UN–AU partnerships are crucial to international peace – Hanna Tetteh

Cooperation between the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) in the field of peace and security has improved markedly over the past few years. The PSC Report spoke to Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to the AU Hanna Tetteh and asked what else could be done to ensure the two organisations work better together.

What are the mechanisms for AU–UN partnership when it comes to peace and security?

In April 2017, the AU and the UN concluded the UN–AU partnership framework on peace and security. The framework provides mechanisms for regular meetings and ongoing consultations at various levels of leadership within the two organisations to review the progress of implementation of programmes and to discuss issues of mutual interest relating to the peace and security challenges on the African continent.

Throughout the year, as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General/Head of the UN Office to the AU, I engage regularly with the AU Commission leadership to follow up on required actions, to have clarity on AU positions and to address emerging peace and security issues of common interest.

The officials of the two organisations at different levels also undertake field/fact-finding missions to assess situations on the ground and make recommendations on how to address them and, where required, work together to address them.

What have been the major achievements of the longstanding relationship between the AU and UN?

We continue to witness the strengthening of common understanding between both organisations, increasingly reflected in common policy positions, processes and procedures. In some cases, joint messaging has served to give notice to and mobilise warring parties on the need to prioritise peaceful and negotiated political solutions.

In some situations, we have taken further steps to promote triangular partnerships with the AU and regional economic communities. These include joint Southern African Development Community (SADC)–AU–UN efforts that diffused political tensions and facilitated the holding of elections in 2018 in Madagascar; the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)–AU–UN initiative that led to the 2019 political and peace agreement in the Central African Republic; and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)–AU–UN collaboration on conflict situations in The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and the Sahel region.

The UN has promoted partnerships with the AU and RECs such as in The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and MaliJoint assessments of AU peace support operations (PSOs), such as AMISOM [AU Mission in Somalia], also provide a common understanding of the situation on the ground and highlight areas for joint intervention.

We have leveraged UN expertise, and supported the development of various AU policy and guidance documents that are aligned with UN documents, based on good practices from both the UN and the AU. We also continue to support the AU in the development of training materials and the implementation of training based on AU needs and standards, in alignment with UN standards.

What are the challenges facing multilateralism that might undermine the effectiveness of the partnership?

A strong UN–AU partnership is essential to address the range of peace and security challenges in Africa in an inclusive and mutually reinforcing manner. Moreover, it is one of the most important relationships in the domain of international peace and security, and a cornerstone of multilateralism.

African member states working together through the AU should continue to speak with one voice in their engagement and advocacy around several challenges confounding multilateralism.

Lack of trust in institutions underscores the importance of good governance and respect for human rightsThese challenges include, but are not limited to: escalating political tensions leading to outbreaks of violence; new conflicts; terrorism and violent extremism; the raging climate emergency and its impact as a conflict multiplier; and the fragilities that are being exacerbated by the COVID‑19 pandemic. All such challenges are disproportionally impacting women, young people and the most vulnerable.

Further challenges to the collective security umbrella provided by the AU include the impact of external interventions and external interests in fragile or war-torn parts of the continent, particularly in the wider Horn of Africa, where the short-term interests of external actors undermine the longer-term, norms-based approach of the AU.

As in other parts of the world, and reflecting on the continent more broadly, trust in governance and institutions is being eroded, which underscores the importance of good governance and respect for human rights. This is not just essential to the continent’s development, it is also crucial to peace and security.

Which areas of cooperation between the AU and the UN could be improved?

We recognise that while there has been significant progress in our partnership, in both mission and non-mission settings, there are also areas for improvement.

Our organisations and our actions in Africa would benefit from a number of concrete steps. These include further institutionalising our cooperation at every level; ensuring, through assessed contributions, the predictability of financing for AU PSOs; and doing more to involve and engage women and youth in the peace and security agenda.

A sustainable partnership must be grounded in trust between the two organisations, and it will also require stronger collaboration between the UN Security Council (UNSC) and AU Peace and Security Council (PSC).

What are the UN and AU’s comparative advantages in determining which organ intervenes in African crisis situations?

The UN has a global reach, and the UNSC has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security in accordance with the UN Charter. The mandate of the AU PSC regarding the promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa is provided for in the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the AU PSC.

Both councils affirm the provisions of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter on the role of regional arrangements in the peaceful settlement of local disputes. However, while the UN has sustainable and predictable funding available, and though the AU has made great progress in operationalising the AU Peace Fund, the AU is to a large extent dependent on donors for the financing of African-led PSOs.

The UN recognises that regional organisations have the advantage of being closer to conflict theatresThe cooperation between the two organisations has allowed for a situation where the UN provides financial and logistical backing, for example to AMISOM through UNSOS [UN Support Office in Somalia], but there is the need to consider support for a broader scope in the financing of AU PSOs.

The UN can leverage the legitimacy of the UNSC and its own global reach. This provides an opportunity to mobilise a wide range of peacekeeping forces from different nationalities, with the required capabilities, including advanced technologies required in today’s peacekeeping environments.

The UN, however, recognises that regional organisations have the advantage of being closer to conflict theatres. They may therefore be in a better position to understand the local dynamics, respond quickly and reduce the deployment time. This was witnessed in the rapid deployment of military or police capabilities in Lesotho and The Gambia, working with SADC and ECOWAS respectively. That is not to say that the regions always provide timely and appropriate responses.

The AU has the ability to respond quickly, though sometimes without adequate capacity. However, showing physical presence even with minimal capacity can save lives and make a difference.

The AU peacekeeping forces require external logistical support to deploy for extended periods of time, and this is where UN and partner support is critical. The ideal would be a situation where both the UNSC and the AU PSC sustain regular consultations on conflict situations and agree on the best approach to adopt, on a case-by-case basis.

How can coordination and the working relationship between the AU PSC and the UNSC be enhanced to improve early response to crises in Africa?

Both councils have emphasised the importance of addressing the fundamental root causes and drivers of conflicts in Africa. They have thus called on all stakeholders to intensify their efforts towards the realisation of the objectives outlined in the AU Agenda 2063.

Regular consultations are very important, including on the monthly programmes of work of both councils. This would assist in synchronising their work to ensure the views and positions of the AU PSC are taken into account ahead of the adoption by the UNSC of resolutions on African conflict situations.

Alignment of policy positions between the AU PSC and organs responsible for peace and security at the REC level should also be explored, as it would promote coherence and eventually interface with the UNSC.

There is also the issue of the A3 members becoming pen holders or co-pen holders on African issues that have been raised by the AU Commission and the AU PSC. It is important that the A3 be supported to amplify the African voice and to advocate for common positions more effectively as regards African peace and security issues on the UNSC agenda.

What can be done in practice to ensure more UNSC–PSC discussions?

The AU PSC Troika, as well as the AU PSC as whole, should strengthen consultations and collaboration with the UNSC. One of the ways could be to ensure that the discussions on the monthly meetings between the incoming AU PSC chairperson and the UNSC president for the following month, and those between the AU PSC Troika and the A3, become standing items on the AU PSC monthly programme of work.

I would like to emphasise the need for the incoming AU chairperson and UNSC president for the following month to meet at least two weeks ahead of their taking over their respective roles, in order to better coordinate the agenda of the two councils.

That way the work of the AU PSC can be scheduled such that it has the opportunity to consider an issue ahead of its being deliberated upon in the UNSC. This would allow for early communication of the AU PSC’s position and also provide greater clarity for the A3 on the AU PSC’s position. 

Collaboration with UN entities in host states is crucial for synergies between the UN and the AU

We also consider that it is important that the AU further strengthens the human resource capacities of its AU Permanent Observer Mission to the UN so that the colleagues there are better placed to engage on behalf of the AU in the various meetings and consultations that take place with UN colleagues in New York on matters of mutual interest.

How can AU and UN PSOs be reformed to respond to complex transnational threats such as terrorism and violent extremism, which have become a leading cause of insecurity in Africa, including where UN missions are deployed?

It is important that multi-dimensional approaches to addressing peace and security challenges be strengthened, from the political, governance and rule of law perspective. While military operations can address a direct and overt threat of terrorism, terrorism is again linked with organised crime, which needs to be addressed through policing and the justice system.

Political interventions at the national level are essential, as well as decentralised efforts in the specific areas in conflict. Yet it is also important to have a strong civilian component to support political efforts for peace, enabling the mission to work with and interact with communities and to drive community mediation, internal dialogue and community resilience programmes towards peaceful existence.

The political, civilian and police support assists the government in strengthening the institutions responsible for maintaining law and order, while focusing on the promotion of good governance, justice and the rule of law, and to gain the support of communities.

Closer collaboration with UN entities that work in host states is also important, and appropriate channels/mechanisms should be established between the UN entities and the AU mission. Similarly, to avoid a proliferation of bilateral interventions, there is a need to strengthen donor and partner coordination with the missions. 

In a country such as Somalia, insufficient coordination and synergy between bilateral partners, as well as between partners and the mission, could create a situation where different parts of the Somali military and police are trained in different doctrines and methodologies. This potentially impacts on the abilities of these security forces to unify and perform effectively.

It is also important that troops and police are well equipped to fight violent extremism. This includes ensuring that appropriate technologies like drones, balloons and satellite imagery; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities; and geographic information systems are available.

Quick reaction forces/airmobile units must be adequately prepared and fit for purpose. The missions should also have the capacity to counter improvised explosive devices.

As preventive measures, it is important that police contingents can gather information about transnational crime and intercept the finance and equipment chain that supports violent extremism. The need to address mindsets of troop/police-contributing countries and PSO personnel about the threat that the missions face must also be prioritised.

It is important that the mandates of missions are achievable and focused, and that the resources are allocated in alignment with the mandates. In this context, it is necessary to understand the paradigm shift that has confronted the AU in recent years, from peacekeeping to peace enforcement, which requires additional resources and capabilities to be effective.

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