The African Union (AU) Assembly endorsed during the February 2022 AU Summit the nominations of four new members to serve a three-year term on the fifth Panel of the Wise. The fifth nomination from the Southern region is pending.
Former Burundian president Domitien Ndayizeye and former Egyptian foreign minister and past League of Arab States secretary-general, Amre Moussa, are on the panel, the latter having been re-elected. Appointed are Lady Justice Effie Owuor, first female Kenyan High Court judge, and Professor Babacar Kante, Senegal Constitutional Council Vice President representing the central, northern, eastern and western regions.
Working with the new AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) members, the panel has an opportunity to build a working relationship with policymakers to address urgent conflicts and crises on the continent. It will, however, face the obstacles of previous panels since its establishment in 2007. These include a vague mandate, lack of clarity about its powers, structural limitations, and inadequate financial and human resources.
Success will depend greatly on the goodwill of the PSC and the chairperson of the AU Commission (AUC), with whom the panel is expected to work closely. Members all have extensive experience in their fields, which include public administration, diplomacy, mediation and conflict resolution, multilateralism and legal affairs. However, to make an impact, they will also need in-depth understanding of continental conflict contexts.
They will also need to be adept at raising additional funds for their work and expanding and leveraging their extensive networks. The latter applies not only through the AUC but with member states and regional economic communities (RECs). Members must also take bolder action to implement their mandate.
Ndayizeye will serve as panel chairperson for a year, having succeeded Namibia’s former president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, who filled the role from 2017 to 2022. Regional deans of ambassadors coordinated nominations of panel members to ensure gender balance and regional representation.
The AUC Chairperson, in turn, submitted the list of nominations to the AU Assembly for consideration and approval, which was granted during the February summit. While regional representation was achieved through the election, there is only one woman on the new panel.
As a key component of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), the panel will work closely with the PSC, the AUC Chairperson, RECs and other stakeholders. In line with the PSC Protocol, the Council may deploy the panel to help de-escalate potential conflicts and mediate in ongoing ones. The AUC Chairperson may refer any matter needing action to the panel, which is also mandated to advise the PSC and the chairperson on all African peace and security issues.
Close cooperation with subsidiary organs is required. These include the Pan-African Network of the Wise, the Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation and the Network of African Youth on Conflict Prevention and Mediation. The panel has declared it will ‘support ongoing political transitions in Sudan, South Sudan, Chad and Somalia’, including deploying these mechanisms.
During its inaugural meeting on 28 and 29 March 2022 at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, the panel expressed concern over the extent and nature of African conflicts and instability. It commended the mediation efforts undertaken by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, to promote enduring peace and political dialogue in Ethiopia.
Concern was expressed over the progress of South Sudan’s Revitalised Agreement, and a call was made to implement the hybrid court and transitional justice mechanisms. For Somalia, the panel would like a better working relationship between the Federal government and the Federal member states to complete elections.
All three crises point to overlapping mandates in addressing conflicts across Africa, potentially creating an obstacle to implementing the panel’s conflict resolution mandate. The AUC Chairperson has appointed a high representative for Ethiopia and special representatives for South Sudan and Somalia.
Special representatives have also been appointed to states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Sudan and Mali. These appointees have similar mandates to the panel’s but are country-specific. While enacting PSC decisions, they also take direction from the AUC Chairperson, as does the panel. Having onsite representatives with a dedicated office and resources to implement AU priorities puts the panel’s comparative advantage in conflict management and resolution into question.
RECs also appoint their own eminent personalities with panel-like mandates, the most recent being the Southern African Development Community’s four-member Panel of Elders. The lack of a clear division of labour and the level of coordination between the AU and RECs may limit the Panel of the Wise’s potential to act.
The PSC Protocol states the panel may initiate interventions that support PSC and AUC Chairperson’s efforts to prevent conflicts. However, records from the last few years show that the panel engaged only in thematic discussions rather than providing advice on country situations.
The panel has a limited budget, which the AUC Chairperson sets. Although the body is meant to meet regularly with the PSC and RECs, this has seldom happened. Coordination is also hampered as panel members are not based at the AUC in Addis Ababa. Collaboration with other APSA components, and the frequency of briefings by the Continental Early Warning System, are also important if the panel is to prevent conflicts.
Will the panel deliver?
If it is to implement its mandate and overcome its structural challenges, political autonomy and financial independence are crucial. The panel should be able to address developing crises without the hindrance of PSC politics that prevent early intervention. It should also be able to raise funds. Most importantly, panel members should be ready to take bold steps to fulfil the great responsibility placed on them.
Image: © Press Release: Inaugural meeting of the 5th Panel of the Wise/African Union