When the African Standby Force (ASF) was established in 2004, the African Union (AU) had not yet undertaken operations of its own on a scale that could provide it with an AU or African understanding of its role and comparative advantages in peace operations. As such, the ASF was developed on the basis of assumptions derived from United Nations (UN) multi-dimensional peacekeeping experiences of the 1990s.
Since 2004, when the ASF project was established, the AU and several RECs/RMs have mandated, planned, deployed, managed and liquidated 10 peace operations in Burundi (AMIB), Liberia (ECOMIL), Sudan (AMIS I, II & UNAMID), the Comoros, the Central African Republic (MICOPAX & MISCA) and Mali (AFISMA,). The AU’s AMISOM mission in Somalia, with aprox 23000 uniformed personnel, is currently the largest peace operation in the world.
As a result of these mission experiences, the AU, the regions and the member states involved have over the past decade started to develop their own body of knowledge on African-led peace operations.
The Independent Panel of Experts that conducted a comprehensive assessment of the African Standby Force (ASF) in 2013 recommended that the existing ASF Policy Framework should be reviewed against these experiences and adapted so as to better align the next generation of the ASF with the contextual realities and evolving model of African peace operations.
The Panel argued that there has been a significant increase in actual African peace-operations capacity since the launch of the ASF project a decade ago, as reflected in the number and scale of peace operations undertaken by the AU and RECs/RMs over this period, and the contributions from Africa to UN peacekeeping operations.
In total, approximately 40,000 uniformed and civilian personnel were mandated to serve in AU peace operations in 2013 (approximately 75,000 if the joint AU-UN hybrid mission in Darfur is taken into account as well). In addition, African contributions to UN peacekeeping operations have increased steadily during this period – from a little over 10,000 per annum in 2003, when the ASF project was launched, to approximately 35,000 per annum by 2013. This means that in 2013 more than 75,000 African peacekeepers served in African and UN peace operations. Aprox, 12,000 of these are from Ethiopia, whom with aprox 8000 troops in UN missions and aprox 4000 in AMISOM, is now the world’s largest Troop Contributing Country (TCC).
Each of these missions involved planning, mandating, deploying, managing and supporting efforts, and many were also withdrawn or handed over and liquidated. Together they represent a significant demonstration of capacity and experience. All these missions have been undertaken with support from the UN, EU and bilateral partners and they thus also reflect a growing body of experience with hybrid and other forms of partnership and collaborative action.
The 75,000 African peacekeepers deployed in 2013 come from the same member states that have pledged contributions to the ASF, which demonstrates that they are able to deploy such capacities when needed. The Panel argued that this actual deployed capacity is a stronger indicator of Africa’s real peace operation capacity then the pledged capabilities reflected in the ASF. The actual deployed capacity is also an indication that the ASF project has already significantly contributed too African and UN peace operations.
An African Model of Peace Operations
Has these developments and experiences resulted in the emergence of an African model of peace operations? And if so, how would we characterize such an African model of peace operations?
UN peacekeeping operations are characterised by monitoring cease-fire agreements and helping to implement peace agreements. The typical UN operation is deployed after a peace agreement has been signed. Whilst the UN has also deployed operations to protect civilians in contexts where there is no peace agreement in place, these missions are seen as exceptions to the rule. In contrast, all the AU operations to date have been deployed amidst ongoing conflict with the aim of halting the conflict and stabilising the security situation. The first characteristic of an AU model of peace operations is that the AU undertakes mostly stability operations.
Because of the offensive nature of these stabilisation operations, AU missions differed in important ways from UN peacekeeping, and the three UN peacekeeping principles: consent, impartiality and non-use of force. UN peacekeeping, by its nature needs to be non-confrontational and transparent to maintain the consent, trust and confidence of the parties to the cease-fire or peace agreement. UN peacekeepers are thus drawn from countries that are not associated with the conflict, does not undertake covert or stealth operations and operate in white and blue so that they can be seen to be transparent, visible and to symbolise that they are not combatants – and thus not party to the conflict.
AU stability operations, in contrast are offensive in that a fragile peace need to be enforced by suppressing the capability of aggressors to use force for political purposes. This means that AU TCCs need to, at times, act offensively, which means they require intelligence, an ability to operate with stealth and as a result they operate in green. Often, the only countries that are willing to contribute troops to such missions are those countries that have a strategic interest in securing stability.The actual AU stability operations experience have thus, at many levels, differed significantly from the UN peacekeeping model on which the ASF has largely been modelled.
All these African operations have subsequently been taken over by UN peace operations with 6 to 18 months, except for the AU operation in Somalia.
AMISOM is the exception as the AU had to fight an intensive and sustained counter-insurgency campaign to dislodge Al-Shabaab. Despite considerable gains the conditions are not yet ripe for a UN mission to take over, and as an exception, UN assessed contributions were authorised to be used to support the AU mission. The second characteristic of an AU model of peace operations are thus that these are short duration missions that are handed over to UN missions as soon as basic stability has been restored.
The third characteristic is that these missions have been funded and supported by African TCCs and PCCs, as well as international partners. This financial dimension has been an important factor that determined the size and scope of the missions, as well as their length. AU missions had to make do with less personnel and less resources that a UN mission in the same theatre. For instance, in Darfur the UN mission that followed-on AMIS had approximately 3 times as many personnel and 4 times the budget. The same trend can be observed in the transitions in Mali and CAR.
As these missions are funded and supported by the international community the AU and RECs/RMs can not independently take decisions on the mandate, size and duration of these missions. There is a serious attempt underway to consider alternative ways of funding the AU. A team of experts led by President Obasanjo has suggested a number of ways in which the AU can raise it own funding. For instance, a $10 dollar level of plane tickets to Africa and a$2 dollar levy on hotel accommodation would raise more than 700 million dollars annually. These measures have not been adopted, but they serve as examples that it is not impossible for the AU to generate at least some of its own funding, and if this happens it is likely to give the AU a considerable wider range of options. But until then the AU seems to be constrained to the stability operations model.
The African model that has emerged over the past decade is thus one of stabilisation missions, undertaken alongside UN and other political and humanitarian-development missions, that are relatively short-lived before they are handed-over to UN missions. These missions are financed and supported by the international community, which considerably limit the ability of the AU or RECs/RMs to independently determine their mandates, scope, size and duration.
The AU has not made a strategic choice to focus its efforts on stabilisation missions, but it naturally ended-up taking on this task because a unique set of push and pull factors converged to create the conditions in which the AU peace operations model became one of stability operations. The primary influences were the violent nature of the conflicts confronting the AU, the UN peacekeeping model that prevented the UN from deploying peace operations until a cease-fire or peace agreement is in place and the support models available to finance AU operations.
The African model that has emerged over the past decade is thus one of stabilisation missions, undertaken alongside UN special political missions and other political, humanitarian and development initiatives, that are relatively short-lived before they are handed-over to UN peacekeeping missions. These missions are financed and supported by the international community, which considerably limit the ability of the AU or RECs/RMs to independently determine their mandates, scope, size and duration.
Let me conclude with two questions:
If the actual experience of the AU over the last decade is so different from what the ASF framework envisaged, is it not time to adjust the ASF model so that the capacities being developed better reflect the kind of missions the AU is likely to undertake?
My response to this question, is that the ASF needs to shift from a standby readiness model to a just-in-time readiness model. Africa has the capacity to deploy rapidly, with the support of its international partners, but this capacity resides at national – not regional level. The stabilisation missions that the AU has been called on the undertake require TCCs that have a strategic interest in the outcome, and this means that each conflict will have its own unique set of interested parties. Thus no pre-formed standby agreement will meet the unique and context specific needs of the case at hand.
What has happened in each case: Burundi, Somalia, Mali & Darfur, is that a unique coalition of the willing came together to form a mission, and I include here both the TCCs, PCCs and their international partners. I argue that we need to adopt the ASF to this just-in-time model. The pre-formed standby brigade concept has not been used to date – just as SHIRBRIG was not used in the UN context, or just as the EU Battlegroups have not yet been, and is unlikely to be used in future – because they are not flexible enough to match the unique set of national interest that are at stake in each specific case.
Second, is this model sustainable? Is it sustainable that the international community support African operations? And is the African stabilisation model sustainable seeing that the UN has now started to deploy stabilisation missions of its own – largely again as an option of last resort because the AU missions could not attract sufficient predictable voluntary support? My response to this question is that whilst the AU is considering alternative financing options, for the foreseeable future this model is likely to continue to be the only model available to the AU and international community. Even if the UN continues to show a willingness to undertake stability-type operations, they are not able to deploy such missions rapidly. The international community will thus still need the AU to deploy rapidly to provide the initial stabilisation role, with the UN then taking over 6 to 12 to 18 months later.