On 7 February 2019, at its 34th Ordinary Session, the Executive Council of the African Union (AU) elected four new members to the Peace and Security Council (PSC) for a three-year term.
Southern Africa will be represented by Lesotho, which joins the PSC for the first time. For the Central African region, Burundi comes back to the PSC after a two-year stint on the council between 2015 and 2017. Algeria also re-joins after it stepped down last year to allow Morocco a seat on the PSC – the first time since it re-joined the continental body in 2017 following a 33-year absence. Kenya also left the PSC in 2018 and is now back for three years. Nigeria ‘naturally’ retained its seat as agreed within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Only Eastern Africa saw a contest in these elections, as Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan vied for the three-year seat. The others had been decided through consultation within the respective regional blocs.
Lesotho and Burundi a challenge for a stronger PSC?
In the past two years there have been calls for a strengthened PSC from member states wishing to prevent what they consider interference from the AU Commission. Burundi’s return and Lesotho’s joining the council could further that objective.
The two countries could use their time on the PSC to prevent their internal problems from being tabled, since the PSC has in the past been used by countries to shield themselves from external scrutiny.
Burundi has been mired in a serious political crisis since 2015. At the height of the crisis the Burundian regime used its presence on the PSC to lobby against the deployment of an AU peace mission to the country.
Currently, the country is still in the throes of ongoing political instability. In May last year President Pierre Nkurunziza strengthened his grip on power and potential longevity at the helm by amending the constitution to allow him to remain president until 2034.
In December 2018 the Burundian government also asked for the closure of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council office in the country. This was in response to a comment made by former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who called Burundi one ‘of the most prolific slaughterhouses of humans in recent times’.
The country also made news at the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU where it reportedly distributed a leaflet to explain the issuance, in November 2018, of an international arrest warrant against former president and AU High Representative for Mali and the Sahel Pierre Buyoya. This move has been interpreted as part of an attempt by the government to eliminate its opponents.
Burundi is likely to push its own agenda at the PSC in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections and prevent discussions that could lead to the PSC’s involvement in the country. With a term on the PSC that extends beyond the presidential polls, it, along with Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, will form an even stronger front against any intended changes to give the PSC more power to intervene.
Political instability in Lesotho
Lesotho too has experienced political instability for over a decade now, and in a more sustained manner since 2014. Ultimately, healing internal dissensions should be the focus of the government, with the support of the international – especially African – community.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has led mediation efforts in the country, which resulted in elections and a transfer of power in 2015. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is the designated SADC mediator and he has now delegated these powers to former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke. Efforts are underway to organise a national dialogue and to draw up a new constitution.
Last year the PSC undertook a field mission to Lesotho. It recommended that SADC prolong its military intervention in Lesotho to stabilise the security sector, which has caused havoc over the last few years. SADC, however, withdrew the force in November, saying the situation had stabilised sufficiently.
Algeria returns ‘home’
Algeria is back on the PSC, its natural home by virtue of the country’s leading presence in engagements with continental peace and security questions, both at the AU Commission and in the PSC, which it joined in 2004 and only ever left between 2013 and 2016.
It is obvious that Algiers’ ceding its seat to Morocco last year was a win-win strategy aimed at appeasing tensions with Rabat and securing it a three-year seat on the council. Less clear is what Algeria can actually contribute to a better PSC at this point, given that its attention is focused on presidential elections in April.
Kenya back on the PSC and could join the UNSC
Kenya earned 37 votes to get back on the PSC, defeating Ethiopia and Sudan in the process.
Its return to the council is not seen as a potential impediment to an eventual move towards strengthening the PSC. It has vowed to contribute to addressing extremism and associated terrorism on the continent.
Kenya is also currently embarked on a bid to secure a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC), to be decided in September this year for the period 2021–2022. If successful, Kenya will have seat on both the PSC and the UNSC in 2021. This will give the country a bigger voice on peace and security on the international and continental stage.
In the end, the four new PSC members are unlikely to fundamentally change the way in which the council works on their own. But the PSC is at a crossroads with regard to fully playing its role of promoting and preserving peace and security on the continent.
The PSC needs a reboot
Besides structural drivers of conflict often exacerbated by poor governance, the PSC is often what stands between continental early warning and early action in addressing impending or developing conflicts on the continent.
At the core of the problem is non-adherence to the criteria to get a seat on the PSC. The regional representation system has favoured a form of electoral cronyism that allows anyone to get on the PSC. States often ignore the requirements of the Protocol establishing the PSC. According to the protocol, PSC members should commit to the principles of the AU, contribute to the maintenance of peace and security on the continent, and respect constitutional governance, the rule of law and human rights.
It is crucial to ensure that the criteria for getting a seat on the PSC are respected and the modalities of elections are tightened. Although the current election practice has ensured balanced regional representation on the PSC, it has not adequately produced early responses to crises. This is because a country that is not at peace can hardly contribute to peace elsewhere.
The PSC is a central element to the goal set by the AU of ‘Silencing the Guns by 2020’. Although this will not be attained in the expected timeframe, rebooting and strengthening the PSC now is critical to any strategy towards truly ending the politics of the bullet on the continent.
Pcture: Gustavo de Carvalho/ISS