The PSC Summit: deferred promises and raised expectations

The Peace and Security Council (PSC) at its summit meeting in Addis Ababa decided not to discuss the much-anticipated report of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. The problems surrounding the report are in part due to the lack of a clear strategy to mobilise political will for its adoption and implementation. Heads of state of the PSC also decided to send a regional intervention force to fight Boko Haram. Questions remain, however, over the command and control of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), the scope of flexibility of contingents to undertake cross-border operations and the timelines for its mobilisation.

The PSC held its first summit-level meeting of the year on 29 January 2015 on the sidelines of the 24th session of the African Union (AU) Assembly. According to the agenda circulated to member states on 22 January, four items were to be discussed, two of which dealt with South Sudan. The state of the conflict and the peace process in South Sudan was the first item. The other, last on the summit agenda, was consideration of the report of the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (ACISS). The two other agenda items were Boko Haram and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Signs emerged very early in the week that the report might be put on hold

South Sudan: tabling of the Obasanjo report deferred

When the summit convened after 7pm on 29 January, the two agenda items relating to South Sudan were collapsed into one. Following the adoption of the agenda, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, chairperson of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), briefed the Council on the IGAD peace process on South Sudan and the region’s concern over the continuing failure of the parties to sign a comprehensive deal. The AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smaïl Chergui, informed the PSC that the ACISS had finalised the report on its investigations and that the establishment of the high-level ad hoc committee for South Sudan was being finalised. South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin also made a statement in which he implored the AU and the international community to be patient with the parties, as South Sudan was still a very young nation.

Despite the fact that the AU Commission (AUC) formally notified member states of the PSC that the report would be considered and shared with them, signs emerged very early in the week that the report might be put on hold. Within the AUC, the Commissioner for Peace and Security and the Office of the Chairperson expressed concern that the timing of the report would derail the peace process. On 27 January, two days before the PSC summit, AUC chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma met the Chair of the ACISS, former president Obasanjo, but they reportedly did not agree over the report. Ahead of the PSC summit, other consultations behind closed doors were also held with key members of the PSC on deferring consideration of the report.

In anticipation of the scheduled consideration of the report, Obasanjo was meant to hold a press conference a few hours before the PSC summit started at the AUC headquarters. This was, however, cancelled at the last minute due to lack of consensus over the timing and format of the press conference.

By the time the PSC summit was convened, member states were ready to put the report on hold. However, there was an apparent lack of clarity or communication during the proceedings. President Alpha Condé of Guinea, who chaired the session, was handing the floor to Obasanjo when Hailemariam intervened and proposed a motion to defer the consideration and release of the report until the peace talks were concluded. With the motion seconded by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, followed by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, it was the end of the discussion on the report. The session ended shortly thereafter and Obasanjo left without making any statement.

In the communiqué that the PSC adopted at that session, it decided ‘to defer the consideration of the report of the Commission of Inquiry to a later date’. The PSC also reiterated its readiness ‘to impose sanctions against those obstructing the cessation of hostilities agreement and the political process’. Additionally, in welcoming the establishment of the high-level ad hoc committee, the PSC urged the committee ‘to take all necessary steps in order to enhance the IGAD-led mediation process’.

On 30 January, Obasanjo held a media briefing on the activities of the ACISS. At the briefing, which was not open for questions, Obasanjo read a statement outlining the mandate of the Commission, the work done and what remains to be done. Regarding the decision of the PSC on deferring consideration of the report, he said, ‘We hope that IGAD mediation and peace process efforts will succeed soonest and will be immediately followed by the consideration and publication of the Commission’s report.’

Despite expectations that the two warring factions would sign a power-sharing deal, the talks, which ran for five days, ended without such a deal. At the conclusion of the talks on 1 February, the parties only managed to sign a deal identifying areas of agreement and issues requiring further negotiation. Unlike the Protocol of Principles signed by the parties and IGAD in August 2014, the 1 February 2015 agreement makes no reference to the ACISS report.

The PSC reiterated its readiness to impose sanctions against those obstructing the cessation of hostilities agreement

New plans for the fight against Boko Haram

The PSC also looked into the regional and international efforts to combat Boko Haram. At this session, Chergui presented a report of the AUC chairperson to the PSC. The PSC also heard statements from the representatives of the member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and Ghana, as chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Increasing demand from the region for collective action and the recent escalation in Boko Haram attacks, including the destruction of the MJTF base in Baga and the use of children in suicide bombings, contributed to mobilising high-level interest and attention. Building on the outcome of the 5th ministerial meeting held in Niamey, Niger on 20 January 2015, there were at least two major issues this session had to address. The first was the establishment of the legal framework necessary for the deployment of the MJTF, which the LCBC and Benin decided to establish to jointly combat Boko Haram. The second was the adoption of decisions on the steps needed to meet the operational requirements necessary for the speedy operationalisation of the MJTF.

Nigeria, which previously expressed reservations over the establishment of such a collective framework for countering Boko Haram, did not raise any objections to the agenda. In fact, despite these reservations, Nigeria allowed, apparently on the basis of a bilateral deal, Chadian troops to engage in a battle with Boko Haram on Nigerian soil in the days leading up to the PSC summit. Although Nigerian authorities and diplomats did not seem keen on the AU or regional actors playing a major role, they embraced the PSC’s ability to mobilise international political, financial and logistical support as and when needed.

The communiqué the PSC adopted at the end of its session contains a number of important elements. Significantly, the PSC decided to authorise the deployment of the MJTF for an initial period of 12 months (renewable) with a strength of up to 7 500 military and other personnel. The communiqué mandates the MJTF a) to create a safe and secure environment in Boko Haram-affected areas to reduce violence against civilians within the bounds of international law; b) to facilitate the implementation of stabilisation programmes, including the restoration of state authority; and c) to facilitate humanitarian assistance.

One of the issues that limited progress during the course of 2014 in terms of the establishment of the MJTF was a lack of consensus between Nigeria, on the one hand, and other LCBC countries and Benin, on the other, on the scope of the MJTF’s operational flexibility in terms of cross-border operations. The formulation that was agreed upon and contained in the PSC communiqué envisages the MJTF contingents undertaking ‘operational coordination amongst the affected countries in the fight against Boko Haram’ and ‘[conducting] joint/simultaneous/coordinated patrols and other types of operations at the borders of the affected countries’.

The PSC also called on the UN Security Council to urgently adopt a resolution that would, among others, a) endorse the deployment of the MJTF and b) authorise the establishment of a trust fund to sustain the MJTF’s operations.

Increasing demand from the region for collective action and the escalation in Boko Haram attacks contributed to mobilising high-level interest

Other notable elements of the PSC communiqué include the provisions relating to humanitarian assistance and follow-up on decisions. The PSC mandated ‘the Sub-Committee of the Permanent Representatives Committee on Refugees, IDPs and Humanitarian Affairs to urgently undertake a visit to the region, in order to assess the situation and make recommendations on how best to mobilize, from within the continent, additional support to complement the assistance being provided by international partners’. As a framework for follow-up on its decisions, the PSC requested the AUC chairperson ‘to provide monthly updates to Council on the implementation of this communiqué’.

Issues for follow-up

On South Sudan, the decision deferring the consideration of the ACISS report does not specify a timeline. In the statement Obasanjo gave, he said the ACISS believed that the timely implementation of the report was essential in charting a course for peace, justice, healing and reconciliation in South Sudan. While this offers some assurance that the report will not be shelved indefinitely, it is not known when, or how, the report will be made public.

Obasanjo said the timely implementation of the report was essential in charting a course for peace, justice, healing and reconciliation in South Sudan

This can in part be blamed on the lack of a clear strategy for the adoption and implementation of the report, including implementing the various recommendations as part of the transitional process. Although the mandate of the ACISS is confined to preparing the report, the objectives behind its establishment will not be achieved without mobilising political will for the adoption, release and implementation of the report. For both the AU and the PSC, delivering on the promise of the ACISS (in terms of reconciliation, national healing, accountability and justice) also demands the establishment of a mechanism for the follow-up and implementation of all aspects of its recommendations.      

With respect to the decision on the regional effort to combat Boko Haram, a number of issues remain. One such issue is the command and control of the MJTF, particularly the role of the AU as a mandating authority vis-à-vis that of the LCBC countries and Benin on strategic and operational decision-making. The establishment of the headquarters of the MJTF and its operationalisation is another outstanding issue. Following Boko Haram’s attack on Baga, the original base of the MJTF, the ministerial meeting of 20 January decided to establish its headquarters in Ndjamena, Chad. While the PSC’s request for its sub-committee to undertake a visit to the region is commendable, the timeline and processes for its implementation were not defined.    

Some of these issues were considered when the concept of operations (CONOPs) for the MJTF is drawn up and adopted. The technical meeting for drawing up the CONOPs took place in Yaoundé, Cameroon on 5–7 February. This was expected to bring together representatives of the LCBC member countries, Benin, the AU and the UN.

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