Between May 2001 and July 2002,Africa’s political leaders created the African Union. They also established a number of institutions, including the AU Peace and Security Council (launched in 2004), which comprise the African Union Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). The AU and regional economic communities have become major actors in international peace support operations: they have become the first responders to security crises and armed conflicts, the initiators of the political process of mandating peace support operations, and the largest troop contributors.

Africa is the location of the majority of the world's peace support operations. Today, ten of the seventeen UN peace support operations are in Africa, comprising 86,511 uniformed and international civilian personnel (80% of the global total) and costing $6,455 million (83% of the global total). In addition, the AU has mou

nted peace support operations, in Burundi, Darfur, Somalia and Central African Republic, ECOWAS

has been active in several West African countries, SADC countries have contributed an intervention brigade to MONUSCO in DRC, and IGAD is establishing an operation in South Sudan. Each of these missions has had a different relationship to the United Nations.

African political and diplomatic efforts have been at the forefront of responses to political and security crises on the continent. The African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan and South Sudan has been active since 2009. African leaders routinely respond with immediate political initiatives to non-constitutional changes in government.

These facts indicate the importance of Africa to UN peace missions, and commensurately, the importance of African views on peace missions being fully represented in any future plans for reforms of peace support operations. Africa's involvement in peace missions, including both their political and military dimensions, has therefore been transformed in the fourteen years since the report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (the Brahimi Report) in 2000. During those years, Africa has grown to be a major strategic partner in international peace support operations.

During this period, peace operations in Africa have undergone three major changes. Each of these components warrants research, analysis, and practical recommendations.

  • First, the African Union has become a major player, and Africa’s Regional Economic Communities (RECs) have also become more active. Consequently, there are more complex institutional and legal arrangements for peace support operations. Today we see a complicated mixture of different kinds of peace-related missions: a “variable geometry” that includes the UN, the African Union, Africa’s RECs, and deployments by individual countries or coalitions, some African and some non-African. There are various forms of hybrid mission. These involve new sets of financial and legal arrangements, and new political opportunities, constraints and incentives. Some of the issues that arise include contests over which international forum determines policy, and what should be the role of peacekeepers from neighboring countries in peace enforcement missions. Perhaps the most fundamental issue, however, is the political element in designing and mandating peace support operations, and the relationship between political considerations and technical and financial ones.
  • Second, is the relationship between peace support and conflict resolution. These variable-geometry missions are deployed in circumstances in which, as a general rule, there is no peace to keep. Their roles therefore include peace enforcement (pacification, counter-insurgency), counter-terrorism, and the imposition of governance structures. They therefore operate alongside ongoing and contested political mediation, which include negotiations over security arrangements and local peacemaking efforts. The mandating authorities of the PSOs do not necessarily match those of the peace efforts. The relationship between the PSO and mediation activities, and specifically between the mandate and status of mission/forces agreement and the security arrangements element of any negotiations, are an area fraught with practical, political and legal complications. This also has bearing on the exit strategies of PSOs.
  • Third, is the changing interface between peace support operations and national and local security sector governance. International peace support operations relate to the local authorities, including especially the national security sector, in different ways. They formally recognize the host government as sovereign and legitimate, but in practice there are disputes over the implementation of their mandates and the terms of their status of mission/forces agreement. One example is how AMISOM forces relate to their Somali counterparts. Another is how a PSO relates to an irregular or unrecognized militia that has de facto control over a particular location or community, demands attention.
Each of these changes brings peace support operations—already highly politically sensitive undertakings—into deeper political waters. All the questions above are all highly charged, and need careful investigation. These areas constitute important informational and analytical lacunae, demanding original research. These are not research questions that can be answered solely through information available within existing regional and international institutions, but will also require assessments that draw on African perspectives and sensibilities. Analysis of peace support operations in Africa also requires an in-depth study of particular cases, to illuminate how these and other issues are reflected in different ways in different missions.