Spotlight: UN–AU partnership underpins peace and security in Africa


Resolving Africa’s complex conflicts requires a collective effort from states and regional bodies, often with the support of global players. Keeping these efforts focused and effective is not easy, and requires solid working relations among all involved.

The United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) are the two most important multilateral organisations involved in tackling the root causes and structural drivers of conflict across the continent. A productive partnership between the two intergovernmental bodies is vital for peacebuilding. Both have acknowledged that neither is able to address the scale of these challenges alone.

The UN–AU partnership has evolved significantly over the past two decades, with joint activities at the political, strategic and operational levels. Examples include the development of coordination structures such as the Joint Task Force, annual ‘desk-to-desk’ meetings among officials, an annual conference, and standing meetings between the UN Security Council, the AU Peace and Security Council, and the UN Peacebuilding Commission.

The 2017 Joint Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security is a highlight in the evolution of the UN–AU partnership. It allowed greater cooperation by setting out common principles, thematic working areas and collective priorities.

In spite of these efforts, the scale of African and global peace and security challenges has outpaced multilateral responses. ‘In this environment, the need for coherent and well-coordinated strategies between the UN and AU has intensified,’ says Priyal Singh, ISS Researcher in the Peace Operations and Peacebuilding programme.

ISS has become a valued partner in helping the UN–AU partnership realise its full potential

In response, the ISS and the International Peace Institute (IPI) joined forces in 2019 to work with the AU Permanent Observer Mission to the UN in New York. The aim of the joint project is to strengthen the partnership between the two intergovernmental bodies.

The project is part of the Training for Peace Programme (TfP) at the ISS funded by the government of Norway. Months of networking and research among UN and AU officials in New York and Addis Ababa enabled the ISS and IPI to analyse the partnership and recommend how it can be improved.

Evidence-based research looked at how the AU and UN can collaborate on conflict prevention, crisis management and peacebuilding. ‘By identifying best practices and lessons based on their comparative strengths, we could directly support both organisations,’ says Daniel Forti, Senior Policy Analyst at IPI.

The ISS–IPI project documented the evolution of AU and UN approaches to peace and security. Political, institutional and operational dynamics were assessed to show where opportunities exist for officials to work together.

Dr Alhaji Sarjoh Bah, Chief Advisor at the AU Permanent Observer Mission to the UN, congratulated the ISS on its two research publications, which he said ‘have undoubtedly enriched our policy work and deepened the wider public's understanding of the strategic partnership between the AU and UN on conflict prevention and peacebuilding.’ 

The findings showed how each organisation could use its comparative advantages during policy-level engagements and on-the-ground programming. The importance of aligning political strategies as a precondition for good working relations between AU and UN officials was highlighted, along with the need to reconcile operational approaches to peacebuilding.

The project has spurred debate about links between the AU Commission and UN Secretariat on the one hand, and the member state bodies tasked with peace and security matters on the other, including the UN Security Council, the AU Peace and Security Council and the UN Peacebuilding Commission. Through its analysis and policy advice, the ISS has become a valued partner in helping the UN–AU partnership realise its full potential.

Read the ISS–IPI report Beyond 2020: exploring the potential for a stronger UN–AU peacebuilding partnership here.

For more information contact:

Priyal Singh, ISS: [email protected]; +27 82 5651499

Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

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