New PSC members, old ways?

Four East African member states - Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan  - are facing off in a contest for two seats on the 15-member Peace and Security Council (PSC) this week, unless two of them withdraw before the elections.  The final choice lies with the ministers of foreign affairs, who are meeting during the 33rd African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on 6 and 7 February 2020.

Africa’s four other regions have nominated their candidates without contestation over the eight other positions opening up on the PSC. They are Cameroon and Chad (central), Egypt (northern), Malawi and Mozambique (southern), and Ghana, Benin and Senegal (western). These countries will join the PSC in April 2020, along with countries that are entering the second year of their three-year terms, namely Nigeria, Burundi, Kenya, Algeria and Lesotho.

Regional endorsement processes

In principle, any AU member state has the right to submit its candidature to join the PSC directly to the AU Legal Counsel. In practice, however, most regional blocs have established processes for selecting the countries that join the PSC. 

Most regional blocs have established processes for selecting the countries that join the PSC

Unlike non-permanent membership in the United Nations (UN) Security Council – which requires a country to obtain two-thirds of the vote at the UN General Assembly, whether or not endorsed by regional organisations – the AU Executive Council directly accepts the regions’ nominations and votes for candidates from each region that run for membership unopposed.

Therefore, the processes set by regional blocs typically ensure that regions reach a consensus and endorse the exact number of countries for the available seats, effectively eliminating open competition among member states. The process – from regional blocs’ endorsement to approval by the AU Assembly – is consistent with the organisation’s preference for the practice of consensus.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) region has a formalised rotational system based on alphabetical order for nominating its PSC representatives. The other four regions usually negotiate which country joins the PSC either bilaterally or through the regional dean of ambassadors.

Endorsement, rotation, or fitness for the PSC

Election to the PSC based on regional endorsement has simplified the election process for the Executive Council and prevented potentially lengthy and fractious elections. However, this stands the risk of undermining the principle of equal rights of participation in the PSC, especially in the absence of a clear and non-arbitrary process for endorsing candidates within a given region.

In North Africa, for instance, Algeria, Egypt and Libya have been PSC members for consecutive terms while Tunisia and Mauritania have been members for only one term (2008–2010 and 2010–2012, respectively). In East Africa, Comoros, Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan have never been members of the PSC. Similarly, the Central African region has seen the rotation of PSC membership only among five of its members, excluding the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR) and São Tomé and Príncipe.

While SADC’s alphabetical system is more formalised than the process in other regions, it is still prone to political negotiations

While SADC’s alphabetical system is more formalised than the process in other regions, it is still prone to political negotiations, as demonstrated by South Africa’s uninterrupted membership in the PSC from 2004–2012 and again from 2013–2018.

West Africa, which consists of 15 countries – the highest among all regions and with a dedicated seat for Nigeria – has managed to rotate the PSC seats among all member states except Guinea-Bissau, which has never been a member.

Arguably, richer and more powerful countries that lobby and get endorsed to the PSC might have more capacity at their permanent missions to undertake PSC duties. However, there is a risk that such political negotiations at the regional level disregard other criteria, such as a candidate’s state of constitutional governance and past experience in conflict resolution and peacebuilding. 

Richer and more powerful countries might have more capacity at their permanent missions to undertake PSC duties

Equally questionable is the lack of transparent campaign messaging by candidates, which would provide information about their priorities and credentials. Countries lobby among member states and the decision to endorse one country over another is largely a political decision.

PSC dynamics in the next two years

The election of 10 new PSC members will impact the dynamics within the council in 2020–2021. 

With the joining of Benin, Chad, Cameroon, Egypt, Mozambique and, if elected, either Somalia, Ethiopia, or Djibouti, the PSC will be composed of a majority of states whose priority has been countering terrorist threats. This is in addition to continuing members such as Nigeria and Kenya that are deeply involved in anti-terror operations in their respective regions.

It is thus probable that the issue of countering terrorism and violent extremism, as well as the various multinational responses, will feature on the PSC’s agenda in 2020.

It is probable that the issue of countering terrorism will feature on the PSC’s agenda in 2020

If Ethiopia and Djibouti join the PSC, along with Kenya, they will most likely be interested in shaping the response to the threat posed by al-Shabaab following the drawdown of AMISOM. The deteriorating security situation in West Africa and the Sahel is also likely to get greater attention in 2020.

With six or seven of its incoming members – Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, and East African candidates Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia – expected to hold elections in 2020, the PSC will undoubtedly handle issues related to elections and election observations in member states with care and a level of restraint this year.

Election-related protests and those caused by constitutional amendments allowing incumbents to extend their stay in power are also unlikely to feature on the PSC’s agenda in the two years ahead, as elections will probably be contested in some of these countries for the same reasons.

Cameroon, Chad, Mozambique and potentially Ethiopia and Sudan will be joining the PSC in 2020 while they each face internal strife. This will test the PSC’s resolve to play its conflict prevention role in the next two years. 

The council will have its highest ever number of countries directly affected by the Libyan conflict

With Egypt, Chad, Algeria and potentially Sudan in the PSC, the council will have its highest ever number of countries directly affected by the Libyan conflict. While these countries might push for the resolution of the conflict, it is doubtful whether that will reduce counterproductive differences and yield a positive outcome. 

Chad, Cameroon and potentially Sudan are also incoming members that are neighbours of conflict-afflicted CAR. They may seek to take strong measures should the situation in the CAR deteriorate further in the run-up to elections towards the end of this year.

Malawi and Mozambique, which were devastated by natural disasters in 2019, might champion the PSC’s framework for responding to natural disasters and to humanitarian crises in general.

It is unlikely that the PSC will not find consensus in its deliberations, given that incoming members will want their interests to be endorsed and might avoid issues generally considered divisive in the various regions.

Issues that are not politically sensitive for member states are likely to continue dominating the PSC’s agenda in 2020–21. These include thematic or regional peace and security concerns. However, such a move will constitute a disservice to the continent and foment perceptions that the council is increasingly avoiding critical issues.

Picture: Gustavo de Carvalho/ISS

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