Will AU summit decisions address governance deficits?

Decisions taken at the February 2022 African Union (AU) summit could enable the AU to address governance deficits driving much of the continent’s violence and conflict. The summit has prioritised the creation and strengthening of mechanisms to tackle the root causes of unconstitutional changes of government, structural vulnerabilities and governance issues that lead to violent conflict.

It was decided to revitalise the Country Structural Vulnerability and Resilience Assessments (CSVRAs), Country Structural Vulnerability Mitigation Strategies (CSVMS), and the Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). Instruments to prevent unconstitutional change of government will be reviewed, including the Lomé Declaration and African Governance Architecture (AGA). Budget will be allocated to establish a governance support fund to implement these processes.

If fully implemented, these decisions could reinforce the AU’s conflict prevention capability, shifting its usual firefighter role that has often seen it respond to conflicts after the fact. By helping member states mitigate the root causes of conflicts, the AU will be better placed to prevent violent manifestations of conflicts.

Decisions on peace and security

In 2021, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) met more than 80 times to discuss crises and conflicts in Africa. Governance weaknesses at the root of these crises weren’t, however, sufficiently addressed.    

Following the presentation of the PSC annual report to the AU assembly, the summit took positions on 15 crises. These included internal conflicts in Cameroon and Ethiopia, difficult political transitions in Sudan, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, and peace processes in Libya, South Sudan and Central African Republic.

Governance defects and structural vulnerabilities must be addressed, while respecting state sovereignty

A clear roadmap for the AU’s continued engagement and support was provided for only Somalia, South Sudan, Chad, the Comoros, Libya and Mozambique. In other situations, the summit encouraged stakeholders to act swiftly to resolve issues themselves.

In Ethiopia and Cameroon, a cessation of hostilities was recommended and stakeholders were urged to find a negotiated political solution to the conflicts. For countries that have experienced military coups in the past year, including Sudan, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, a zero tolerance stance was adopted on unconstitutional changes of government. Heads of state demanded urgent restoration of constitutional order in these countries.

The summit also focused on terrorism and violent extremism, and the nexus among climate, peace and security. While the draft summit decisions and PSC annual report allude to the root causes of violent conflicts – particularly governance deficits in member states – these issues are not discussed in detail. This is because they fall within the ‘internal affairs’ of member states protected under the AU’s principle of sovereignty.

The draft decisions, however, indicate that heads of states are grappling with how to approach extreme manifestations of governance deficits and structural vulnerabilities, while respecting state sovereignty. It seems they have acknowledged that the AU needs a new approach in responding to unconstitutional government changes, the spread of terrorism and violent extremism, and the negative impact of state fragility across multiple member states.

What’s new?

The summit proposed new mechanisms and the revitalisation of existing ones to allow the AU to address governance concerns and prevent conflicts without the PSC having to discuss member states’ internal affairs. The first priority is unconstitutional change of government. The assembly recognised the need to review the Lomé Declaration and AGA to address this phenomenon and analyse its causes and impact.

Most mechanisms are voluntary and depend on member states’ goodwill and their ability to be self-critical

The summit also acknowledged that attempts to extend term limits through constitutional amendments have caused instability in many countries. It will, therefore, form a high-level hybrid committee of sitting and former heads of state and government to engage incumbents who try to amend national constitutions ‘without national consensus.’   

The assembly highlighted the importance of member states implementing the CSVRA/CSVMS. These aim to help states, regional economic communities (RECs) and the AU better understand structural risk factors for conflict and develop a strategy to overcome them sustainably, preventing violent conflicts. The AU Commission has been asked to establish a monitoring and oversight committee including the AU Commission, RECs, the APRM and member states. The committee will facilitate coordination, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of these instruments.

The APRM, based in South Africa, will be strengthened, with the assembly having adopted its continental secretariat organisational structure. It also approved more than US$11 million to hire 114 country, region-focused and thematic experts on different aspects of governance. In addition, the summit endorsed the establishment of a governance support fund to evaluate governance failures and provide financial and technical support to overcome them.

Opportunities and challenges

Endorsement of these instruments by heads of state reflects buy-in from member states. Some instruments also have processes driven primarily by heads of state and government, whose clout may advance their execution. Furthermore, the mechanisms are face-saving approaches that will prevent states taking defensive stances when put under scrutiny by the PSC. Instead, states will be required to apply self-evaluation to reach sustainable solutions with the AU’s help.

More than US$11 million has been approved to hire 114 country, region-focused governance experts

Member states will, moreover, receive both technical and financial support in implementing processes such as the APRM country review and the CSVRA/CSVMS. The summit’s endorsement of the monitoring and evaluation mechanism for the AU Master Roadmap of Practical Steps for Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2030 presents another opportunity. It will hold the AU, RECs and states accountable for the implementation of conflict prevention mechanisms.

The extent and urgency with which decisions are implemented will remain the biggest challenge, as most mechanisms are voluntary and depend on member states’ goodwill. These instruments may not be implemented, as has happened with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.  

The results also depend on the extent to which incumbents are willing to be self-critical. Thus, instruments may be co-opted to highlight the member state's achievements and focus on non-politicised issues rather than contentious drivers of conflicts. Availability of funds for implementation is another possible obstacle. Implementation also requires coordination among multiple stakeholders, which may be problematic.

While the summit’s endorsement of these mechanisms presents opportunities to enhance the AU’s conflict prevention capability, as with previous summit decisions, the impact will depend on the political will of member states and their commitment to allocate funds for implementation.

Image: © African Union/Flickr

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