In Hindsight: Financing African Union-Led Peace Support Operations
By the end of April, the United Nations Secretary-General will publish a report on the financing of African Union (AU)-led peace support operations (AUPSOs). By our count, this will be the eighth major report or review on financing AUPSOs since 2007, when the AU first formally requested the UN to examine the possibility of funding such operations from UN-assessed contributions. It has remained an unresolved issue in the relationship between the UN and the AU even as the UN Security Council has adopted five resolutions and eight presidential statements since 2008 recognising the need to provide “adequate, predictable and sustainable” funding for AU peace operations.
The way the Security Council discusses this issue has evolved, with Council members increasingly acknowledging the AU’s proactive role on matters of peace and security in Africa, including its enhanced capacity to respond expeditiously to conflict and crises on the continent—particularly through deploying peace support operations. But despite advances in recent years, the AU’s Achilles heel is its lack of adequate resources to support and sustain these operations.
Proponents of securing UN-assessed contributions for AUPSOs have reason to sense fresh momentum in 2023. After a previous push for a Security Council resolution in 2018 was derailed partly by disunity, the AU recently adopted a “consensus paper” on the issue. Worldwide geopolitical shifts now foreground Global South priorities, and especially those put forward by African states, more than they have in recent years. The US administration, which under former President Donald Trump had threatened to veto the 2018 draft resolution, is actively courting Africa. And finally, AUPSOs may hold out the prospect of responding to several governments’ preference for external forces that will deploy quickly and play combat roles, demands that traditional UN peacekeeping cannot meet.
Background and History
In 2002, the AU set up a Peace Fund, as part of its African Peace and Security Architecture, to finance the organisation’s peace and security activities. The funds it mobilised nonetheless fell far short of the significant resources needed to support and sustain AUPSOs. The AU continued relying on external donors, particularly the EU, but recognised the difficulties of supporting and sustaining AUPSOs solely through ad hoc financial and logistical arrangements.
Since the AU’s 2007 request for UN-assessed funds for AUPSOs, the African members of the UN Security Council (the A3) have tried, individually and collectively, to advance this discussion. As well, two major reports—the 2008 Report of the AU-UN panel on modalities for support to AU peacekeeping operations (the Prodi Report) and the 2015 report of the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (the HIPPO report)—supported the AU’s quest by recommending the use of UN-assessed contributions on a case-by-case basis to provide support to AUPSOs. The AU also took a landmark decision during its 2016 Summit in Kigali to revitalise its peace fund to enable the AU to finance its peace and security activities, including 25 percent of its peace operations budget.
The A3 used the momentum generated by these developments to advance the financing issue in the Council, which adopted two resolutions reflecting the Council’s willingness to consider proposals for support to future AU-led peace support operations through UN-assessed contributions. Resolution 2320 of 18 November 2016, on cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations, and resolution 2378 of 20 September 2017, on peacekeeping reform, expressed the Council’s readiness to take practical steps to support AUPSOs, but also stressed the need for the AU to fulfil several administrative, financial, and other conditions, including compliance with AU and UN norms and international obligations, to access support through UN-assessed contributions.
Actions Since 2018
In 2018, the A3 (then consisting of Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, and Equatorial Guinea) proposed a draft resolution laying out the principle and framework for translating the Council’s commitment into action. The draft text placed in blue in December 2018 had the support of most Council members but was never put to a vote because the United States threatened to cast its veto. In 2019, South Africa joined the Council and tried to initiate negotiations on a resolution, but the AUPSC called on the A3 (then also including Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea) to suspend their efforts until the AU developed a common position on outstanding issues raised during the negotiations, including burden-sharing, accountability and compliance frameworks, planning and oversight mechanisms, and reporting systems.
This was followed by a nearly two-year lull in discussion of the financing of AU-led peace support operations. The change of administration in the United States in 2021 seemed to rekindle a sense of hope for advancing the discussion in the Security Council. In 2022, the challenges that larger UN peacekeeping operations in Africa faced in their relations with host countries and communities also injected new dynamism into the discourse. At the same time, there were increasing calls for robust regional and international engagement to deal with the threats posed by terrorists and other armed groups in countries where these peacekeeping operations are deployed. Changing geopolitical dynamics on the continent—including the increasing tendency by some African countries to rely on mercenary groups such as the Wagner Group, a Russian private security company—have also created serious concerns on the part of the United States and its allies. As a result, some Council members seem to have grown more inclined to favour UN support to AUPSOs.
The financing issue has been a focus of formal and informal Council meetings since the second half of 2022 and was raised at the annual meeting of the Security Council and the AUPSC in October 2022 in New York, as well as the annual UN-AU conference between the leaderships of the two organisations in Addis Ababa in December 2022. Following a debate on peace and security in Africa facilitated by the Chinese presidency in August 2022, the Council adopted a presidential statement which, among other things, requested the Secretary-General to provide the Security Council, by 30 April 2023, a report on progress made by the UN and the AU to fulfil the commitments set out in resolutions 2320 and 2378.
Meanwhile, the AU elaborated its position on issues surrounding the financing of AUPSOs in a “consensus paper on predictable, adequate, and sustainable financing for AU peace and security activities” endorsed during the 36th AU Summit held in Addis Ababa in February 2023. This is understood as paving the way for the current A3 (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) now to pick up negotiations on a UN Security Council resolution on the financing issue.
Security Council Dynamics Around the Hard Questions
Among the A3, Ghana appears to be willing to take the lead in advancing the financing discussion in the Council and may propose a substantive resolution later this year. First, the A3 may coordinate with other like-minded members to convene a formal Council meeting to discuss the Secretary-General’s April report.
While negotiations on a substantive resolution are likely to build on the work done in the past, the 2018 and 2019 discussions left a number of issues unresolved, including burden-sharing, accountability and compliance frameworks, planning and oversight mechanisms, and reporting systems. In recent years, the AU has been working towards enhancing its human rights compliance framework with the support of the UN and other partners. The issue of burden sharing may present a tougher problem. Whereas some members would want to see the AU contributing 25 percent of each AUPSO requesting support from UN-assessed contributions, the consensus paper foresees the AU’s 25 percent contribution going towards its peace and security activities as a whole, including mediation and preventive diplomacy, institutional capacity, and peace support operations. This proposition—under which individual AUPSOs might not receive 25 percent AU funding—may prove unsatisfactory to some Council members, who maintain that such a commitment is critical to securing the Council’s support and that the AU can seek other bilateral and multilateral support to make up for any mission-specific shortfalls.
Another contentious issue is likely to be the AU’s broader definition of AUPSOs. The consensus paper envisages that various types of operations deployed by regional mechanisms would benefit from access to UN-assessed contributions. While this corresponds to the growing calls by African countries and regions for robust regional and international engagement to deal with the serious security threats posed by terrorists and other armed groups, some Council members would prefer to limit the financing discussion to peace support operations deployed under AU authority and management. They remain extremely reluctant to provide support to African counter-terrorism operations through the UN because of accountability and oversight issues, preferring to continue channelling their support through bilateral arrangements. Others are concerned about compromising the basic principles of UN peacekeeping—consent of the parties, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defence and defence of the mandate.
Possible Forms of UN Support
In 2017, the Secretary-General presented options for support to peacekeeping in Africa that included voluntary contributions through a UN-managed trust fund, a subvention in exceptional emergency situations, joint financing of a jointly developed budget, the establishment of a UN support office, or joint financing of a hybrid mission. His upcoming report is likely to focus on some of these options.
In its consensus paper, the AU indicates its preference for the hybrid and the support office options. The AU believes that the hybrid option guarantees predictable and sustainable funding, but it also requires a high degree of UN-AU coordination on planning, decision-making, management, and oversight, including shared political analysis of the conflict situation. Some of these issues created challenges for the sole hybrid experience in Africa to date, the UN-AU Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID: the Secretary-General’s report on lessons learned from the experience of UNAMID (S/2021/1099) notes that “achieving the necessary alignment on a common vision and political direction between the Security Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council proved challenging because of diverging views among the membership of the Councils.”
The support office option appears relatively attractive to both the UN and the AU. In the case of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)/African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), the UN provides a logistical support package, whereas the AU would also seek troop allowances.
The complications underlying AU access to UN-assessed contributions appear to be threefold: doctrinal (that UN resources cannot be used to fight counter-terrorism operations); accountability and oversight (that the AU meet the necessary financial, administrative, and accountability standards), and burden-sharing (that the AU contribute 25 percent to finance AUPSOs). As described above, the AU’s broader definition of AUPSOs, which also includes various types of operations deployed by regional mechanisms, is likely to be controversial. Some members would be reluctant for UN-assessed contributions to be used to support counter-terrorism operations that are not overseen by or accountable to the UN and compromise the organisation’s core peacekeeping tenets.
Regarding accountability and oversight, the AU continues to work towards fulfilling the requirements set out in resolutions 2320 and 2378 with the support of the UN and other partners; some Council members are likely to insist on the AU taking further steps, while others may argue on the need for the Council to show some flexibility.
The nature of burden sharing may become a red line issue for some members, notably the arrangement described in the consensus paper whereby the AU would fund 25 percent of its peace and security activities as a whole, rather than for each individual AUPSO.
Despite the renewed momentum on the financing of AUPSOs, questions surrounding burden sharing, accountability and peace operations doctrine may still cloud prospects for reaching agreement in 2023. Council members will be under pressure, however, from the prevailing security challenges in Africa and the changing global geopolitical dynamics.
 In mid-April, Security Council Report will publish a research report (available at www.securitycouncilreport.org) which traces the evolution of the financing issue and discusses the options for UN support for AUPSOs in greater detail.
 Report of the Secretary-General on the relationship between the UN and regional organisations, in particular the AU, in the maintenance of international peace and security (S/2008/186); Report of the Secretary-General on the support to AU peacekeeping operations authorised by the UN (S/2009/470); Report of the Secretary-General on the joint African Union-UN review of available mechanisms to finance and support AU peace support operations authorised by the UN Security Council (S/2016/809); Report of the Secretary-General on options for authorisation and support for AU peace support operations (S/2017/454); Report of the Secretary-General on strengthening the partnership between the UN and the AU on issues of peace and security in Africa, including the work of the UN Office to the AU (S/2018/678); Report of the AU-UN panel on modalities for support to AU peacekeeping operations (S/2008/813); Report of the Secretary-General on the future of UN peace operations: implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (S/2015/682).