The PSC is the standing organ of the AU for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts. It is a key element of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), which is the umbrella term for the main AU mechanisms for promoting peace, security and stability in Africa.

The PSC is composed of 15 member states, of which 10 are elected for a two-year term and the remaining five for a three-year term.

The PSC was established to be a collective security and ‘early warning’ arrangement with the ability to facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflict and crisis situations. The PSC’s core functions are to conduct early warning and preventive diplomacy, facilitate peace-making, establish peace-support operations and, in certain circumstances, recommend intervention in member states to promote peace, security and stability. The PSC also works in support of peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction as well as humanitarian action and disaster management.



Mandate of the PSC

The PSC is constituted to be the highest standing decision-making body on matters of peace and security in Africa. With respect to conflict prevention, management and resolution, the PSC has the power: (a) to anticipate and prevent disputes, (b) to undertake peace-making and peace-building initiatives to resolve conflicts and (c) to authorise the mounting and deployment of peace support missions. Since its establishment, the PSC has launched a number of mediation and peace-making efforts, both as a preventive measure and to end conflicts. These include the mediation efforts undertaken in Kenya, Sudan (Darfur), and Sudan and South Sudan. The PSC also deployed a number of peace support (military) operations, including to Darfur, Somalia, the Comoros and in central Africa against the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). Regarding ‘grave circumstances’ identified under Article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act, the PSC is vested with the power: (a) to anticipate and prevent policies that may lead to genocide and crimes against humanity and(b) to recommend to the AU Assembly intervention in a member state in respect of grave circumstances.

Reflecting the broader conception of security on which the AU peace and security framework is premised, apart from the above, the PSC is conferred with a rich mandate on matters of governance, democracy and human rights. With respect to governance and human rights issues, the PSC accordingly enjoys the power: (a) to institute sanctions whenever an unconstitutional change of government takes place in a member state and (b) to follow up on the progress towards the promotion of democratic practices, good governance, the rule of law, protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and respect for the sanctity of human life and international humanitarian law by member states.

Other powers that are conferred on the PSC include those relating to its mandate to ‘promote and develop a strong partnership for peace and security between the AU and the United Nations (UN) and its agencies, as well as with other relevant international organizations’ and to ‘develop policies and action required to ensure that any external initiative in the field of peace and security on the continent takes place within the framework of the Union’s objectives and priorities’.


Decision making in the PSC

According to the PSC Protocol, the preferred method of decision making in the PSC is by consensus. Additionally, the Protocol provides for decision by majority vote where it cannot be made by consensus. The practice of the PSC thus far reflects that PSC decisions are invariably taken by consensus.

The PSC secretariat, based in the Department of Peace and Security of the AU Commission is responsible for drafting the various documents of the Council including communiqués and statements. Given the advantage it has in terms of possession of technical expertise used in drafting the reports, statements and communiqués of the PSC as well as in shaping the perspective of PSC members, the AU Commission exercises significant leverage on the work of the PSC.

The PSC is chaired by an ambassadorial representative of members of the Council on a rotational basis every month. The rotation follows the alphabetical order of the names of the members of the Council. The monthly chairperson of the PSC plays a critical role, not only in the preparation of the agenda of the PSC, but also in facilitating and harmonizing the contributions of member states in the formulation of the outcomes of the meeting. The Chairperson of the Council also plays a role in shaping the communiqués or press statements and drafting the reports of the PSC.


Meetings of the PSC

The PSC Protocol envisages three types of meetings: closed meetings, open meetings and informal consultations. Open meetings are the sessions of the PSC at which the members of the PSC receive briefings from various sectors including CSOs on a particular agenda of the PSC. Usually, the wider body of PRC members, representatives of Africa’s regional organisations, international organisations, such as the UN and EU, partner countries and concerned civil society organisations are invited to the open sessions of the PSC. Usually no decision is taken at the end of open sessions of the PSC. But the emerging practice of the Council is to issue a press release as an outcome of its open sessions. Closed meetings, which are exclusive to PSC members, involve sessions in which the PSC considers developments relating to country situations or particular peace and security issues. Invariably, the PSC conducts these sessions on the basis of reports of the AU Commission or briefings of the Commissioner for Peace and Security and affected countries.

Closed meetings ordinarily result in a decision or political statement from the PSC. The outcome of a closed meeting of the PSC takes one of two forms. The first is in the form of a communiqué. This is comparable to a resolution of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and, accordingly, it carries a decision of a session of the PSC on the agenda and is legally binding. The second is a press statement, which is similar to a presidential statement of the UNSC. This conveys the collective political view of the members of the council on the agenda issues that were discussed.

The third type of PSC meeting is the informal consultation. These consultations are meant to enable the PSC to develop consensus on a decision. In practice and according to the Rules of Procedure, consultations are often held with bodies of the AU, which have mandates relevant to the work of the PSC or parties or institutions with an interest on an agenda item of the PSC. Similarly, informal consultations are also used for harmonizing the position of member states with respect to agenda items for the meetings of the Council with similar bodies such as as the UN Security Council or the EU Peace and Security Committee.



Membership and election to the PSC

The meetings of the PSC are held at three levels. The first and most common of the PSC meetings takes place at ambassadorial level. While it is a requirement that the PSC meets at this level at least twice a month, in practice the PSC meets far more regularly. The second level of meeting is held at ministerial level, which should take place at least once a year. The practice in the past few years shows that the ministerial meeting also takes place more than once per annum. Finally, the PSC also meets at summit level, which involves heads of state and government of member states. The emerging practice shows that the PSC meets at summit level at least twice per annum.

Article 5 of the PSC Protocol stipulates that the Council’s membership is to be decided according to the principle of ‘equitable regional representation and rotation’. Accordingly, the 15 members of the PSC are elected from candidates from the five regions of the AU: East, West, North, Southern and Central. The regional representation of the 15 members in the PSC is as follows: Central (three), East (three), North (two), South (three) and West (four). There is nothing that bars the re-election of a member of the PSC for two or more terms notwithstanding the limitations of the requirements of rotation. The PSC Protocol and the Modalities for the Election of Members of the PSC provide additional criteria that apply to the election of members of the PSC. These include the commitment to uphold the principles of the Union including constitutionalism, rule of law and respect for human rights; contribution to the promotion and maintenance of peace and security in Africa; provision of capacity and commitment to shoulder the responsibilities entailed in membership; respect for constitutional governance, the rule of law and human rights; and possession of a sufficiently staffed and equipped Permanent Mission at the AU Head Quarters (HQ) and the UN.

The principle of sovereign equality is strictly followed in the composition of the PSC. Accordingly, unless it is under an AU sanction in terms of Article 23 of the AU Constitutive Act, every member state of the AU party to the PSC Protocol is eligible for membership of the PSC.