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13 May 2013

The African Union at Fifty: Peace and Security

Fifty years since its original inception, the African Union (AU) reflects a significantly changed African and global environment. Its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), established in Addis Ababa, on 25 May 1963, was dedicated to combating colonialism, promoting the economic and political future of Africa, defending the sovereignty of African states, and to promoting a better life for African people. But today, for many in Africa, freedom and sovereignty have yet to translate into significantly improved lives. 

The OAU struggled with the challenges of decolonization and securing the continent’s emerging states, buffeted all the time by Cold War politics. By contrast the AU operates in a highly globalized environment, grappling with many all too familiar security challenges – and some very modern ones too.

To a degree OAU Summits – and meetings of its various security organs – were more like a reunion gathering of senior military officers than serious intergovernmental efforts to address the complexity of life for ordinary Africans. But the AU, wielding its new broom, tries - with varying degrees of success – to hold its own in the cauldron of global insecurity and economic meltdown. But, both were born of their time, and both played vital roles in advancing Africa’s cause.

Despite the heavy hand of military leadership and apparently permanently installed presidents, the OAU did a great deal to set the future scene for the AU’s work: to promote the peace and security Africa needs to allow its citizens to develop and prosper. The declining years of the Cold War allowed significant African-led developments to take place in the continent’s peace and security architecture.

In May 1991, the Africa Leadership Forum proposed the formation of an African Peace Council. It proposed that the Council should 'move Africa from the confinement of purely reacting to events, to a capacity of anticipatory and containment measures for its security'. The Council, designed to operate under the OAU framework, was to 'have discretion to effect a measure of intervention in national security problems of participating member states'. 

Building on this, African heads of state and government issued the 1993 Cairo Declaration on the Establishment of the Central Organ of the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution. The declaration marked a departure from previous OAU approaches to conflict by acknowledging the need to introduce fundamental changes in order to achieve peace and stability through preventing and resolving conflicts. 

This trend away from state-centric, security-led approaches towards a more citizen-centred, development-led approach continued with the signature of the AU Constitutive Act on 11 July 2000 in Lomé, Togo. Departing from the OAU's early emphasis on absolute sovereignty and non-interference, the Constitutive Act empowers the AU with the right 'to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances'. In effect the Constitutive Act marked the final step in a move towards formal conflict management structures.  

Following its inauguration July 2002, the AU promulgated a Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council, which articulated a broad framework for implementing preventive diplomacy. This transformation led to the development of the new and wide-ranging Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), marking the end of Africa’s conceptual journey away from an elite club of undemocratic leaders to a much more citizen-centred approach.

Since its establishment, the AU – from a zero base – has mounted peace support missions of variable but generally improving quality in a number of African conflicts. Key interventions have included Burundi, Darfur, the Comoros and Somalia. Developing the capacity to design, mandate and deploy these missions – along with the less visible work the Union has undertaken on peace and security issues on the continent – has been far from easy. And it has often been a highly frustrating experience for Africa's international partners. But few visitors to Mogadishu now doubt the bravery and skill of African civilians and soldiers working in one of the most complex security environments on earth.

But even as Africa struggles to sustain some relatively classic peace support missions, it is having to get to grips with an increasing range of policy challenges. Understanding the role that security plays in promoting development, and working to promote both in a global security environment characterized by global terrorism, trans-national crime, maritime insecurity and other cross-cutting threats such as climate change, migration and the competition for economic growth, is Africa’s next great challenge.

If the last fifty years were about the continent’s security in a conventional sense, the next fifty years will be about working to promote human security in an increasingly complex environment. Africa should no longer be the place where ideological battles between West and East or secular and radical forces are played out, but the place where Africans finally complete their decolonization – of the land and of the mind – and become full partners in the global political, economic and security environment. 

Re-posted from the Chatham House website:

9 April 2013

South Sudan/security sector: When turning the oil back on is not all good

The Republic of Sudan and the republic of South Sudan have quietly agreed to re-start oil production.  This is, of course, a good thing and is much to be encouraged.  In the case of South Sudan, it paves the way for paying back all the short term debt that the oil stoppage has forced upon the country, and permits the Government to dust off plans for investing in the infrastructure and services vital to this fragile country’s stability. 

The plans are already in place.  The South Sudan Development Plan (SSDP) 2011-2013 was a first and serious attempt by Government to prepare a strategic, prioritised development plan.  But some – with credibility – argue that the content was too driven by external (donor) interests.  The evidence for this is perhaps the curious downplaying of security.  The security sector consumes over 40% of South Sudan’s budgeted resources, and in reality a far greater portion of the actual cash available.  No doubt a lot of this money is misdirected – the problem being as much a reluctance on the part of security actors to be held to account as a reluctance of South Sudanese people to ask questions of them.  The most effective way to reduce the cost over time will be a change of culture, as much as anything else.

But for now, the facts of life are that South Sudan is paying a great deal to a security sector which is largely ineffective.  Frankly neither the army nor the police (or indeed any other agency) are much good.  The resources allocated to them are both wasted in terms of expenditure; and fail to represent any kind of real return on investment when measured against insecurity (which endures) and access to justice (which does not).  It was clear from the preparation of the SSDP that South Sudanese people rated security in all its forms as their highest priority.  But donors did not want to hear this, so the focus of the SSDP is on infrastructure (another source of significant corruption) and production.   The main effort needs to be a reduction in the cost of the security sector (along with a concomitant increase in both its effectiveness and accountability) in order to liberate resources for development.  This will require donors to recognise what South Sudanese people already know – (in)security holds an almost complete veto on any other kind of progress.  The trick is not to prioritise security over other forms of development (or vice versa), but to move both security and wider development forward together in an integrated fashion.  South Sudan has a plan which does this, but donors are cherry picking.

The cost of the security sector is not entirely wasted.  If the army (and to a degree the police) are actually composed of various opposing factions and groups which have been integrated for largely political-security reasons, some of the cost of the sector is in fact the price of peace.  Another inconvenient truth which donors don’t seem to fully understand.

In many respects, the oil shut down was fortunate.  It reduced the cash available to such an extent that even the security sector had to make sacrifices.  This provided an opportunity to work closely, and at a strategic level, with Government to target limited resources; and created the conditions where it was possible to engage Government on both the cost and effectiveness of the security sector.  Switching the oil back on risks dis-incentivising real security sector reform, a danger amplified by the tunnel vision of development partners who do not appear to understand that security is a development issue. 

7 March 2013

EU/Africa: Ten years of the Africa Peace Facility

The European Union (EU) is evaluating the first ten years of the Africa Peace Facility (APF).  The APF was established following the African Union (AU) Summit in Maputo in 2003 as a means to finance (i) the development of African peace support capacity; and (ii) African-led peace support operations (PSO).  It was originally funded from left over European Development Fund (EDF) resources – although it has from time to time been topped-up bilaterally by EU member states.  The EDF origins of the APF have led to a rhetoric about shared ownership of the resources.  Since it began, the APF has disbursed slightly in excess of one billion Euros – about 85% of which has gone on the financing the cost of various African PSO with the remainder spent on capacity building at AU and sub-regional level.

There appear to be differences of view within Europe about the purpose of the APF.  This is perhaps characterised by some who contrast a one billion Euro investment with the total inability of ECOWAS to deliver a force to Mali – despite funds specifically allocated to this.  But there are deeper tensions within Europe.  Support for the APF as currently constituted is not rock solid.  Africa (and some in the European Commission) would like to dispense with the capacity building element of the APF – largely because the PSO demand is vast and apparently bottomless; and partly because there are in fact other EU funds which could be used.  But altering the balance between conflict management (PSO) and conflict prevention (capacity building) within the APF would almost certainly destroy it as some EU member states think that the purpose of the APF is actually capacity building.


After ten years of the APF, a great deal of positive change is evident.  The EU (at least at official level) is less patronising in its approach to the African partners and more willing to understand that the development process will be evolutionary and long. And the various African institutions rub along better than they used to.  But the question of subsidiarity is still not yet resolved in Africa.  This is leading to inefficiency and waste – both in terms of using donor funds and in terms of who does what in Africa.


The EU are clear that the APF is a funding instrument.  This (narrow and technocratic) position is what enables them to be patient in terms of actual improved African capability.  But it is quite clear that others in Europe are much clearer that they want some return for what is anyone’s book a large investment.  There is a relative lack of any strategic link between the activities (and goals) of the APF on the one hand; and Europe’s wider political-security interests and concerns on the other.  It is perhaps naive to assume that Europe will continue to pay out at this rate without some quid pro quo – a point which many Africans assume yet European seems to ignore.

Mission creep

The one area where European political-security interests seem to have had an impact is in the (always loose) definition of what the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) actually is.  In 2003/4, APSA was largely about building institutions and capabilities: the Peace and Security Council; the Africa Standby Force; the Continental Early Warning System; the Panel of the Wise.  Now the EU’s definition still includes these institutions but adds a number of specific effects or policy goals such as counter-piracy and maritime security.   Africa does not seem to actually share the EU’s political-security goals in their entirety.  The continent is still very much in a phase characterised by the management of operations and the development of institutional capacity.  There is a gentle divergence between African and European ambition developing.  This will likely lead to an increasingly a la carte approach to developing the APSA which is unlikely to be particularly helpful going forward.

C + C = C

Getting the best – for Europe and Africa – from a future incarnation of the APF will require more than just bureaucracy.  The officials of the various inter-governmental organisations have a key role to play.  They need to work to improve their cultural awareness of their partners within the APF; and to work to improve formal and informal communication between them.  These two Cs will lead to improved confidence leading in turn to better outcomes. The formula for future APF success ought to be: Culture + Communications = Confidence.

4 March 2013

Kenya: Where has all the traffic gone? Long time passing..

The Kenya Airways flight banked over Nairobi giving the usual glimpse of the north and western suburbs, Wilson Airport and the Nairobi National Park. With barely a cloud in the sky, the full extent of the major roadworks around Kenya's capital was clear. But something was missing. There seemed to be almost no traffic moving around the city on this, Kenya's most important election day in many years. As the flight settled into its final approach, the normally log jammed Mombassa Road seemed equally deserted.

For the regular visitor to Nairobi, the lack of traffic is almost spooky. The city's traffic is very much like Kenya itself. It ebbs and flows, forming up behind obstacles and eventually overcoming them. It is brash and confident; and endlessly diverse. The mundane experience of sitting on a European motorway with its range of greys and people cocooned in their vehicles is far from the exuberant - but highly frustrating - business of navigating Nairobi's traffic. All manner of things are offered for sale - maps; ground nuts; curious devices for drying small items of laundry; fruit; DVDs; etc. All of Nairobi life is here and on display. Commuters in the Matatus; families combining going to work with the school run; people doing their make up in the passenger (and sometimes driver's) seat of the car to the sound track of revving engines, over amplified sound systems and beeps and hoots.

But not today.

The taxi driver drew up at the security post on the hotel perimeter. The usual smiling request to search the vehicle was replaced by a huge grin and a raised little finger on the guard's left hand. In the gleeful exchange which followed, the taxi driver - exhibiting his own left little finger to demonstrate that he too had voted today - declared us all "men of God". Although it was far from clear how, both men had recognised in each other a shared political ambition.

A group of Americans at the hotel seemed oblivious to the momentous events taking place in Kenya. They had, they said, had an amazing holiday into which they had packed more experiences of a life time than an ordinary mortal was entitled to expect. But the election had cast a shadow over their final day. Their drivers had wanted to vote.

The luxury of near deserted streets is unsettling. Hopefully tomorrow, Nairobi will be back to normal - and people will be wistfully reflecting on how easy it was to get around on 4 March. But if traffic, potholes and resentful tourists are the worst that Kenya has to contend with in the days following the election, the country will count itself lucky. Kenyans do not want - or need - more violence. Let's just hope that the political elite can remember that in the days and weeks to come.

21 February 2013

Spending aid money on security

Poor people need security in exactly the same way that they need access to clean water, shelter, food, healthcare and education.  Security is a basic service and is the business of people, their governments and development programmes.  When poor people are safer, then their countries are more peaceful and stable – and the world is safer too.  Insecurity fuels the sense of economic, political and social marginalisation which fosters resentment towards an unequal world.  Improved security is, therefore, a direct benefit poor and rich, African and European alike.

Peace keeping vs peace support

Peace keeping – an essentially military activity which seeks to protect, promote and enable the political process of making peace – is an expensive and difficult task.  Peace support – an integrated civilian-military task – integrates peace keeping into a number of linked activities designed to help ensure that fragile and conflict afflicted states sustainably emerge into peace and security.  These activities include humanitarian assistance, development, economic support as well as the development of a culture of rule of law.  All require security.  But security cannot be imposed or achieved in a vacuum.  Security and development are two sides of the same coin.

Human security

Ordinary people should be the main beneficiary of improved security.  It is an essential element in improving their human security.  Human security links integrates their physical safety with their welfare.  Only when people are both safe and well can the stability of their community, country or region be assured.  Investments in security which do not identify ordinary people as the ultimate beneficiary are unlikely to effective.

Improved security planning

In the same way that development programmes seek to assist the governments of poor countries to improve their economic planning, helping governments to plan the development and direction of their security sectors is key.  Indeed, improved and integrated security planning can also help countries emerging from conflict to get to grips important aspects of both state and nation building too.

An important military role but not a military lead

The military can play an important part in helping countries effect the transformation from conflict to peace and stability.  Soldiers can often talk to other soldiers (including those newly in power) in a way that diplomats and others cannot.  And the military strengths of clarity of mission and translating political direction into operational reality fit well in the post-conflict environment.  But the overall task of delivering security in concert with development is primarily a civilian one; and is overwhelmingly strategic. 

An integrated approach

So if the UK is to spend more aid money on security and stabilisation, the military will often find themselves in the frontline of delivery but the goals towards which they are working must be set developmentally and politically.  In this respect, the suggestion that funds should be transferred from the Department for International Development (DFID) to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) is poorly conceived.  A better approach would be to increase HMG’s ability to plan and act in an integrated manner – for example through mechanisms like the Conflict Prevention Pool (CPP) and the UK Stabilisation Unit.  Competing for Whitehall funding between Departments does not have to be a winner takes all game.  Fragile and conflict afflicted states need the British Government to practice what it preaches and to keep an eye on the big picture.

20 February 2013

Global security and security sector development in Africa

Insecurity in Africa is increasingly acknowledged as a threat to global security. But tackling it often prioritises the interests of the international community at the expense of people in Africa and the Continent’s long-term stability. The nature of the threat is rarely traditional and military in nature, but has its roots in governance weakness. Narrowly focussed security-led interventions in Africa can lead to uneven development of African security sector capabilities. As a consequence, fragile and conflict afflicted states in Africa are at risk of becoming brittle – apparently strong but in fact inflexible and unresponsive to the needs of citizens.

Threats from Africa vs threats to Africa

Africa generates a number of threats to the wider world. These include migration driven by poverty, conflict and natural disaster; trans-national organised crime facilitated by lack of effective governance; terrorism; and piracy. These threats do not lend themselves to traditional military-security responses and the extent to which Africa itself is threatened by them is debatable. Few are actually the stuff of day to day security concern amongst ordinary Africans who are more likely to prioritise safety and security in their communities and the effects of corruption. Clearly international and African concerns share common roots. But the extent to which this is recognised by international security practitioners is limited.

Narrowly focussed security led responses

International efforts to counter insecurity from Africa often involve targeted interventions to address proximate threats. International concerns about terrorism often lead to the development of operational police and military units designed solely to partner international security agencies. The global impact of piracy often leads to the development of coast guard and naval capacities which characterise the maritime domain only as a source of threat to be controlled rather than as an economic resource to be regulated, policed and sustainably exploited.

Uneven security sector development

This narrow focus risks leading to the uneven development of African security sector agencies. Those agencies thought to be vital to tackling international security concerns receive the lion’s share of international support, whilst others – those more associated with the delivery of security as a basic service to ordinary people - receive little or no attention. This inevitably leads to a crisis of legitimacy for the security agencies in receipt of international support who are at risk of becoming increasingly capable but increasingly less accountable.

Integrated approach

Tackling insecurity in Africa in such a way as to address proximate global security concerns and the longer term developmental needs of African states requires an integrated approach. Security partnerships with Africa need to identify, enlarge and be built upon areas of genuine common interest. Building niche security sector capacities designed to counter a narrow spectrum of insecurity leads to uneven development of security sector capabilities and the inevitable de-prioritisation of the security needs of ordinary people. The international community – especially its donor agencies – needs to understand the links between development and security; and the need to work with African governments to make their security sector agencies accountable, adequate, affordable and appropriate. Security interventions in Africa which simply build the capacity of the governments to act robustly risk converting fragile and conflict afflicted states into brittle ones.