After 15 years, the AU should revamp its peacebuilding approach

Capacity, funding and innovation could improve the African Union’s record on post-conflict reconstruction and development.

The African Union’s (AU) efforts to rebuild societies divided and damaged by conflict should be reconsidered to match the continent’s current needs and realities.

The body’s Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (PCRD) policy adopted 15 years ago signalled a commitment not just to manage disputes but tackle their root causes in the search for sustainable peace. To mark this pledge, the AU’s PCRD Awareness Week from 7 to 13 November aims to reflect on and strengthen Africa’s peacebuilding efforts.

For the AU, putting the 2006 policy into practice has been difficult for three reasons. First, the recurring nature of conflicts on the continent has left little room for peacebuilding, which follows once clashes have ended.

Second, most PCRD work is directed from AU headquarters in Addis Ababa and carried out by several AU liaison offices. These offices have played a key role so far but require more support from the AU and member states. The liaison offices’ function should be strengthened to enable direct engagement with local, national and regional stakeholders. Sustained financing is needed, along with better coordination of PCRD within the AU. Peacebuilding should also be included in AU-related strategies.

PCRD liaison offices require much more support from the AU and its member states

Third, despite the formation by the AU of the African Solidarity Initiative in 2012, funding commitments from member states have been inadequate. The initiative was set up to facilitate intra-African cooperation and mobilise resources for PCRD. It recognised Africa’s capacity to provide financial and technical support, which would reduce the continent’s reliance on international funding for peacebuilding.

Perhaps the AU’s most innovative approach to PCRD was in The Gambia. In 2019, a 10-member team – the AU Technical Support to The Gambia (AUTSTG) – was deployed in response to government requests for support to the political transition after president Yahya Jammeh’s fall.

The small AUTSTG team was a departure from the usual approach and is worthy of replication in other contexts. In contrast to the AU’s relatively large missions, a small group of civilian experts and military personnel was seconded and co-located within government institutions. They mentored and advised officials on effective responses to the post-Jammeh political transition.

This approach gave the team considerable access to implement PCRD initiatives from within the government. Among other tasks, the AUTSTG helped get The Gambia’s Human Rights Commission working, developed the first National Security Policy, structured the Office of the National Security Adviser, and restructured vital security institutions. These results were achieved despite funding shortages that eventually forced the AU to end the team’s deployment.

The small AU team in The Gambia was a departure from the usual approach and is worthy of replication

In considering the AU’s role in peacebuilding, there seems to be a mismatch between objectives and outcomes. So, where can the AU provide more value?

There are several opportunities to bring post-conflict reconstruction and development back to the core of the AU’s peace and security work. One is the new Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) department that merged the AU’s political affairs and peace and security commissions. By linking the AU’s work on peace, security, politics and governance, its responses to instability should improve. With a synchronised institutional environment, PCRD policy can be better integrated with AU policy and strategy.

Another opportunity is the new AU Centre for Post-Conflict and Reconstruction and Development that is expected to start work in Cairo in 2022. When the AU’s institutional reforms are complete, the centre can link stakeholders in the AU Commission, regional economic communities and African states working on sustainable peace.

The centre will provide a new space, capacity and better positioning for the AU on peacebuilding. Success could hinge on how quickly the division of labour between the centre and PAPS is agreed upon, given their potential duplication of roles. PAPS Commissioner Ambassador Bankole Adeoye’s action plan suggests he is confident that the overlapping functions won’t present an insurmountable challenge. The plan highlights the full operation of the centre and its role in promoting coordination on PCRD work.

The new PCRD centre will provide better capacity for the AU to undertake more robust peacebuilding

With the spotlight on peacebuilding this week, the AU should consider four steps to increase its impact across the continent. First, it should kick-start a review and alignment of AU PCRD approaches to match the current nature of conflict in Africa, including the growing threat of climate change.

Second, it should revitalise the African Solidarity Initiative. Progress on increasing the contributions to the AU Peace Fund shows a growing appetite among member states to mobilise continental resources. Coordination between governments, regional economic communities, the United Nations and the European Union is also essential.

Third, innovative approaches such as those in The Gambia would prevent the AU from spreading itself too thin and having little impact on the ground. In doing so, the AU should work closely with local and national actors, including civil society organisations, which could spearhead PCRD implementation.

Most fundamentally, the AU and its member states must commit to unravelling the problem of recurring conflicts. This requires going back to the drawing board and adhering to the AU’s peace, security and democratic governance norms and principles.

Gustavo de Carvalho, Senior Researcher, Chido Mutangadura, Consultant and Dawit Yohannes, Senior Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, ISS Pretoria

This ISS Today is published as part of the Training for Peace Programme (TfP), funded by the government of Norway.

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