A crisis of non-implementation of PSC decisions

Properly drafted, funded and implemented decisions could advance African peace and security.

Non-implementation of decisions within the African Union (AU), particularly by the Peace and Security Council (PSC), persists as the latter nears its 20th anniversary. The problem is not new and successive AU Assembly decisions have urged the PSC to prioritise implementation. However, the upcoming deadline for effecting these reforms, mandated by the 2023 AU Summit assembly decision, has heightened policy focus, with various continental actors now seeking solutions.

Nature of non-implementation

The scale of the challenge is difficult to determine precisely due to the lack of reliable data and a comprehensive implementation matrix. However, failure to enact several crucial decisions reflects the magnitude of the crisis. For instance, establishing the sanctions committee was decided at the Council's 178th meeting in March 2009, but it took the AU Commission over a decade to prioritise its formation.

Another example is the resolution to deploy 3 000 troops into the Sahel, which was made at the AU Summit of February 2020 but remains on paper. These are just two of many instances since the Council's inception. Their non-realisation in light of their significance to continental peace and stability indicates the true extent of the challenge. 

Since its establishment, the PSC has convened 1 157 times, with more than 90% of these meetings yielding multiple decisions on crucial matters. Although exact figures are lacking, it can be inferred that thousands of decisions have been made about Africa's peace and security situation over the Council's two decades. A significant percentage of these may have elicited no action.

More than 90% of the 1 157 PSC meetings have yielded multiple decisions on crucial matters

The PSC has deliberated on non-implementation at all its annual retreats since 2007, and numerous times, it appears on its meeting agendas. Recently, the Committee of Experts and ambassadors have addressed the issue. Concurrently, the PSC Secretariat is developing a comprehensive matrix to track decision implementation. But the challenge remains, raising questions about the seriousness and drivers of the crisis.

Drafting weaknesses

PSC Report spoke to several policy actors who collectively highlighted key issues requiring policy attention. One is the weakness in outcome drafting. While at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), for example, member states typically initiate draft resolutions, and the PSC secretariat usually drafts press statements or communiqués emanating from PSC meetings.

The UNSC practice allows the initiating member state to lobby and/or secure the buy-in of other member states before a resolution is passed. However, with the AU, outcomes do not typically benefit from the rigorous and intense behind-the-scenes lobbying to secure member state support, even though consultations still happen during the silence procedure.

Given the PSC's culture of making decisions after every deliberation and the secretariat's limited human resource capacity, thoroughness in all subjects during drafting is often affected. Additionally, given the proliferation of PSC meetings, the sheer number of communiqués released monthly does not allow for rigorous cross-referencing of previous outcomes to inform ongoing deliberations adequately. Until the recent introduction of the Political Affairs Peace and Security department's repository, it was even more difficult to have predictable access to all previous communiqués.

In addition to the political dynamics surrounding the Council's decision-making and sometimes diverging national interests of decision-makers, the wording of outcome documents is challenging and politicised. This often results in convoluted or careful wording that makes implementation cumbersome. Where previous decisions themselves have been convoluted, the current drafting culture does not allow time or space to reflect on these to provide clarity.

Certain decisions replicate those previously adopted, while others depart significantly from them

These issues ultimately result in weak communiqués that capture the political essence of outcomes but mostly lack political buy-in and support of PSC members. Some decisions either depart from existing and/or ongoing AU Commission processes or do not link to any AU technical procedures to allow for role association and uptake to move ahead.

Certain decisions made since March 2004 replicate those previously adopted, while others depart significantly from them. Those seeking to harmonise and coordinate peace efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes are key examples of the former. Drafting issues cause weaknesses in uptake and inconsistency in implementation.

Resources and responsibilities

Implementation remains a distant dream without a clear allocation of resources and responsibility. PSC decisions are often taken without allocating resources. This stymies the efforts of AU organs, regional economic communities and member states. In some cases, resources are underused. For example, while the 10 July 2020 decision on Central African Republic deployment was followed through, underuse of European Peace Facility funds has hampered the operations of the military observation mission.

Similarly, many decisions are adopted without assigning responsibility going ahead. AU organs and technical officers are juggling many balls – thus it is almost impossible for any of them to take on additional work not clearly assigned in the pronouncements. Those allocated and timed are often prioritised by their respective designated AU structures.

Monitoring and accountability

Some PSC decisions fall through the cracks due to lack of follow-up and accountability. In May 2017, the Council decided that the Committee of Experts should submit an implementation matrix for all decisions six months before every AU Assembly ordinary session. In 2022, the PSC Secretariat developed a matrix to facilitate follow-up on decisions. It seeks to ensure multiple meetings are not convened on the same subject and address the issue of decisions that don't reference predecessors or duplicate them.

Some PSC decisions fall through the cracks due to lack of follow-up and accountability

The tool will dissect communiqués on peace and security in Africa, including adopted decisions, implementation status, financial implications and bearers of responsibility. However, it will not monitor nor evaluate progress. Therefore, a matrix to track post-decision action is needed.

Conquering the crisis

The political dynamics influencing drafting of PSC communiqués influence their effective implementation and Africa's peace and security outlook. The Council must deliberate on whether decisions should follow all sessions or be confined to key issues deliberated in formal sessions. Could issues not requiring pronouncements be discussed in informal sessions? Where they are made, they ought to be precise, consistent, properly referenced and sufficiently comprehensive. The Council can then take steps to prevent and manage peace and security threats.

A mechanism is crucial to fund PSC resolutions and systematically monitor and evaluate their implementation. No decision should be made before its funding implications are considered. Responsibility for action, timelines and reporting should also be clearly outlined.

The PSC's matrix is in its infancy and requires strengthening in monitoring and evaluation. Provision of human and financial resources is recommended to set up a database that disaggregates all PSC decisions and assigns indicators of successful implementation. Partnering with initiatives such as Net4Peace for regular review of decisions and generating ideas for effective follow-up could facilitate accountability.

The PSC needs a mechanism that binds it formally and legally to act without delay and holds leaders accountable for lack of peace and security outcomes. Reactivating the AU Ministerial Committee on Counter-terrorism and the PSC sanctions committee could ensure pronouncements are acted on with urgency.

Related content