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Op-ed: AU reform - A test for collaboration between the AU and the RECs


By Niagalé Bagayoko (PhD) and Mpako Foaleng (PhD)*

According to key AU policy documents, including its Constitutive Act, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are the building blocks on peace and security related matters. RECs are acknowledged in the 2002 Peace and Security Council (PSC) Protocol[1] as part of the overall continental peace and security architecture. The AU recognizes eight RECs[2] with which in 2008, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation to provide a framework to coordinate their activities according to the principles of subsidiarity, complementarity and comparative advantage. Yet, for effective collaboration in the realm of peace and security, the division of labour between the AU and the RECs should be clarified and specified given how generic terms such as subsidiarity and coordination could be. Mindful of this challenge, in the framework of the current institutional reform, the AU should envisage to further refine the division of labour with RECs. However, such clarification processes should take into consideration the current status of individual RECs with regard to their engagement on peace and security related matters.


As a matter of principle, RECs should be the leading stakeholders in peace and security policies given the commonality of security challenges and threats faced by Member States at the sub-regional level, while the AU should focus on issues that are continental in scope. The governance and reform of the security sector is an example of one area that could help identify some of the potential bottlenecks in the implementation of the AU’s institutional reform. Indeed, in the 2013 Policy Framework on Security Sector Reform (AUPFSSR), the AU engages RECs to develop regional frameworks to assist Member States to comply with its own policy. According to the principle of regional ownership, the RECs are presented as having a primary stake in their Member States vis-à-vis other external organizations or bilateral partners. The AUPFSSR also engages RECs to assist the AU in developing SSR standards and to provide financial support for the building of institutional capacity, integrated monitoring and evaluation systems linked to early warning, regional and continental situation analysis. If all RECs are to comply with the AUPFSSR provisions, this could pave the way for stronger African ownership of the peace and security agenda. However, with different trajectories between the RECs, there are important gaps in their compliance with the AU directives which should not be overlooked.


ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has undoubtedly been more responsive to building a common security agenda, encapsulated in a number of protocols and policy documents.[3] In addition, the nature of West African responses to security challenges has been characterized by the deployment of regional military forces (mainly army and air force), to mostly tackle national and cross-border armed conflicts. In 2016, ECOWAS adopted a Policy Framework for Security Sector Reform and Governance (SSRG). This document goes beyond the technical dimension of developing SSR policies and lays emphasis on Democratic Security Governance, seeking to make security institutions governable and accountable with several layers of oversight. The ECOWAS SSG Strategy mirrors the AUPFSSR in many ways.


The IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) Peace and Security Strategy (2016 – 2020) recognizes that no region in Africa is more plagued with protracted violent conflicts than the IGAD region, as attested by the presence of four United Nations and African Union peace support operations with more than 50,000 troops. IGAD is also plagued by a wide range of security threats including Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), human trafficking, piracy, terrorism and disputed boundaries, necessitating greater regional security collaboration. To address such challenges, the IGAD Peace and Security Strategy developed four broad programmatic areas.[4] However, the region has not yet developed an SSR Policy as such in line with the AUPFSSR.


At the ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States) level, important security structures such as the Early Warning Mechanism, the Multinational Force of Central Africa and Interregional Coordination Centre on maritime security have been set up while a number of documents concerning the security sector have also been developed.[5] However, ECCAS has not yet consolidated all the aforementioned documents within a common policy framework as provided for by the AUPFSSR.


In practice, very few policies are being implemented. Most African states have tended to demonstrate limited compliance with existing SSR/G Frameworks in particular or generally with the regional security protocols aforementioned. This is why defence and security institutions largely remain unaccountable on the way they respond to the security needs of states and citizens. The lack of endogenous funding to support the implementation of SSR/G policies, currently mostly funded by Western partners or by international organizations, also places a profound question mark on the reality of African sovereignty in the security realm.


The examples of ECOWAS, IGAD and ECCAS on the implementation of the AUPFSSR highlight that the ongoing AU institutional reform should put emphasis on promoting regional, interregional dialogue and experience sharing, not least to feed into the continental agenda. Fostering existing continental and regional policy frameworks should serve as the basis to reinforce cooperation between African states, whereas setting up of platforms for experience sharing should also be seen as a priority in the implementation of the reforms.


*Mpako Foaleng (PhD) and Niagalé Bagayoko (PhD) are senior experts on security sector reform and governance.

[1] Article 16 of the PSC Protocol stipulates that with respect to conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding, there shall be regular exchange of information, close harmonization, coordination, cooperation and effective partnership between the PSC and the Regional Mechanisms.

[2] These include: CEN-SAD – Community of Sahel-Saharan States, COMESA – Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, EAC – East African Community, ECCAS – Economic Community of Central African States, ECOWAS – Economic Community of West African States, IGAD – Intergovernmental Authority on Development, SADC – Southern African Development Community, UMA - Union du Maghreb Arabe.

[3] These include the 1999 Protocol relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security; the 2001 Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance; the 2006 Convention on small arms and light weapons.

[4] These include the Conflict Prevention Management and Resolution; Transnational Security Threats; Governance, Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights and Post-conflict reconstruction and development, and Humanitarian Affairs

[5] These include the Code of Conduct for Armed and Security Forces in Central Africa (adopted in 2009), the Central African Convention for the Control of SALW, their Ammunition and All Parts and Components (entered into force on the 8 March 2017), the Protocol on the Peace and Security Council in Central Africa, or the ECCAS Strategy against terrorism.

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