The new African Union (AU) Commission, elected at the recent AU summit, took office on 15 March. In the wake of his election, Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, the new commissioner of the merged Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) department, has drawn up an ambitious action plan for the next year.
While the commissioner’s efforts have been commended by staff in the short time he has been in office, it is clear that implementing the PAPS priority action plan will face challenges that will require his attention and significant political support from the Commission and AU member states.
Going forward, the process will benefit from a clear definition and delineation of mandates between the directorates of Conflict Management (previously the peace and security department) and Governance and Conflict Prevention (governance was previously under the Political Affairs department).
There is also a concern that, in an attempt to cut budgets, AU member states risk significantly reducing the merged PAPS’ capacity to deliver on flagship projects and priorities. If the department’s is to achieve its goals, the commissioner will have to proactively engage the AU Reform Unit, the head of Human Resources and the department’s staff to urgently address these issues.
Shift in working methods
There are already major shifts in the PAPS’ working methods. The commissioner has shared an activity plan and budget to kick start his vision for the department. A department-wide priority plan will not only help align the work of the two departments and enhance delivery but also guide their focus and increase accountability.
One concern about the priority areas has been what to do with the activities they had begun implementing before the two departments merged, particularly where those activities are not highlighted in the new priority plans.
Getting the structure to deliver on priorities
The first pillar of the PAPS priority action plan focuses on implementing the new merged structure. Several issues must still be clarified. One major question is how well the units in the new structure fit within the mandates of the directorates where they have been placed.
For example, the new early warning and governance monitoring desks are located in the Conflict Management Directorate rather than the Governance and Conflict Prevention Directorate. Ideally, they should inform the conflict prevention efforts of both directorates.
The new structure has also created a new secretariat to deal with both the African Governance Architecture (AGA) and the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). The AGA/APSA Secretariat has been placed under the Governance and Conflict Prevention Directorate, even though it should support both directorates.
This draws attention to the need for synergy among the various divisions and units’ if the AU Commission is to realise its goals. The issue is complicated by a significant reduction in the capacity of some units and programmes in the new PAPS structure.
Addressing staff concerns
The merger of the two departments, the complete reshuffle of positions and, in some cases, the reduction of available positions have created uncertainty. This is especially the case with divisions and programmes that have either been closed, or been split and merged with other units, such as the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) division.
While a number of CEWS’s functions have been redistributed, others have disappeared entirely, such as the AU Border Programme. It is encouraging that the Border Programme is prioritised for renewal as part of the early warning system’s revamp. Clarity is however needed as to where it will be run from within PAPS.
As a result, the restructuring process sought to eliminate short-term positions. Short-term staff are now unsure whether they still have a job at the AU. It is also unclear where those with long-term contracts will be placed in the new PAPS structure, and whether they will maintain their job grades.
A number of personnel in managerial positions retired in 2020. As a result, acting directors currently head the two directorates, while all the division heads are yet to be appointed.
The restructuring also aims to ensure that the hiring process prioritises meritocracy and transparency. This means that staff will compete for their former positions or other available jobs through an open recruitment process. A team of 10 experts from the five regional blocs are expected to oversee the hiring of key staff, including the director general in the AUC chairperson’s office and the director of Human Resource Management, for which recruitment is underway.
The 100-day priority plan indicates that recruitment for PAPS positions, especially for the two director positions, will be concluded by June. Recruitment for the entire PAPS department, however, is expected to take much longer.
The new commissioner will have to address these major challenges if the PAPS is to achieve its goals. The new department is a vital part of the ongoing AU reform process. Its success will make a major contribution to the capacity of the AU to silence the guns and maintain peace on the continent.