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Making the Peace and Security Council’s 20th anniversary count

Two decades of progress provide the platform for discussions on the future, but favourable outcomes demand conscious effort

This year is a milestone in Africa’s efforts to address its peace and security concerns as the Peace and Security Council (PSC) celebrates two decades. Established in 2002 under Article 5(2) of the African Union (AU) Constitutive Act, the PSC is the AU’s statutory and standing decision-making organ at the forefront of continental conflict prevention, management and resolution. Over 20 years, the pursuit of its mandate has directed serious attention to the management of continental crises and security issues, resulting in numerous decisions spanning various concerns.

By May 2024, these efforts had resulted in 1,213 meetings of ambassadors, ministers, and heads of state and government. Meeting outcomes have covered the continent’s five regions and accelerated continental early warning and preventive diplomacy practice. This has proved useful in crises such as in Mali (2012), Burkina Faso (2015), and Côte d’Ivoire (2010-2011).

The Council has hosted 1 213 high-level meetings with beneficial outcomes for Africa’s five regions

To commemorate its progress, the PSC is rolling out an elaborate anniversary agenda. The celebration acknowledges the functioning of continental decision-making infrastructure and will facilitate robust exchanges on using lessons learnt to improve future performance.

The anniversary agenda

Eighteen sessions addressing various themes and burning issues are planned. These include women’s participation in peace processes, mediation and dialogue, peace operations, an assessment of the implementation of the PSC protocol and a review of the Council’s effectiveness and impact.

Thematic focus of the PSC's anniversary

Ceremonial events across 10 PSC member states include launch and flag days, a media breakfast and a colloquium. Across the 18 thematic areas, the Council scheduled 27 events over 10 months of 2024 at an average of two a month.

Formats include open sessions (10), weekly thematic engagements (five), high-level, primarily ministerial, sessions and a policy discussion. Two field visits will be conducted in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the Sahel, allowing the PSC to gather first-hand information crucial for tailormade responses.

Disaggregation of PSC's anniversary per category

Considering the themes covered, policy discussions envisaged and open sessions planned, the PSC aims for a thorough, inclusive, participatory and meaningful stocktake of its achievements. The diversity of agenda items indicates that the organ has stepped up efforts to address the multiple, multifaceted dimensions of Africa’s peace and security challenges. This demonstrates the seriousness with which the Council takes its role as the central organ of Africa’s peace-making apparatus. 

The 20th anniversary aims for a thorough, inclusive, participatory and meaningful stocktake of PSC achievements

The scheduled open sessions will bring together AU organs, regional economic communities and mechanisms, civil society organisations, development partners, and think tanks. This approach reinforces the Council's readiness to engage diverse stakeholders in the search for options, lessons, and best practices for the future. It underscores a willingness to benefit from the expertise and experiences of other actors for a stronger PSC.

The high-level sessions and field visits reflect the Council’s commitment to take stock of its efforts and firm endorsement of tailored and sustainable responses to protracted crises across the continent. Particular attention is paid to the Tigray and the Sahel crises.

Making the celebration count

The PSC’s celebration could potentially add value, given that it will allow the harnessing of novel ideas to address peace and security challenges. More importantly, it gives policymakers an opportunity to evaluate whether frameworks and peace-making approaches adopted 20 years ago remain fit for purpose. As the celebration encourages review and fresh thinking, expectations are legitimately high about its outcomes and potential impact on the PSC and the entire African Peace and Security Architecture.

However, given the PSC’s tendency to stand in its old boots, the likelihood of the celebration yielding little is high. Open sessions are bound to be participatory, inclusive and rich in suggestions and experience-sharing. However, the usual series of speeches and exchanges will persist. Moreover, the time allocated and the Davos format of sessions are sometimes not commensurate with the seriousness of issues and do not give experts room for comprehensive and solid contributions.

Focus on decision implementation is crucial to enhancing PSC effectiveness and impact

The PSC should consider workshop formats involving experts to generate deeper reflections around major themes. This involves reviewing frameworks and thoroughly assessing existing organs, which would allow greater expert input and deeper reflection on serious celebration-agenda issues.

Considering that the planned activities add to the numerous issues competing for the PSC’s attention, their number and frequency suggest an over-ambitious agenda. A lack of adequate attention on ongoing crises such as Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo is likely. And the agenda is full of thematic sessions that will not immediately or directly address crises.

The rate of implementation of PSC decisions must be a focus. Given the impact this has had on the events of the last two decades, it should be thoroughly explored as part of discussions, as improving implementation will enhance PSC effectiveness and impact substantially.

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