Joint peace operations in Africa - the way forward for resolving conflicts on the African continent?

A seminar at NAI in Uppsala on 15-16 December brought together 23 high level officials from the African Union and the United Nations, as well as international scholars, practitioners and military officers to discuss the challenges of AU-UN support models and joint missions.

The initiative for the seminar was a request from the AU Peace Support Operation Division (AU PSOD). The seminar brought practitioners together in a relaxing atmosphere to discuss a burning issue that AU as well as UN officials grapple with on an everyday basis. The AU PSOD needs to build resilience and planning capacity to overcome the ad-hocness in response to conflicts on continent. For this to be sustainable, closer involvement and strategic guidance from the African member states and the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) is also needed. In this process, support models from the UN will play a critical role. Predictable funding of the AU’s conflict management is a critical concern. The UN and AU secretariats have already made progress in developing and institutionalizing a peace and security relationship. Present at the seminar were some of the officials closely involved in these developments. 

The seminar evaluated three different examples of support models, developed and utilized during the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS), the AU-UN Hybrid Mission for Darfur (UNAMID) and the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and then discussed the way forward. It helped build a common understanding of the possibilities and problems involving different support models. This debate forms an important part of efforts to improve ways in which the international community responds to conflicts in Africa . The event was co-organized by the Nordic Africa Institute, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation (DHF). This is a first seminar in what is expected to become a series of co-organized meetings, the next probably taking place in Addis Ababa in late 2012. The seminar was in large part funded by a SIDA grant under the NAI ‘Poverty, Inequality and Social exclusion’ programme, 2009-2011. 

The principle positions of the AU and UN on support models
The UN encourages the AU to take on peacekeeping roles, not least because UN military capabilities are scarce. The UN has over 119,000 deployed personnel across 15 missions around the world. The diversity of mission mandates stretches the UN’s capacity to meet the expectations on it. The budget has soared to over 7 billion US dollars a year. The first AU-UN Hybrid Peacekeeping Mission for Darfur (UNAMID) was authorized in 2007 and represented a way for the AU and the UN to jointly respond to Africa’s complex peacekeeping demands. The UN support office to the AU Mission in Somalia (UNSOA) has set another example. This support model was established in Nairobi in 2009 and provides mission support via the UN’s assessed contribution funding. 

Joint AU-UN peace operations bring important benefits for both parties. For example, the AU can lend political credibility to UN peacekeeping in Africa. The UN, for its part, brings support packages that are more sustainable than direct donor support and can also assist with peace operation knowledge and human resources. However, among the obstacles for the smooth functioning of the relationship are significant authority and ownership issues. 

The AU position seems to be in support of the hybrid model or variations of close and highly integrated support models with the UN. From the AU perspective, support models which enable the use of the UN assessed contribution funding system to pay for African peacekeeping improve the long-term planning potential in missions as well as the potential for AU capacity-building. In general, the AU is committed to respond quickly to conflicts in Africa, but asks for the UN to consult the AUPSC on peace and security issues and to support it financially and logistically. However, the UN prefers a flexible approach to support models: which one to use will depend on the situation. The UNSC has not responded favorably to suggestions that UN assessed contribution funding should be made automatically available when the AU deploys UNSC authorized peace operation. 

The seminar content
The seminar was officially opened by NAI director Carin Norberg. NAI researcher Dr. Linnéa Gelot and co-organizers Cedric de Coning, Research Fellow, ACCORD & Norwegian Institute for International Affairs, and Dr. Henning Melber, director, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation made introductory remarks. The participants first heard a presentation by Dr. Kwesi Aning, dean and director, Academic Affairs& Research Department, KAIPTC. He provided an overview of the critical issues relating to funding and supporting African peacekeeping.  

In the next session the seminar evaluated the benefits and disadvantages with the Direct Donor Support Model for the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS). Professor Cage Banseka, AU-UN Joint Meditation Support Team (JMST) & former AMIS staff, gave a paper on Joint/Hybrid AU-UN Mediation in the Darfur Peace Process. There were comments from Abdourahman Ibrahim, senior political officer for UNAMID, Joint Support and Coordination Mechanism (JSCM) Addis Ababa & former AMIS staff, and Jens Møller, principal administrator, African Peace Facility (APF), European Commission. One disadvantage with Joint AU-UN mediation is that the AUPSC and UNSC do not have a shared interpretation of a given situation, and of what approach to use. The result can be rivaling proposals and priorities coming out of the AU/UN mediators and their respective support staff. One benefit is the mutual political support and legitimacy that the two organizations can lend to one another. As for bilateral or direct donor support, participants held that one disadvantage is the risk of capacity-substitution instead of capacity-building since mechanisms and structures are ad hoc and reactive, not designed to be made permanent. Too little technical know-how and knowledge stays with the AU afterwards. One benefit is that highly flexible financial support can work well in small-scale, time-limited operations at the stage before the UNSC has taken the decision to transform it into a UN mission. 

Before closing day 1, a third session evaluated the AU-UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Two paper presentations were given on the topic. Maj. Gen. (rtd.) Henry Anyidoho, Former Deputy SRSG, UNAMID and Gen. (rtd.) Martin Agwai, former Force Commander UNAMID shared their experiences having served at the mission leadership level. One disadvantage with a highly integrated support model such as ‘hybridity’ is that the AU and UN Secretariats, even when these collaborate closely, cannot control the Council and member states politics. Implementation of certain policies may not be possible to the letter. Another regards ownership. Both organizations need to show involvement, communicate with the mission leadership and lend visibility and support to the mission. Even if it is agreed that UN command and control procedures are followed, the AUPSC and AU member states must also be closely involved. One benefit is the increased potential for capacity building and knowledge transfer, facilitated by the medium- to longer-term hybrid support model. 

Day 2 started with a session evaluating the UN Support Office for Somalia (UNSOA) and AMISOM. Papers were given by James Gadin, political officer, AMISOM, and James Boynton, director, UNSOA. There were comments from Dr. Walter Lotze, liaison officer to the AUPSOD. One disadvantage with the support models used for AMISOM is that there have been several co-existing ones which tax the energy of the AU’s limited support staff. There is the trust fund, support from the EU APF, direct donor support, and the UNSOA. The UNSOA office has made a big difference for the standard of the AMISOM troops in the field. It has gone to unprecedented lengths to provide support flexibly, but still does not meet the real needs of the mission. Troops are still not sufficiently equipped and trained for the tasks expected of them on a day to day basis. Some of the mission’s core needs are not covered by the UNSOA but are left to the more unreliable direct donor support. 

In the last session, Sivuyile Bam, head PSOD, AU and Margaret Carey, director Africa I Division?, DPKO gave their concluding remarks and seminar participants considered support options for future AU missions. 

This is a brief summary of key findings. A more comprehensive report will be published in the NAI Policy Dialogue series in spring 2012. 

Challenges with existing models are political as much as they are operational, financial and technical. When evaluating support models we must allow for a broad debate. We cannot limit debates to how to find willing funders, discussing the AU’s budget and taking into account the world economic situation. We cannot focus on isolated examples, such as only the specificities of the AU-UN collaboration in Sudan’s conflicts.

Discussions need to center on the systems, procedures, processes that should be part of the ‘toolbox’ of support models appropriate for the future. Models are problematic if they become straitjackets. Operations are politically driven and models need to be sufficiently flexible and politically possible as well as suitable to the diversity of missions and conflict situations in Africa. For example, a model requiring high levels of harmonization and cooperation may not be suitable in volatile situations or ongoing war situations. As for funding models, they should be appropriate, early,timely and more predictable.

The seminar formulated a need to discuss the desirable role of the AU as a peace and security actor on the continent with the AU member states and the AUPSC. This discussion should focus on what the comparative advantages are of the AU and how to leverage them. There is a need to avoid a duplication of roles with the UN, other African sub-regional organizations (RECs), and other peace and security actors. From this political and strategic discussion would follow good policy on how to strengthen the strategic and planning side of the AU peace and security structures, for instance the strategic guidance and direction in the AUPSC – AUPSOD relation. Additionally, AU and partners would know what they are preparing and training peace operation staff for (what types of skills, tasks, missions). Furthermore, the AU could formulate clearer requests of support to the UN partners and other donors.

The seminar formulated a need to discuss with the AU member states the levels of their assessed contributions to the AU and their voluntary contributions to the Peace Fund. What would encourage AU member states to treat the peacekeeping component of the AU’s work as the flagship enterprise it has been presented as to the world? If AU member states invested long-term in the AU’s peace and security role, this would signal long-term commitment and support to the UN and the donors. This was expected to strengthen and make more dependable the various possible support models.

On the side of the UN Secretariat seminar participants said procedures and standards of peace operations (safety, security, well-being) need review. These large UN bureaucracy and the procedures and standards were developed to improve the well-being and security of UN peacekeepers in the field (DPKO – UN peace operations). In the AU-UN joint peace operations these same procedures sometimes undermine rather than facilitate collaboration. They do not meet the realities and day to day operational needs of African peace operations today (DPKO – AU peace operations). 

Both the AU and the UN need to invest more in the peace and security relationship. Dependable systems need to exist to guide the two when responding to issues that arise at short notice. This might involve: more institutionalization; bringing prepared positions to joint meetings; more strategic discussion; sending one’s best people to consultations, exchanges, trainings and keeping them in the organization. 

Linnéa Gelot

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