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Challenges facing the PSC's Committee of Experts
22 March 2018

As 10 new members of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) prepare to take up office next month, indications are that the Committee of Experts, the main subsidiary body of the PSC, is finally getting off the ground. The committee, meant to lessen the workload of ambassadors and improve decision-making, has met five times since the beginning of 2018 and held its first retreat in December 2017. The lack of capacity in some embassies in Addis Ababa, however, remains a big challenge.

According to the PSC website, the Committee of Experts was established under Article 8(5) of the PSC Protocol. ‘It assists the PSC to elaborate its draft decisions. The Committee is composed of a designated expert representing each PSC Member State and two Peace and Security Department expert officers. The Committee meets prior to each PSC meeting.’

Operationalising this Committee of Experts goes to the heart of the issue of ownership of the decisions adopted by the PSC. In the current system, the African Union Commission (AUC), through the PSC Secretariat, plays a major role in drafting the decisions ultimately adopted by the PSC. Some member states resent the pre-eminent role played by the AUC and wish to play a bigger part in the decision-making.

Operationalising this Committee goes to the heart of ownership of the decisions adopted by the PSC
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However, this willingness on the part of member states is often contradicted by their limited capacity, especially in terms of issues that are not in their region and require a certain amount of expertise. It is, for example, doubtful whether member states from West Africa necessarily possess a deep knowledge of the conflict dynamics in the Horn of Africa, and vice versa.

In addition, the limited capacity of the PSC Secretariat (currently three staff members) contributes to the state of affairs. Instead of being the conduit of member states, the secretariat ends up relying mostly on the AUC, which often has the required expertise on various issues that the PSC may lack.

In that sense, full activation of the Committee of Experts could be a stepping stone to a more effective PSC that can fill its critical role in ensuring that the continent achieves its goal of silencing the guns by 2020.

The role of Egypt in advocating for the committee

The first five meetings of the Committee of Experts were held during Egypt’s chairpersonship of the PSC, in January 2018. Egypt has stressed this issue during its previous tenures and it is hoped that this could open the door to an activation ad minima of the Committee of Experts.

Indeed, one of the outcomes of the committee’s retreat was the decision that it should meet at least once a month and should adopt an annual work plan that would include, among others, preparatory sessions for partnership meetings, such as those with the United Nations and the European Union (EU), and for field missions.

According to some stakeholders, the activation of the committee is the result of consensus within the PSC that the workload of the permanent representatives (ambassadors in Addis Ababa) needs to be alleviated. This would allow the ambassadors to focus on critical issues and streamline the decision-making process. 

Many challenges must be overcome in order for the committee to become fully operational
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However, many challenges must be overcome in order for the committee to become fully operational.

Need for technical expertise

The committee meetings that took place in January were to consider the report on the implementation of the Master Roadmap to Silencing the Guns by 2020, preparations for the meeting between the EU Political and Security Committee and the PSC, and the retreat of December 2017. These issues are mostly general and do not necessary require experts with specific knowledge and competence. However, most of the other issues on the agenda of the PSC do require technical knowledge.

The capacity of PSC member states to provide experts on some issues may vary from one state to another, and thus the scope of consideration by the experts may be limited. A good illustration is the fact that the military counterpart of the Committee of Experts, the Military Staff Committee, has hardly ever met, despite the fact that at least three Africa-led peace support operations are deployed on the continent.

Most of the issues on the agenda of the PSC require technical knowledge
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To be fair, there has been some, if marginal, improvement in the willingness of member states to allocate the proper human resources to their respective delegations in Addis Ababa. Indeed, the portfolios of most African delegations tend to include, in addition to the AU, bilateral relations with Ethiopia and neighbouring countries (Djibouti, Kenya), plus the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). This makes it difficult for embassies with huge financial constraints to employ extra personnel to serve as experts to the PSC.

The challenge of keeping the momentum

Another challenge in the operationalisation of the Committee of Experts, linked to the capacity of member states, is whether the current PSC will be able to maintain the pace of activities of the committee. There is a perception that the quick and unpredictable turnover in embassy staff could hamper the consistency of efforts and limit the momentum created towards building institutional memory for the functioning of the subsidiary bodies.

In addition, there is the issue of political will and whether it will be sustained. For example, after two months during which the Committee of Experts was quite active, the provisional programme for March 2018 did not include any meetings of the subsidiary body. Although the December retreat called for at least one monthly meeting, implementation is at the discretion of member states and depends on their capacity and the availability of staff.

How can PSC member states increase their capacity?

So far, the PSC and the AU in general have refrained from implementing Article 5.4 of the PSC Protocol, which calls for regular AUC assessments of the capability of PSC members with regard to their mandate.

Most member states are reluctant to accept any measures that compel them to increase their capacity
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The initial report on the institutional reform of the AUC chaired by President Paul Kagame also called for ‘reviewing the PSC’s membership, in line with Article 5(4) of the PSC Protocol’, but this recommendation was not retained among the final AU decisions.

Most member states would be very reluctant to accept any measures that compel them to increase the capacity of their permanent representations in Addis Ababa. Instead, they believe that the issue of capacity should be one of the factors guiding the election of members to the PSC. This is, however, less and less likely, given the tendency in the AU to move towards consensual elections, rather than those based on the capacity of member states to fulfil their obligations on a body such as the PSC.

There is clearly a gap between the political will of some PSC member states to operationalise subsidiary committees and the reluctance of others to take the proper steps to ensure that it happens.

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