Since 2006 the African Union (AU) Peace Support Operations Division (PSOD) and partners have developed policy frameworks that pave the way for the operationalisation of the civilian component of the African Standby Force (ASF).
These are staff working at the political, humanitarian, gender, civil affairs, public information, administration and security and safety units of peace operations.
In Somalia, the civilian component of the African Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) already works closely with the government and civil society to assist with state building.
Last month the AU also launched the Civilian Strategic Support Group (CSSG) to enhance the role of civilians in peace operations. The PSC Report spoke about this to Dr Jide Martyns Okeke, Head of Policy Development and Civilian Coordinator at the PSOD.
What progress has been made with the ASF, especially its civilian component?
The ASF should not be understood as an end in itself. Rather, it should be seen as part of a political process that provides options for AU policy organs, especially the Peace and Security Council, to prevent, manage and resolve crises. At present, we have moved to a post-full operational capacity of the ASF.
The milestones reached in setting up the civilian component can be understood in relation to the progress made in the development of the ASF as a whole.
The AU and regional economic communities and regional mechanisms [RECs and RMs] have held a series of command exercises, as well as the first ever AMANI-Africa II field training exercise in December 2015. This confirmed the operational capacity of the ASF, although there are outstanding activities required to boost the rapid deployment capability of the force.
The African Standby Force should not be understood as an end in itself Tweet this
What timelines are you working towards?
On the basis of the confirmation of the operational readiness of the ASF, member states directed the AU Commission to develop a five-year strategic work plan of the ASF. The recent validation workshop of the draft Maputo strategic five-year work plan on 19–20 October 2016 was aimed at ensuring a comprehensive approach in the development of the work plan that will define the post-full operational capability phase of the ASF. The work plan includes indicators, deliverables and timelines for the ASF civilian, police and military components, including recommendations on partnership, harmonious work plans and the mobilisation of resources by the AU, member states and RECs and RMs.
The report of the independent panel of experts’ assessment of the ASF in 2013 had indicated that the civilian component is the least developed component of the ASF. This is in part because the component is generated from a broad spectrum of specialities, unlike other components. Over the years, however, we have made remarkable progress in developing the civilian component. Relevant policy documents have also been developed to enhance the operational capacity of the civilian component of the ASF, including the African Standby Capacity selection guideline manual and the civilian standby roster, among others. These documents provide required guidelines for the continued training, rostering and staffing of civilians for ASF missions.
The AU deploys civilians as part of high-intensity operations Tweet this
Given the AU’s peacekeeping experiences in Somalia, the Central African Republic and Mali, what has been the major contribution of the civilian component in peace operations?
The AU deploys civilians as part of high-intensity operations as in the case of Mali in 2013, the Central African Republic in 2013 and 2014, and Somalia, which is ongoing. This is unlike the United Nations, whose peace operations are conducted in regions where ceasefires and peace agreements have been secured.
In the volatile security context of Somalia, the AU has been mandated to deploy 70 civilian officers in AMISOM, including substantive mission support staff, with enormous impact on the peace operation.
We have staff working at the various civilian units of AMISOM. They have been working closely with the government and civil society to support efforts to consolidate and extend the state’s services across Somalia. There is, however, more work needed in the recruitment and training of civilian officers going into mission to ensure more enhanced productivity.
In the volatile context of Somalia, the AU has been mandated to deploy 70 civilian officers Tweet this
What is the role of the recently launched Civilian Strategic Support Group (CSSG)?
The CSSG was established in May 2015 and launched in October 2016 to enable the articulation and enhancement of the role of the civilian component. The CSSG is to provide technical and advisory support on matters relating to civilian tasks in AU peace operations. The CSSG will also help to enhance the visibility and coordination of the component at the AU and RECs and RMs.
The CSSG is multi-dimensional in that it comprises patrons such as the former special representative to the chairperson of the AU Commission and heads of state, as well as senior management of the AU Commission, focal officers of the civilian component in the five regions of the continent, civil society partners, training institutions – especially the African Peace Support Trainers’ Association – and relevant experts. Through the CSSG, we can then assess and measure progress and areas for further development.
What are the main challenges faced by the civilian component of the ASF?
The buy-in of member states is key for the enhancement of capacities of the civilian component Tweet this
The after-action review of Amani Africa-II revealed that the ASF is operational but, without the cooperation of member states and the RECs and RMs, it will be difficult to deploy. The political buy-in and commitment of the member states and the RECs and RMs is particularly key for the enhancement of the capacities of the civilian component in the area of rostering, staffing and eventual deployment.
What do you require from AU member states?
Notably, more highly qualified staff are needed, both at the AU Commission and in field missions. This is necessary because of some specialised tasks that civilians are required to undertake in peace support operations. Member states should therefore be consistently encouraged to second suitable and highly competent experts to support the AU Commission in peace support operations and elsewhere. Training centres have a role to play in completing the training of civilians who meet the minimum eligibility criteria for various civilian functions.
Unfortunately, there is limited knowledge in academic and policy circles about the functions of civilians in peace operations. This highlights the need to popularise the role of the civilians in peace operations to enable open recruitment of qualified and competent civilian officers from across the continent. In this regard, member states and RECs and RMs could play a useful role in investing in opportunities for the capacity building of civilians.