At the upcoming African Union (AU) summit from 15-19 February, 10 new countries will take their seats on the Peace and Security Council (PSC) for two-year terms. As the AU’s primary decision-making organ on security matters, the strength of its members determines how effectively the PSC will respond to the plethora of challenges facing the continent.
With all five regions of Africa facing complex governance and security issues, the election of 10 countries – about two-thirds of the council – should create a strong, efficient and robust body. But will it?
The PSC should play a vital role in preventing, managing and resolving conflict, including post-conflict reconstruction and development. The job requires not only sufficient resources, but member states with the requisite technical knowledge and political will. That makes its composition a major benchmark for understanding the council’s direction and robustness at any time.
The PSC has 15 members, 10 of whom are selected for two years, and five for three years, on rotation. Outgoing two-year term states are Burundi, Republic of the Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tunisia. Cameroon, Djibouti, Morocco, Namibia and Nigeria are serving three-year terms and are only eligible for contesting elections again in 2025. Countries can serve consecutive terms.
Fourteen countries will contest the February election (see table). Of the 10 incumbents, only Tanzania, Uganda and The Gambia have expressed interest in serving for another two years. If voted in, they will provide valuable continuity for the PSC’s work.
The remaining seven seats will be for newcomers who could bring fresh dynamics and new ideas to the council. These states will need extensive orientation on current security challenges and evolving PSC dynamics.
The criteria for selecting new members are: states’ respect for constitutional governance, their contribution to the Peace Fund, and whether they have sufficiently staffed and equipped permanent missions at the AU and United Nations headquarters.
Apart from these requirements, regional discussions and lobbying to choose candidates are significant factors in deciding which states are nominated to stand for election. This is positive and points to a growing interest in serving on the PSC and strengthening regional blocs.
In the past, such consultations allowed the central, southern, and western blocs to agree on and produce the required number of candidates for the available seats. Barring any last-minute changes, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and The Gambia should serve as council members from 2024 to 2026.
For North and East Africa, however, a lack of regional consensus and strained bilateral relations among countries in these regions will render a fiercely contested election. In East Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Tanzania will vie for two seats, while Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania will compete for a single North African seat.
These countries should consult other states in their regions to determine which candidates best meet the criteria for PSC membership, and can lead and effectively respond to Africa’s security challenges. In previous elections, some countries like Kenya and Comoros, in late 2022, withdrew their application just before the summit after finding common ground.
Achieving regional consensus may prove especially difficult in North Africa given longstanding tensions around several issues, including Western Sahara, and the fact that only one seat is available.
For several years, North Africa has called for an additional seat or more equal regional distribution of the 15 PSC seats. The AU summit in February 2023 established a committee to investigate and report on options to the executive council. But the committee has yet to meet, so there won’t be any progress on North Africa’s representation before the upcoming summit.
While finding common ground on PSC candidates within regions is beneficial, it can dilute competition and thereby undermine the quality and outcomes of the process. And the election of ‘smaller’ states purely on the principle of regional rotation or consensus doesn’t take into account their capacity to deliver on PSC responsibilities.
The ability of the PSC to deliver on its mandate will depend primarily on the strength of individual members. Selecting states that don’t meet the criteria will continue to hamper the PSC in substance and process – affecting its programme of work, monthly agenda setting and ability to respond to continental crises.
About half of the candidates vying to join the PSC in 2024 can be classified as ‘small states’ with limited diplomatic clout. In the absence of anchor states such as Ghana, Senegal and South Africa, who will drive the council? And what are the implications for AU responses to peace and security challenges? Should the PSC Protocol be revised so that leading states with the requisite resources and political will become permanent members?
Maram Mahdi, Researcher, Africa Peace and Security Governance, ISS Addis Ababa
This article was first published in the ISS PSC Report.
Image: © Amelia Broodryk/ISS
Exclusive rights to re-publish ISS Today articles have been given to Daily Maverick in South Africa and Premium Times in Nigeria. For media based outside South Africa and Nigeria that want to re-publish articles, or for queries about our re-publishing policy, email us.