH) and the meetings between President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar in June 2018, their first in over eighteen months. The June 2018 Khartoum Declaration of Agreement and ensuing agreements on security arrangements offer signs of incremental progress. The UN and AU will likely assess momentum on the Khartoum Process within the context of the most recent meeting of the AU High-Level Ad-Hoc Committee for South Sudan, as well as the Security Council’s July 15, 2018 decision to impose an arms embargo and a renewed sanctions regime.

On the DRC, the UN and AU will likely examine strategies for supporting implementation of the December 2016 political agreement and the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, along with preparations for the scheduled December 2018 national elections. Given the interlinkages between conflict drivers at the local, provincial and national levels in the DRC, the rising trend of violence over the past eighteen months suggests a volatile and potentially de-stabilizing pre-election period.

While MONUSCO remains largely focused on PoC tasks and supporting peace agreement implementation, the AU and regional economic communities (RECs) are leading efforts to assist the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) in election preparations. As examined in its recent meeting, the AUPSC “called upon the Commission to take the necessary steps to coordinate the multifarious support that AU member states could provide for the organisation of elections,” including by neighboring countries across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). Sustained and coordinated political engagement from UN and AU leadership, combined with pro-active and constant engagement by national and regional initiatives, will be critical in addressing potential challenges that may emerge over the coming months.

2. Addressing issues of sustainable and predictable financing for African-led peace support operations

Another pertinent issue on the agenda relates to the extent that UN member states should financially support Security Council-authorized African peace support operations, a renewed priority for the AU in the context of the G5 Sahel Joint Forces. While the need for improved cost-sharing mechanisms is recognized, questions of how remain unresolved. Two dynamics amplify this challenge: political pressures on African member states to assume more financial responsibility, and greater strain on UN peacekeeping budgets sparked in part by reduced outlays from the United States.

While the AU has historically relied on external partner-driven funding, recent reforms aim to encourage greater contributions from African member states. The 2016 decision, Financing of the Union, required all African member states to begin applying 0.2 percent levies on specific imports in 2017 with the goals of financing 100 percent of the AU’s operations, 75 percent of its programming, and 25 percent of African peace support operations by 2020. Revenue from the levies are expected to complement those of the AU Peace Fund in supporting a wide range of peace and security activities. As AU member states fund only four percent of the $268 million budgeted annually for AU peace support operations as of January 2018, full implementation of the 2016 decision will likely exceed the 2020 deadline.

The Security Council has continuously engaged this issue, albeit with no consensus emerging among its membership. Resolution 2320, “expressed [the Security Council’s] readiness to consider” financing mechanisms alongside improved “accountability, transparency, and compliance frameworks” for AU peace support operations. The most contentious issue concerns the potential use of UN assessed contributions. In a 2017 follow-up report to Resolution 2320, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres outlined different funding models, including the use of voluntary contributions, subvention mechanisms, and UN assessed contributions through joint financing models, joint operations, or UN support offices. While UN assessed contributions would most clearly resolve questions of sustainability and predictability, member states expressed reservations about the financial and accountability implications. The most recent Security Council resolution discussing the issue, Resolution 2378, highlighted the intent of the Council to give further consideration to practical steps.

The lack of predictable and sustainable funding is a point of tension between the UN and AU and often constrains regional peace and security initiatives. Though ad-hoc security interventions like the G5 Sahel Joint Forces may appear more viable, they also encounter similar challenges concerning funding. Improving the financial models underpinning African-driven peace operations are inherently linked to their legitimacy, capacity, sustainability, accountability, and effectiveness, as well as a more balanced financial approach.

3. Fortifying the UN-AU partnership amid multilateral reforms processes 

The UN and AU are both undergoing reform processes to strengthen the strategic and operational mechanisms of their work. Ensuring that the UN-AU partnership continues to flourish amid institutional changes should feature prominently throughout the upcoming discussions.

Building on the recommendations from the HIPPO Report and the Review of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture, Secretary-General Guterres launched a widespread reform of the UN’s peace and security pillar in 2017, which was recently endorsed by the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee. His reforms articulate a clear vision: the UN Secretariat’s peace and security capabilities must be better integrated, collaborative, and responsive to dynamic needs in the field. Central to this is an effective partnership with the AU.

Simultaneous reform initiatives undertaken by the AU and the AU Commission (AUC), propose three areas of focus. First, the AU should focus on continent-wide priorities—peace and security, political affairs, and economic integration—to better amplify Africa’s voice on the international stage. Second, the AU should review the AUC and the AUPSC structures to strengthen their conflict prevention and crisis management capabilities. And third, the report recommends improved management of the AU at political and technical level.

How these reforms are operationalized is crucial for the UN-AU partnership. As discussed recently, day-to-day collaboration can be strengthened through improved working methods across different divisions. Efforts to rationalize the work between the AU and Africa’s RECs, and to improve how the AUPSC undertakes its work on conflict prevention vis-à-vis the UN, are crucial. How concepts of subsidiarity and complementarity are put into practice will similarly drive the effectiveness of UN and AU reforms. At the recent AU Summit in Nouakchott, the AU Assembly decided to convene an extra-ordinary summit in November 2018 dedicated to reviewing draft proposals and recommendations on reform. Jointly unpacking the practical implications of the reforms for the UN-AU relationship is imperative for improving strategic coherence and coordination.

4. Partnerships for sustaining peace and conflict prevention in Africa

Secretary-General Guterres has put a renewed and stronger focus on prevention, best exemplified by the sustaining peace framework. Sustaining peace is broadly understood as both a goal and a process to build common visions of societies, and advocates for holistic approaches to peace and development. To advance the strategic and operational growth of the sustaining peace framework, there is a need for a “coordinated, coherent, integrated and results-oriented response.”

The AU is a complementary player to the UN in peacebuilding on the continent and their engagement on peacebuilding and sustaining peace is expanding. In September 2017, the AUC and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at strengthening cooperation in support of peacebuilding and sustaining peace efforts throughout Africa. At the recent AU-UN Annual Conference in Addis Ababa, both Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and Secretary-General Guterres reiterated their commitment to working together in regards to peacebuilding by continuing to develop a “comprehensive, integrated and coordinated approach to conflict prevention,” recognizing the role that both institutions can play in this arena. The AU is in the process of revitalizing its framework for post-conflict reconstruction and development and its conflict prevention strategy, both of which offer opportunities to connect to the secretary-general’s sustaining peace and conflict prevention reforms. These initiatives can be strengthened through more coordinated in-country action between New York and Addis Ababa.

One aspect in this regard would be the organization of joint analysis, information sharing, planning, and programming between the two institutions that can help coordinate peacebuilding, prevention, and sustaining peace initiatives. The AU holds some comparative advantage in peacebuilding with its ability to provide thorough guidance and analysis based on its knowledge of country circumstances, regional dynamics, and continental-level issues. This assessment should be shared and form a basis for coordinated intervention and support. The situations in Burkina Faso and The Gambia offer examples of successful coordination where Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)-led interventions, supported by the AU and UN, resulted in peaceful resolutions of the political impasse and successful prevention of the outbreak of violence. The AU is now continuing its engagement in The Gambia, having deployed a range of officers to the country that will assist the government in specific areas related to rule of law and human rights, which complement efforts from other actors, including the UN. In contexts where there is a need for widespread capacity, coordinated deployments will work to fill the gaps seen.

The UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) constitutes a valuable entry-point for collaboration between the UN, regional, and sub-regional organizations. The Gambia, Central African Republic, Liberia, along with countries across the Sahel and the Great Lakes Region, all rely on the PBC and its Peacebuilding Fund for long-term financing, coordination, and support. Aligning PBC engagement with AU-frameworks on post-conflict reconstruction and development should improve shared understanding of local dynamics and potential risks across all interventions.

A vibrant UN-AU partnership is critical to ending violent conflicts and for building long-term peace in Africa. At a moment where multilateral institutions for peace and security confront enormous responsibilities, a more effective partnership is in the interest of both organizations and African member states. Moving the partnership forward now requires the organizations to coordinate their actions, implement their commitments, and respond flexibly to the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Lesley Connolly is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for Peace Operations at the International Peace Institute (IPI). Daniel Forti is a Policy Analyst in the Center for Peace Operations at IPI.