The PSC should do more to respond to conflicts in 2020

Looking back at 2019, it is clear that the Peace and Security Council (PSC) discussed and responded to a number of conflicts in Africa over the course of the year. These include Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Libya and the Central African Republic (CAR). The PSC also discussed peace and security priorities in specific regions such as the Sahel and threats such as climate change, foreign military presence, and terrorist networks in Africa. 

The PSC demonstrated its potential in resolving some conflicts through mediation efforts, as witnessed in Sudan. However, by and large, the PSC remained silent on key sensitive issues such as the conflict in northern Cameroon, ethnic-based clashes in Ethiopia and the situation in northern Mozambique.

By and large the PSC remained silent on key sensitive issues such as the conflict in Cameroon, clashes in Ethiopia and the situation in Mozambique

Rather than being proactive in undertaking early response measures, the council allowed situations to escalate, such as the protests in Sudan, before addressing them. The lack of effective and timely responses to potential and actual conflicts violates the trust that the AU Assembly and African citizens place in the council.

‘Silencing the Guns’ an opportunity to take stock

The AU theme of the year for 2020, ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’, presents an opportunity for the PSC to undertake an internal review and deliberate on the successes and challenges in preventing and responding to conflicts. 

In this regard, the PSC should review to what extent it has made use of early warning information from the AU Continental Early Warning System, one of the key components of the African Peace and Security Architecture, and from regional economic communities (RECs), in responding to disputes in time.

Most importantly, the PSC should address the lack of political commitment from member states to use this early warning information and put emerging conflicts on the council’s agenda.

The PSC should address the lack of political commitment from member states to put emerging conflicts on the  agenda

Responding to intra-state conflicts

As per the PSC’s mandate to resolve conflicts and undertake peacebuilding in Africa, the council discussed major protracted intra-state conflicts. The discussions focused on situational updates and the progress made in the implementation of political agreements, reviews of the AU’s responsibilities as guarantor of a number of these agreements, and the technical support in these countries.

As per its mandate to resolve conflicts and undertake peacebuilding, the council discussed protracted intra-state conflicts

The PSC also reviewed the achievements of AU peace support operations in the CAR and Central Africa (MISAC), and the mandate and gradual drawdown of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and the United Nations – African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), as well as resource mobilisation for future AU-led missions.

Despite major initiatives, the escalating ‘anglophone’ crisis in Cameroon has been overlooked by the PSC since the armed insurrection broke out in 2017.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) discussed the crisis informally in May 2019, because African non-permanent members of the UNSC – South Africa and Equatorial Guinea – voted against attempts to bring the anglophone crisis up for formal discussion at the UNSC.

Although the AU Commission (AUC) chairperson visited Cameroon in late November 2019, the inability of the 15 PSC members to discuss the deteriorating situation in the country despite obvious early warning signs and reports from the AU’s Early Warning Unit, for instance, raises questions about the extent to which the PSC makes use of the AU’s own structures for conflict prevention. The Central African states of Burundi, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea serve on the PSC, with the latter serving on both the PSC and the UNSC.

The inability of RECs in such regions to robustly engage on a situation such as that in Cameroon also signals shortcomings in the use of the principle of subsidiarity, which places the initial responsibility of addressing conflicts on RECs. The central African REC, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), has never discussed Cameroon, nor did it refer the situation to the PSC.

ECCAS has never discussed Cameroon, nor did it refer the situation to the PSC

Inter-state disputes

During its discussions in March 2019 on the nexus between maritime security, safety and development of a sustainable Blue Economy in Africa, the PSC encouraged member states to find peaceful solutions to the use of shared water bodies and the demarcation of their borders.

It also ‘encouraged Member States to prioritize the use of bilateral and regional mechanisms in resolving maritime disputes and challenges within the context of African solutions to African problems’. The council expanded the domain of the Blue Economy to include inland water bodies such as rivers, dams and lakes.

In September the PSC discussed the dispute between Kenya and Somalia over their maritime boundary

Accordingly, in September the PSC discussed the dispute between Kenya and Somalia over their maritime boundary. The PSC asked the AUC chairperson to regularly report on the situation and appoint a special envoy, if necessary, to mediate between the two countries.

In the same vein, the PSC could have discussed the tension between Ethiopia and Egypt over the use of Nile waters. However, the United States ended up mediating between the two countries, which are yet to resolve their dispute.

It would seem that the timing of PSC discussions tends to undermine its contribution in addressing inter-state disputes. The PSC discussed the dispute between Kenya and Somalia after Kenya, a PSC member, had asked the PSC to do so. However, the case had already been referred to the International Court of Justice, and thus the PSC had little to contribute in resolving the conflict.

The timing of PSC discussions tends to undermine its contribution in addressing inter-state disputes

Similarly, the PSC discussed the tension between Rwanda and Uganda in August, to applaud the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by the two countries, which had been facilitated by Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo (as chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region).

Thus, while the PSC ignored some inter-state tensions, those it did choose to discuss in 2019 were either already being addressed or had been resolved by a different actor.

Election disputes

For the PSC and the AU the year kicked off with a major challenge, given the disagreements between the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) over the election results in the DRC. In the end, SADC prevailed and Etienne Tshisekedi was confirmed as president, but the issue highlighted the shortcomings in the relationship between RECs and the AU in dealing with conflict, especially related to electoral processes.  

As such, in August the PSC discussed elections in Africa held from January to December 2019, based on the report from the AUC chairperson. It also specifically discussed upcoming elections in the CAR, Somalia and Guinea-Bissau. The council highlighted potential risks and urged actors to ensure elections were free, fair, credible and peaceful. It also warned that it would take punitive measures, including sanctions, against those who obstructed peaceful elections in CAR.

In August the PSC discussed elections in Africa held from January to December 2019, based on the report from the AUC chairperson

In addition to the CAR, Somalia and Guinea-Bissau, other member states are also expected to organise elections at the end of 2019 and in 2020, e.g. Algeria, Togo, Burundi, Ethiopia, Guinea, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire, where elections are expected to be highly contested, with a risk of election-related violence. The PSC is yet to discuss potential responses, including in countries that will organise elections as early as January–March 2020, such as Guinea and Cameroon.

Protests and unconstitutional change of government

In 2019 the PSC addressed one attempted coup d’état in Gabon in January and a successful coup d’état in Sudan in April, which followed protests that lasted for months.

After designating the coup in Sudan an unconstitutional change of government, the PSC in June suspended the country from all AU activities. Since then the PSC has discussed Sudan nine times. The council also appointed a special envoy who engaged stakeholders alongside other partners, and successfully mediated the transition to a civilian government. Once this was achieved the PSC reinstated Sudan and directed the AUC chairperson to ‘issue a new mandate on Sudan peace negotiations’.

Meanwhile in Algeria, months-long protests led to the overthrow of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in a similar manner to that of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan. The only difference was that the military forced Bouteflika to hand in his resignation rather than announcing a takeover, as the military did in Sudan.

The PSC did not designate the ouster of Bouteflika as an unconstitutional change of government

However, the PSC did not designate the ouster of Bouteflika as an unconstitutional change of government. Nor has it discussed the continued public protests, which have the potential to significantly destabilise the country.

The PSC has also ignored protests that could escalate and even lead to unconstitutional changes of government in Guinea, Togo, Burundi, Egypt and Uganda. The protests are all related to incumbents amending the constitution in a bid to extend term limits and/or expand their powers, and run for re-election.

The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance states that ‘illegal means of accessing or maintaining power constitute an unconstitutional change of government and shall draw appropriate sanctions by the Union’. The illegal means include ‘the use of any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government’.

The PSC has not discussed instances of constitutional amendments that might constitute an unconstitutional change of government

 Yet the PSC has not discussed instances of constitutional amendments that might constitute an unconstitutional change of government and that have led to protests that could give rise to military coups, as witnessed in Sudan and elsewhere.

PSC response in 2020

The peace and security situation in Africa in 2020 might not change much. The PSC is therefore going to have to deal with the same or similar issues. If the trend in discussions and decisions in 2019 is anything to go by, the council will need major changes in the responses of member states regarding its role and their sovereignty.

When the PSC tables potential and actual conflicts for deliberation, it is perceived as a direct attack on the sovereignty of a country

At the moment, when the PSC tables potential and actual conflicts for deliberation, it is perceived as a direct attack on the sovereignty of a country, or an attempt to undermine the ability of RECs to respond to conflicts. What is needed is a major shift in perception of what it means to table certain issues and countries for discussion at the PSC.

Clearly, the current situation results in self-censorship of PSC members, whereby certain issues and countries are not put on the PSC agenda for discussion. Following the 2015 reversal by the heads of state of a PSC decision on Burundi, such a change is necessary to enable the PSC to operate within its mandate in tabling inter- and intra-state conflicts for discussion.

The PSC should also focus on better understanding of conflict situations through regular visits and collaboration with experts within the AU Peace and Security Department and independent think tanks and civil society organisations. This will help the AU in developing rapid and appropriate interventions that respond to the security needs of Africans.

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