Juggling Conflicts: The African Union’s Place In Africa’s Growing Security Crisis


African Standy Force, 26 July 2017

AU Peacekeeping Missions

As Africa faces an increasing number of conflicts that have further plunged the continent into instability, the African Union’s peace and security missions are in dire need of critical scrutiny. The African Union (AU) serves as Africa’s central continental union, promoting “the unity and solidarity of African States, deference of their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence, and international cooperation.” From the AU’s genesis in 2002, and now approaching its twenty-year mark, Africa continues to be riddled with numerous regional conflicts that have required the deployment of peacekeeping missions. 

The AU’s efforts towards peacekeeping operationally function through the Peace and Security Council (PSC). The PSC serves as the decision-making organ of the AU for the prevention and reduction of conflicts, and a designated early-warning system to mitigate conflict and regional crises. Much like UN peacekeeping troops, the African Standby Force (ASF) is a peacekeeping force with military, police and civilian contingents under provision of the AU. The different divisions of the AU simultaneously work to tackle the emerging and continuous conflicts throughout Africa, but more importantly understand the methods necessary to ensure the peace and security of the continent. 

Africa’s journey towards peace and security has proved a difficult journey within the twenty years of the AU’s existence. According to the Institute for Security Studies, prior to the conception of the AU, 16 wars occurred between 1990 and 1997. From the above-mentioned, 14 were intrastate conflicts (Algeria, Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, Western Sahara and the Republic of Congo), and two were interstate conflicts (Chad and Libya, as well as Rwanda and Uganda). In addition, 630 armed conflicts were reporrted between 1990 and 2015 as a result of state and non-state actors. 

In the last few years, political instability across Africa has resulted in coups in Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan, a tumultuous power grab in Tunisia, a humanitarian crisis and civil war in Ethiopia, a poorly elected government and major civil war in Libya, a vicious cycle of violence that shows no signs of stopping in the Central African Republic, the ongoing ethnic divisions in South Sudan as it begins life after the conclusion of the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict, and a deadly insurgency that has cost the lives of millions of Cameroonians. Aside from state actors that have a direct relationship with the AU, terrorist organizations and extremist groups also worsen Africa’s security crisis. 

Long standing peacekeeping missions like the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) (and its successor after the 31st of March 2022, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia), and the African-led International Support to Mali (AFISMA), are ample examples of how the AU tackles regional peace and conflict. 

Most recently, the AU’s major temporary security initiatives against terrorism and armed groups are the G5 Sahel’s force and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), carrying out UN Security Council backed mandates that have begun galvanizing a future of peace for the region. 

With the authorization of the G5 Sahel’s force in 2017, the AU envisioned a mitigation of terrorism within the Sahel region. Since the beginning of the Sahel security crises in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania a mere 10 years ago, thousands have lost their lives, millions have been displaced and food shortages have triggered a humanitarian crisis. During October 2020, it was estimated that 13.4 million people were in dire need of immediate assistance, accounting for 20% of the region’s population. Criminal activities and ethnic and local conflict are amplified by constant attacks from extremist armed groups and terrorist organizations. As a result of the perpetual violence orchestrated by armed groups within the Sahel, 2.9 million people have fled, 14 million people face food insecurity, and 31.4 million people are in need of humanitarian aid. 

The AU’s authorization of the MNJTF on the 3rd of March 2015, sought to bring an end to Africa’s fight against violent extremism and illicit organized crime. For example, through the development of an effective framework to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency within the Lake Chad basin countries (Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria). However, much like the G5 Sahel’s force, an inconsistent commitment, funding issues, and discombobulated planning has prevented the MNJTF from performing its one of its basic tasks of preventing the advance insurgent and terrorist groups like Boko Haram. 

AU Response to Africa’s Security Crisis 

As put forth by the AU’s constitution, the organization can directly intervene in matters of “grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity” in a member state. Within its jurisdiction, the AU has been able to positively use its power to ensure the fulfilment of these conditions. In the most recent years, the AU ensured the effective end of Zambia’s election dispute in 2021 for example. The AU has been able to mobilize to draft treaties such as the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, aiming at the preservation of Africa’s peace, democracy and good governance. Initiatives such as “Silencing the Guns”, that was followed by the 2016 Lusaka Road Map to decimate conflict in Africa have also been promoted by the AU with great urgency.

However, due to the AU’s immense dependency on external donors, the AU’s peacekeeping framework is largely under-funded, or often involves disjointed collaboration with regional blocs such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), or are often no match for missions conducted by international organizations such as the UN. Peacekeeping missions like the African Union Mission in Burundi (AMIB) and the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) have been replaced by other peacekeeping authorities like the UN, due to a lack of resources for the AU to utilize and deliver an efficient mission.

Just as the AU has been able to a reach a consensus on conceptual understandings of conflict, it has also unfortunately developed a habit of protecting tyrannical state officials like the former President of Sudan, Omar al Bashir, as well as former President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta from appearing before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their crimes against humanity. Furthermore, with regard to long-term structural peacekeeping missions, the failure of the AU has especially been prevalent through the UNAMID. During its 15-year tenure, the AU has been complacent to the displacement, rape and massacre of many innocent civilians in North Darfur. Examples of UNAMID’s failure was witnessed in the mass rape of more than 200 women and girls at Tabit, North Darfur (October 2014) after UNAMID failed to respond to the events that had been reported at the time. The most gruesome example being UNAMID’s refusal to intervene or evacuate the wounded (who eventually died), following a massacre in North Darfur (September 2, 2010) that killed around 50 men and boys. The absence of the AU was also evident during the escalation of bloody conflict in Cameroon and Libya. Although the union took a strong stance in the face of Sudan’s coup, and suspended Sudan’s membership in June 2019, it had shied away in Egypt in 2013 and Zimbabwe in 2017. The inconsistency of the AU’s response to conflict was demonstrated in the absence of suspension of Zimbabwe after the coup that overthrew Robert Mugabe, and silence when General Constantino Chiwenga became vice-president. Lastly, within the scope of conflict response, the AU continues to fiddle its fingers as the security failures in Libya and other African states escalate as international actors take a stake in the conflict. 

Are AU Peacekeeping Missions Sustainable? 


As the youngest continent gets stuck in the conflict of its predecessors, can young Africa carry the AU into the future with it? The reformation of the AU is critical in acknowledging the cyclicality of conflict within Africa. Effectiveness of state and AU collaboration must rely on the prioritization of civilian protection as a facet of defense. It is crucial for the AU and African governments to shift from a reactive approach to an analytical and long-term approach that works in rebuilding the institutions and infrastructures within affected states. Although conflict intervention is inherently reactionary, the origins of that reaction must be from an acknowledgement of the systemic failures and origins of conflict that exist as breeding grounds for state-inflicted and armed group violence. Furthermore, the AU’s approach to post-conflict peacekeeping must center on reconstruction and rehabilitation of civilian-oriented infrastructure that promotes cohesiveness, and not hostility that centers around education on human rights. It is critical for the AU to be well funded, and continue to strive in efforts that push for the monitoring and improved oversight of repetitive shifts towards insecurity, through an improvement of communication between the AU and regional blocs and thus a decreased reliance on international non-African actors in continental conflicts.


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