Peace and security in Africa should not be seen as an exclusive domain of African Union (AU) institutions only. African citizens are those directly affected by violent conflict and instability.
As George Mukundi Wachira, head of the African Governance Architecture (AGA) Secretariat notes, “The AU’s principle normative framework – the Constitutive Act – provides the basis for the AU’s unequivocal alignment with African citizens’ demands.” Indeed, one of the principles of the Constitutive Act expressly provides for “participation of the African peoples in the activities of the Union.” Citizens, civil society and non-state and non-governmental actors have an important role to operationalise this principle.
The African Peace & Security Architecture (APSA) is Africa’s first and foremost structure for decision-making on peace and security issues on the continent. The APSA is not a monolith, but a complex system of institutions, with different entry points for civil society and citizens to engage with continental policy and decision makers.
The APSA is anchored upon the Peace & Security Council (PSC), the AU’s sole decision-making body and is supported by the African Union Commission. A Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) provides the PSC with information on potential escalation or risk of conflict. The African Standby Force (ASF) is expected to establish five regional standby brigades in the five region of Africa (North, South, West, East and Central), comprising both military and police personnel. Lastly, the African Peace Fund (APF) funds the operationalisation of the APSA.
Efforts have been made to bring these continental institutions closer to African citizens, and vice versa. In May 2013, AU leaders approved the Obasanjo Report which discussed alternative sources of financing for the AU, and suggested, in addition to hotel and air fare levies, an SMS levy, a duty on mobile phone text messaging.
A large bulk of the AU’s funding goes towards peace and security. The SMS levy could raise as much as 1.6 billion dollars by 2017. Through this, African citizens would be directly contributing to the AU budget and they deserve to know where the money flows. More stable and predictable funding (including through the African Peace Fund) is urgently needed to address the complexity and unpredictability of African security challenges. Delays to funding AU missions across the continent, as was the case in Mali in 2012, have a direct effect on citizens and undermine the axiom of “African solutions to African problems”.
Using citizens’ perceptions of peace and security issues to increase transparency and accountability by the PSC is one area where civil society can play a role as non-state actors at the continental level. The Afrobarometer survey collects data on levels of political risk in countries based on citizens’ perception of democracy and governance.
These data, that highlight what matters to the everyday Africans, should inform civil society engagement with the AU on issues of peace and security. In 2003, the AU’s legitimacy among Africans, when measured by the percentage of Africans that are aware of the existence of the organisation, was remarkably low.
After more than a decade since its establishment, do Africans know more about the AU?
Changing the current situations where peace and security is largely discussed within the confines of APSA institutions requires moving the discussions away from strictly focusing on high-level panels to platforms where ordinary citizens can directly engage. Social media could (partly) serve this purpose.
The AU has already embraced social media as a means of communication. But it is increasingly used as a means of engagement too. Africans are increasingly active on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Kenyans used Twitter to crowdsource questions that they think the Kenyan government should answer following terrorists attacks in Nairobi.
How can Africans reach out to AU institutions and use social media platforms to address conflict, instability and fragility?
Respect for human rights in AU-led peace and security operations also requires civil society engagement to ensure strict adherence to internationally accepted rules of engagement. There is evidence that AU forces in Somalia have been involved in sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls in refugee camps. In Nigeria, counter terrorist operations by the Nigerian army against Boko Haram have led to human rights violation of non-combatants in conflict zones.
Human rights violations, both by AU peace support operations and AU member states’ armed forces risk contravening the PSC Protocol, which stipulates that the AU should act to prevent crimes against humanity on the continent. This means that civil society should be able to engage actors within the APSA institutions on issues such as human rights violations. In doing so, civil society contributes to the legitimacy of the AU by demanding the organisation to act on issues of human rights violations that directly affect Africans in conflict areas.
Another under-explored avenue for civil society engagement at the continental level on issues of peace and security are the Open Sessions held by the PSC. Civil society in Africa already participates in the peace and security cluster of the Economic, Social & Cultural Council (ECOSOCC). The ECOSOCC functions as an advisory body to the AU.
But civil society and NGO’s also deserve a central role in these PSC Open Sessions. Their participation would allow civil society organisations, from across the continent, not only those based in Addis Abeba, to directly interact with AU ambassadors, the AU Commission and each other. Last month, an Open Session of the PSC was held on natural resources and conflicts in Africa, with a presentation by the Oxfam Representative to the AU and statements by international organisations and civil society organisations. The Open Session received considerable media attention and was well-received. Civil society deserves this platform and level of engagement.
Progress has been made since the establishment of the APSA in 2014, but more is to be gained from civil society engagement in peace and security. The AU needs to engage with civil society in Africa and vice versa, to establish a much needed connection between the its institutions and citizens in towns and villages across Africa.