The growing threat of violent extremist and other forms of insurgencies in the Sahel, Great Lakes, Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, and the way in which these groups operate transnationally, has changed the security landscape in Africa. In response a number of new types of operations have evolved. These new operations challenge some of the fundamental assumptions of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the standard models of international peace operations.
Over the last decade Africa has experienced a resurgence of what used to be called rebels, i.e. groups that use violence to challenge the state in places like the Sahel, Lake Chad Basin, Somalia, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and northern Mozambique. Some, like the M23 group in eastern DRC still fit the rebel model, but many take a new form of violent extremist insurgencies. What they all seem to have in common is that they use violence to pursue political objectives related to long-standing centre-periphery grievances, and economic and political marginalisation.
By using a country’s own forces in its own territory, as part of a regionally coordinated operation, the ASI’s solves a number of problems that international peace operations have grappled with.Tweet
The combination of the nature of this new threat, and the shortcomings of the existing security arrangements, led to the emergence of a number of new innovative type of responses. In Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) responded to a violent extremist insurgency in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique with an operation, loosely under the auspices of the African Standby Force (ASF). It differed from the ASF model in that it was initiated by SADC and only later sought endorsement from the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU). In the eastern DRC, the East African Community (EAC) deployed their own operation (the EACRF-DRC) outside the ASF arrangement, and on invitation of the DRC. The EAC had also not sought prior endorsement from the PSC.
In the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin, the countries from the affected regions responded with a new type of operation where the countries primarily operate in their own borders, but occasionally also undertake cross-border hot pursuit or joint operations. These operations are coordinated through a joint headquarters in recognition of the transnational nature of the violent extremist groups they are trying to contain. These operations and the organisations that deployed them are also not part of the ASF, but they have been endorsed by the PSC, and the African Union Commission has provided support to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in the Lake Chad Basin.
Although all the African Union member states involved in these operations participate in the African Standby Force (ASF), through Regional Economic Communities (RECs) like ECCAS, ECOWAS or SADC, or Regional Mechanisms in eastern and northern Africa, the context specific needs of the crisis they faced resulted in them developing new innovative security arrangements that were tailor made for their unique needs. Some of these new operations share a number of features and are collectively referred to as Ad Hoc Security Initiatives (ASIs).
The AU authorised the first ASI in 2011, called the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA, 2001–2019). The second ASI was established in 2015 as the MNJTF against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin. The MNJTF differed from the RCI-LRA in that it was a pre-existing arrangement linked to a sub-regional organisation, the Lake Chad Basin Commission, which was revitalised and repurposed for a new mission. The third ASI was established in the 2017 as the G5 Sahel Joint Force (JF-G5S) and it was also established from a pre-existing sub-regional arrangement, the G5 Sahel. Four of the unique characteristics, which distinguish them from international peace operations, are:
First, they are responding to a shared transnational threat and they are specifically aimed at managing security in an area where two or more national borders meet. Most other United Nations (UN) and AU peace operations are deployed within the borders of one country.
Second, they are made up of security forces that operate in their own national territories, with facility for hot pursuit cross-border operations and occasionally pre-planned joined operations. This differs from the mainstream peace operation model which is usually made up of a multinational force deployed into a third country, e.g. the AU transition mission in Somalia (ATMIS). By using a country’s own forces in its own territory, as part of a regionally coordinated operation, the ASI’s solves a number of problems that international peace operations have grappled with, such as the need for UN authorisation under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to use force, the need to enter into Status of Forces agreement with a host country, and legal jurisdiction issues when troops commit crimes in another country as part of a UN or AU peace operation.
Since ASIs deploy national forces operating within their own border, they can also rely on national command, control and support arrangements, and can be strengthened, re-supplied or rotated more easily than if they were part of an international deployment in a third country. This also means that the cost of the operations can be mostly covered by national defence budgets, and the only additional costs are those associated with the multinational headquarters. However, in some cases the operational needs exceed national budget resources and the countries have sought additional partner support.
Third, these operations are coordinated by a joint multinational headquarter arrangement, but the function of these headquarters are limited to strategic activities and enabling liaison and coordination, because the participating countries have operational command of the forces. The headquarters are focussed on the combined effect of the national operations, facilitating information and intelligence sharing among the countries and forces involved, and coordinating political and material support with international partners.
Fourth, the overall operations do not need to be authorised under Article 51 of the UN Charter to have a basis in international law. They operate within their own national legal frameworks and on the basis of one country inviting another into its territory according to bilateral collective defence agreements or on the basis of the right to seek help from others for self-defence.
Implications for the ASF and the African Peace and Security Architecture
Whilst these operations may have the endorsement and support of the AU PSC, and in some cases also the UN Security Council, they are not deployed under the auspices, management, or command of the AU or the ASF. The role of the AU is limited to providing strategic-level monitoring, political direction and coordination. This brings into question how these ASIs fit into the ASF and the APSA.
The role of the AU is limited to providing strategic-level monitoring, political direction and coordination. This brings into question how these ASIs fit into the ASF and the APSA.Tweet
The 2020 AU PSO Doctrine has started to clarify where the ASIs fit within the APSA by making a distinction between operations mandated and carried out by the AU (i.e., AU PSOs), and those authorised or endorsed by the AU’s PSC, but carried out by RECs/RMs, coalitions of the willing. The ASF model does provide for coalitions of the willing, but many ASIs have been established by existing RECs or other sub-regional institutions that are not part of the ASF. The ASF Concept is currently being revised and perhaps a re-conceptualised ASF will be flexible enough to accommodate a wider range of operations and African regional and sub-regional institutions, so that similar context-specific innovations can be more readily integrated into the ASF in the future.
Dr. Cedric de Coning is a Senior Advisor for ACCORD and a Research Professor with the NUPI Centre for UN and Global Governance.
Dr. Andrew E. Yaw Tchie is a Senior Research Fellow and head of the Training for Peace programme at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).