Will an election equip the Council with strong states?

During the 45th executive council and 37th ordinary session of the African Union (AU) Assembly, member states will elect 10 new countries to the Peace and Security Council (PSC) for two years. As the Council is the primary decision-making organ on peace and security, its efficacy in responding to the plethora of continental challenges depends significantly on the strength of its members.

The Council undertakes key roles and responsibilities to prevent, manage and ensure effective conflict resolution as outlined in the PSC Protocol. Article 3 mentions six major objectives spanning all stages of the peace spectrum, from prevention to post-conflict reconstruction and development.

These objectives require the PSC to be well resourced and capacitated with technical knowledge and the political will to manage conflicts and promote peace on the continent. Its composition, given its influence in satisfying these three major requirements, is a major benchmark for understanding the direction, nature and robustness of the Council at any point in time.

Renewal of Council membership should reinvigorate efforts for a stable Africa

Periodic renewal of Council membership based on its statutory rotation requirements is a key opportunity to bolster strength, refocus commitment amid difficulties and perceived ineffectiveness and reinvigorate efforts for a stable Africa. With all five regions experiencing onerous governance and security issues, the election of 10 countries ― about two-thirds of the Council ― should create a strong, efficient and robust body. But will it?

New contenders

The PSC election occurs every two years, with the upcoming event scheduled for February 2024 and new members starting their term on 1 April 2024. The PSC Protocol stipulates 15 members, 10 of whom are selected for two years and five for three years on rotation.

The February election will end the terms of Burundi, Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tunisia, which will exit in March 2024. However, protocol Article 5(3) decrees that member states may serve consecutive terms. Thus, current PSC members could apply for an additional term. Cameroon, Djibouti, Morocco, Namibia and Nigeria are serving three-year terms and can contest an election only in 2025.

African permanent missions had to submit applications to the PSC secretariat by 30 October and 13 November 2023 (for East Africa). Fourteen member states will contest the election (table below). Of the 10 incumbents, only Tanzania, Uganda and The Gambia have expressed interest in serving an additional two years, which, if granted, will provide the benefit of continuity on the Council.

The remaining seven seats are newcomers whose inclusion will bring fresh dynamics to Council composition and new ideas to be prioritised. Newcomers will need extensive training and capacity-building to develop concrete knowledge and understanding of current peace and security challenges and a grasp of evolving PSC dynamics.

Regional consensus dilutes competition and negatively affects the quality and outcomes of elections

The selection of new Council members ideally should be determined by the criteria in Article 5 of the PSC Protocol. These include member states’ respect for constitutional governance, their contribution to the Peace Fund/special fund and whether they have sufficiently staffed and equipped permanent missions at AU and United Nations headquarters.

Notwithstanding the extent to which current and incoming members meet the criteria, regional deliberations to decide on candidates are a major factor. They point to growing interest to serve in the PSC and to the strength and unity of regional blocs.

Distribution of PSC seats

Distribution of PSC seats

Source: ISS
(click on the table for the full size image)
Current PSC Members

Current PSC Members

Source: ISS
(click on the map for the full size image)

Regional (dis)unity surfacing

Prior regional consultations and deliberations have allowed the central, southern and western regional blocs to agree on and produce the required number of candidates for their available seats. Notwithstanding any last-minute changes, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and The Gambia should serve as Council members from 2024 to 2026.

For North Africa and East Africa, however, a lack of regional consensus and strained bilateral relations among member states will render the election fiercely contested. In East Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and Tanzania will contend for two seats, while Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania will compete for a single North African seat.

Based on the protocol and given the responsibilities of the Council, these countries should consult regionally to determine which of their candidates meet the requirements for membership. This would help to ensure the inclusion of capacitated states capable of leadership and effective response to the continent’s peace and security challenges.

Delayed negotiations and consultations could lead to pre-election regional consensus in North Africa and East Africa. A trend in previous elections saw member states withdraw their application before the summit after finding common ground. This was the case between Kenya and Comoros in late 2022 on East Africa’s chairship of the AU in 2023. The coveted seat was contested for months before the election, but an eventual compromise was reached when Kenya capitulated to Comoros.

Achieving regional consensus may prove even more difficult in North Africa given longstanding tensions around several issues, including western Sahara. Reaching an agreement with only one seat provided is an added challenge. A persistent matter over several years has been North Africa’s repeated call for an additional seat or more equal regional distribution of the 15 PSC seats.

During the previous summit, it was decided to establish a committee to investigate this further, devise options and report back to the executive council. However, it’s unlikely that this will be realised before the summit as the committee is yet to meet.

In the absence of anchor states, who will drive the Council?

While achieving consensus on PSC candidates is beneficial, it dilutes competition and negatively affects the quality and outcomes of the process. When ‘smaller’ states are elected purely through the principle of regional rotation or consensus, their capacity and ability to meet roles and responsibilities affect the PSC.

Will the PSC fly or founder?

The new PSC members will serve until 2026. The strength and propensity of the Council to meet its responsibilities will depend primarily on the strengths and weaknesses of individual members. The inclusion of member states that do not meet the criteria will continue to hamper the PSC in substance and process. It will affect the programme of work and monthly agenda and will influence and shape its ability to respond to continental crises.

About half of the candidates vying to join the PSC in 2024 can be classified as ‘small states’ with limited diplomatic clout. In the absence of anchor states such as Ghana, Senegal and South Africa, who will drive the Council and what are the implications for AU response to peace and security challenges? Another question is whether the PSC Protocol should be revised whereby leading states with the requisite resources and political will are permanent Council members.

Image: African Union

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