Will African Union and United Nations priorities align in 2022?

The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) and the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC) will hold their 15th consultative meeting on 15 and 16 December 2021, which will determine the alignment of both councils in the next year.

These annual meetings, ‘to enhance cooperation and collaboration of the two councils in peace and security in Africa’, have been held since 2007. This year’s meeting closes a series of UN-AU formal and informal engagements and was preceded by a UNSC high-level open debate on cooperation between the organisations. Held on 28 October, it was chaired by Kenya as UNSC president.

An UN-AU joint task force discussion on peace and security will follow on 5 November and a meeting between UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, on 1 December.

As both institutions prepare their priority lists ahead of the mid-December discussions, it remains to be seen whether contentious issues such as the situation in Ethiopia will feature. However, it is likely that the sticky issues of financing AU-led peace operations, the future of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and the response to the growing terrorism threat on the continent will be on the agenda.

Aligning issues, avoiding duplication

The UN and AU are the two most important decision-making institutions for crisis management in Africa, accounting for about 70% of the crises tabled for discussion by the former. Given the AU’s important role in this, duplication of efforts must be avoided. Alignment of priorities is, thus, central to the councils’ work, since it enhances synergy, planning and complementary implementation of interventions.

It remains to be seen whether contentious issues such as the situation in Ethiopia will feature

In the past year, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic (CAR), Libya and Mali have been in their sights and each has implemented initiatives to address situations in those countries.

In CAR, the UNSC this year focused on the work of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission and on continued fighting between government forces and armed opposition. The PSC undertook a field mission to CAR in June 2021 to monitor the 2019 Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation between the government and armed groups and the formation of a new government.

The UNSC has discussed Somalia a few times, particularly al-Shabaab, the humanitarian situation and the ongoing political crisis resulting from the soured relationship between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) and Prime Minister Mohamed Roble. The PSC has been preoccupied with the political situation in the country and the implementation of AMISOM’s mandate, including the nature of the mission post-2021.  The mission’s future and the AU’s engagement in Somalia will be tabled at the upcoming meetings.

The implementation of transitional peace agreements in Sudan and South Sudan has also featured on the agenda of the two councils. The PSC undertook field missions to the countries in March and April. The UNSC and PSC also discussed the planned drawdown by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the Great Lakes Region. 

The PSC’s June 2021 mission to CAR was meant to monitor the progress of the 2019 agreement

On occasion, the councils have adopted different approaches. While the current situation in Ethiopia and the Tigray conflict has often been debated by the UNSC in the past year, the PSC has not tabled the matter for discussion. The turmoil in northern Mozambique has not received the attention of either body.

The councils’ focuses point to the ease with which countries’ priorities can be easily aligned. Given the divergence on the Ethiopian crisis, the UNSC may want it on the December agenda, but the PSC is expected to reject the proposal. Ethiopia is a member of the PSC, and the latter tends not to table conflicts it defines as domestic concerns of member states.

Will coups, elections and arms be discussed?

The rise in the number of military coups on the continent in 2021, notably in Mali, Chad, Guinea and Sudan, and the attempted coups in Niger, are expected to be discussed at length in December. However, the absence of the coup in Guinea from the UNSC agenda has raised questions among experts. 

Election-related crises are set to be a talking point, given the high-stake, controversial elections scheduled for Libya, Mali and Somalia this year. Also important will be the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, climate-change-induced insecurity and PSC calls for greater access to Covid-19 vaccines for African countries.

The turmoil in northern Mozambique has not received the attention of either body

Both councils recognise the continued continental threat of terrorism and violent extremism. While the UNSC conducted a field visit to Mali and Niger in October, the PSC has consistently called for a holistic response to the threat, including coordinated African-led military interventions that are co-funded through UN assessed contributions, which is not the UNSC position.

Continued divergence in 2022

The AU’s ability to access UN-assessed contributions as predictable and sustainable funding to maintain such interventions remains a source of contention between the councils. The issue is likely to be a PSC priority but can be expected to remain a major stumbling block between the two.

The UNSC and the PSC have diverged most noticeably on funding African-led peace support operations. The former accepted a cost-sharing proposal in 2016, through which the AU would finance 25% of operations. This was, however, rejected by some AU members who opposed using the AU Peace Fund for AU deployments. UNSC permanent members again shunned the idea in 2018.

Experts caution the PSC against raising the issue in December, even if consensus is reached on AU Peace Fund priorities. Rather, they say, the PSC should achieve an AU-wide agreement through further consultations and advance the matter at the AU Summit in February 2022.

Another sensitive issue will be the AU’s continued call for UN reform. During his speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2021, DRC President and AU Chairperson, Felix Tshisekedi, again promoted UN reform to bolster Africa’s status in global decision-making. He advocated two permanent seats with veto rights and two non-permanent seats in the UNSC for Africa. His call emphasises the issue’s importance to African states, but experts believe UNSC permanent members will not accept it as an agenda item.

The December meeting falls under the 2017 Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security. Beyond intentions for cooperation, the meeting should aim for actionable outcomes, including jointly monitoring the implementation of previous decisions, and sharing planning and synergy in activities. It remains important that the AU develop its capacity to address matters essential to stability and development on the continent, recognising that not all of its priorities will align with those of UNSC permanent members.

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