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ISS Seminar, New York: Existing and emerging challenges in AU-UN efforts for maintaining peace and security in Africa
Date: 3 October 2011
Venue: , Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

Summary of ACPS-SCR Seminar on ‘Existing and emerging challenges in AU-UN efforts for maintaining peace and security in Africa`

The PRP, ISS Addis Ababa Office in partnership with the New York based Security Council Report (SCR) organized a seminar on 3 October 2011 in New York at 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. The seminar was entitled ‘Existing and emerging challenges in African Union-United Nations (AU-UN) efforts for maintaining peace and security in Africa`. 

The seminar was organized with the intention of creating a forum to reflect on the current state of AU-UN relationship and the challenges facing the relationship. Since the establishment of the African Union and more particularly the operationalization of the Peace and Security Council, the AU has increasingly assumed a prominent role in the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts on the continent. While the UN Security Council is the principal international organ with responsibility for international peace and security it, often working in partnership with regional organizations. And since in the areas of peace and security, African issues dominate the agenda of the UN, the AU has become the UN`s key partner.  However, the efforts of the two organisations responding to existing and emerging peace and security threats have not always been as convergent as they could be.

The existing and emerging challenges in the efforts for maintaining peace and security raise important questions. First, there is the question of the nature of the differences in the approach of the two bodies to various conflict situations in Africa. What factors explain these challenges? In what ways do these challenges affect the relations between the two bodies? Do these challenges call for a re-examination of the relationship envisaged under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter and, if so, what kind of ‘division of labor` may best serve to overcome these challenges and create a more coherent and systematic partnership between the two bodies? The seminar offered an opportunity for the diplomatic community in New York and UN staff working on the AU-UN relationship to consider and reflect on these and related issues.

Joanna Weschler, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Research, Security Council Report, who chaired the seminar, made some introductory remarks on the theme of the seminar. She noted that the seminar was hosted jointly by the Security Council Report and Institute for Security Studies, Addis Ababa Office, with the ISS covering the costs for the seminar. On the theme of the Seminar, Mrs Weschler stated that since the level of engagement between the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council is minimal in the period between the annual consultative meetings of the UNSC and PSC, this seminar would hopefully contribute towards filling the resulting vacuum. Finally, she invited Dr Solomon A. Dersso, Senior Researcher Peace and Security Council Report of the ISS, to deliver his presentation.

Dr Dersso presented his paper entitled the ‘Current State and Challenges in AU-UN Relationship in the Areas of Peace and Security`. After a brief overview of the current state of the AU-UN relationship, he stipulated the current state of the AU-UN relationship as having two characteristics. First, the relationship is more ad hoc than systematic, and more piece meal than comprehensive. Second, it also tends to focus heavily on technical and operational collaboration and there is less political-level systematic engagement and synergy. Speaking on the emerging challenges straining the relationship, the issues that Dr Dersso highlighted include: a) differences in the AU`s and UN`s respective understanding of the AU`s role and the nature of the relationship between the AU and the UN; b) lack of coherence in responses to crises or conflict situations as vividly exemplified with respect to the crisis in Libya; c) disagreement over the running of UNAMID and the approach for resolving the Darfur conflict; and d) differences about burden sharing, including the basis and sources of burden sharing as exemplified by the continuing differences on Somalia. The five factors that he identified as sources of these challenges include a lack of shared understanding on fundamental norms/values (such as the grounds as well as the mechanisms and processes for restricting state sovereignty), historical mistrust and suspicion of African governments towards externally driven and externally-led intervention in Africa, a lack of parity in the relationship (problem of asymmetry), a lack of shared understanding on their (UN and AU) respective roles and responsibilities and, importantly, on the nature of their relationship and, finally, rivalry for legitimacy.

Following this presentation, Dr Mehari Tadele Maru spoke on some of the current peace and security issues in Africa. He reflected particularly on the crisis in Libya and the approach that the AU adopted with respect to the crisis. In this regard, Dr Maru underscored the contribution of the AU`s Roadmap for the peaceful resolution of the crisis in Libya and its continued relevance in post-Gaddafi Libya. He also argued that Gaddafi`s contribution to the AU budget and Libya`s payment of the fees of some member states, which was most highlighted in the media to explain AU`s position on Libya, had very little influence on the position that the AU took. He said that the descent of the protest into armed rebellion and the involvement of foreign elements in the civil war go a long way in explaining the approach of the AU. Commenting on the ICC and Africa, Dr Maru formulated the issue in terms of the “good, the bad and the ugly”. The “good”, according to Dr Maru, is the ICC. The ICC is a valuable development that has huge potential to contribute in the fight against impunity in Africa. The “bad” is the ICC Prosecutor. He indicated that the main problem in Africa`s relations with the ICC is the arrogance and activist tendencies of the Prosecutor. Given that it is at its formative stages, it would have been better for the ICC Prosecutor to focus on institution building and garnering the credibility of this novice judicial institution. Mr Ocampo was rather notoriously insensitive to the concerns of many Africans and dismissive of the merits of the arguments made against his decisions and approach. Regardless of the legal merits of the cases, ICC is highly controversial now as a result of Mr Ocampo`s arrogant tendencies. Finally, he said that the “ugly” referred to African governments. These are the governments that are responsible for perpetrating international crimes against their own citizens, the crimes that trigger ICC actions to hold those responsible to account.

There was a lively and interactive discussion with comments and questions from many participants in the seminar. All those who spoke during the discussion appreciated the organization of the seminar, the choice of the theme of the seminar and the presentation. Although some noted that too much emphasis was put on the challenges facing AU-UN relations, it was highlighted that there are many areas of good collaboration between the two and that more attention is paid to the challenges due to the focus of the theme of the seminar. One representative of a mission of an African country to the UN noted that there is a need to recognize the subordination of the AU to the UN. It was interesting to hear from representatives of African countries that the AU`s position on Libya was ‘disgraceful` but indicated that Gaddafi should not have been in the first place allowed to get to this point and that the collaboration of western countries contributed to Gaddafi`s misrule. The importance of recognizing the threats that the situation in Somalia poses, not only to Africa but also to international peace and security as well as international maritime security, was highlighted, as was the need for enhanced international support for the on-going efforts for achieving peace in Somalia.

Some of the comments urged more realism in expectations about what can be achieved in the AU-UN relationship. Others questioned the possibilities of a shared understanding to be achieved between the two bodies in which decisions are made mainly on the basis of considerations of national interests of member states. There was a general recognition that the relationship between the AU and the UN could be made to work better and that there was a need for more synergy in their actions. To this end, some of the comments suggested that (highlighting the requests on the ICC and Somalia) AU requests to the UN should be more realistic and that there should be a clear appreciation of the subordination of regional bodies to the UN in the maintenance of international peace and security.

In attendance at the seminar were some 35 participants representing various entities including the DPKO, Africa II Division, the DPA, ICRC, IPI, and ICG. Among the missions in attendance were Australia, Switzerland, Norway, the US and Denmark. From the African Group, the Ethiopian Mission to the UN and the missions of Uganda, Algeria and Egypt were present.


Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

Duke Kent-Brown
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