AU summit 29: Africa’s need is bigger than ever

The African Union and its partners are a vital part in combating the continent’s crises.

Now more than ever, Africa needs the help of the African Union (AU) and its partners in tackling security threats and other ongoing crises – particularly in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa.

It’s these and other issues that are going to keep Africa’s leaders busy at the 29th AU summit in Addis Ababa from 27 June to 4 July, and more specifically the AU Assembly meeting of heads of state on 3 and 4 July.

Despite some progress since the last summit in January, AU operations have been affected by funding cuts from international partners such as the European Union (EU) and United States (US) – especially in Mali, Somalia and in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Despite gains, Somalia isn’t filling the governance vacuum in regions recovered from al-Shabaab

The AU had been talking about establishing an African force to combat the terror threats in Mali and the Sahel region as a whole. But the AU’s reluctance to create the mission led the concerned G5 Sahel members (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger) to establish a 5 000-strong joint force in the region in February this year.

This is similar to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) formed by the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin to fight Boko Haram in the region.

For the foreseeable future, the AU will continue to rely on regional coalitions to address terror threats in Africa while it provides legitimacy and support. The AU can complement these military initiatives by urging all its member states to focus on the many longer-term governance and human rights issues that drive people to join such movements.

Martin Ewi, senior researcher at the ISS, urges the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) to ‘speedily operationalise the African list of terrorist individuals and organisations as provided in the 2002 Plan of Action on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism in Africa’. This list should proscribe terror groups in the region and call on every country on the continent and beyond to cooperate in denying territorial space, financial and other vital resources that sustain the groups, he says.

The AU should urge members to focus on the governance and human rights issues that drive extremism

Somalia is another crisis area that requires the concerted efforts of the AU and its partners. Despite the security gains made against al-Shabaab and the recent electoral milestones, the state still lacks the capacity to fill the governance vacuum in recovered regions.

ISS senior researcher and training coordinator Meressa Kahsu believes the AU should work closely with its partners ‘to build state institutions to manage recovered areas, provide public services and win people over’.

The international community should also provide the necessary financial and logistical support to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Somali Army to provide a stable security environment for the state-building initiative to succeed.

In South Sudan, the fate of the August 2015 peace deal has hung in the balance since July 2016 when violence erupted between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice President Riek Machar – the major signatories to the deal.

The renewed violence came barely three months after the formation of the transitional government in April. Machar went into exile and was replaced by Tabang Deng Gai as the first vice president. But high levels of violence continue and the country remains in the midst of an acute political, economic and humanitarian crisis.

In December 2016, Kiir announced the commencement of national talks in the country, but this has been criticised as an effort to deflect attention from the 2015 peace deal. Time is more than ripe for the establishment of a hybrid court and a truth and reconciliation commission, as stipulated by the agreement. But these have been stalled by the ongoing clashes and the uncertainties over Machar’s future role in the country.

At its last summit in January 2017, the AU called for the implementation of the 2015 peace deal, but there is limited momentum in getting the South Sudanese government to adhere to it. There are also delays in the deployment of the regional protection force, authorised by the United Nations (UN) last year to protect civilians amid growing fears of a looming genocide.

AU operations have been affected by funding cuts from partners like the EU and US

Amanda Lucey, senior researcher at the ISS, says the AU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), UN and other partners should push together ‘to put an end to the ongoing violence and revive discussions on securing lasting peace in the region’.

The AU should also address the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which resulted from the delay in elections. The most recent mediation by the Catholic Church – after the AU-mediated agreement in October 2016 – committed the government and its opposition to form a transitional government, led by a prime minister from the main opposition grouping, and for elections to be held in 2017. According to the terms of the agreement, President Joseph Kabila can’t stand for an additional term.

However, the implementation of the accord has been undermined by drawn-out disagreements over the composition of the government and the designation of the prime minister. The Kabila government’s unilateral appointment of a prime minister from a co-opted branch of the opposition has left the agreement in tatters and the situation more polarised than ever.

Head of the ISS’s Peace and Security Research Programme Stephanie Wolters says the AU ‘should raise its voice and call on the Kabila government to apply the 31 December accords in spirit and in letter, including by allowing the opposition to nominate the prime minister’.

This week’s AU summit will also be confronted with the ongoing crises in Libya, Burundi, Sudan, Guinea-Bissau and Central African Republic.

The key question is whether heads of state at the AU Assembly will equip the PSC and the AU Commission to take concrete action to mitigate these conflicts.

This article was produced by the Institute for Security Studies’ PSC Report

The original version of this article can be accessed here.

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Picture: UN Photo

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