The African Union (AU) Peace Fund, revitalised in 2018, almost three decades after its establishment in 1993, is yet to be operationalised. Funds from member states totalling over US$231 million have not been used as intended in conflict and crises on the continent.
Given the urgency of achieving and sustaining African peace and security, delays establishing modalities and criteria for disbursements bring into question the Peace Fund as an African Peace and Security Architecture pillar. This is particularly so as the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) identifies the fund as a mechanism for African ownership and leadership of peace efforts. It is also regarded as imperative to upholding the ‘principle of African solutions to African problems.’
The PSC, however, reached a consensus in October on milestones for Peace Fund implementation, which were recommended during a high-level retreat in January 2020. They include setting a common African position on financing peace and security activities and preparing a revised draft United Nations Security Council resolution on accessing UN-assessed contributions by the AU. Also flagged are Peace Fund workflow processes and strategic priorities to be funded. These items are expected to be endorsed during the AU Assembly summit in February 2022.
Despite progress, however, disagreement remains on assessment scales for member state contributions and mechanisms for replenishing the Peace Fund. These will have to be overcome before the executive council meeting in February if the summit is to endorse use of the Peace Fund in 2022.
Financial oversight mechanisms a must
Accountability and oversight of the AU’s finances are major concerns for member states and partners alike due to allegations of unaccounted funds from various missions and projects by some states. Before the Peace Fund comes into effect, therefore, member states are eager to put in place strict oversight frameworks.
A board of trustees that includes representatives from the five regions was appointed to undertake financial and administrative oversight of the Peace Fund in 2018. However, the institutionalisation of the fund’s additional administrative and governance structures, including its secretariat, was delayed. About 90% of management instruments required for the fund are now in place and the structure has been embedded in AU financial rules and regulations, with set political and fiduciary oversight mechanisms.
Pending the recruitment of a Peace Fund director to manage the secretariat, day-to-day operations are coordinated by the AU Commission deputy chairperson and the commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Department. Reservations by some member states about management and oversight of the fund, once operating, therefore has largely been addressed. Also, one major challenge to the use of the Peace Fund – its management – has been resolved.
Funding windows open for priorities
The PSC has identified 21 peace and security priorities to be financed by the fund and has approved the budget line for each. These include crosscutting continental issues, regional crises and country-specific situations under three funding windows.
The first window includes mediation and preventive diplomacy and covers early warning, prevention of violent conflict, and management and resolution of conflicts. The second focuses on institutional capacity building for effective implementation by AU liaison offices of window one and financial oversight by regional economic communities. The third window includes AU-led or -mandated peace support operations (PSOs), including observer missions, preventive deployments, peace enforcement and stabilisation interventions, and response to complex national and transnational security threats.
As the political mandate to set the fund’s priorities and direction lies with the PSC, the adoption of priorities and budgets signifies that the council is keen to use the fund even as it works towards reaching its target of US$400 million.
The PSC’s decision to prioritise use of the Peace Fund is praiseworthy as it constitutes progress in the search for adequate and sustainable financing to implement council decisions. It also enables the PSC to tap into the fund’s crisis reserve facility to respond better to crises on the continent.
African consensus on financing AU peace and security activities
Since 2018, disagreement has endured on whether the Peace Fund was designed to finance 25% of African-led PSOs. The confusion arose largely through a lack of clarity in several AU decisions guiding fund use. In October 2020, the PSC reached consensus on how AU peace and security activities will be financed. The draft consensus document has helped to define the role of the AU in financing PSOs, which falls under the third financing window for the Peace Fund.
The PSC has now agreed that the AU will finance 25% of Africa’s peace and security activities but will try to secure sustainable funding from UN-accessed contributions, including for AU-led PSOs. This is based on agreement that responsibility for responding to insecurity in Africa should not be placed solely on AU member states. Rather, the UN should recognise its responsibility to respond to crisis on the continent in the context of the Security Council’s role as the actor with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The PSC has agreed that the Peace Fund contribution for financing PSOs will be limited to pre-deployment phases, human rights observers and other smaller missions. In addition, it will support the strategic airlifting of troops, deployment of the African Standby Force, needs assessment missions and the continental logistics base.
Clearing the last hurdles
While the progress of the past year has been encouraging, obstacles remain to the implementation of the Peace Fund in a way that provides sustainable and predictable financing. The assessment for countries’ contributions and the fund replenishment strategy have divided member states. States in central, eastern, western and southern AU regions have agreed to use the general assessment scale for the fund’s regular budget. However, most northern African countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Libya, have objected to the decision.
Instead they advocate a regional scale, through which the central African region would contribute 10% and other regions 22.5% of the expected total of US$325 million. They also suggest that each member in each region pay according to the general assessment scale.
Their argument is that three northern African countries are among the highest contributors to the AU budget based on the general scale. Using the same scale to calculate contributions to the Peace Fund skews the burden to northern countries. Notwithstanding reservations from the countries mentioned, the executive council in October 2020 endorsed the general assessment scale to calculate contributions.
The northern region has not been paying its assessed contributions on time, but it’s not the only defaulter. An executive council decision in February 2021 lifted sanctions imposed in 2018 on 18 non-paying member states. More states may be sanctioned at the February 2022 meeting, including those from the northern region unless they agree to abide by the February 2021 decision.
How and when the Peace Fund will be replenished is another issue for tabling at the upcoming meeting, as parties seek sustainable and predictable financing for the continent’s peace and security priorities.
Photo: African Union