The African Union’s Peace and Security Council members came to see President Muhammadu Buhari recently. The visit was in the course of a retreat the PSC held in Abuja. The news that it had an event in Nigeria had caught my attention, anyway. This is because it’s an organ set up to see to peace and security, yet Africa jumps from one crisis into another, and with such ease. Note that the PSC should be as core to the AU’s activities on the continent as the Security Council is to the United Nations. When the UNSC speaks up on pressing issues from New York, the world listens. However, barely do many in Africa hear the PSC’s voice from its office in Addis Ababa. So, for me, its members’ presence in Abuja was a rainbow in a decidedly sunny sky. Then, there were those words from Buhari to the Council, much of which aligned with my view about such an important organ of the AU. This point about how central the PSC should be to the maintenance of peace and security can’t be minor considering that the United States uses the PSC’s condition as an excuse to set up a permanent military force meant to step into conflicts in Africa even as several African nations kick against it. This point is a notch off the path this piece wants to tread though.
Everyone says Africa is good at picking up useful ideas; the problem is that it forever fails to get them to work as they do where they are picked. It’s known that the AU has some organs similar to those of the UN or the European Union, but which do not perform. This is a malaise of relevant institutions in the AU member countries too, carried over to their various regional economic communities. The inadequacies were one of the reasons African leaders jettisoned the OAU for the AU in 2002. They also, at the time, embarked on some institutional reforms to tackle the myriad of issues that had impeded the continent’s progress, especially the countless conflicts which retarded development. Where peace and security issues were concerned, the Constitutive Act that established the AU took a leap forward by empowering the AU member states to intervene in situations involving crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. This is significant. Hitherto, the OAU members had looked on as some African leaders set their nations on fire, excusing themselves under the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Well, with the decimation of some 800,000 lives in Rwanda’s genocidal war in 1994, it was much easier for leaders, by 2002, to adopt the principle of non-indifference meant to ensure that Africa would never again look on as nations self-destruct.
In furtherance of this shift, the AU adopted the Protocol relating to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council which entered into force on December 26, 2003. The Protocol embraces an expanded and comprehensive agenda for peace and security that includes conflict prevention, early warning and preventive diplomacy, intervention, and much more. The Protocol elaborates a far-reaching African Peace and Security Architecture meant to give the AU the necessary instruments to fulfil the tasks set out in the Constitutive Act and the Protocol establishing the PSC. The PSC is configured to be the nerve centre of the Security Architecture and to serve as a standing decision-making organ of the AU on peace and security. It’s not alone but supported by the AU Commission, the Panel of the Wise, the Continental Early Warning System, an African Standby Force and a Special Fund. The functions of these pillars, a mandatory arrangement in the Protocol, make obvious the centrality of interdependence and synergy between and among the pillars. Added to these pillars are the roles of the Regional Economic Communities of the AU’s Security Architecture. The RECs are made the building blocs of the APSA, and they are intricately linked to what the PSC does. Meanwhile, there is also a parallel process of setting up functioning systems of the nature of the PSC in the RECs. That means the success of the APSA is contingent on a synergy between the various ASPA components (including the PSC) at one level, and the AU and the RECs at another. With this elaborate hierarchy the AU has set up in reaching decision and executing it with regard to security issues, pace could not but be slowed down, or efforts terminated.
Nevertheless, President Buhari expressed his own view on this when he addressed the PSC members in Abuja through the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo. According to the President, “In wishing you every success in these collective efforts for peace and security in Africa, I would like to remind that attention should be focused on how the Peace and Security Council and the regional economic communities can enhance effectiveness and efficiency using their comparative advantages and various capacities within the context of subsidiarity and complementarity in the areas of early warning and early action, conflict prevention, peace-making, post-conflict peace building, reconstruction and development, strengthening of democratic practices and good governance as well as in combating terrorism and violent extremism.” For him, it was if, and when all of these were comprehensively addressed that all the weak linkages and gaps that often posed the risk of parallel initiatives would be eliminated, thereby achieving the limited objectives under the African Peace and Security Architecture. “While the Peace and Security Council as an organ of the Union exercises continental oversight on all issues of peace and security in respective member states, it is the regional economic communities that often exercise initial management responsibilities on all crises whenever they occur,’’ the President had added.
Where his words are noteworthy is in the fact that under Nigeria’s presidency of the UNSC last August, there was an open debate on the role of the RECs in peacekeeping operations. Nigeria’s Prof. Joy Ogwu, speaking on behalf of other African states, wanted more roles for the RECs in peace and security operations conducted under the UN’s watch. A few nations such as India had however disagreed, pointing out that regional bodies were sometimes partial in conflict situations, that they lacked the resources to fully take on needed challenges, and as such, committing more into their hand was not advisable; so the UN should retain its powers in peacekeeping operations as of old. My reading is that what Buhari told the PSC and what the AU members wanted at the UN in the area of peacekeeping operations are on the same lane, and that heeding his advice to get one right would positively impact the other. So this piece follows up on my position on August 31, 2015 (“Nigeria-India diplomatic punches at the UN”).
A number of challenges confront the PSC, no doubt. One is that the AU member countries do not often accord it the right of place it deserves in a situation where insecurity poses one of the greatest challenges to the continent’s aspiration for growth and development. The PSC lacks the capacity resources it needs, and unlike the UNSC where some members may disagree but a few can swing into action when the need to nullify threats is so urgent, as the US has sometimes done, nothing gets done through PSC without consensus. In the event, there have been cases where thousands of lives are lost without the AU’s security apparatuses raising a finger.
In my view, the call to provide a strong link between the PSC and the RECs made by Buhari should lead to a review of the relationship between the AU and the RECs security apparatuses. A fallout of this will be that slow pace in responding to security threats on the continent is dealt with, and, more important for me, the needless waste of lives in crises that we consistently witness is averted. Such better synergy between the PSC and the RECs would call attention to lapses on the continent’s security framework, leading to improvement which might strengthen the RECs capacity and boost its confidence in this aspect. In a situation where the AU has always regarded the RECs as building blocs for a united Africa, linking the PSC and the RECs better is a vital part that adds significantly to the whole. And because the AU has argued in favour of more roles for its REC even in peacekeeping operations in Africa that involves the UN, any improvement at the PSC-REC level may nullify arguments that the RECs can’t be trusted in some peace and security issues that have traditionally been the UN’s prerogative.