AU reform as a gateway to strengthened relations with RECs
The reform process presents a good opportunity for RECs to start a dialogue with the Institutional Reform Units at the AU in order to inform the way forward.
20 September 2017
14 September 2017 – IPSS, in collaboration with the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU), hosted a briefing session on ‘Enhancing Partnerships between the AU and RECs in Peace and Security’. The session was the first in a series of joint events with UNOAU following the signing of an MoU between the two organizations in June 2016.
The session gathered approximately 50 participants to discuss two key thematic areas: i) the current working relationship between Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the African Union (AU), including lessons learned and best practices going forward, ii) the AU reform process led by President Kagame, which places an emphasis on “clarifying the division of labour between AU, RECs/RMs, member states and other continental organizations”.
The session was moderated by Seth Appiah-Mensah, Chief of Mission, Support Planning Section at UNOAU. Principal contributors were Colonel Nurudeen Azeez, Head of Operational Planning and Advisory at UNOAU; Raheemat Momodou, Head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Liaison Office to the AU; Zinurine Alghali, Senior Policy Officer in the Peace Support Operations Department (PSOD) of the AU; Colonel Mohamed Abdelrehim, North African Regional Capability (NARC) Liaison Office to the AU; Dr. Njikam Theodore, Head of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Liaison Office to the AU; and Tigist Hailu, PR and Communications Officer at the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) Conflict Early Warning and Response Mechanism (CEWARN).
Progress has been made but there remain many challenges
Alghali highlighted the issue of subsidiarity, noting that the Kagame Report, titled ‘The Imperative to Strengthen our Union’, places a strong emphasis on shared responsibility. This requires a functionalist approach that looks into why the RECs were originally created and their evolving role from primarily economic formations to serving as key building blocks for peace and security on the continent. He also stated that partnerships between the AU and RECs should go beyond Secretariat-to-Secretariat and Commission-to-Commission relations as there needs to be political engagement and agreement to ensure implementation at the Secretariat and Commissioner levels. Third, he emphasized the need to take note of trends and trajectories of the Peace and Security Council (PSC), particularly new ways in which member states arrange to work together. He also noted the growing prominence of adhoc security initiatives, which are arising from the need to interrogate whether these formations undermine the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) or increase its capacity.
Momodou (ECOWAS), who joined the meeting via teleconference, weighed in on the above points, arguing that indeed Secretariat-to-Secretariat relations have improved but there remains much to be done about the working relationship between the PSC and RECs. She elaborated that RECs are often excluded from key meetings yet meaningful responses to peace and security challenges cannot be made without involving the regions in which they occur. She further underscored that a collective response to such challenges should be the underlying approach.
A representative of the Chinese mission to Ethiopia agreed with these sentiments, stating that the limited resources available to the continent require the AU and RECs to pursue greater coordination, rather than competition.
Col. Abdelrehim shared the challenges from the NARC perspective, arguing that member states are individually facing unique challenges and levels of instability, making it difficult for them to unify their joint working relationship with the AU.
Placing RECs in the context of peace and security in Africa
Diana Baker, Political Affairs Officer at UNOAU, raised the recurring issue of how the AU is supposed to partner with RECs when they are structurally different and are at different stages of development. Unfortunately, the MoU between the AU and RECs appears to be a one size fits all document.
Momodou added that the uneven development of RECs is not a barrier if there is clarity about the business of the relationships with the AU. Such an understanding requires institutional grounding to ensure an end to the duplication of efforts. She further recommended that conversations between the two should be frank and foster a shared understanding with the purpose of promoting coordination amongst RECs, in order for a better collective relationship with the AU to develop. Additionally, she strongly advocated for greater access for RECs in meetings, particularly those held by the PSC.
The AU reform process: An opportunity to strengthen relations
The AU reform process was identified as an opportune gateway through which stronger relationships could be developed. Olla Hassan, Senior Political Officer at the AU Peace and Security Department, urged RECs to be proactive and work together to develop a position paper that outlines current challenges, details ways through which they can be better represented and involved with the work of the AU, as well as propose the best way forward during the reform process. If realized, this paper would be handed to the AU Institutional Reforms Unit.
Dr. Theodore (ECCAS) argued that the reform process not only speaks to AU organs, but that meaningful reform starts and ends with Heads of State. Their commitment will ultimately determine the success of the reform process. It was further established that there is no shortage of protocols or instruments - member states therefore need to take up full responsibility. In response to this, Baker added that partnerships should focus on practices, not solely protocols.
Hailu (IGAD) suggested that the strengthening of relationships is a progressive and incremental process. It requires everyone to be on the same page, for each REC to identify its comparative advantage and for the AU to determine whether it sees the RECs as capacable of fulfilling such a role.
Appiah-Mensah summarized the discussion by noting that implementation was a recurring issue and for this to change, it will require greater political will. The current relationship between the AU and RECs is not built in a spirit of subsidiarity. For this to be improved, the AU should try to relate more to the RECs the way it expects other international organizations to do with their own institution.
He further highlighted the need for the AU to pursue differentiated approaches, as opposed to a one size fits all relationship with the RECs. The reform process presents a good opportunity for RECs to start a dialogue with the Institutional Reforms Unit at the AU in order to inform the way forward. Member states, particularly through their Heads of State remain primarily responsible. Capacity development of both the AU and RECs should also be a priority. Finally, the strengthening of the RECs may allow for better resource mobilization in order to fill the funding gap of peace and security initiatives.