The cost of conflict prevention and peace building in Africa is rising. But are African countries becoming less determined both financially and politically?
When African Heads of State and Government took the bold decision to finally disband the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and establish the African Union (AU) in 2002, they had no delusion that the continent, after the genocide in Rwanda, needed to be rescued from itself. From Algeria in the north to Mozambique in the south, from Sudan in the east to Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the west and Somalia in the horn – not to mention Burundi, Angola and Uganda, Africa was dotted with fragile states that were either deep in conflicts or were already worn out by civil wars.
Yearning to win collective security throughout the continent, the then leaders wanted the new continental body to have a wider and deeper political mandate than its predecessor the OAU had in dealing with conflict prevention and peace building. So they adopted one of the highly praised articles of the Constitutive Act of the AU – Article 4(d), which calls for the establishment of ‘a common defense and security policy for the African continent’.
The July 2002 Durban Protocol had therefore mandated the AU, along with the five Regional Economic Communities (RECs), to establish the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and its components including, but not limited to, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), which is the central decision making body, the Common African Defense and Security Policy and the Continental Early Warning System. However, APSA’s most relevant and ambitious component is the establishment of the African Standby Force (ASF).
But there were, and still are, two outstanding problems a mere adoption of a constitutive act could not resolve: financial capability and political will by the member states, the later more critical than the former.
By the time AU member states took the decision to take Africa’s peace and security matters into their own hands, the continent was globally branded as “hopeless” not only for its brittle peace and security records, but also for its unsustainable economy running at, according to the OECD, average GDP of not more than 5 % with conflict ridden states like Somalia crossed out of the list.
Although Africa’s largest donor before 2000, America’s dollars were also running thin owing to the September 11th terrorist attacks on its soil, leaving a huge crack in the flow of Oversees Development Assistance (ODA) that most countries in Africa have heavily relied on.
Having had a handle on the rising cost and dwindling cash flow to secure Africa from its own rogue conflicts, the July 2003 AU summit in Maputo, Mozambique, requested donor countries to lend their financial hands to establish what is today known as the Africa Peace Facility (APF), which has since become a money channel machine from donors, mainly the European Union (EU), to its beneficiaries: the AU, the RECs and other institutions related to the APSA.
The Maputo summit also saw the endorsement by African Heads of State and Government of one of APSA’s major components, the African Standby Force (ASF). Funded in most part by money channeled through the Africa Peace Facility, ASF’s structure is divided into the five regions of Africa through their respective RECs, which are mandated to become the building blocks of the future standby force. These are the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The idea behind establishing a permanent ASF was for each of this regional community to have a Regional Standby Brigade (RSB) that will make up the ASF, which will have a multidisciplinary standby African military force to quickly intervene in troubled states.
A weighty approach for regionalization of Africa’s security structure means five standby brigades were subsequently formed: North Africa Regional Standby Brigade (NASBRIG), East Africa Standby Brigade (EASBRIG), Force Multinationale de l’Afrique Centrale (FOMAC), Southern Africa Standby Brigade (SADCBRIG), and ECOWAS Standby Brigade (ECOBRIG).
It comes as no surprise that running a massive security structure needed billions of dollars to get it up and running. So far, excluding financial aid from other sources, including a meager contribution by member states, “more than €1.1 billion have been allocated to the APF since its inception,” reads a report published in Oct. 2013, which was funded by the EU to evaluate the APF and was acquired by this magazine.
Since 2004, the APF has helped fund African led Peace Support Operations (PSOs), including AMISOM in Somalia and AFISMA in Mali. However, even though originally not planned that the “EU would cover all APF financing needs,” contributions from other partners “have not materialized”; contributions by African states have been negligent, too. “This has not only made it difficult for the African states to fulfill a meaningful role as “partner”, but has also weakened their ownership of the APF,” the 91 pages evaluation report revealed.
In January 2013, on the eve of a global donor conference for the war torn Mali, the AU, for the first time in its history, through its member states, pledged a $50 million for peacekeeping operations in Mali. One year later, “no substantial contribution has made it to AFISMA from African member states,” said an official from the Peace and Security Department at the AU.
“Discussions about alternative sources of funding and efforts to increase African Member States’ contributions to the AU and RECs have not yet borne fruit,” said the EU funded evaluation paper.
Ten years of ponder by member states and more than €1.1 billion later, save for a disorganized AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia and a stiff partnership with the UN in Darfur , an African owned standby force is not up and running and currently, to the distaste of member states which advocate for “African solutions to African problems”, the continent’s troubled states are policed by eight UN run missions: MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNAMID (the AU/UN Hybrid) in Darfur, MINUSMA in Mali, UNISFA in Abyei, Sudan/South Sudan, UNMIL in Liberia, UNOCI in Côte d’Ivoire, UNMISS in South Sudan and MINURSO in Western Sahara. Why?
“The effective functioning of APSA relies on contributions from all African regions and, to that extent, the APF needs to be pan-African in nature, with the full involvement of all African countries,” reads the APF evaluation paper.
But that is exactly what the leaders of the continent are less determined to do, according to Dr. Solomon A. Dersso, senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) and an analyst on peace and security in Africa. Discussing issues related to continental peace and security and the ASF with this magazine, Dr. Solomon asked, “do they [African leaders) even want to have anything in common?” The ASF was planned to start operations in 2010. But most countries in Africa see the regionalization of Africa’s security structure as a threat to their own regional power, according to Dr. Solomon. “I don’t see a single African state ready to surrender some aspects of its sovereignty and strategic military interest in a third country to that of a common defense structure.”
According to Aleksandra Die of the Zurich based think tank Center for Security Studies, “the ASF does not entail the establishment of a standing multinational force, but is built around a standby arrangement where states earmark and train specific units for joint operations and then keep these units ready for rapid deployment at appropriate notice.”
But ASF arrangements so far are not backed by effective institutions owned and operated by AU member states, a void a mid January two day meeting of experts on defense, safety and security at the AU headquarters revealed. The meeting discussed a recently conducted evaluation of the ASF and progresses made towards the operationalization of the African capacity for immediate response to crisis.
One of the crucial elements discussed during the meeting behind closed doors was the evaluation of the Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) of the African Standby Force, which, according to an insider, was identified as a “huge shortcomings of the ASF.”
“The recent crisis in South Sudan and AU’s inability to quickly deploy peacekeeping mission to prevent the killings of civilians laid bare its stand as a by-passer, not a participant, to find African solutions to African problems,” said our source who didn’t want to be mentioned by name. “Although it was mediated by IGAD, the conspicuous absence of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the chair of the AU high level implementation panel on Sudan and South Sudan, from the negotiation process shows a fragmented attempt by African states to seek long lasting African solutions to African problems.”
In 2008 the AU had approved a procedure for APF interventions requiring an urgent response. According to this procedure the AUC must request the Peace and Security Council (PSC) for approval on political appropriateness of rapid deployment of peacekeeping missions in conflict areas. However, the PSC is a political body composed of 15 rotating member states that are notorious in pursuing their own respective national interests over that of the continent’s. The conflict in Mali was a classical example that showed how much the PSC decisions regarding the deployment of an African peacekeeping mission depended on the political and military interests of its rotating member states at the time.
Apart from such arduous political process and the visible absence of political will by AU member states, the effective establishment of ASF is further complicated by inconvenient regional organization membership arrangements. Not all countries in a given region belong to the same REC, and some member states belong to more than one economic grouping. ECOWAS, for example, had its own strong security mechanism in place way before the establishment of the ASF; in North Africa, using the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) as a building block for NASBRIG was complicated because Egypt is not a member of the AMU while Morocco is not AU member state. That required the establishment of the Northern Africa Regional Capacity (NARC). And in East Africa Rwanda is not part of IGAD, necessitating the establishment of the Eastern Africa Standby Brigade Command Mechanism (EASBRICOM). Both NARC and EASBRICOM were formed as Regional Mechanisms (RMs), adding more confusion to the already complex structure of the ASF.
Ten years later a sensible command system to establish an effective African standby force ready for quick deployment in troubled states seems more complicated, if not impossible. Meanwhile countries in the continent from South Sudan to Mali to Central African Republic continue radiating constant alarm of the worst to come.