COVID-19 In-depth Analysis

The role of institutions in Silencing the Guns in Africa

In the first week of December 2020, two key meetings were held that will impact significantly on the coming year’s peace and security agenda in Africa. The first was the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) High-Level Debate on the cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organisations. The second noteworthy meeting was the African Union’s (AU) 14th Extraordinary Session on Silencing the Guns in Africa. While held separately, both meetings have informed and will direct the priorities and activities of peace actors across the African continent. The departure point dictating the synergies between the two meetings is how to leverage the partnerships among the UN, AU and regional and sub-regional organisations to silence the guns in Africa. This multi-stakeholder approach offered through institutional cooperation to silence the guns is increasingly important in a context where COVID-19 has acted as a force multiplier in several existing conflicts on the continent.

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AMISOM Photo/Yunis Hussein Dekow
AMISOM Photo/Yunis Hussein Dekow

The impact of COVID-19 on silencing the guns in Africa has been especially visible in peace operations. The risks associated with the virus have resulted in a restructuring of military and civilian activities, some of which are implemented remotely. Furthermore, these operations are affected by the economic impact of COVID-19 on the global economy and subsequent effect on member state contributions to the peacekeeping budget. This increasingly complex context has placed a heavier burden on the AU, UN, regional and sub-regional organisations to work together. In his statement at the UNSC High-Level Debate, the current Chairperson of the AU and elected member of the UNSC, President Cyril Ramaphosa, also acknowledged that “this pandemic has shown that solidarity and cooperation through multilateral action is the most effective means to confront a common threat”. 

The multi-stakeholder approach offered through institutional cooperation to silence the guns is increasingly important in a context where COVID-19 has acted as a force multiplier in several existing conflicts on the continent.

Currently, the UN–AU partnership on peace and security has accelerated as a result of the increasing complexity of conflict drivers and the transnational impact of modern armed conflicts. These institutions’ partnership remains a strategic priority for their member states, and their cooperation is important to ensure that responses to conflict are successful. The Joint UN–AU Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security, signed in April 2017 by the UN Secretary-General and AU Commission Chairperson, takes a holistic approach to making the partnership more systematic, effective and result-oriented, and seeks to bring the AU and UN into collaboration from the earliest indicators of potential conflict and the planning of conflict prevention and on to strengthening cooperation throughout the subsequent stages of the response to conflict, including conflict management and resolution, post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding.

Silencing the Guns in Africa is one of the flagship initiatives of the AU’s Agenda 2063, and aims to achieve an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena – an agenda that is strongly linked with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The AU Summit, held on 9 and 10 February 2020, adopted “Silencing the Guns: creating conducive conditions for Africa’s development” as the AU’s theme for 2020. Coordinated by the UN Task Force on Silencing the Guns in Africa, the UN’s contributions have included, among others, technical advice to the AU Mediation Support Unit and the Network of African Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation (FemWise); technical assistance on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, mine action and small arms control, including to the Economic Community for Central African States (ECCAS); capacity building for youth leaders on unarmed civilian protection; and awareness-raising through high-level events such as the Africa Dialogue Series.

At a country level, the partnership and support of UN special political missions and peacekeeping operations has also yielded the following significant results:

  • In Libya, the close engagement of the AU and the UN has contributed to military officers from the warring parties agreeing on practical steps towards implementing a ceasefire agreement, and political talks have resumed.
  • In the Central African Republic, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the AU Observer Mission in the Central African Republic (MOUACA) and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSCA) in May 2020, and there has been progress in the implementation of the peace agreement.
  • In Somalia, beyond the UN’s mandate to provide support to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) through the UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS), the UN has also been providing support to the Somali government to prepare for elections
  • In Sudan, the UN–AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has provided critical support in working with the transitional government to implement its protection of civilians plan, despite its operations and movements continuing to be affected by COVID-19. The mission has also worked with national authorities to combat the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact. 

The extension of the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap of Practical Steps for Silencing the Guns in Africa to 2030 provides an important opportunity for the UN, AU and regional/sub-regional organisations to strengthen their collaboration. At the two meetings of the UNSC and the AU discussed earlier, the following overlapping issues stand out as further opportunities to silence the guns in the context of COVID-19:

  • enhanced multilateralism to address peace and security in Africa;
  • predictable and reliable financing for African peacekeeping missions;
  • the implementation of counterterrorism initiatives – the AU has called for the development of a special unit for countering terrorism within the African Standby Force, and the UN has committed to assisting member states’ counterterrorism measures;
  • improved participation of women and youth in the peace and security agenda; and
  • further consolidation of the UN–AU partnership.

The consolidation of the UN–AU regional/sub-regional organisations’ partnership can be further strengthened by addressing issues around the division of labour among member states, as well as leveraging this triangular arrangement to support the implementation of agreements to completely silence the guns. The unequal power dynamics that inform the UN–AU partnership sometimes result in divergent political interests and incompatible mandates and working methods, which make cooperation harder. The lack of permanent African representation on the UNSC and the internationalisation of conflicts also makes multilateralism more difficult. 

Addressing the challenges and appreciating the opportunities of these relations provide important lessons for institutional cooperation in peace and security – not just in Africa, but globally. This echoes the sentiment of the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, during the UNSC High-Level Debate, when he noted that the UN–AU partnership “is one of the most important relationships in the domain of international peace and security and a cornerstone of multilateralism”. While the COVID19 pandemic has aggravated weaknesses in peace processes, responding to the pandemic must not divert attention away from strengthening partnerships for peace and security in Africa.

Dr Andrea Prah is a researcher at ACCORD and Rumbidzaishe Matambo is an intern within the Peacekeeping Unit at ACCORD.

ACCORD recognizes its longstanding partnerships with the European Union, and the Governments of Canada, Finland, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, UK, and USA.

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