Peace missions

The long haul

The African Peace and Security Architecture is still a work in progress – but it is already proving useful nonetheless.
Peacekeepers from Uganda on duty in Mogadishu, Somalia. Stuart Price/picture-alliance/dpa Peacekeepers from Uganda on duty in Mogadishu, Somalia.

In March 2012, a military coup was staged in Mali. Shortly afterwards, an alliance of Touareg and Islamist forces conquered the north of the country. Later, Islamists seized power in that area alone.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded swiftly. It denounced both the coup and the rebellion in the north. Mali’s membership of ECOWAS was temporarily suspended. In record time, this regional organisation’s mediators brokered an agreement between the ousted office-holders and putschists in the south on the formation of a caretaker government. Moreover, the member country’s heads of state voted to deploy a force of 3,000 troops to protect the caretaker government and restore the unity of the country.

The political solution proved stable, but the deployment of troops could not be speedily implemented. That step required the approval of the African Union (AU) and the UN Security Council. The latter only agreed on the mandate in late 2012.

When preparations for the ECOWAS/AU-mission AFISMA were finally underway, Islamists launched an assault on two towns in Mali’s south. The Malian army was unable to stop them, so the caretaker government asked France for help. French troops repelled the attackers and soon re-gained control of key towns in the north with the support of soldiers from Mali and Chad.

The international press tends to see these events as evidence of ECOWAS and the AU failing in Mali. But that is to ignore Africa’s supranational organisations’ achievements in helping to form the caretaker government, supporting it and holding presidential elections in Mali this summer. What is more, African states have already deployed more than 9,000 peacekeepers to Mali – including civilians and police. When the UN took charge of AFISMA on 1 July, African troops were already on the ground. Moreover, the AU persuaded a donor conference to pledge $ 455 million to support stabilisation efforts in Mali. That should also be counted as a success, even though not much of the money has been disbursed yet.

In Mali, the AU and ECOWAS certainly cannot claim to have delivered an African solution to an African problem. Nonetheless, their contributions are most valuable. Their political response was swift and adroit, and the international community should appreciate that. On the other hand, there is clearly a need for a rapid-reaction force that is able to rise to the challenges of a desert war.

Institutional context

Since its inception in 2002, the AU has had a clear mandate to enforce peace and security. Unlike its predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity, the AU is not committed to non-intervention. The new approach resulted from a determination to avoid a repetition of the international inertia seen during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Accordingly, the founding treaty of the AU calls for the establishment of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), including the African Standby Force (ASF), which is to be deployed in emergencies.

In cases of genocide or other serious human-rights violations, an ASF mission can be launched even against the wishes of the government of the country concerned if that mission is approved by the AU General Assembly. In this regard, the AU is more decisive than the UN. Moreover, the APSA framework includes a Panel of the Wise for silent diplomacy and conflict mediation, a Peace Fund and a continental early-warning system.  

So far, however, no AU peacekeeping mission has been able to rely on the structures envisaged. Wherever missions took place – in Darfur, Burundi, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau and, most recently, Mali – forces had to be mobilised ad hoc from member states. The APSA and ASF are still work in progress. The AU expects the structures to be completed by 2015 at the earliest. It is a huge challenge to create complex instruments for multidimensional interventions.  

The AU efforts are supported by various regional organisations, which either already existed – like ECOWAS – or were created especially for the purpose. The AU is in charge of the procedures and individual ASF missions, but the regional organisations must second the troops.

The ASF is not designed to be a purely military instrument. Its missions will be led by a civilian mission head, and the missions will include civilian staff and police officers. Recruiting suitable civilian personnel presents a special challenge however. These people are not waiting in barracks for potential orders to embark on a mission, but are working in professional employment outside the ASF.  

Future mission participants are prepared for their tasks at regional peacekeeping training centres. To some extent, soldiers, police officers and civilian experts are taught together, to some extent, their training is separate. The persons involved come from many different countries and have widely differing career backgrounds. It is a daunting challenge to turn such a culturally and linguistically diverse group into a coherent force that operates according to shared standards.

The AU sees six deployment scenarios – from observer missions through multidimensional peacekeeping missions to peace enforcement. A Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) will be a special contingent of the ASF, and once it is set up, it is expected to be ready for action within two weeks. Until that is the case, however, the AU wants to establish another, strictly military crisis-response force made up of troops from member states that have powerful armies. This new plan is a result of the Mali crisis.

For good reason, the AU does not want to be dependent on a former colonial power in cases like Mali. But the new project raises serious questions. What will be the relationship between the new unit and the ASF? Are there enough financial and organisational re­sources to set up two rapid-deployment forces? What can be done to ensure that the strictly military crisis-response force will accept a subordinate status in a multidimensional setting later on?

Germany, the EU and other donors are helping the AU and the regional organisations to strengthen APSA. Through the African Peace Facility, the EU furnishes funds that cover troop allowances. This funding has been vital for every peacekeeping mission undertaken so far.

Military missions are very costly. In the foreseeable future, it is inconceivable that African countries could come up with the money needed. That is not necessary however. UN missions are financed by the international community, so AU missions could be too. But to ensure full ownership by African states, the costs of the continental and regional core structures (such as the staff of the AU and the regional organisations) should be covered by member governments’ contributions rather than donor support. An AU working group is already considering ways to generate more contributions by member states. No tangible results have been reported yet however.

GIZ involvement

The GIZ supports APSA on behalf of Germany’s Federal Government. The GIZ focuses on the issues of early-warning systems, mediation and the ASF’s civilian and police components. One project, for example, involves an IT-based human-resources management system to permit the rapid secondment of civilian experts.

The GIZ also advises and supports several training centres in regard to management and course contents. The best-known is probably the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), which was established in Ghana in 2002. However, similar centres are also in operation in Zimbabwe and Kenya. Another area in which the GIZ is involved is the simulation training used to prepare the ASF and its regional troops for deployment.

Furthermore, relevant topics of GIZ engagement include gender roles in conflicts and the consequent need to involve women in peacekeeping missions. The GIZ, moreover, has contributed to drafting the AU concept to protect civilians and ensuring its application in missions. These are key aspects for improving the situation of local people in conflict areas.

Experience so far has shown that constructive cooperation between civilian advisers and military personnel works well when both sides are prepared to get involved. GIZ advisers initially found it difficult to adjust to the military culture and the chains of command that mark many partner organisations. Soldiers, for their part, are not accustomed to being assisted by experts whose authority is based on professional expertise rather than military rank. What matters is that each side treat the other with consideration and contribute to building trust.

Senior staff of the AU and the regional organisations tend to show a lot of interest in cooperation once trust is established, and so do soldiers and police officers. It is possible to convey knowledge in fields such as gender equality, human rights, the protection of civilians and management skills in this kind of setting.

The future success of the APSA will not least depend on human resources. Compared with the EU or NATO, the AU and Africa’s regional organisations are extremely understaffed. This is why the development of the civilian components of the ASF, for example, made virtually no headway for years. The AU simply did not put anyone in charge of this task. In 2010, however, a small but competent team was created, and progress has been impressive ever since.

For any assessment of the performance of the AU and the regional organisations, one must bear in mind that these bodies’ top leaders were never in a position to give APSA and ASF their full attention. They recurrently had to respond to breaking crises like the recent one in Mali – and they did so. Africa’s supranational organisations have served as partners for crisis prevention and conflict management in 28 of the continent’s 38 countries in which violent conflicts erupted in the past five years. Not all their efforts suc­ceeded, but they did prove that African governments take their mandate for peace and security seriously.

The contributions of the AU and the regional organisations mostly consisted of crisis-prevention diplomacy and conflict mediation to date, showing that these bodies are relevant actors in crisis management even though the APSA instruments are still work in progress. The international media tend to overlook this fact. Journalists obviously find it easier to cover military missions than silent diplomacy.

Nonetheless, it must be appreciated that the AU, the regional organisation and many member states are working steadily and systematically on building the APSA. They deserve further support.


Bernadette Schulz heads the GIZ project on regional coordination on peace and security in Africa.

Ruth Langer works for the same project. Both authors are expressing their personal views in this essay.

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