The case for a feminist approach to peace and security

The case for a feminist approach to peace and security

Date | 08 March 2023

Solomon Ayele Dersso, PhD
Founding Director, Amani Africa

For a number of years, some countries such as Canada, France, Mexico and Spain have adopted a feminist foreign policy. At the start of this month, coinciding with the women’s month, German Foreign Minister announced new feminist guidelines on foreign policy. As we mark the international women’s day, it is very fitting to reflect on the case for such a feminist approach to peace and security. I attempt to do this by drawing on the work of the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC).

It was in 2010 that the PSC took a decision to have the women, peace and security (WPS) theme as its standing thematic agenda. However until its convening on WPS at the level of Ministers in 2021 under Kenya’s Chairship, its engagement has broadly taken two dimensions. The first and key dimension concerns the question of protection. This is premised on the recognition of the gendered nature of conflicts and its vicious impact on women and girls. The second dimension, which also affects the first, relates to the place of women in peace processes. This is the concern about women’s participation and leadership role in decision-making on peace and security and in peace processes. Arguably, much of the policy actions of the PSC and the AU on WPS mostly centered around these two areas.

A broader feminist approach to peace and security that concerns itself with the structural conditions that lead to gender oppression affecting women and girls, going beyond manifestations of gender oppression in situations of insecurity, has not received as much attention. The PSC came close to having such a feminist approach during its ministerial level session at its 987th meeting held on 22 March 2022.

Two elements of the communique of this session standout in terms of espousing elements of a feminist approach to peace and security. The first is the acknowledgement of the significance of the issue of gender equality in society in general beyond peace and security. As contained in operational paragraph 1, it underscores ‘the need to promote peaceful and inclusive societies … broadening women’s access to education, improving their participation in the economy and decision-making, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’.

The second element reflecting the feminist approach is the reference to a comprehensive approach. Thus, in operational paragraph 6 the PSC put premium on the ‘Pertinence of adopting a comprehensive approach resting on the four pillars of prevention, protection, participation and, recovery and relief for the full and effective implementation of gender equality and the Women, Peace and Security agenda.’ The nod towards gender equality in particular is most significant.

In a statement that we submitted to the session at the time, we at Amani Africa welcomed the focus on ‘gender inclusive culture of peace’. This framing that centers WPS on a feminist approach, we argued, helps us to discuss the source of oppression of women and girls in society. This is the source of oppression that both limits women’s access to equal enjoyment of all their human rights and their equal role in society and exposes them to some of the most barbaric acts of violence, particularly in times of conflict as reports from ongoing conflict settings attest.

This feminist approach thus brings to the center of our analysis of how to advance WPS agenda the core issue at the heart of gender oppression. This is patriarchy and how patriarchy defines the roles and place of women and men in society. Patriarchy and its pervasiveness in nurturing and perpetuating structures of hierarchy and inequity in the social, political, economic and cultural life of society sustains the conditions for the unequal access of women and girls to the full measure of their rights. As the renowned Egyptian author and feminist advocate, Nawal El Saadawi, who passed away the day before the convening of the 987th session, put it, men are also less free due to the burden that patriarchy puts on them. This unfreedom of men relates to the fact that the expectation that patriarchy sets for them to act and live in a certain for them to be treated as worthy of being men.

Indeed, the way politics is organized and mobilized as well as the continuing hold of patriarchal conceptions of power not only enables social traits of domination and violence in society but also inhibits gender inclusivity. The resultant absence or weakness of gender inclusive culture of peace both exposes women and girls to domination and violence in times of negative peace (one cannot be able to speak of positive peace in conditions of pervasive oppression of women and widespread perpetuation of GBV and sexual violence) and makes them more vulnerable to be targets of violence in conflict situations.

The feminist approach to peace as a matter of necessity thus requires the dismantling of the association of politics and power to patriarchal masculinity. The dismantling and reframing of the patriarchal approach to and conception of politics and power is indeed a pre-requisite for ensuring a gender inclusive culture of peace and thereby creating the conditions for women and girls both to enjoy the full measure of their rights on an equal basis but also to live a life free from fear. This radical approach goes beyond the symptoms and manifestations and targets the underlying factors of vulnerability of women and girls to become targets of oppression and violence both in times of (negative) peace and during conflicts.

With respect to the representation and participation of women in peace processes, this approach makes it clear that the assumption of leadership positions by women at various levels of decision-making at the national level is essential. In the absence of such widespread presence of women in positions of leadership at the national level it would not be possible to have the pool of women leaders from which women can be recruited to participate and take leadership in peace processes. Additionally, there is a need for the creation of gender sensitive conditions of work in peacekeeping operations and in mediation and peace negotiation as critical measure for ensuring their effective participation in these processes free from the constraints of a patriarchal work environment that does not take account of the specific needs of women.

Arguably therefore, taking the WPS agenda to the next level requires the full embrace of this feminist approach to peace and security. The foundation laid by the 987th session of the PSC with its emphasis on gender inclusive culture of peace offers a unique opportunity to carry out this important undertaking.


Dedicated to the women leaders in Africa and beyond who are at the fore front of champing the WPS agenda – especially the AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa (past & present), the women in diplomacy particularly the women ministers, Ambassadors and colleagues in the field of peace and security and to the many women colleagues at Amani Africa and in and beyond Africa as well as to my daughter, wife and Emaye. Happy international women’s day!

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

Critical reflections on continental policy approaches to prevention of violent extremism and terrorism in Africa

Critical reflections on continental policy approaches to prevention of violent extremism and terrorism in Africa

Date | 28 February 2023

From presentation by Solomon Ayele Dersso at ‘Le Grand Rendez-vous 2023 – PVE in West and Central Africa: Realities and Perspectives held in Dakar, Senegal on 28 February – 2 March 2023


I would like to start by thanking the organizers of this event for the kind invitation extended to Amani Africa to be part of this important and timely convening. I also would like to thank the earlier speakers for their edifying address.

Amani Africa is a pan-African policy research, training and consulting thank tank that works on the promotion of effective policy responses to threats to peace and security in Africa through multilateral bodies on the continent, particularly the African Union (AU). The specific focus of our work on the role of African peace and security institutions, most notably the AU, means that the issue that is the subject of this conference has, over the course of the past several years, become a major area of preoccupation. We have produced analysis on the various peace support operations that are engaged in counter terrorism operations including those in West and Central Africa regions. We have also provided analysis on the AU Peace and Security Council meetings focusing on terrorism.

It is against this background that we produced one of our major policy research works in May 2022 as critical input to the extraordinary summit of the AU held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea on terrorism and violent extremism.  Titled ‘The growing threat of terrorism in Africa: A product of misdiagnosis and faulty policy response?’, this special research report serves as the basis for my remarks for this high-level panel.

Apart from the interest to inform the policy debate of the AU extraordinary summit on the issue, a major factor for this research work was the fact that the epicenter of terrorism shifted from other parts of the world to Africa. During the past decade terrorism has come to constitute the major threat to peace and security in Africa in two ways.

First, the frequency and fatality of the violence of conflicts involving terrorist groups have been on the rise on the continent. Civilians are bearing the brunt of much of these the violence mostly from terrorist attacks and from counter terrorism operations as well. By the counts of AU’s Algiers based African Centre on the study of terrorism, Africa witnessed a 400% and 237% rises in attacks and deaths respectively between 2012 and 2020.

This rise in the frequency and fatality of violence in conflicts involving terrorism is particularly the case in recent years in the Sahel and Central Africa regions, which are the focus of this conference. For the Sahel for example, the most current data shows that deadly violence has surged by 22 percent, with fatalities spiking by as much as 50% in 2022.

Second, geographically, the threat of terrorism was very limited, of not non-existent, in West and Central Africa regions until the late 2000s. When the AU Commission Chairperson produced the first report on the threat of terrorism in Africa, for example, the threat was confined to pockets of East Africa and North Africa. During the past decade, the threat of terrorism spread across the five regions of the continent.

Today, West Africa and Central Africa have become main sites of conflicts involving terrorism. Demonstrating the continuing expansion of this threat, including emerging signs of terrorist activities in littoral states of West Africa, Ghana’s President warned in a meeting last November that the ‘worsening situation …threatens to engulf the entire West Africa.’ Indeed, incidents of attacks have already been reported in Benin, Cot d’Ivoire, and Togo.

What were the policy responses to the growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism in Africa? 

As the AU Commission Chairperson noted in his address to the AU summit in Malabo last May, from Somalia to the Sahel, Lake Chad basin and Mozambique the AU and regional bodies deployed various military operations. According to our research report, analysis of the policy decisions of the AU both at the level of the AU Assembly and that of the PSC show that between 2010 and 2022, some nine hard security instruments or initiatives have been mobilized to deal with terrorism hotspots across the continent. This is without counting the various security initiatives of multilateral and bilateral partners of the AU and the regions.

As Amani Africa’s report highlighted and the AUC Chairperson admitted, the threat of terrorism continues to grow despite the increase in the investment in and the use of these and other hard security tools including border control, intelligence exchange, and criminal justice measures. One explanation, AUC Chair highlighted in his address to the Malabo summit, is the lack of adequate support to make the use of these hard security instruments effective. Similarly, during his visit to West Africa, UN Secretary General said that the ‘operating in circumstances … call not for a peacekeeping force, but a strong force to enforce peace and fight terrorism.’

Admittedly, as also recognized in our research report, there are indeed capacity gaps that limit the effectiveness of the hard security instruments used for countering terrorism on the continent. We agree that the use of hard security tools including military missions constitute essential component of any successful policy response to the threat of terrorism and they should be provided with the means to effectively execute their part of the responsibility.

One good example that demonstrates the importance of counter terrorism military operations is the experience of the AU Mission in Somalia. As my friend, the CEO and President of the International Crisis Group, Comfort Ero pointed out in her address to the Security Council last September, ‘[b]etween 2011 and 2012, and at great cost in Ugandan, Burundian, Kenyan and Somali partner forces’ lives, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) ‘ended Al-Shabaab’s formal control of Mogadishu and Kismayo, the country’s second-largest city, prised swathes of territory out of militants’ hands and provided much-needed security for two electoral cycles.’

Yet, the experience of AMISOM and the various other regional initiatives including the G5 Sahel and MNJTF in the Sahel and Central and West African regions as well as the Accra Initiative illustrate, the conventional policy responses put premium on the use of hard security institutions. Despite the increase in the use and multiplication of security heavy response mechanisms, the threat is not declining. If anything, it is further deteriorating. Accordingly, our report posed the question:

What are the problems with the conventional policy response to the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in Africa?

The research report revealed that the flaws in the conventional policy responses relate to both the diagnosis of and the policy response measures for countering the threat of terrorism in Africa. It highlights that, the dominant view about terrorism in Africa is based on a misdiagnosis of the nature of the problem.

According to Amani Africa’s report, there are two aspects to the misdiagnosis. The first is that the conventional policy analysis considers groups identified as terrorists to be the core of the problem. Second, it also erroneously assumes that these groups are mainly ideologically driven by global jihad, a reading that is parachuted from experiences elsewhere in the world rather than being an accurate representation of the nature of such groups in Africa.

Contrary to these conventional views of the nature of terrorism, our report showed first that terrorist groups are the symptom of the main problem. Second, rather than being purely ideologically driven jihadist groups, they are complex socio-political entities that are embedded in and feed on local political, social and conflict dynamics.

Such misdiagnosis also led to faulty policy responses. Rather than focusing on approaches that address the underlying ‘political and socio-economic pathologies’, the conventional policy responses focused on ‘eliminating’ the symptoms of the problem. This is sought to be achieved by making hard security tools including military operations front and center of the response to the threat of violent extremism and terrorism.

They become both state security oriented and hard security based, hence too mechanical bereft of the fundamental political, social, cultural & economic tools the context demands. Echoing this, in his address to the UN Security Council on 15 December 2022 Kenya’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Dr Korir Sing’oei observed that ‘[t]oo much counter terrorism is too kinetic and narrowly technical.’ In the same vein Comfort also told the Security Council that ‘it’s rare – in fact, so far unheard of – that military operations alone can defeat movements that are quite deeply entrenched in parts of society, if not necessarily popular.’

Indeed, as even the relatively successful experience of AMISOM in Somalia, to which we made reference earlier, shows, military operation by itself alone is utterly inadequate. And it can never become a substitute to a political strategy that makes socio-political, governance, development and reconciliation measures, supported by military measures, the core of the policy response tools.

We thus call in Amani Africa’s research report for a shift in both the diagnosis of and the policy response measures to the threat of terrorism. As the report put it, ‘the political and socio-economic governance pathologies’ and the grievances and vulnerabilities that these pathologies produce on the part of affected communities are the major conditions that precipitate the emergence and proliferation of terrorist groups. Experiences from the Sahel to Mozambique provide rich data to illustrate this.

The report thus advocates for a human security-based approach that brings to the centre of policy analysis and intervention

    1. affected communities and
    2. the resolution of their grievances, and the conflict dynamics of which terrorist groups are only a part.

What does this human security-based approach mean in practical terms?

Drawing some of the instructive experiences on the continent including, for example, the Lake Chad Basin stabilization strategy, first and foremost, this policy shift advocates for addressing the socio-economic, cultural and environmental needs of communities in territories that are vulnerable to conflicts involving terrorist groups. As our report put it, this necessitates a socio-economic and political program that focuses on

    1. promoting respect for human rights, and the (re)building of legitimate local governance structures and capacities,
    2. the delivery of public services and social and economic provisions, and
    3. facilitate the provision of required humanitarian and livelihood support as well as other assistance and support as well as rehabilitation programs supported by regional security cooperation.

Additionally, this paradigm shift also necessitates the rebuilding of new state-society pact and public trust in the state and its governance institutions.

In terms of allocation of resources, this paradigm shift in the approach to the policy response to terrorism in Africa also necessitates that programming of counter-terrorism interventions should thus be reconfigured in a way that avails resources and capacity building support geared towards

    1. building local capacities and governance structures for delivery of public services,
    2. empowerment of local communities and marginalized members of such communities (youth, women, traditional or religious leaders and institutions)
    3. strengthening of mechanisms for peaceful settlement of disputes among local communities, and
    4. reforming of national structures of governance for promoting the inclusion of marginalized communities in national decision- making processes.

‘Such reconfiguration of counter- terrorism programming,’ our report argued, ‘has a higher chance of creating the social conditions that deprive terrorist groups of the grounds that make it easy for them to extract support from local communities.’

The other element that cannot be emphasized enough for the success of this recalibrated policy approach is the critical importance of nurturing and supporting courageous national leadership.  Such is a leadership that has the political will, dexterity and imagination for acknowledging the existence of fragilities and the absence or fragility of state institutions in parts of the state and the accompanying complex challenges facing politically and geographically peripheral territories in those parts of the state, which terrorist or insurgent groups take advantage of.

As our report put it, the ‘other element of this new policy approach, in terms of its conflict settlement and peacebuilding dimensions, is its recognition, and advocacy for active use of, the peacemaking instruments of negotiation and dialogue with members of terrorist groups as part of the peace and security tools available in conflict situations involving the presence of terrorist groups with strong local base.’

Explaining the importance of this, we stated that ‘[g]iven that the threat of terrorism in most part is primarily an outgrowth of governance and underdevelopment induced local conflict dynamics, the recognition of negotiation as part of the peace and security instruments necessary for conflict resolution in situations involving terrorist groups has the advantage of preventing current (hard security focused) policy options from condemning affected societies to perpetual conflict.’

Particularly instructive for the African context in this regard is the wisdom that Somalia’s President in his article to The Economist shared that ‘we must be realistic about how we bring about lasting peace and stability. It is simply too dangerous to stick to the idea that military defeats alone will miraculously produce ready-made peace. Talks are needed, too.’

I thank you for your kind attention!

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

The 36th AU Summit beyond peace and security: Reform of the multilateral system and the AfCFTA

The 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly was held on 18-19 February preceded by the 42nd Ordinary Session of the Executive Council on 15-16. As part of covering this year’s summit, we profile some key issues and events around the summit. We present in our ‘Ideas Indaba’ the issues that received particular attention: reform of the multilateral system and the AfCFTA.

The 36th AU Summit beyond peace and security: Reform of the multilateral system and the AfCFTA

Date | 03 March 2023

Solomon Ayele Dersso, PhD
Founding Director, Amani Africa

The members of the African Union (AU) Assembly, African Heads of State and Government, did not disappoint. They did not show up in their numbers to their own party. Well you may say, after all Addis Abeba is not Brussels, Beijing or Washington DC. One cannot help wondering if it would be a good idea for purposes of full attendance if the AU rather considers holding its summit back-to-back the summits our leaders hold with their counterparts form elsewhere in the world.

But is it really about the venue? Or is it about the value they attach to the AU, to matters pan-African? If the report of the claim by France that it is responsible for getting the President of Comoros, Azali Assoumani, to become AU Chairperson for 2023 is true, clearly there are countries like France who seem to value the AU more. As to the venue, yes, Addis Abeba is not like any of those other cities. And there is nothing bad about that. After all, Addis is Africa’s foremost diplomatic capital. A city with its own charm. Being in Addis also has an added value. It spares our dear leaders from the pain of spending our money on shopping. A huge plus in this time of crushing socio-economic distress.

Speaking of socio-economic distress on the continent, I would consider you lucky if you are not feeling the very painful pinch on your pocket. The spike in cost of living, which continues to grow every month and massively, seems to have made currencies in our continent worthless. The prospect does not look promising either. Most of our economies on the continent are facing serious debt distress during 2023 and 2024.

So, one of the questions we had was whether the leaders of our beloved continent would make this debilitating erosion of the little we have in our pockets as one of the priority agenda items during the summit. This issue also received particular attention in the summit of representatives of CSOs from across the continent held on 17-18 February in Addis Abeba for which Amani Africa had the privilege of playing a host.

It was encouraging that the dire economic issues from inflation to debt took the limelight at the summit. During the opening segment of the AU Summit, AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, asserted that in the face of the prevailing economic challenges, the ‘activation of various mechanisms of internal resilience, intra-African solidarity, rapid implementation of African financial institutions, all supported by virtuous governance seems in my view to be the way to salvation’.

The most profound idea came from the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres. He hit the nail on the head by properly naming the leading source of the current economic woes facing countries such as those in Africa – the global financial system. In the words of Guterres, ‘the global financial system routinely denies them debt relief and concessional financing while charging extortionist interest rates’.

To end this unjust system, which is beyond the reach of ‘the mechanisms of internal resilience’ central to Faki’s speech, Guterres called for a new Bretton Woods moment, a moment that necessitates a fundamental reform of the system. This call was not limited to the opening session. It was echoed, among others, forcefully by President William Ruto of Kenya in his maiden address to the Assembly.

Yet, the AU summit has not gone far enough. For example, it did not put in place a common African proposal on the reform of the global financial system, something akin to the Bridgetown Initiative led by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottle. The most the AU did was the announcement of a debt observatory. This, according to AU Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Albert Muchanga, ‘is going to be a debt observatory to enable us monitor the debt situations. We intend to have real-time data with respect to debt management around the countries of Africa.’

Unsurprisingly, this year’s theme of the AU: acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was also a major focus of the summit. Apart from COVID-19, which highlighted the depth of lack of preparedness of African health systems and Africa’s exclusive dependence on and the unreliability of global supply chains and the skewed nature of the global trading system as the resistance to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver attested, the food and energy price crises that ensued following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia have further accentuated the imperative for intra-African trade and urgency of full operationalization of the AfCFTA.

During the summit, the theme of the year was launched with the AfCFTA Secretary General presenting the concept for the theme of the year. The three Protocols on Competition Policy, Investment and Intellectual Property Rights were tabled and considered for adoption during the summit.  As the AU Assembly’s Champion for AfCFTA, former President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou put it, ‘the implementation of the AfCFTA will enable the continent to emerge from the colonial pact that reduced it to a mere reservoir of raw materials.’

While it did not take center stage during this year’s summit, peace and security issues, attracted some attention. AU’s highest standing decision-making body on matters of peace and security, the Peace and Security Council (PSC), held a summit level session on 17 February on the pressing conflict in Eastern DRC. Among others, the summit called for ‘the cantonment and disarmament of M23 under the control of the DRC authorities, and the supervision of EAC Regional Force.’

The Assembly also debated the African Consensus position on funding of AU peace operations, including through accessing UN assessed contributions. As stated in the consensus position paper, the AU ‘will endeavor to pay up to 25% of PSO budgetary component of AU PSOs’ from member states contributions. This, according to the paper, ‘progressively covers in large part the preparation stage of AU-Led PSOs especially effective assessment, planning, and readiness for efficient mandate implementation. In addition, this will cover costs related to strategic planning, mission-specific pre-deployment training, mission-specific technical assessments and fact-finding missions, recruitment and selection process of mission personnel, pre-deployment verification of personnel and equipment, negotiations and signing processes for the MoU between the AU and Police/Troop Contributing Countries (PTCC), negotiations and signing processes for AU-Host Country Status of Forces/Mission Agreements, negotiations and signing processes for Letters of Assists between the AU and Countries Contributing capabilities for AU-Led PSOs.’

In terms of financing of Peace Support Operations (PSOs), one of the major outcomes of the AU PSC summit on the DRC was the decision for contributing to the funding for the East African Force from the AU Peace Fund. While various figures were floated by member states during the consideration of the report of the PSC to the Assembly, the only portion of the Peace Fund, which was approved following the financial rules and available for use during 2023, is the USD 5 million from the Conflict Reserve Fund (CRF) of the Peace Fund.

One of the items that also attracted some interest was the agenda on the request for reform of the PSC with a focus on increasing representation of the Northern region, which in the current PSC set up only has the least number of seats with one three years and one two years term seats. The debate on this item was cut short with the new AU Chairperson, Assoumani, announcing that as no consensus was emerging he would take it up with his peers. As no decision was adopted by the Assembly, it remains unclear if and how this agenda would be followed up.

On the global geo-political situation, President Kagame of Rwanda pointed out in his intervention that ‘Africa must not become a casualty of geopolitical tensions. What Africa wants and needs first is peace’. At the same time, as the debate on the report of the Ministerial Committee of Ten on the Reform of the UN Security Council revealed, there is a recognition that this could be an opportune moment for advancing Africa’s longstanding quest for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Of course, the debate also made it apparent that AU member states should guard against the pressure facing them from various quarters in the jockeying of different groupings on the reform of the UN Security Council. As the Chair of the Committee at Assembly level, Sierra Leone’s President put it, ‘Africa should stay the course, continue to speak with one voice.’

This proved to be a summit that is not dominated by peace and security issues. However, in terms of whether it makes any difference depends a great deal on the quality of decisions and the adoption by states of the measures necessary for implementation of those decisions. Thus, as a year for acceleration of implementation of the AfCFTA, the catalyst role of the AfCFTA, as the acting chief of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) put it, in bringing supply chains closer to home and facilitating the production and trading of food and fertilisers in Africa, depends a lot on whether the requirements for harnessing its potentials would be prioritized in the ongoing push towards the operationalization of the world’s largest free trade area.

These requirements include legislation by states parties on tariffs, customs and certification of origin. Also not any less important are speeding up industrialization (and expanding manufacturing capacities including the manufacturing of medicines – we were told that our governments have left us to be dependent on importation for 98% of medicines people on the continent need), free movement of people without which goods and services could not fully move (by ensuring ratification and implementation of the protocol on free movement of persons), cross border cooperation (by ensuring ratification and implementation of the Niamey Convention) and investing in agricultural development (by among others, implementing commitments under AU’s flagship program Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CADAP) and the outcome of the Dakar Summit on food security – so that a continent with 60 % arable land reduces its dependence on importation of staple food resources from elsewhere in the world).

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

Is the AU addressing the challenges to effective enforcement of its norm banning Unconstitutional Changes of government?

The 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly was held on 18-19 February preceded by the 42nd Ordinary Session of the Executive Council on 15-16. As part of covering this year’s summit, we profile some key issues and events around the summit. In the light of the democratic regression the continent, like other parts of the world, is experiencing, one event we wish to profile is the 2023 Africa Governance Report presented to the Assembly. The thematic focus of the 2023 African Governance Report by the African Peer Review Mechanism is unconstitutional changes of government. In this second and last part, we provide further analysis on where progress is being made and where it is lacking.

Is the AU addressing the challenges to effective enforcement of its norm banning unconstitutional changes of government?

Date | 24 February 2023

Part II

Solomon Ayele Dersso, PhD
Founding Director, Amani Africa

Tsion Hagos
Researcher, Amani Africa

In a clear admission that the AU norm banning coups faced serious enforcement challenges, the Peace and Security Council (PSC), African Union’s (AU) highest standing decision making body on matters peace and security, convened one of its important sessions on the subject on 15th August 2022. Convened under the theme ‘Sanctions and enforcement capacities: deterrence against unconstitutional changes of government (UCG)’, the session served as a follow-up to the outcome of the 16th Extraordinary session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government held on 28 May 2022 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Notably, the session aimed at assessing the effectiveness of sanctions in deterring UCGs in Africa, as well as the capacities of the existing enforcement mechanisms.

The range of policy issues for consideration in this session are canvased in full detail in the analysis we produced ahead of the session. As highlighted in Amani Africa’s Policy Brief produced ahead of the Malabo summit, the fact that sanctions imposed on Mali in April 2021 did not deter subsequent coups in four other cases, has brought into sharp focus the efficacy of the responses of the AU and Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs) involving suspension and other forms of sanctions.

In the Communique it adopted on the session, the PSC admitted with concern ‘the challenges facing the implementation of AU sanctions regime against unconstitutional changes of government.’ This, according to the PSC, is due, among others, to ‘lack of coordination between the AU and RECs/RMs, partners as well as the actions of external actors.’ Indeed, as pointed out in our analysis, on the normative plane, not all RECs/RMs have comparable standards making military coups illegal. In the absence of all RECs/RMs having standards banning UCG comparable to the AU norm, the AU and RECs/RMs face the unavoidable challenge of adopting complementary positions. That is why, for example, it is difficult to coordinate between IGAD and AU in respect to the coup in Sudan. Accordingly, the PSC should have called on RECs/RMs lacking such norms and authority to sanction UCG, to adopt legal instrument authorizing them to sanction their occurrence. Instead, the PSC ‘underscored the need to improve coordination of efforts to achieve wider buy-in of AU sanctions by other international actors, as well as to ensure synergies between AU sanctions and sanctions imposed by similar intergovernmental organizations, particularly the RECs and UN.’ It also reiterated the need ‘for full implementation of the commitments of the Accra Declaration on Unconstitutional Changes of Government and the Assembly Decision and Declaration on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Chances of Government.’

Another issue that arose during the session of the PSC and highlighted in our analysis was the absence of a common framework on a) what kind of sanctions (beyond suspension) to be applied, b) under what circumstances, c) the mechanism for monitoring and d) the criteria for the lifting of such sanctions. In this respect, the PSC underlined ‘the importance of refining existing sanctions pronouncements into consistent frameworks that are aligned with the current evolution of the challenges they are meant to address.’

To this end, it requested ‘the AU Commission, in collaboration with the UN stakeholders and relevant African research institutions and think tanks including the African Members of the UN Security Council (A3) and UN Security Council Permanent Members, to explore and to develop an effective mechanism for the strengthening of the AU sanctions regime and providing appropriate technical capacities to the PSC Committee of Experts and the Military Staff Committee.’ As a follow up to this request, the AU Commission convened a workshop in Ghana in September 2022. The work for developing such effective sanctions framework has since been underway.

Of course, the development of this framework needs to build on the existing norms of the AU which in various ways present in a skeletal form the sanction for UCG. These AU norms include: the AU Constitutive Act, the Lomé Declaration, the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (ACDEG). In particular, Chapter 8 of the ACDEG specifically outlines ‘Sanctions in Cases of Unconstitutional Changes of Government’. It defines UCGs in Article (23); it empowers the PSC with powers to impose sanctions against Member States (Article 24); and it details the types of sanctions that could be imposed against the Member States and perpetrators (Article 25).

African Peer Review Forum of Heads of State and Government, High-Level Validation of the Africa Governance Report 2023 (AGR2023) on UCG, 07 February 2023

Source: Office of the Presidency, Republic of Sierra Leone

In terms of strengthening the structures and processes for enhancement of the effectiveness of sanctions, the PSC called for the operationalization of the PSC Sub-Committee on Sanctions, the development of the requisite technical capacities to ensure its effectiveness and directed the PSC Committee of Experts to draw up the terms of reference of the Sub-Committee.

Most notably, the PSC went further and provided for the establishment of both ‘a solid sanctions infrastructure… that will effectively support the work of the PSC Sub-Committee on Sanctions’ and ‘a monitoring and evaluation group, to assess the implementation of the sanctions imposed against the Member States.’ While the development of such institutional structures for the AU sanctions is a welcome development, the form that such structures take is yet to be seen. Of particular significance is also the provision for the establishment of the monitoring and evaluation group.

It is worth recalling that our analysis also underscored the need for ‘an expert body (which) could play an instrumental role in monitoring implementation of sanctions imposed by the Council and in assessing fulfilment of conditions for their lifting thereof.’ Depending on the terms of reference of the expert group and the criteria that is used for the group to develop the technical assessment on the occurrence of UCG to propose the type of combination of response measures for adoption by the PSC and to monitor the implementation of the measures, this stands to contribute to the credibility and predictability of PSC’s responses to UCG.

There were a few things that did not receive the level of adequate attention that they deserved. The first is the need for strengthening the support of member states for the AU policy of zero tolerance to coups. This is particularly important given that the lack of strong consensus and support for AU norms banning coups by member states is one of the factors for the weakening of the efficacy of the sanctions in 2021. The other issue not addressed in the PSC communiqué is the lack of consistency in how the PSC applies its power under Article 7(1)(g). As we pointed out in our analysis, the failure of the PSC to apply (on Chad) the same measures it applied on Mali has led to legitimate charges of ‘selective application’. The PSC also missed an opportunity to address the lack of established criteria for applying Article 23(5) of the ACDEG that enables the AU to sanction not only coups but also unconstitutional extension of presidential terms.

On further strengthening the nature and scope of the response to UCGs, the PSC called for ‘a new strategic approach that will simultaneously employ mediation and peace-building to prevent and resolve conflicts.’ Both in the policy brief we published to inform the Extraordinary AU Assembly Session in Malabo and the edition of Insights on the PSC for this session, our analysis underscored the need for the response of the AU and RECs/RMs to go beyond adopting sanctions. It emphasized the imperative for the deployment of robust diplomatic initiative as critical measure for ensuring that relevant reform measures that guarantee sustainable restoration of constitutional order are pursued as part of the transitional process.

Ultimately, effective application of the AU norm banning coups depends on AU’s firmness and consistency in applying the relevant provisions as well as the reversal of the unfolding democratic regression and the accompanying lack of commitment to constitutionalism on the continent.

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

Address by H.E. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwahn on ‘Africa and the reform of the multilateral system’

On the occasion of the signature event on the sidelines of the 36th AU Summit jointly held by the Republic of Namibia and Amani Africa on ‘Africa and the reform of the multilateral system’ and as part of our coverage of some of the key events around the summit, we present in our ‘Ideas Indaba’ the Keynote Address by H.E. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of Namibia.

Date | 20 February 2023

Keynote Address by

H.E. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation,

Delivered on her behalf by Ambassador Jerobeam Shaanika, Deputy Executive Director of Multilateral Relations and Cooperation, Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation


Director of Ceremonies

Distinguished members of high-level panel of experts

Distiguished invited guest

Members of the media

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great honour and pleasure for me to address this gathering which, I believe, offers an excellent opportunity to reflect on the new agenda for peace and the reform of the multilateral system, in order to assess whether it reflects present day reality and to determine whether the multilateral system is able to respond appropriately to geopolitical challenges in a fair and balanced manner.

The multilateral system has evolved since the First World War. Each time institutions have been created to respond to the challenges of the time. It should therefore be noted that these institutional reforms have been necessitated by a number of factors such as the increase in the number of Member States and the increase demands for equitable participation. Therefore, it is essential that we continue to scrutinize multilateral institutions and pose critical questions about their future relevance.

Distinguished invited guests

Multilateralism has demonstrated to be a cornerstone of global harmony and uniting nations large and small in advancing issues of common values and confronting threats to humanity.

It is worth noting that the responsibility of maintaining peace and security cannot be solely left to one member state or particular region. The indispensability of the multilateral system, lies in unity and global solidarity.  The outbreak of Covid-19 has unearthed the urgent need of unity of purpose, in working together in solving common problems, as no nation large and small was speared by COVID -19.

Ladies and Gentlemen

COVID-19 has demonstrated that humanity can face a common threat to our way of life. Thus, the pandemic has left a dent in all health systems throughout the world.

COVID-19 taught us useful lessons and the urgency of reforming the multilateral system. So that it speaks to the upholding of the dignity and worth of the human person in all nations, so that we do not speak divisive language, such as “them and us” when facing a common threat. Because no one is safe until everybody else is safe.

It started as a health emergency that quickly evolved into also a socio-economic crisis which disrupted socioeconomic and lives of peoples of the world. Despite good intentions, there were acts of discrimination perpetuated by some member states, in the form of vaccine hoarding, towards developing countries and Africa in particular. Instead of the pandemic to soothe geopolitical tensions and bring countries together, we witnessed inward looking policies being implemented by some of the multilateral institutions.

Yet, the multilateral system, with all its flaws and limitations, remains the only framework for imagining and working towards collective action in the face of this global threat. In one way or another, it is what we continue to and should rally around. Because, a safe world without multilateralism is difficult to imagine.  Therefore, African Union and its members states must remain firmly committed to advancing the reforms of the multilateral system including the reform of the United Nations Security Council. 

Distinguished invited guests

Africa as a continent has abundant resources that can be harnessed for the benefits of the continent. Likewise, Africa has enormous human capital that can develop the continent and propel its economic growth. Our Fauna and Flora attracts tourist from the rest of the world.

Therefore, there is no doubt that Africa’s resources contribute enormously to global development, however there is a negative perception towards Africa viewed as a mere supplier of raw materials and all negative things. Therefore, there is a need to reflect on how the African resources are used to develop other nations to the determent of the African continent. If we were to examine critically the composition of international soccer players and best performing athletes, majority of them are of African origin. The raw material from Africa are propelling the 4th Industrial revolution, the interesting question, is that not an African contribution to the development of the world?.

While Africa has all these abundances of resources, it has no say or little control in the global financial systems, hence there is a compelling need to reform the global economic trading and financial systems, to level playing field. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While reform in this area is without a doubt challenging, the imperative for making the multilateral system to live up to its lofty ideals, in the face of difficulties facing many parts of the world, and, indeed our capacities as peoples of the world, are such that these challenges are not insurmountable.

With imagination and commitment, it is actually possible to inject reform to the governance of the global trading, economic and financial systems for unleashing the huge potential of the global order to deliver better and more equitably for all with enormous benefits for all social, economic and political actors.

Distinguished invited guest

This is also an era when we have, on top of the health pandemic and the ensuing economic crises and further accentuating the foregoing challenges, the existential threat posed by climate change. This threat is not something that will come in the future. It is a clear and present danger for today and now. We see this from

  • the drought affecting parts of Southern Africa, and the longest drought that led to the perishing of cattle that is a source of livelihood for millions of people in the Horn of Africa
  • the flooding in South Sudan and Sudan and in Nigeria, Niger and Chad
  • And further afield the flooding that left tens of millions of people homeless and claimed the lives of thousand in Pakistan
  • The heat waves, wildfires in Europe, the US and Australia

While the world has made good progress in establishing commitments and some instruments including financial arrangements to deal with this climate emergency, the pace with which commitments are implemented and the ways in which the instruments operate leaves a lot to be desired.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

Herein respect to the climate crisis, we have a case that illustrates that the operation of the multilateral system in a business-as-usual fashion is inadequate to meet the needs of those bearing the brunt of this crisis and the imperative for saving humanity.

As if all of these are not enough, wars and conflicts are adding further fuel to the multiple challenges facing the multilateral system. One such case that drives home the deep fragility of the multilateral system is the inability to solve the problem and response to genuine call for people to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination particularly in Palestine and Western Sahara, as well as imposition of unilateral sanctions meant to change governance systems in certain countries.

Distinguished invited guest

Namibia was one of those countries whose people were denied rights to self- determination. The people of Namibia fought to gain their independence, with the help of international community, they managed to get their independence. Therefore, Namibia understands too well, what is like to be denied the rights to freedom.

The constitution of Namibia commits the state to pursue the policy that encourages the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means. This out of our experience, having waged a long and bitter war of liberation struggle and to say, not again a generation will endure a scourge of war. Of course, it worth emphasizing that this is but one, of major, example of how the promise of the multilateral system, as encapsulated in the UN Charter, to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados last September put it rightly that  ‘A survey of the global security situation, notably in eastern Europe and the Middle East, but in many other places as well, reminds us daily of the tragic inability of the international system to deliver more peace and more security to the many vulnerable people of the world.’

Ladies and Gentlemen

For us in Africa, partly it was this realization that prompted us to transition from the OAU to the AU and establish the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) for complementing and reinforcing, through regional collective action, the multilateral collective security system was founded on the provision of the UN Charter. Our conviction has been that, as we pursue the reform of the UN Security Council to address the historic injustice imposed on Africa by its exclusion from permanent membership and veto power, we also have brought our efforts together to share the burden of the multilateral system and contribute to the global public good of international peace and security through the APSA.

Alongside the contribution from regional bodies like the AU, the urgency of the need for reform of the multilateral peace and security system has been highlighted, by ongoing wars and conflicts. Although the multilateral collective security system has not ceased to function in the face of these grave security challenges, it is clear that it is seriously battered.

Distinguished invited Guest,

This means that it is in need of intensive critical care which may require a wide range of interventions from surgery to blood fusion. Nothing less than such reform will suffice to revive multilateralism to its full health.

It is in this context and having regard to our contribution to the global public good of international peace and security through the APSA that we support the UN Secretary General’s initiative for articulating a New Agenda for Peace. In addition to the foregoing, we believe that this effort needs to also tackle new forms of challenges to peace and security, not only existing ones relating to conflicts involving terrorist groups to emerging ones such as those that arose with new technology including in the cyberspace and in the use of automated machine systems in wars.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Each of the foregoing major global challenges on their own present serious challenge to multilateralism. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of facing them one after the other.

Indeed, while many of these challenges are not completely new, it is clear that they are bigger in scale, unfold in the same timeline and tend to reinforce each other. They are also taking place at a time of major global power shifts and worrying geopolitical rivalries not only along old ideological divides but also rivalries pitting old against new powers and major powers against middle powers.

In this context, it may all seem for us in Africa that there is little we can do to change. All that we have to do is to try to mitigate the consequences of these multi-crises. We have to remained ourselves that moments of crisis are also opportune moments for changing existing conditions for the better. And that change should not necessarily come from the powerful only. In any case, power is also a matter of how one masters the use of one’s resources and on this we are endowed with not only huge natural resources but also being the largest block in the UN, which gives us, if we speak with one voice, an unparalleled influence in the process for the reform of the system.

For the continent of Africa, this would mean that our collective effort should go beyond presenting a good case for securing the interest of Africa. It should also include articulating proposals on how to reform the multilateral system in a way that also meets the just expectations and needs of the whole of humanity. This challenges us to harness ways of thinking that both attends to and transcends existing faultiness and divisions in the world.

I believe that we are capable of going beyond the usual and mobilizing such a bold thinking. This particular gathering and the process we are launching is meant to help us rise to this challenge and articulate perspectives from the people of Africa on how humanity can achieve the multilateral system and a world that we all want and deserve.

Our founding President Sam Nujoma, has taught that “a united people striving to achieve a common good for all members of the society will always emerge victorious”

I thank you for your attention and wish us all a successful deliberation and follow up high-level process.

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

Address by Ambassador Tekeda Alemu on ‘Africa and the reform of the multilateral system’

One of the signature events on the sidelines of the 36th AU Summit jointly held by the Republic of Namibia and Amani Africa is on ‘Africa and the reform of the multilateral system’. As part of our coverage of some of the key events around the summit, we present in our ‘Ideas Indaba’ the address by Ambassador Tekeda Alemu on the theme of this high-level side-event and its importance. Among others, he argues that ‘it would not make sense to seek those (permanent) two seats for Africa unless member states of the AU have the capacity for a common position on critical international and regional peace and security issues.’    

Address by Ambassador Tekeda Alemu on ‘Africa and the reform of the multilateral system’

Date | 17 February 2023

Dr Tekeda Alemu
Former State Minister of Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the UN Security Council during the joint high-level side-event to the 36th AU Summit on ‘Africa and reform of the multilateral system’

Thanks Prof Murithi, our moderator. I recognize my old friend Basso Sanqu, who in New York was very dynamic and set the tone in the UN Security Council.

I would like to first of all to thank Ambassador Jeobeam Shaanika, who delivered, the very rich and excellent keynote address of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of Namibia. I have taken to heart the contents of the address.

There is little doubt in my mind that at no time in the past has the theme of this meeting – Africa, the new agenda for peace and the reform of the multilateral system – been as urgent as it is today. I believe the statement delivered by Shaanika has risen to the occasion and set the tone for the presentation that will follow.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank our AU colleague Ambassador Fred Ngoga for the opening remark made on behalf of the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, H.E. Ambassador Bankole Adeoye. It was very rich and I must say very educative for me.

I must also express appreciation to Dr Solomon for organizing this event with the Republic of Namibia and for the great effort he has been making to highlight how much the reform of the multilateral system has become so urgent as to become almost an existential imperative for Africa. I have a very deep appreciation for Amani Africa of which he is the founding director.

I must also express with great deal of gratitude and appreciation the dignified and principled manner with which Namibia has been carrying out its pan-Africanist obligation.

Excellency, Dear Moderator,

As I already said, the reform of the multilateral system which is also being prioritized by the UN Secretary-General, as underlined in his Our Common Agenda, is an objective which has increasingly become an urgent matter which can no longer be postponed.

It should be admitted that multilateral governance has placed Africa, more or less, outside of its purview. Nowhere is this more vivid than with respect to international cooperation. One recalls how much the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals were unanimously adopted with great fanfare in 2015. Now, we are at mid-point of the implementation of that agenda which has failed to deliver on the promises made in a number of areas extremely meaningful for Africa and others in the same situation.

One cannot, of course, afford to despair. It is in that light one ought to look at the proposals contained in the UN Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda, all the more since it is said that the eleven policy briefs would offer concrete ideas to advance the work.

Now, we are told that the first brief will ‘address the New Agenda for Peace and Security.’ And it is said, this ‘for a world in transition and a new era of geopolitical competition.’ Equally important is what the brief will be adopting as an approach which will be holistic in the sense of focusing on the peace continuum, from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable long-term development.

It is indeed encouraging, though it is not entirely a novel idea, to put the issue of sustainable long-term development within the peace and security continuum. In the same vein, two other policy briefs seem to encourage hope that perhaps at the level of the UN, there is a more robust realization that multilateralism is losing credibility. The two policy briefs on finance, one focusing on metrics that go beyond GDP, and the second proposal for reform of the global financial architecture seem to show perhaps a new determination to try to repair the damage caused by the failure sustained by the 2030 SDGs.

Coming to the issue of Africa’s longstanding demand for the reform of the UN system with respect to which the reform of the Security Council is the most critical, it has been apparent that not even a small progress has been made since the Ezulweni consensus was formulated by Africa in 2005.

It seems to me there is a great need for Africa to address the challenge in two ways. One is within our domain and it has to do with our own effort to achieve real and tangible unity in pursuing the acceptance by others of the two seats as permanent members and the 5 non-permanent seats by Africa. There is no doubt that there is a feeling among member states, particularly among the permanent members, that, when the chips are down, they could prevail upon some African members to give in.

It is therefore critical that everything possible is done to ensure that Africa stands together on all critical international issues. Of course, it would not make sense to seek those two seats for Africa unless member states of the AU have the capacity for a common position on critical international and regional peace and security issues. That would be the litmus test for our capacity to occupy those seats.

The second is more problematic and requires a lot of diplomatic foot work on the part of both member states and the Commission. It must be clear, and this is not a new discovery, that all countries are driven by their respective national interests, and this is even more true in the case of the permanent members.

Though it may not always be the case, it is nonetheless very wise to be skeptical about the promises of support for the African position. It is critical to analyze the implication of the expansion of the membership of the UN Security Council for each (permanent) member of the body.

From that point of view, it is possible that those who wish for a stalemate might be supportive of the African position from conviction that doing so would discourage movement forward in the intergovernmental negotiation. This would mean that there is a lot of work to be done by member states of the AU as well as by the (AU) Commission with a view for an objective assessment of the position on the matter of the permanent members of the Council.

I have no doubt that the body that (Namibia and Amani Africa) has been trying to create might contribute greatly to this exercise.

I wish us all a most productive conversation.

I thank you.

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

AU summit: Family photo and participation

The 42nd Ordinary Session of the Extraordinary Session of the Executive Council started earlier today. In a matter of a few days, the 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly will be on. In this new contribution to ‘Ideas Indaba’, Solomon Ayele Dersso shares his reflections on how Agenda 2063, the Africa We Want could and should change the Family Photo of the AU Assembly and the level and nature of participation in the AU summit in the way the AU norm banning military coups changed the Family Photo from the OAU times.

AU summit: Family photo and participation

Date | 15 February 2023

Solomon Ayele Dersso, PhD
Founding Director, Amani Africa

It is that time of the year when Addis Ababa plays host to the Heads of State and Government of African Union (AU) member States. Foreign Ministers making up the Executive Council of the AU are first to congregate in Addis Ababa on 15 and 16 February. They have kicked off their meeting earlier today with the opening session.

In a push to assert African agency, the Chairperson of the Executive Council, Senegal’s foreign Minister told participants during the opening session earlier today that Africa expects to ‘be heard, consulted and, most of all, respected in the choices it makes’.

The leaders of AU member states are set to descend on Addis Ababa on 17 February and hold the ordinary session of the Assembly of the AU on 18 and 19 February. The composition of the leaders of the continent which is reflected in the family photo they take after the opening session of the Assembly show that nearly all of them are men. It is only the presence of Tanzanian President restrains observers from concluding that the Assembly is an ‘only men’ club, as former Liberian President Ellon Johnson Sirleaf’s presence did previously.

I don’t know whether to say bless the Tanzanians or praise to God or perhaps both that made possible the ascent of Samia Suluhu Hassan to Tanzania’s presidency that now will shone bright light on the long road ahead to transform the AU Assembly from remaining a ‘men’s only’ club.

I have a dream that one day, hopefully in the time of my daughter’s generation, we will have a family picture of the leaders of the continent that is female dominated and reflective of the average age of people on the continent!

This is not to say that Africa has not made progress. I was at a dinner recently where I was reminded in a conversation about the OAU times and the progress made under the AU. Unlike the OAU times when it was not uncommon for some leaders to pitch at the summit wearing their military uniforms, today all of them smile in front of the camera wearing their suits, curtesy of AU norm banning coups and other unconstitutional changes of government. Indeed, even those who are military leaders who seized power militarily will show up wearing suit rather than their military uniform.

Of course, all five leaders except one who seized power by military coup during 2021/22 are barred from participating at this upcoming summit, they are ostracized for breaching AU’s norm banning coups and other unconstitutional changes of government (to which we should return some other time). This was completely unthinkable during OAU times.

Curious to know the one military strongman who is accorded a privileged treatment of attending the summit despite seizing power unconstitutionally? If you don’t know, are you sure that you are interested in African affairs?

In addition to the gender inclusivity of the AU Assembly, which is of course a function of the gender inclusivity or lack thereof of national politics, attendance in AU summit continues to be a topic of discussion. For example, this is first and foremost an issue for African civil society organizations, who would have liked to seize the occasion for championing specific issues of concern for the wider African public by having a slot for a representative of CSOs to make a statement at the opening session and have interactions with leaders on the corridors of the AU.

I hope that in the slow and challenging but steady progress to achieve agenda 2063, the Africa We Want, we will one day see a representative of African citizens bringing in the voice of African people to Mandela Hall during the opening of the Assembly session. And allow me to also dream that we will also make, as part of the journey to realize agenda 2063, the AU a union also of peoples of Africa and African decent not just that of states and governments!

Access to the AU during the summit is also a subject of discussion among AU partner countries. More so this year. The AU sent a note inviting partner countries to attend the opening session of the summit on the basis of 1+0 representation, signaling to partners not to bother with bringing to Addis Ababa high-level representatives from their capitals. While this means that partner countries would not be able to have interaction with as many leaders as they could around the summit, for the AU this ensures that it spares the leaders from attending the summit with divided attention. Yet, it remains an issue for which workable formula is yet to be found.

It is also curious if this 1+0 invitation has been extended to Israel whose AU observer status has been in dispute, triggering a heads of state and government taskforce for which there is so far no record of any convening since its establishment. In the meantime, the lobbying from Israel is in full swing in Addis Ababa. Come this weekend, we may know if there is any resolution to this dispute, although the AU should not have been put in this situation in the first place considering the many continental issues that it should invest its time and attention on.

The other issue of attendance concerns which of the African leaders will make their pilgrimage to Addis Ababa or delegate it to their minister. This summit is billed to be one that will attract the attendance of large number of African leaders. Even if this were to happen, barring any intervening factors, you should not hold your breath that we will have as many African leaders as those who attended the EU-AU, China-Africa, US-Africa etc summits.

I dearly wish that they all come for their summit, demonstrate their pan-African commitment to the AU and its ideals. And prove me wrong.

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

A New Dawn for AU's Role in Humanitarian Action?

As we continue to profile some of the key items for the 36th AU summit, the latest from ‘Ideas Indaba’ focuses on engagements around humanitarian issues. While these engagements include submission of a report to the Assembly on the state of the humanitarian situation and a ministerial side event, today’s ‘Ideas Indaba’ features the AU Humanitarian Agency, whose Statute is expected to be adopted by the Assembly. This also offers analysis on why this matters.

A New Dawn for AU's Role in Humanitarian Action?

Date | 13 February 2023

Tsion Hagos
Researcher, Amani Africa

In the face of the dire humanitarian crises affecting parts of the continent induced mainly by violent conflicts and in some cases by extreme weather events, one of the highly anticipated events is the expected adoption by 36th African Union (AU) Summit of the Statute of the AU Humanitarian Agency (AHA). This will bring to a close the establishment of the AUHA that was in the making for a number of years. Other activities on humanitarian issues around the summit include the presentation of a report to the summit on the state of the humanitarian situation in Africa, which according to the report has gone worse, and the ministerial side-event on ‘Towards a new humanitarian agenda in Africa’  by Rwanda and Sierra Leone in partnership with Norway, OCHA and IFRC, with a focus on the AU 10 Year Humanitarian Plan of Action taking place on 16 February, ahead of the opening of the Executive Council Session.

While the establishment of an African mechanism charged with undertaking humanitarian activities officially formed part of AU’s agenda in 2016 at the 26th AU Summit, the need to mobilise African capacity to address growing humanitarian needs in the continent was already one of the concerning issues at the forefront of discussions among AU Heads of State and Government, in earlier years. For instance, the Executive Council’s decision in 2010 at its 17th Ordinary Session, to increase member States’ contributions to the Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fund from 2% to 4% [EX.CL/ /Dec.556-599(XVII)] was in recognition of the growing deterioration of humanitarian crises Africa. Similarly, at its 14th Ordinary Session convened in the same year, the AU Assembly noted the need for an African body that can ensure coordination and harmonisation of humanitarian action in the continent [Assembly/AU/Dec.268 – 288 (XIV)].

Experiences in recent years, including the worrying deterioration of the humanitarian situation on the continent, have made it clear that Africa ill affords to deal with the humanitarian situation in a business-as-usual fashion. In an initiative that seeks to shift Africa’s place from being a mere object of global humanitarian action to being an actor in responding to the plight of Africans caught up in humanitarian crises,  in 2016, at its 26th Ordinary Session, the AU Assembly decided to ‘establish an African Humanitarian Agency which should be anchored on regional and national mechanisms and funded with Africa’s own resources’ and requested the AU Commission to ‘embark on the process for the establishment of such an architecture anchored on principles of pan-Africanism and African shared values’ [Assembly/AU/Dec.588-604(XXVI)].

The process for translating this ambition into reality through establishing the AUHA has since been underway. A critical milestone achieved in this regard has been the development of the Draft Statutes of the AUHA articulating the objectives, mandates, functions, operational modalities and overall structure of the agency. After a few years of work and rounds of revisions, the final consideration of the Statute before submission to the Assembly for adoption was during the 8th ordinary session of the Specialized Technical Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs of the AU held on 11 December 2022. While the meeting adopted the Statute, a major proposed change concerned the naming of the entity. The proposal was to change ‘Agency’ to ‘Institution’. In the text of the Statute for presentation to the Executive Council before its consideration for adoption by the Assembly, this change is not reflected.

The rationale for establishing a humanitarian agency of the Union has in fact been an important aspect of the discussions around operationalisation of the AUHA. As emphasised in a 2019 study conducted on the operationalisation of the agency, one critical factor which justifies the need for the establishment of the AUHA is the coordination void faced in the existing humanitarian response framework. For instance, while the AU has already instituted various structures such as the Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) that can and are playing major role to respond to natural disaster and crises, there is absence of clear modalities for coordination between these mechanisms.

Similarly, implementation of normative standards on humanitarian issues including the OAU Refugee Convention, the Kampala Convention and the AU Humanitarian Policy Framework can benefit from a more organised and coordinated approach in order to be more impactful. The need to respond to humanitarian disasters in a coordinated manner also becomes more apparent as the nature of crises in the continent growingly turns to be more complex and compounded, adding impetus to the operationalisation of the AUHA. In addition to advancing coordination of existing mechanisms and normative standards, the agency is also expected to allow a well synchronised humanitarian response at the national, regional and continental levels through harmonisation of efforts between member States, Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs) and the AU.

Further to playing a critical role in ensuring coordination, the AUHA would also contribute considerably towards supporting the global humanitarian system which is often regarded as being ‘over-stretched’. Not only that, but having an agency which is founded upon continental policy and legal frameworks and which is ‘anchored on principles of pan-Africanism, solidarity and African shared values’ is also crucial to boost sense of ownership and commitment among African stakeholders. The war in Ukraine which broke out in February 2022 showed how humanitarian operations in Africa can easily suffer due to shifting of aid budget among major contributing countries.

In addition to filling in these gaps, the AUHA can also be deployed towards approaching humanitarian assistance in a manner that is both preventive and responsive. For the most part, humanitarian efforts in the continent are deployed in reaction to full-scale disasters and suffering, most of which could, at the very least, be minimised, if not averted, if timely and effective early warning and preventive action is taken. This applies in cases of both manmade and natural disasters and further to minimising the human cost, environmental damage and collapse of economies, a proactive preventive approach based on effective early warning system is also less costly than responding to an already aggravated humanitarian crisis.

It is against this background that a significant preventive role is assigned to the AUHA in the Statute for instance be the development and implementation of anticipatory tools for crisis preparedness and early action. Indeed, the first of the objectives of AUHA is to ‘prevent humanitarian crises through early warning for timely response to situations that may result in humanitarian crises’. In terms of armed conflicts which continue to cause the greatest humanitarian crises on the continent, the agency, in close coordination with the continental early warning system (CEWS), could for example take on the role of actively anticipating hotspots expected to experience highest loss of human life and damage to property in countries that show clear signs of looming full-blown conflicts. In case of climate change and natural disasters too, the agency can undertake a similar preparedness and early action role in collaboration with pre-existing mechanisms.

Another area of major value addition of the agency could be in advancing humanitarian diplomacy. As we have argued in our policy brief on the AU humanitarian summit in May 2022, one of the gaps in responding to conflicts relates to the use of humanitarian diplomacy as part of the tool box for responding to conflicts in Africa. The leadership of AUHA on humanitarian diplomacy would fill in a major gap and can contribute hugely to mitigating suffering by facilitating early negotiations with conflicting parties on unhindered humanitarian access, full observation and compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights principles.

While its importance therefore remains beyond doubt, the effective operation and functioning of the AUHA is more than likely to face considerable challenges when it comes to securing sustainable and sufficient funds. As specified in the Draft Statutes and in accord with the central objective of creating an African owned humanitarian agency, the AUHA’s budget is to be borne by the AU. This means the agency’s main source of financing comes from member States’ contributions. While emphasizing contribution from member states, the Draft Statutes already acknowledge the need for securing funding from outside sources, through voluntary contributions from member States, private sector contributions and contributions from AU partners. Also worth considering is as further resourceful African base to explore for funding the agency could be the African diaspora community.

No doubt it is better to resolve the main source of humanitarian crises on the continent than invest in deploying humanitarian action. Yet, while working on such long-term structural solutions such as the effective operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which is the thematic focus of the AU for 2023, the establishment of this agency is a demonstration of responsibility by the AU. With the AU in its report to this upcoming summit indicating that Africa alone accounts for 11.6 million newly Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the world triggered by conflict and violence- the highest figure ever recorded, the need for this agency, if anything, is long overdue. One hopes that it will prove its value.

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’

Is the AU addressing the challenges to effective enforcement of its norm banning Unconstitutional Changes of government?

The 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly will be held on 18-19 February preceded by the 42nd Ordinary Session of the Executive Council on 15-16. As part of covering this years summit, we profile some key issues and events around the summit. In the light of the democratic regression the continent, like other parts of the world, is experiencing, one event we wish to profile is the 2023 Africa Governance Report expected to be tabled and adopted by the Assembly. The thematic focus of the 2023 African Governance Report by the African Peer Review Mechanism is unconstitutional changes of government. The think piece below seeks to offer reflection on an aspect of this theme.

Is the AU addressing the challenges to effective enforcement of its norm banning unconstitutional changes of government?

Date | 10 February 2023

Part I

Solomon Ayele Dersso, PhD
Founding Director, Amani Africa

Tsion Hagos
Researcher, Amani Africa

In 2021, Africa experienced what the UN Secretary General termed ‘epidemic of coups’. It was in 2021 for the first time in the 20 years of operation of the AU that the AU suspended four of its member states in one calendar year. During 2021-2022, Africa has experienced six instances of military seizure of power. If one adds to the list attempted coups or plots of coups reported by states, there were a total of 14 instances of successful coups, attempted coups and plots of coups on the continent during 2021 and 2022.

While there are a number of factors that account for this ‘epidemic of coups’ as discussed in fair details (here and here), some of these are specific to the gaps in both the AU norm banning unconstitutional changes of government (UCG) and in its enforcement.

One major gap in the norm is the lack of criteria and mechanism for determining the occurrence of one of the instances of unconstitutional changes of government stipulated in Article 23(5) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) – ‘any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government’ manipulation of term limits or ‘constitutional coups’. This is critical considering that the Peace and Security Council, AU’s highest standing decision-making body on matters of peace and security and constitutional governance, deemed ‘manipulation of national constitutions to extend term limits’ as one of the issues threatening peace and security on the continent. The other gap is the absence of clear criteria on conditions that should be met for the lifting of suspension of a country from the AU for UCG. 

The lacunae in enforcement of the ban on UCG involves both the predictability of the process for applying suspension from AU and/or the consistency of the PSC in applying suspension and AU member states commitment to fully uphold the principle of zero tolerance to UCG and the application of suspension against states where UCG takes place without distinction.

It is to be recalled that this epidemic of coups triggered a plethora of policy actions on the part of the AU. While the PSC has been the main site of such actions, it has also led to actions at the level also of AU’s highest decision making body, the Assembly of the AU. Following its decision in January 2022 for convening a continental forum on UCG, the PSC convened the Accra Forum on UCG in March 2022. This continental forum, which brought together AU member States, AU organs, Regional Economic Communities/Mechanisms, constitutional experts and CSOs including research organizations, produced the Accra Declaration on UCG, which the PSC adopted in one of its sessions subsequently.

At the level of the AU Assembly, it took a decision in February 2022 that it would convene an extraordinary summit which would have as one of its focus this upsurge of UCG on the continent. Accordingly, on 28 May 2022, the Assembly held its 16th extraordinary summit which as part of its declaration addressed the spike in the incidents of UCG, which, among others, endorsed the Accra Declaration.

The review of the plethora of policy activities shows that the AU has started to address the gaps in the enforcement of AU’s norm banning UCG, albeit progress remains uneven, slow and partially adequate.

The Accra Declaration, as endorsed by the AU Assembly, for example expresses the commitment to comprehensively address factors which lead to UCG, including manipulation of democratic processes to tamper with constitutions and effecting amendments to electoral laws within a short span before the elections and without the consent of the majority of political actors and in violation of the stipulated national democratic principles, rules and procedures for constitutional amendment.’ In this respect beyond appealing ‘to Member States to respect their respective Constitutions, especially adherence to presidential term limits and to organize free, fair, transparent and credible elections in line with national laws and international norms, as well as respecting the outcomes of election,’ the Accra Declaration, stressed the need for the AU to finalise and adopt the AU guidelines on the amendment of constitutions in Africa based on the AU’s existing laws, policies and practice relating to constitutionalism and rule of law.’

Considering the continuing challenge of manipulation of constitutional amendments for extending term limits or removing constitutional term limits, the process towards the adoption of the guidelines on amendment of constitutions remains slow. While the development and eventual adoption of the guidelines helps towards addressing manipulation of constitutional amendments for extending or removing term limits, the effectiveness of these guidelines in this respect depends on whether they provide the PSC with clear and implementable criteria for determining the occurrence of UCG under Article 23(5) of the ACDEG.

In terms of the Malabo Declaration, apart from the endorsement of the Accra Declaration, the most important element relates to what the Assembly outcome document said about commitment of member states to the norm banning UCG. As advocated in Amani Africa’s various works including the policy brief published ahead of and targeting the Malabo summit, the Declaration not only ‘unequivocally condemn all forms of unconstitutional changes of government’ and reiterated member states ‘zero tolerance’ in this respect but also recommitted member states to total adherence to ACDEG and the Lomé Declaration. This is particularly important given that the lack of strong consensus and support for AU norms by member states are among the factors for the weakening of the efficacy of the sanctions in 2021.

The translation of this reaffirmation of zero tolerance to any form of UCG into action by applying the rule consistently is the litmus test for demonstrating the firmness of the commitment of states. After all, as the old saying holds, the test of the pudding is in the eating!

The content of this article does not represent the views of Amani Africa and reflect only the personal views of the authors who contribute to ‘Ideas Indaba’