African Union

Will a new Peace and Security Council make a difference?

Amid frayed multilateral responses to peace and security challenges, will new members change the Council’s efficacy?

The 37th ordinary session of the African Union (AU) Assembly elected 10 new members to the Peace and Security Council (PSC) to serve a two-year term. At a challenging time for regional, continental and multilateral responses to crises, the new Council faces a herculean task. It must transform its efficacy to address Africa’s numerous peace and security issues, while forecasting, anticipating and preventing future challenges. Will the new PSC members achieve this or will it be business as usual?

Leveraging PSC reform

The election of new members coincides with two major events that impact the PSC mandate. The Council celebrates its 20th anniversary in May 2024, having started its work in 2004 after the adoption and entry into force of the PSC protocol in 2002 and 2003 respectively. This event requires a crucial stocktake of its conflict prevention strategies and crisis management response. New, enthusiastic members, can provide a more sober examination of the Council’s mandate against increasingly complex peace and security matters.

The election also happens alongside ongoing discussions on the timely African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) review requested by the Council itself in July 2023. This process demands a rethink of the design and implementation of AU peace and security frameworks. As the PSC is the central APSA decision-making pillar, enhancing its role and function is paramount. This should include a review of the Council’s composition, the adequacy of its human and financial resources and capabilities, and enhanced modalities for the implementation of its decisions.

New members can provide a more sober assessment of the PSC’s mandate

It is important that new members bring fresh dynamism to Council engagements as this will generate ideas and sustain interest in ongoing processes. Newcomers such as Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt and Sierra Leone, which have benefitted from continental management of transitions and conflicts, could contribute significantly to the APSA review. Experiences, knowledge and expertise are crucial in refining mechanisms and processes.

Bidding farewell

Burundi, Congo, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe exited the Council on 31 March 2024 after two years of noteworthy achievements. Ghana, for example, championed the AU’s response to unconstitutional changes of government, hosting forums in Accra in 2022 and 2024. Despite enormous pressure, it tabled several sensitive topics for discussion, including the Tigray crisis and the recent Ethiopia-Somalia tension over Somaliland.

Burundi championed the role of youth during its tenure, while South Africa ― a top financial contributor to the AU’s budget ― played a pivotal norm-enforcement role. These key members exit as the Council’s performance is overshadowed by major challenges including the resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government and conflicts in Sudan and DRC. Outgoing members bid farewell to a Council that faces increased pressure amid weakened prevention and response capacities.

Can new members make a difference?

At their recent induction, incoming members Angola, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone displayed great enthusiasm and energy for tackling the continent’s issues. However, as mentioned, their failure or success will depend greatly on their political will, collective efforts and the extent to which the Council will make concrete and implementable decisions.

Will new members promote national interests or will continental priorities inform decisions?

Another determinant will center on whether members will promote national interests or whether continental priorities will inform decisions and outcomes. The inclusion of some member states already points to the former. Growing DRC and Rwanda interstate tensions, for example, have started to play out, with Rwanda strongly opposing the PSC’s endorsement of the Southern African Development Community’s mission in eastern DRC. Egypt’s priorities will certainly be informed by its commitment to finding solutions to the many conflicts in neighbouring countries and their spillover effects. 

What to expect

New membership will shape Council dynamics over the coming years, determining which thematic and country case issues reach the agenda. With the incoming ‘heavyweight’ members, crises such as eastern DRC and Sudan may be discussed more regularly. Whether the new cohort can alter substantively the decisions and outcomes of PSC communiques and the Commission’s subsequent implementation remains to be seen.

Regional consensus or lack thereof will have significant implications. It is dependent on member states consulting and fostering regional positions on crises. For example, whether DRC can influence and align the positions of its fellow Central African Council members, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, could determine their support for the search for solutions in its eastern region.

In the same vein, Egypt’s ability to build consensus in East Africa with Tanzania and Uganda may strengthen Council decisions to move the needle on the Sudan crisis. Therefore, dynamics within and between regions will shape the Council and its response and effectiveness. In addition, Council members are required to individually and independently form their positions on the various crises plaguing the continent to avoid undue influence.

New agenda items may be discussed with the exit of seven members

The exit of the seven outgoing members may lead to new agenda items being discussed. The tendency is that while serving on the Council, member states block the tabling of domestic issues. The constitutional crisis and slow creep into authoritarian rule in Tunisia and prolonged misgovernance and human rights violations in Zimbabwe were not discussed during the past two years but can now be tabled. However, if the trend of discussion of thematic rather than country cases persists, concerns will continue as to whether member countries are driven by pan-African interests.

Resourcing required

Incoming member states face the behemoth task of course-correcting the Council and enhancing its efficacy. While at face value the members seem energised to address gaps in the Council’s working methods, the real undertaking is sustaining momentum throughout their two-year mandate. This will require greater consultation and collaboration with the AU Commission, AU Assembly, other AU organs, civil society and external partners. It will demand a well-resourced, political and technical Council using its mandated powers as per the protocol.

The Council will have to address current conflicts and prevent future ones. It must grapple with the reform and revitalisation of APSA and leverage its 20th-anniversary celebration to substantively inform and improve its work.

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