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The Peace and Security Council of the AU: Rise or Decline of Collective Security in Africa

Balingene Kahombo, University of Berlin, addresses the collective security in Africa after the impact of the African Union.

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This paper assesses, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the work of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) with respect to peace support operations. It seeks to know whether the establishment of the PSC in 2002 is leading or has led to a rise or a decline of collective security in Africa. It is demonstrated that in regard to its relative legal and institutional robustness, the PSC can be perceived as a rise of collective security compared with its predecessor, the Central Organ of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). However, it stagnates in terms of quantity and quality of actions on the ground. The main problem lies in the lack of sufficient operational autonomy from member states and international partners, such as the United Nations. Therefore, the PSC’s contribution to the maintenance of peace and security, and so the rise of the international rule of law in Africa is limited. The continent is still a war-torn region, affected by political crises and the expansion of terrorism in many countries. To solve this problem, AU member states should strengthen the PSC’s capacity, starting with the quick operationalisation of the African Standby Force. The implementation of the 2016 decision on alternative sources of financing AU’s institutions and activities is also a priority. In this regard, the political will of African states that may show that they want to take their organisation more seriously is required. This can further the AU self-reliance policy in collective security though the promotion of African solutions to African problems, and reduce the burden of the United Nations and other non-African actors’ interventions in the continent.

1. Introduction

This study aims to know whether the establishment of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) is leading or has led to a rise or a decline of collective security in Africa. The question is worthy of a response for three main reasons. First, by creating the PSC in 2002, African states believed it was ‘a historic watershed in Africa's progress towards resolving its conflicts and the building of a durable peace and security order’.(2) Second, time has come to review the PSC’s performance since it had become operational in 2004. Third, this is a case for analysing African regionalism on matters of collective security and its role to prevent the decline of the international rule of law in maintaining peace, which is the requirement for achieving integration and development, respect for human rights and justice.(3)

The concept of ‘collective security’ has a number of definitions.(4) First and foremost, it refers to a system whereby states commit not to use force unilaterally in their mutual relations – by preferring the peaceful settlement of disputes – and to support a collective decision aiming at stopping any act of aggression or common threat to peace. (5) According to Pierre-Marie Dupuy, such a system amounts to an ‘international social contract’.(6) It is an arrangement which can be regarded as a vaccine or a drug against unlawful wars or breaches of peace.(7) Before the advent of the United Nations (UN), collective security used to deal with interstate security threats only.(8) However, the 1945 UN Charter includes non-state and intra-state threats provided that the Security Council concludes that they affect international peace. (9) The PSC also deals with any threat to peace and security in Africa. This is reflected in its founding Protocol of 2002 which defines the PSC as ‘a collective security and early-warning arrangement to facilitate timely and efficient response to conflict and crises in Africa’.(10) There will be no such threat that could be out of its legal reach in mitigation of state sovereignty.(11) Secondly, the term collective security can be defined as a goal to achieve through the undertaking of collective action. It refers to the idea of shared or common value which stems from the indivisible nature and solidarity of security between the states concerned.(12) The PSC is precisely ‘a standing decision-making organ’ designed for achieving that purpose through ‘the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts’. (13)

Much has been written on the PSC.(14) The activities undertaken in the areas of its competences include preventive diplomacy, mediation, interventions, collective sanctions, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, human rights, criminal justice, and post-conflict reconstruction. However, this study appraises the work of the PSC, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in respect of peace support operations. Section 2 identifies the reasons for the evolution from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the PSC. Section 3 analyses the robustness of the PSC compared with its predecessor, the OAU Central Organ.15 It is argued that there has been a shift of security paradigm with the AU entailing the reinforcement of collective security institutions and the expansion of their legal powers. The strength of the PSC is reflected in an imperfect imitation of the UN Security Council. Section 4 reviews the performance of the PSC in peace support operations. Apart from the conceptual distinction from UN peacekeeping operations, it appears that the PSC has not yet an important practice corresponding to its relative robustness. The main problem lies in the lack of sufficient autonomy of action. Section 5 examines the PSC’s ability to work in partnership with other security actors in the continent, such as the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the UN. Its relationship with RECs is something specific to the African continent, even though much is still to be done in practice. Further, in order to capture new forms of cooperation between the PSC and the UN that seem not to have been foreseen by the drafters of the UN Charter, a progressive application of chapter VIII is emerging. Still, the AU dependence on its partners is likely at odds with the expectations placed in the PSC, namely the reduction of foreign interventions in the continent and the promotion of ‘African solutions to African problems’. (16) Therefore, it appears that the PSC is theoretically a rise of collective security in Africa but stagnates in terms of quantity and quality of action on the ground. Its contribution to the rise of the international rule of law remains thus limited. The conclusion provides some recommendations.

2. The evolution from the OAU to the creation of the PSC

The creation of the PSC is the result of the reform of the OAU security system which proved to be weak and inefficient.17 Prior to the creation of the AU, 186 coups d’état occurred in Africa, half of which committed between 1980 and 1990. 18 Further, the OAU was confronted with 26 armed conflicts between 1963 and 2000, causing seven million dead people, three million refugees and 20 million internally displaced persons.19 Many of these conflicts were non-international and affected 61% of the population of Africa.20 The AU Commission adds:

(…) wars did not spare any geographic region of the Continent: the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, the Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia), Southern Africa (12 conflicts) and West Africa, (some 10 wars) have been the theatre of conflicts. Only North Africa with the exception of Algeria remained relatively conflict-free. Some of these wars lasted for quite long periods. For instance, the war in Chad persisted for 40 years; in South Sudan, the war lasted 37 years; in Eritrea, 30 years; and in Angola, 27 years, etc.21

The most devastating situations are the civil wars in Liberia (1990), Somalia (1992) and Sierra Leone (1995), the ethnic cleansing in Burundi (1993), the genocide in Rwanda (1994), the 1997 massacres of Rwandan refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Congo’s armed conflicts (since 1993). The latter reached their peak between 1998 and 2003 with at least eight countries directly involved in hostilities.22

The OAU’s failure to manage some of these situations was compensated in three ways. Firstly, through the intervention of other organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).23 Secondly, through UN peacekeeping missions, mainly after the end of the Cold War.24 Thirdly, through foreign state interventions, in particular former colonial powers such as the United Kingdom and France.25 Where the OAU intervened, its efforts yielded little success. For instance, in Chad, rebels overturned the Transitional National Union Government in 1982, despite the deployment of the Pan-African Peace Force (PPF). This was the first ever created OAU’s peace mission, with the approval of the host state. It was aimed to support Chad to ‘ensure the defence and security of the country whilst awaiting the integration of government forces’.26

The OAU lacked the means of its action. The OAU Charter prevented the organisation from interfering in the internal affairs of member states. However, in 1993, the Cairo Declaration on the OAU Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution established a permanent body to deal with African conflicts, known as the Central Organ, composed of the state members of the Bureau of the OAU Assembly, as well as the states of the incoming and the outgoing chairperson of the OAU.27 It also vested the Secretary General with broad powers in preventive diplomacy. The OAU Central Organ succeeded to the Commission on Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration (CMCA), created by the Cairo Protocol of 21 July 1964.28 The CMCA was the OAU’s principal organ for the peaceful settlement of African disputes.29 But, it fell into disuse because of African states’ reluctance to resort to a quasi-jurisdictional organ that was beyond their control.30 The OAU Assembly proceeded to its abolition in 1977. 31 This came as no surprise. Previously, the OAU Commission of defence, mandated to conceive a consistent policy of security and defence for the continent, also failed.32 There were state disinterest and financial constraints after the beginning of another world economic crisis in 1973. The OAU member states preferred to focus on the African integration and economic development rather than spending their small budgets for military purposes. Disputes could be submitted to ad hoc committees, made up of heads of state and government, which privileged mediation and dialogue between parties in conflict.

The Central Organ deployed eight peace missions between 1993 and 2003: Neutral Military Observer Group 2 in Rwanda (NMOG 2), Observer Mission in Burundi (OMIB), OAU Observer Mission in Comoros (OMIC), OAU Observer Mission in DRC, OAU Liaison Mission in Ethiopia–Eritrea (OLMEE), OAU Military Observer Mission 2 in Comoros (OMIC 2), OAU Mission 3 in Comoros (OMIC 3), and African Mission in Burundi (AMIB).33 Pursuant to the Cairo Declaration, these were only observer missions, devoid of mandate to use force, except in case of self-defence.(34) The consent of parties to the conflict was required prior to any deployment.(35)

From a political angle, the OAU suffered from a lack of cooperation before and after the creation of the Central Organ. Its peace missions neither received sufficient personnel nor the necessary financial and logistical means to carry out their powerless mandates.(36) This is the case with OMIB whose personnel was made up of five thousand troops but only forty-seven policemen and five civilians were deployed.(37) The relative exception was the PPF which consisted of three thousand troops furnished by Nigeria, Senegal and the DRC.38

Given its inability to meet contemporary African security needs, the OAU had to be replaced by the AU. The process started in 1999 with the Sirte Declaration which announced the will of African states to create the AU pursuant to fundamental objectives of the OAU Charter and the Treaty instituting the African Economic Community (AEC).(39) In Lusaka, in July 2001, it was decided to incorporate the OAU Central Organ into the AU and to review its structures, procedures and working methods, including the change of its name.40 The Protocol on the PSC was thus adopted in 2002. It created the PSC a subsidiary organ of the AU Assembly pursuant to article 5 (2) of the AU Constitutive Act. The Protocol on the PSC entered in force on 26 December 2003.

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Suggested Citation:

Kahombo, Balingene, The Peace and Security Council of the African Union: Rise or Decline of Collective Security in Africa? (November 2018). KFG Working Paper Series, No. 23, Berlin Potsdam Research Group “The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?”. Available at SSRN:


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