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Twelve Points for the New African Union Commission Chairperson
Twelve Points for the New African Union Commission Chairperson
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza embraces his South African counterpart Jacob Zuma as he departs after an Africa Union-sponsored dialogue on 27 February 2016. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana
Briefing 122 / Africa

The African Union and the Burundi Crisis: Ambition versus Reality

To reverse Burundi’s slide toward a devastating social and humanitarian emergency – as ethnically-charged rhetoric worsens and refugees flee to neighbouring countries – the African Union needs to overcome its internal divisions, fix a so far incoherent response and facilitate a negotiated settlement between the government and the opposition.

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I. Overview

African leaders’ January 2016 decision not to endorse deployment of a 5,000-strong African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU), as the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) recommended, revealed a wide rift between member states and the AU Commission (AUC) on how to address the crisis. The dispute seriously damaged AU credibility and showed that its ambition to prevent and resolve conflict does not match its capabilities, in part due to uncertainty about the extent of the AUC’s role. It also exposed procedural flaws in the PSC’s decision-making process. The incoherent response illustrates the limits of AUC and PSC freedom to act without the full support of leaders and the lack of coordination between Addis Ababa and the African UN Security Council members (the A3). If the AU is to fulfil its aim of “silencing the guns” on the continent, the AUC and member states must resolve these issues.

Map of Burundi. CRISIS GROUP

The crisis was sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s 2015 decision to seek a third term, which triggered mass protests, an attempted coup, armed opposition attacks and a brutal crackdown that has fuelled a cycle of violence in which as many as 1,115 have already died, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project. The confrontation has settled into low-intensity warfare characterised by targeted assassinations, disappearances and torture and the government’s increasing resort to ethnically-charged rhetoric reminiscent of that preceding the mass atrocities of the 1990s. More than 300,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, and a further 108,000 are estimated to be internally displaced. An estimated 4.6 million of the eleven million population need food aid. With both urban and rural economies slowing and imposition of an austerity budget (an 18 per cent decrease on 2015), Burundi is sliding toward a devastating social and humanitarian emergency.

The AU and international partners have failed to halt the crisis. Nkurunziza has exploited divisions within and between the AU, the UN and the East African Community (EAC), the sub-regional organisation charged to lead the continental response. This enables his government to rebuff lacklustre EAC attempts to bring it to negotiations and has stalled the deployment of AUC-authorised human rights and military observers, as well as UN Security Council-sanctioned police. Lack of a shared analysis of the crisis’s nature fuels disunity.

The AU itself is divided. A majority of member states favour a less confrontational approach than the interventionist-inclined AUC, which together with the PSC, to avoid further embarrassment, has now shifted focus from Burundi, silencing needed warning voices. The crisis is political at its core, and only a negotiated settlement between government and opposition can end it. That requires re-examination of the 2000 Arusha accord, the power-sharing peace agreement of which the AU is a guarantor that ended the twelve-year civil war. Unless the AU, EAC and wider international community act in concert, it is a distant prospect.

To engage the government and opposition in a genuine and inclusive dialogue:

  • The AU, EAC and UN should immediately form a contact group to align positions and inject new impetus into the EAC-led mediation, whose leader, President Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), must become more personally engaged, as requested by the facilitator, Benjamin Mkapa.
     
  • The AU should expedite deployment of the 200 authorised human rights and military observers and work with the UN to quickly agree on and disburse the financial, technical, logistical and other assistance needed for the deployment.
     
  • The AU should immediately implement the decision to impose targeted sanctions, per the 17 October 2015 PSC communiqué, against those blocking negotiations, inciting violence and/or propagating hate speech.
     
  • The AU and European Union (EU) should change financing for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to pay Burundian soldiers directly, rather than permitting the government to keep a portion.

To strengthen AU crisis response capabilities:

  • Member states should meet their financial obligations so the AUC can be staffed adequately to carry out its mandate.
     
  • The PSC should engage consistently in finding political solutions, meeting monthly on Burundi, for example, to evaluate the security situation and discuss observer reports. Member states should engage fully on communiqués and ensure they have ownership of decisions. This requires adequate staffing of Addis Ababa embassies and clear communication channels with them.
     
  • AUC, PSC and A3 should work more closely together – including PSC observer status for the A3 – to ensure common analysis and more coherent responses.

II. The AU in Principle and Practice

A. Member States’ Commitment

Since its 2002 inception, the AU has been increasingly active in preventing and resolving conflict in Africa, due in part to growing recognition the UN cannot manage crises alone and in part to the AU’s desire to lead.[fn]The 2015 UN High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations report highlights the AU, urging intensified collaboration also with its sub-regional partners.Hide Footnote  The organisation’s Constitutive Act set promotion of peace, security and stability on the continent as a founding objective. To help meet it, the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) was created. It asserts AU primacy in peace and security on the continent and devolves jointly to the PSC and AUC chairperson power to “undertake peace-making and peace-building functions to resolve conflicts”.[fn]APSA consists of the PSC, Panel of the Wise, Continental Early Warning System, Africa Standby Force and Africa Peace Fund. Articles 7, 17 of the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the PSC, and the AU and Regional Economic Communities/regional mechanisms Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).Hide Footnote

That ambition to “silence the guns” often outstrips action, however, is not surprising given resource constraints. The Peace and Security Department (PSD), charged with administering the fifteen-member PSC, the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), the Panel of the Wise and other mediation activity, as well as four peace support operations, has just 64 regular staff positions, 26 of which were filled in 2015.[fn]The peace support operations are AMISOM, the Regional Cooperation Initiative for the Elimination of the Lord’s Resistance Army, the hybrid UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Multinational Joint Taskforce for the fight against Boko Haram. “APSA 2014 Assessment Study: Final Report”, AU, 27 April 2015, p. 14.Hide Footnote  Personnel constraints are due to perennial underfunding. Only $169,833,340 of its estimated $416.9 million 2016 budget derives from member-state contributions, the rest from foreign partners, a reliance that compromises AU ownership of its agenda and reflects member states’ lack of commitment.[fn]Decision no.: Assembly/AU/Dec. 577(XXV). The budget does not include peace support operations. Member-state contributions mostly fund operational costs; 92 per cent of the AU’s 2016 program activities are expected to be funded by donors. “APSA 2014”, op. cit., p. 14.Hide Footnote  At the end of 2015, they had paid just 68 per cent of assessed contributions; only nineteen fully met their obligations. In July 2015, leaders pledged to fund 25 per cent of AU peace and security operations. A year later they adopted a mechanism that in theory should generate $400 million per year to help pay for AU missions, but it remains to be seen if it will be honoured.[fn]“2017 Budget Overview Paper”, AUC, 5 March 2016. “Declaration on self-reliance”, Assembly/AU/Decl.5(XXV), 15 July 2015. “The African Union Adopts the AU Peace Fund”, AUC press release, 18 July 2016.Hide Footnote

The uninspiring choices to replace AUC Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is but one sign members may not actually want a strong AU. Their reluctance to cede the chairperson and PSC influence, despite vesting significant formal authority in them at the AU’s founding, is consistent with the Constitutive Act’s emphasis on national sovereignty but severely limits conflict response capacity.[fn]Some member states were dissatisfied with the quality of choices, so no candidate was able to secure the required two-thirds majority. Article 4 sets out the AU’s guiding principles, including 4(g) “non-interference by any Member State in the internal affairs of another”.Hide Footnote

B. The AU’s Principles in the Burundi Context

Beyond its commitment to preventing and resolving conflict, the AU also aspires to promote constitutional democracy and stop mass atrocities. The Burundi crisis challenges both principles, exposing inconsistency in interpreting and enforcing the Constitutive Act. Prohibition of unconstitutional changes of government (Article 4(p)) has origins in the 1990s’ broad shift from one-party and military rule to multi-party democracy. It is the only founding principle backed by a specific penalty: suspension from participation in AU activities.[fn]Articles 4(h) and 4(p) of the Constitutive Act respectively refer to prevention of mass atrocities and prohibition of unconstitutional changes of government. Mulugeta Gebrehiwot and Alex de Waal, “African Politics, African Peace”, The World Peace Foundation, July 2016. Solomon Dersso, “Unconstitutional Changes of Government and Unconstitutional Practices in Africa”, The World Peace Foundation, June 2016.Hide Footnote  The AU usually has condemned and, if asked, provided military support, when faced with coups, as in Mali and Guinea Bissau (2012) and Central African Republic and Egypt (2013).

However, what is unconstitutional change of government is not well defined. It includes an incumbent’s refusal to relinquish power after a free and fair election, but it is not clear if that extends to amendment or manipulation of the constitution to prevent change in government, as arguably in Burundi. Member states, with their respect for national sovereignty and preference for incumbency, tend to err on the side of the status quo. The commission, as guardian of AU norms and principles, tends to lean toward democratic transitions, but its position is not consistent. Ambivalence was further compounded by uncertainty around the circumstances in Burundi: whether Nkurunziza was eligible for a third-term was not cut and dry; the constitutional court, one of whose justices claims was manipulated and intimidated, concluded his first term did not count because he was appointed, not elected, and ruled he could stand again.[fn]The AUC did not condemn Rwanda’s or Congo Brazzaville’s constitutional changes in 2015. Some donors believed Nkurunziza’s case had validity. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomat, April 2015; Judge Sylvere Nimpagaritse, Brussels, May 2016.Hide Footnote

The AU also upholds Article 4(h), “right of the Union to intervene in a Member State … in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”. Member states are historically reluctant to approve military or other action against a government, even if mass atrocities are being committed, as in Darfur (2004-2005) or South Sudan (2013-2014). The unprecedented PSC decision to invoke 4(h) for MAPROBU can be seen as a test of the AU’s graduation from the principle of non-interference, the bedrock of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, to that of non-indifference.[fn]Paul D. Williams, “The African Union’s Conflict Management Capabilities”, Council on Foreign Relations, October 2011. An AU official said the AUC chairperson viewed the deployment decision as such a test. Crisis Group interview, Addis Ababa, 31 January 2016.Hide Footnote

III. The Initial Response

Dissent turned to defiance in March 2015 when demonstrators took to the streets in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital. In the balance was not just the future of President Nkurunziza, but also the survival of the 2000 Arusha peace agreement, which included detailed power-sharing provisions. Protests increased in scale and frequency in April and May following Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for re-election, leading to violent clashes with security forces.[fn]This briefing focuses on AU and wider international responses to the crisis. For a full evaluation of the internal politics, see Crisis Group Africa Report N°224, Elections in Burundi: Moment of Truth, 17 April 2015; and Briefing N°111, Burundi: Peace Sacrificed, 29 May 2015.Hide Footnote

A. Public Diplomacy

Some praised the AU for its early intervention and strong position as the crisis began, with Dlamini-Zuma setting the tone and direction.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, U.S. officials, Addis Ababa, 29 January 2016; EU officials, Brussels, 29 February 2016; Addis Ababa, 19 April 2016. One official even called the AU’s response up until the 17 December communiqué “a model of AU diplomacy”.Hide Footnote  As tensions rose in March 2015, the AU political affairs commissioner and then the chairperson visited Bujumbura and called on the president to adhere to the constitution and Arusha, as well as for dialogue to ensure a credible election process and resolve disagreements over the third term. At first, the PSC and PSD appeared not to adopt the same tough stance, but as the situation deteriorated, positions began to align, and both the commission and the PSC engaged actively and concertedly.[fn]Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, 23 March 2016; “AU Commission Chairperson concludes Burundi visit with cautious optimism”, press release, AUC, 27 March 2015. The PSC urged stakeholders to respect the pending constitutional court decision on Nkurunziza’s eligibility, while Zuma dismissed the court’s findings. Zuma, Dlamini (DlaminiZuma). “Other than the #Burundi Court, all interpretations of the constitution & #Arusha Agreements are clear that there shouldn't be a third term.” 7 May 2015, 5:43 p.m. Tweet. Crisis Group interview, UN official, Addis Ababa, 15 March 2016. See also AU PSC communiqué, PSC/PR/COMM.(DI), 28 April 2015. Zuma issued nineteen press statements between March and December 2015. The PSC discussed Burundi at least monthly from March 2015.Hide Footnote

The AUC unprecedentedly refused to send a monitoring team because conditions for free and fair elections did not exist.[fn]AU communiqué, 28 June 2015.Hide Footnote  Many usual preventative diplomacy tools – high-level delegations, a special envoy, human rights and military observers, sanctions and investigation into human rights violations – were utilised, but to little effect, in part because without member states’ full political support they were not wholeheartedly deployed. The government was defiant, making concessions but then stalling or reneging on implementation.[fn]The AU has been unable to conclude an MoU with the government for 200 human rights and military observers. Only 42 have been deployed, and they cannot operate freely. In its 17 October 2015 communiqué, the PSC threatened sanctions but the AUC has yet to draw up a list of targets, let alone attempt to enforce them. The government made commitments for inclusive dialogue with the opposition only to go back on them or set unrealistic conditions, including refusing to deal with the opposition Conseil national pour le respect de l’accord d’Arusha pour la paix et la réconciliation au Burundi et de l’Etat de droit (CNARED) coalition. Yolande Bouka, Nanjala Nyabola, “The Crisis in Burundi and the Apathy of International Politics”, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, April 2016.Hide Footnote

In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity that generally governs its cooperation with regional economic communities, the AU ceded primary responsibility for the crisis to the EAC. Initially, they worked closely: Zuma attended EAC summits, and the PSC endorsed EAC decisions, including President Museveni’s appointment as chief negotiator in July 2016.[fn]EAC communiqué, 6 July 2016.Hide Footnote  Engaged in his own contentious election, he delegated responsibility to Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga. As the crisis dragged on, it became clear the EAC-led dialogue was making no headway. But without consent of Museveni or the other regional leaders, the AU was unable to insert itself into the mediation process and had to settle for expressing concern about the slow pace and endorsing the EAC’s lacklustre efforts.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, civil society actor, Addis Ababa, 11 December 2015; UN official, Nairobi, 23 March 2016. Also see PSC communiqué, PSC/PR/COMM.DLI, 17 October 2015.Hide Footnote

B. Private Diplomacy

One reason the AUC’s and PSC’s aggressive public postures have had limited success is that they have not been backed by persistent private diplomacy. Critics suggest they should have both engaged earlier at the lower levels and mobilised a high-level dialogue with interlocutors Nkurunziza trusted.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, AU and UN officials, Addis Ababa, 27-31 January 2016.Hide Footnote  Zuma could have personally engaged more with Nkurunziza and others. Foreign minister when South Africa helped broker Arusha, she arguably has a great stake in the AU’s resolution of the crisis. An official suggested she believed the intervention would demonstrate the organisation’s transition from a position of non-interference to one of non-indifference. Having failed in March 2015 to persuade Nkurunziza against a third term, however, she did not really try again.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, AU, EU officials, Addis Ababa, 9 December 2015, 31 January 2016. Once President Nkurunziza committed to standing, preventative diplomacy options narrowed.Hide Footnote

The AU also lacked consistent representation in Bujumbura, relying instead on ad hoc deployment of special envoys, high-level delegations and commission figures, including the chairperson. Following the recall of its outspoken special representative for Burundi and the Great Lakes, Boubacar Diarra, in April 2015, it had no emissary for three critical months as the crisis rapidly escalated.[fn]Nkurunziza requested Diarra’s recall because he opposed his third term bid. According to an AU official, the chairperson acquiesced because she hoped it would win favour with the president. Crisis Group interview, AU official, Addis Ababa, 31 January 2016.Hide Footnote

Diarra’s replacement, Ibrahima Fall, a former UN assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and for Political Affairs, as well as special representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for the Great Lakes region, has had a more discrete presence in Bujumbura. While keeping lines of communication open with the government, however, he has been unable to conclude the MoU for the human rights and military observers and has not proactively engaged with influential actors from the country or region. More dynamic representation, backed by international consensus, might have been better able to advance AU decisions.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, AU and UN officials, Addis Ababa, 29-31 January 2016; Western diplomat, Addis Ababa, 15 March 2016.

IV. The 17 December Communiqué and its Aftermath

On 17 December 2015, the PSC issued a communiqué authorising a 5,000-strong African Prevention and Protection Mission (MAPROBU) to prevent deterioration of security, protect civilians and help create conditions needed for a credible inter-Burundian dialogue. It gave the government 96 hours to accept. If rebuffed, the PSC agreed, it would recommend that the Assembly of Heads of State and Government (the AU’s highest decision-making body) invoke Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act, which allows intervention in cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.[fn]AU PSC communiqué, PSC/PR/COMM.(DLVX), 17 December 2015.Hide Footnote  This bold decision broke new ground in two respects: first, an ultimatum to a sitting president; secondly, invocation of Article 4(h). The Nkurunziza government quickly refused to admit foreign troops.[fn]“Burundi: We will not allow foreign troops to enter”, Al Jazeera, 21 December 2015.Hide Footnote

A. The Context for the Decision

Six days before the PSC communiqué, violence in Bujumbura intensified significantly. Reportedly, at least 87 were killed, some summarily executed, in intense fighting sparked by coordinated grenade attacks by armed opposition groups on military installations on 11 December. Observations from an African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) fact-finding mission, AU human rights observers’ reports and social and traditional media accounts directly influenced PSC decisions.[fn]“Burundi: 87 killed in worst violence since April coup attempt”, The Guardian, 12 December 2015. “Report of the Fact Finding Mission of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to Burundi”, ACHPR, May 2016. Crisis Group interviews, Addis Ababa 31 January; Brussels, 29 February 2016.Hide Footnote  There was strong belief in Addis Ababa, driven by the AUC but supported by a few key PSC members, that rapidly deteriorating security and grave human rights abuse warranted decisive action. With the 1994 Rwandan genocide in mind, the PSD hoped to demonstrate the AU would not stand idly by. “The communiqué made it clear that it considered the situation grave; it put Burundi on notice and sent a message to the world that the AU had done what it could”, an AU official said.[fn]Nigeria, Ethiopia, Algeria and to a lesser extent Uganda were strongly in favour of the PSD drafted communiqué. Crisis Group interviews, Addis Ababa, 25-31 January, 14-18 March 2016.Hide Footnote

B. Miscalculations and Missteps

The PSC intended the communiqué to freeze the crisis and force the government to negotiate.[fn]Crisis Group interview, 8 February 2016.Hide Footnote  While it arguably focused international attention, helping to curb the worst security force excesses and spurring Museveni to kick-start the stalled EAC mediation, it failed to engage Nkurunziza in an inclusive political dialogue with the opposition.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, AU officials, Addis Ababa, 27 January 2016; UN officials, New York, 9 February 2016.Hide Footnote  The government dismissed MAPROBU as an “invasion and occupation force”, shocking some in the AUC, which had been convinced it would grudgingly accept the mission. Burundi watchers said the AU lacked credible situational analysis and misread Nkurunziza’s character.[fn]“Burundi rejects African Union peacekeepers as ‘invasion force’”, Agence France-Presse, 20 December 2016. Crisis Group interviews, AU, UN officials, Western diplomats, Addis Ababa, 31 January, 16 March, 19 April 2016.Hide Footnote  AU, UN and Western officials called the PSC’s ultimatum a mistake and an insult.[fn]An official described it as an “extraordinary thing to do to a sovereign government”. The AUC chairperson informed the UN Secretary-General before Nkurunziza. Crisis Group interviews, Western diplomats, New York, 8 February 2016; AU, UN officials, Addis Ababa, 16 March 2016.Hide Footnote  It was, however, just one in a series of AUC and PSC missteps and miscalculations.

Article 4(h) touched a nerve with those member states whose democratic credentials and human rights records were criticised and feared it might one day be applied to them. Invoking that article, which sets a high bar – verification of war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity – raised the stakes considerably, and the PSC left itself no other tool with which to ratchet up pressure on the government. Some PSC delegations did not understand the ramifications of its use or consult sufficiently with capitals.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, AU, UN, EU officials, Western diplomats, Addis Ababa, 25-31 January 2016.Hide Footnote  Shortcomings of PSC working practices were exposed. Unlike the UN Security Council, whose members draft resolutions, with one leading and consulting in varying degrees, the AUC mostly writes PSC communiqués, typically with little or no input from members. Meetings frequently leave scant time to discuss content; often there is no chance to work the outcomes of deliberations into the final text. As a result, the PSC tends not to buy sufficiently into its own resolutions. The 17 December communiqué was no exception.

The heavy PSC workload stretches often under-staffed Addis Ababa missions. Most ambassadors did not use the 24-hour silence period to clear the communiqué at home. Blindsided, some governments were unwilling to give wholehearted support. The AUC also neglected to confirm that Council members had briefed their governments in advance.[fn]An official said only about a third of member states sent the communiqué to capitals in the silence period. Crisis Group interview, Addis Ababa, 17 March 2016. South Africa’s international relations and cooperation department issued a statement on Burundi with no MAPROBU mention. Asked to clarify the stance, spokesperson Clayson Monyela said, “we support the AU position yes”. “South Africa expresses concern over the situation in Burundi”, press release, 18 December 2015; Monyela, Clayson (ClaysonMonyela). "@geoffreyyork We support the AU position yes.", 20 Dec 2015, 18:29 UTC. Tweet, @Clayson Monyela, 10.29am 20 December 2015. After dismissing use of force, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Augustine Mahiga announced MAPROBU support only in January. “Mahiga calls for talks to end the bloodshed”, The Citizen, 20 December 2015. “Consultations between [AUC] and Tanzania on the situation in Burundi”, AU press release, 8 January 2016. Crisis Group interviews, AU officials, Addis Ababa, 31 January, 16-17 March 2016.Hide Footnote  It had hoped the communiqué would spur bolder action, but the response was cautious. A sense of urgency and misplaced belief that others, including the UN, would follow the AU lead led to failure to give advance word to those called upon to endorse and assist MAPROBU. The absence of planning – no concept of operations or commitments from troop contributing countries – and Burundi’s rejection of an AU force, made it hard for the Security Council to give the anticipated backing.[fn]“We [the AU] can’t always back it up with action, but we can enable others”. Crisis Group interview, AU official, 9 December 2016. The Security Council merely “took note with interest” of the communiqué. Press statement, 19 December 2015. An AU official said the AUC subsequently believed the Council was the obstacle to deployment. Crisis Group interview, 29 January 2016; interviews, UN officials and Western diplomats, New York, 8-9 February 2016.Hide Footnote

C. Force Preparedness

The AUC did not intend to deploy MAPROBU immediately. Regardless of official statements, the East African Standby Force (EASF), expected to provide forces, was not ready, and without Burundi’s consent, the AU needed Security Council approval.[fn]In January 2015, the EASF was officially declared able to deploy within fourteen days with 90 days of supplies, but a Western diplomat estimated it would take at least six months to set up operation systems for a Burundi mission. Crisis Group interview, Addis Ababa, 26 January 2016. Use of force against a sovereign state is permitted only in self-defence or UN Charter Chapter VII authorisation. The AU communiqué requested such a Security Council resolution for MAPROBU. Paul D Williams, “The African Union’s Coercive Diplomacy in Burundi”, International Peace Institute Special Report, 18 December 2015.Hide Footnote  Finally, the AUC acknowledged that MAPROBU required considerable foreign financial and logistical support. It had been conceived primarily as a threat with which to push Nkurunziza into a genuine dialogue, rather than a tangible rapid reaction force, and he called the AU’s bluff.[fn]PSC Communiqué, op. cit. The AUC may also have wanted to use MAPROBU to push automatic use of UN assessed contributions to finance AU-led peace support missions. Crisis Group interviews, AU, UN, EU officials, Addis Ababa, 26-29 January 2016; New York, 8 February 2016.Hide Footnote

D. The AU Summit and the Decision Not to Deploy MAPROBU

The government’s refusal to accept MAPROBU meant the future of the stabilisation force rested with African heads of states due to meet at the biannual AU summit in Addis Ababa, 30-31 January 2016. Invoking Article 4(h) left the door open for unprecedented forcible deployment, if two thirds agreed the security situation was sufficiently grave. By then, violence had receded, but the AUC pressed on with a bruising approval process, exposing deep fault lines with member states concerned that the mission would violate Burundi’s sovereignty and impede dialogue. The AUC might have persuaded them to pressure Burundi to accept a more limited intervention force, but understaffed and underfunded, it lacked capacity for the political work needed to build consensus around deployment; some were unaware that was needed or naively confident a pared-down version would be endorsed. Nkurunziza’s emissaries travelled the continent, arguing the crisis was a case of relatively mild post-electoral violence now under control.[fn]The government and opposition dialled back confrontation prior to the summit. Crisis Group interviews, AU, UN officials, Addis Ababa, 16 March 2016. Solomon Dersso, “To intervene or not to intervene? An inside view of the AU’s decision-making on Article 4(h) and Burundi”, World Peace Foundation, February 2016. Crisis Group interviews, AU, EU officials, Western diplomat, Addis Ababa, 30-31 January, 17 March 2016. “Burundi reaffirms dialogue commitment”, Daily News, 16 January 2016; “SA presence in Burundi talks welcomed”, African News Agency, 22 January 2016.Hide Footnote

E. The AU High-level Delegation

Trying to keep MAPROBU alive, Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui recommended the assembly send a senior delegation to Bujumbura to consult. This again laid bare divisions between member states and the AUC, which insisted deliberations focus solely on an inclusive intra-Burundian dialogue.[fn]Dersso, “To intervene?”, op. cit. The high-level delegation – presidents of Senegal, Gabon, Mauritania and South Africa, prime minister of Ethiopia – was in Burundi 25-26 February. The 29 January 2016 PSC communiqué limited the mission’s discussions to dialogue, PSC/AHG/COMM.3(DLXXI). A subsequent AUC statement widened the mandate to include MAPROBU. “The African Union appoints High-Level Delegation to Burundi”, 4 February 2016.Hide Footnote  It also revealed member-state disagreements. South African President Jacob Zuma, the delegation head, dominated proceedings and set the agenda. Pretoria was pivotal in mediation and peacekeeping during the civil war, and close ties between the African National Congress and Burundian National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), meant the president was sympathetic to Nkurunziza. Separate, contradictory communiqués, the first unilaterally released by Zuma, the second by the AUC with delegation-member support, reinforced an appearance of disarray.[fn]Crisis Group interview, African diplomat, Addis Ababa, 20 April 2016; “AU High Level Delegation to Burundi conclusion statement”, South African presidency, 27 February 2016; “Communiqué of the visit of the [AU] high level delegation to Burundi”, AU, 29 February 2016.Hide Footnote  The AU lost a major opportunity to insert itself into the mediation process.

F. The Fallout

Leaders’ failure to endorse MAPROBU severely damaged AU credibility, revealing the gap between ambition and capabilities. The 17 December communiqué was called “unrealistic” and “un-strategic”, and the military force row distracted from dialogue.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Addis Ababa, 25-31 January; New York, 8-9 February; Nairobi 23-24 March 2016. “The Burundi Intervention that Wasn’t”, Foreign Policy (online), 2 February 2016; “Intervention that Never Was”, Africa Confidential, 5 February 2016. “African Union diplomacy fails to take off in Burundi. Literally and metaphorically”, UN Dispatch, 29 February 2016; African Union goes backwards on Burundi”, Daily Maverick, 31 January 2016.
Hide Footnote
 Invoking Article 4(h) divided member states. Some were adamant sovereignty trumps human rights; others did not share AUC analysis that Burundi was near to catastrophic violence. The AUC was seen to have over-stepped: one of its senior officials said, “we have embarrassed the continent”. Some member states, notably Egypt, dislike AUC influence over PSC decision-making, and many predict a push for member states to draft future measures. The AU lost any authority in Bujumbura and is marginalised in efforts to resolve the crisis.[fn]Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, for example, was clearly opposed to the use of force without consent; Tanzanian Foreign Minister Mahiga did not believe military intervention was warranted. Derrso, “To intervene or not?”, op. cit. Crisis Group interviews, AU, EU officials, African diplomats, Addis Ababa, 25-31 January, 17 March 2016; New York, 8 February 2016.Hide Footnote  Embarrassed by the failure of MAPROBU and other diplomatic attempts and faced with member-state indifference, the AUC and PSC appear to have lost impetus. Failing to act decisively, the AU sacrificed its moral authority to speak out about incumbents manipulating or eliminating constitutional term limits.

V. The Wider International Response

The AU response has been disappointing, but neither regional powers nor the UN fared better. Domestic considerations, power politics and historic allegiances, as well as antagonisms, have shaped Burundi’s neighbours’ hesitant response. At the UN, the divergent policies of Security Council members and divisions within and between the Council and Secretariat have thwarted attempts to find a solution. Institutional rivalries, coupled with the absence of a shared analysis, prevented a coordinated approach. The government exploited this disunity, playing the main actors – the AU, EAC and UN – off against one another.

A. Regional Dynamics

At the beginning of the crisis, a key concern was the legitimacy of Nkurunziza’s re-election attempt. Two allies, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete and South Africa’s President Zuma, cautioned him against standing. However, the EAC did not condemn the third-term bid – it would have been difficult for it to do so following the failed May 2015 coup attempt.[fn]Nina Wilén, “The rationales behind the EAC members’ response to the Burundi Crisis”, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Volume 17, Number 1, Winter/Spring 2016. “Tanzania’s Kikwete says Burundi should heed president term limit; risks regional tensions”, Mail & Guardian, 20 March 2016; “Zuma calls for Nkurunziza not to stand for a third term”, video, SABC Digital News, May 8 2015. A 31 May 2015 EAC communiqué stopped short of calling for Nkurunziza not to stand, insisting instead on postponing elections.Hide Footnote  For others, it was never a consideration. Uganda’s Museveni, in power for 29 years and having amended presidential term limits in 2005, was seeking a fifth mandate. President José Eduardo dos Santos has ruled Angola since 1979. Next door in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila has been preparing his own attempt to extend his stay in office.

Zuma Calls for Nkurunziza Not to Stand for Third Term

YouTube/SABC Digital News

Once Nkurunziza won the election, the third term became moot in the region and much of Africa. For many African leaders, especially those who fought long liberation struggles, incumbency is paramount. Factor in the special relationships of Nkurunziza and his party with many of them and their parties, and it is easy to see why he has not come under serious pressure.[fn]After the July 2015 summit, and aside from a half-hearted attempt to kick-start the inter-Burundian dialogue in December. EAC leaders did little and did not meet until March. For the U.S. and other Western countries, the third term remains a concern (see also Section V.B.). Sheltered by Tanzania during the civil war, the ruling CNDD-FDD has links to its security services. Zuma and Museveni assisted the settlement that ended the war and brought Nkurunziza to power. Crisis Group interviews, UN officials, Addis Ababa, 29 January, 15 March 2016.Hide Footnote  Rwanda is the exception, consistently calling for him to step down. It argues not that term extensions are inherently bad – President Kagame pushed through a constitutional change that allows him to keep office until 2034 – but that Burundi has not prospered under his rule. It is also alarmed by the rise of anti-Tutsi hate speech, similar to that used prior to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and fears the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda could gain a foothold. The UN and U.S., among others, have accused Rwanda of supporting Burundian armed opposition groups to weaken Nkurunziza. Distrust of Rwanda’s perceived destabilisation of the region, and its alleged assistance to the armed insurrection, have shaped the response of other neighbours and contribute to EAC paralysis.[fn]Kagame told a University College (London) economist the crisis was about performance, not third terms. “Rwanda’s President Kagame tell Burundi’s Nkurunziza to step down”, Kenya Today, 11 May 2015. “Rwanda aids Burundi rebels, North Korea arms Congo – UN experts”, Reuters, 12 May 2016; US accuses Rwanda of stoking violence in Burundi”, Agence France-Presse, 11 February 2016. Yolande Bouka, “Missing the Target: The African Union’s Mediating Efforts in Burundi”, Egmont Royal Institute of International Relations, June 2016.Hide Footnote

Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa’s appointment as facilitator in March 2016 signalled increased Tanzanian engagement and revived optimism in the EAC process. However, negotiation delays, interference from the new EAC secretary general, Libérat Mfumukeko (an Nkurunziza loyalist), and the government’s refusal to sit down with the Conseil national pour le respect de l’accord d’Arusha pour la paix et la réconciliation au Burundi et de l’Etat de droit (CNARED), the opposition coalition, during the first round of talks on 21 May, sparked criticism of him. His decision to meet with exiled opponents separately in Brussels somewhat allayed fears, but the discussions collapsed in July, amid government walkouts and opposition boycotts.[fn]“Violence increases as Burundi talks delayed”, Voice of America, 2 May 2016; and “Burundi peace talks open in Tanzania with opposition criticism”, Reuters, 21 May 2016. “Burundi: pour le Cnared, la rencontre avec Mkapa est déjà une ‘victoire’”, Radio France Internationale (RFI), 10 June 2016; “Burundi: peace talks collapse in Arusha”, The East African, 16 July 2016.Hide Footnote

B. The UN’s Role

The UN has been actively involved. There have been two Security Council visits and another from the Secretary-General (February 2016), plus Council meetings resulting in three resolutions, two presidential statements and a series of press releases. However, these have borne little fruit. Two reasons stand out. First, disagreements over how to mitigate and resolve the crisis stymied decisive response. Secondly, the Council tried to follow the African lead, but the continent has rarely spoken with a single voice. The Council’s slow response, despite warnings by the Secretariat, also illustrates its declining influence in Burundi. This was particularly evident in the withdrawal, under pressure, of the UN’s special political mission and its replacement in January 2015 by an electoral observation mission, with a significantly narrower mandate.[fn]For example, in January 2015, the Secretariat warned that the elections could “either consolidate or unravel the peace consolidation efforts undertaken since the Arusha accords” and pointed to the eroding spirit of the accords, shrinking of political space, intimidation of opposition supporters and limitations on free assembly and expression. “Report on the United Nations Office in Burundi”, UNSC S/2015/36, 19 January 2015. “Burundi briefing and consultations”, What’s in Blue (www.whatsinblue.org), 27 January 2014. See also, Crisis Group Africa Report N°192, Burundi: Bye-bye Arusha?, 25 October 2012.Hide Footnote

As the 2015 elections approached, some Western governments focused statements on opposition to Nkurunziza’s third term. A number of non-permanent Security Council members and Secretariat officials argue that emphasising this, rather than the risk of violence and importance of dialogue, complicated consensus efforts in a Council whose divisions over other crises were starting to seep into its response. Its first visit to Burundi in March 2015 was of limited value, as members had not agreed on a clear message or possible leverage.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, New York, December 2015, February 2016. Whether a different focus would have made consensus easier is unclear, given already acrimonious relations over Ukraine and Syria. Some also argue that the insistence Nkurunziza stand down also made the opposition less likely to compromise. Crisis Group interviews, UN officials, New York, July 2015.Hide Footnote

An idea that gained traction after the second, January 2016 visit, was police deployment. Some Western permanent members initially wanted an armed international presence to protect civilians in the event of widespread violence following increasingly sharp anti-Tutsi rhetoric.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN and member state officials, New York, February 2016.Hide Footnote  Subsequently, as the Council perceived an immediate genocide threat subsiding, proponents argued police could increase monitoring and so deter continuing human rights abuse by authorities.

Related Content

In April 2016, the Secretariat presented the Council three deployment options: light (twenty-50 unarmed police to work with Burundian forces); middle (228 unarmed police); and a 3,000-strong force.[fn]Angola, China, Egypt, Russia and Venezuela favoured the light option, largely toeing Burundi’s line. France, the penholder, considered the middle course most viable given Council dynamics. The U.S. initially backed the most robust option, with formed police units to patrol visibly and report regularly. Crisis Group interviews, member-state officials, New York, April-August 2016. “Burundi: briefing on options for police deployment”, What’s in Blue, 26 April 2016.Hide Footnote  After months of intermittent discussion, the Council authorised deployment of up to 228 to monitor the security situation and support the office of the high commissioner for human rights in monitoring human rights abuses. Russia, which initially wanted the lighter option, voted in favour, but abstentions from Angola, China, Egypt, and Venezuela, all citing Bujumbura’s opposition to a large police presence, dampened any sense of Council unity. The Burundian government swiftly rejected the resolution.[fn]Resolution 2303, which authorised the police, also asked the Secretariat to report on how the UN could facilitate deployment of AU observers and for proposals on how the UN police component could cooperate with them. It did not specify whether police would be armed, but Council members generally assumed they would not be, per the Secretariat’s second option. UNSC S/RES/2303, 29 July 2016. Crisis Group interviews, New York. “Government reaction following the adoption by the UN Security Council of the Resolution 2303 (2016)”, 2 August 2016.Hide Footnote  Some Council members have privately urged the UN Secretariat to liaise with Nkurunziza to soften his position on the police, and some have engaged bilaterally with Burundi.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, New York, September 2016.Hide Footnote  But the Council has taken no further collective action on its resolution – and has not even formally discussed the Burundi situation since July – further illustrating the degree to which divisions undermine its effectiveness.

As Russia and China tend to take their cue on regional crises from African members, it further complicates the Council’s role that the A3 have not spoken with one voice or followed AU policy. During discussions in November 2015, Angola counselled against using language directly from earlier PSC communiqués. Russia and China supported its position until the AUC persuaded them to withdraw their objections. Since joining the Council in January 2016, Egypt has taken a strong pro-government, anti-interventionist stand on many crises, joining Angola, China, Russia and Venezuela to resist robust UN action in Burundi.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, AU and UN officials, Addis Ababa, 9 December 2015, 29 January 2016. Cairo wants to uphold the principle of non-interference, support a fellow Nile Basin country and exact payback for the AUC’s suspension of its participation following the 2013 ousting of President Mohamed Morsi. Egypt also became a member of the AU PSC in April 2016. Crisis Group interviews, AU official, Western diplomats, Addis Ababa, 25 January, 16 March 2016.Hide Footnote

C. International Discord and Disunity

Institutional rivalries, coupled with the absence of shared analysis, have prevented coordinated approaches.[fn]While strategic coordination has been limited, cooperation between the AU and UN at a working-level in Burundi has been more effective.Hide Footnote  Early attempts at collective action, such as initial cooperation between the AU and EAC and formation of the Joint International Facilitation Team (representing the EAC, AU, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region and UN), were short lived, leaving each appearing to defend its own role or trying to carve out space at the expense of a competitor.[fn]The joint team, created at a June 2015 PSC summit, apparently met just once, after which it called for election postponement to 30 July. “Statement by the Joint International Facilitation Team on Burundi”, 26 June 2015.Hide Footnote

Though its mediation stalled, the EAC was unwilling to allow the AU to engage further. The AUC has bristled at the UN’s enhanced role after MAPROBU’s failure, fearing that the Security Council’s proposed police contingent would steal the mandate and draw financial support away from its human rights and military observers. Nkurunziza has been quick to exploit UN-AUC tension, at times courting the former while giving the cold shoulder to the latter and lobbying Council members not to support the AU’s observer mission.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN official, 15 March 2016; AU officials, Addis Ababa, 31 January, 22 March 2016; UN officials and African diplomats, New York, 25-26 May 2016.Hide Footnote  Mkapa, like his predecessor, has been slow to accept UN help, relying instead on the EAC secretariat, headed by a Burundian diplomat, despite its limited mediation experience.

The international community missed a number of other opportunities to demonstrate joint commitment to resolving the crisis, such as could have been done if the PSC and AUC chairperson had joined UN counterparts’ Burundi visits, assuming positions and messaging were aligned in advance and then relayed clearly to Nkurunziza.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, AU and UN officials, Addis Ababa, 29 January 2016.Hide Footnote  They should take up further chances for collaboration.

VI. Moving Forward

The crisis is at an impasse, and genuine inclusive dialogue between government and opposition seems a remote possibility. Positions are entrenched, and both are playing for time as the toll rises.[fn]Crisis Group Africa Report N°235, Burundi: A Dangerous Third Term, 20 May 2016; commentary, “Insights from the Burundian Crisis (III): Back to Arusha and the Politics of Dialogue”, 7 July 2016.Hide Footnote  Despite widespread censure, the government has proven it can resist international pressure. The EAC-led mediation under Museveni has made little progress but is currently the only mechanism for dialogue, so the AU, UN and others should provide logistical, financial and political support. More crucially, the AU, UN and EAC need to build consensus and coordinate better. A contact group would be an important step toward aligning positions and could inject new life into negotiations. As requested by Mkapa, Museveni (and other EAC leaders) must become more personally engaged. Having agreed to mediate, he should shoulder the responsibilities and, as a minimum, set out his vision for the way forward.

Two key leverage points have not yet been fully utilised: targeted sanctions and denying Burundi’s financially advantageous participation in AU and UN peacekeeping operations. Implementation of limited sanctions has been haphazard and half-hearted.[fn]For example, in October 2015, the EU sanctioned four government members; two months later the U.S. sanctioned a slightly different group.  But with government revenue falling and further GDP decline forecast, the government is vulnerable to economic pressure. UN sanctions are unlikely given Security Council divisions, but the AU should implement the PSC’s October 2015 decision to impose targeted sanctions. Despite the difficulty of ensuring full adherence in a region generally supportive of Nkurunziza, that would send an important signal and add further pressure on the government. The EU and the U.S., whose special Great Lakes region envoy has already condemned the use of inflammatory rhetoric, should expand their existing sanctions to include those propagating hate speech. Removal of sanctions should be clearly benchmarked to reducing violence, ending impunity and starting dialogue.[fn]“Burundi braces for more violence”, Deutsche Welle, 7 November 2015. Crisis Group Statement, “Burundi: Time for Tough Messages”, 24 February 2016.

Funds from the army’s contribution to the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the UN mission in the Central African Republic are a vital lifeline for the government. Removal could force it to change its dangerous trajectory. The EU and AU should finalise changes so that AMISOM money is paid directly to the soldiers. The AU and its partners should also solicit other troop contributors to replace Burundian soldiers within AMISOM eventually, so as to pressure the authorities to begin an open, genuine dialogue.[fn] “EU takes aim where it hurts Burundi – peacekeeper funding”, Reuters, 29 March 2016. Crisis Group Report, Burundi: A Dangerous Third Term, op. cit. A UN Human Rights Council-mandated investigation that found widespread, systematic human rights violations in Burundi has urged the UN and AU to “phase out the use of Burundian troops in peacekeeping operations while the crisis continues”. “Report of the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi (UNIIB) established pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution S-24/1*”, UN HRC A/HRC/33/37, 20 September 2016, p. 23. The Burundian government rejected the findings as “politically exaggerated”. Foreign Minister Alain Nyamitwe, UN General Assembly speech, 24 September 2016. 

VII. Conclusion

Attention and interest has shifted away from the Burundi crisis. The government appears to have realised that keeping casualties to a minimum limits scrutiny and is forging ahead with plans to change the constitution and abolish presidential term limits. Discussions about this could begin at October’s parliamentary session. Though the 2020 election cycle seems far off, international actors should press harder for a political settlement. Postponing firmer, more unified action would leave the country at best in a permanent state of low intensity violence. Despite internal divisions, the AU should not disengage but rather insist on deployment of its human rights and military observers. Institutional rivalries between the AU, EAC and UN must not block the concerted international action needed to secure a negotiated solution and prevent a deeper decent into civil war.

Addis Ababa/Nairobi/Brussels, 28 September 2016

VIII. Glossary

A3 The collective name for the three rotating African members of the UN Security Council, currently Angola, Egypt and Senegal.

ACHPR The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights oversees and interprets the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, an international instrument designed to promote and protect human rights and basic freedoms on the continent.

AMISO African Union Mission in Somalia.

APSA The African Peace and Security Architecture, the umbrella term for the AU’s mechanisms for promoting peace, security and stability in Africa. It consists of the Peace and Security Council, the Panel of the Wise, the Continental Early Warning System, the Africa Standby Force and the Peace Fund.

AU African Union.

AUC The African Union Commission is the AU’s secretariat. Headquartered in Addis Ababa, it is led by the Chairperson (currently Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) and supported by a deputy chairperson and eight commissioners.

CEWS The Continental Early Warning System gathers information about potential conflicts or threats to the security of AU member states. It is housed in the Peace and Security Department’s Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Division.

CNARED The National Council for the Restoration of the Arusha Agreement and the Rule of Law is a coalition of the main exiled Burundian opposition movements, as well as two former presidents, members of civil society and CNDD-FDD dissidents.

CNDD-FDD The National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy is Burundi’s ruling party. During the civil war (1993-2005) it was a significant rebel group.

DRC Democratic Republic of Congo.

EAC The East African Community is an inter-governmental organisation with six members: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

EASF The Eastern Africa Standby Force is one of the five regional multidimensional forces that make up the African Standby Force. It members are Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.

EU European Union.

MAPROBU African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi.

PSC The Peace and Security Council, the AU’s decision-making organ for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict, is a standing committee of fifteen members elected according to regional representation and rotation.

PSD The AUC’s Peace and Security Department supports the PSC and Commission in activities related to the promotion of peace, security and stability in Africa.

MoU Memorandum of understanding.

RECs The Regional Economic Communities are groupings of African states formed to facilitate economic integration between member states. They are increasingly involved in coordinating AU member states’ interests in areas such as peace and security, development and governance. The AU recognises eight RECs.

RMs The regional coordinating mechanisms of the regional standby forces of Eastern and Northern Africa.

Moussa Faki, former Chadian Foreign Minister and the new African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson, speaks during an interview at the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 31 January 2017. AFP/ Zacharias Abubeker.
Statement / Africa

Twelve Points for the New African Union Commission Chairperson

Africa is experiencing the highest number of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. As the new chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, takes office, International Crisis Group suggests how he can strengthen the organisation’s response to threats to continental peace and security.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the new chair of the African Union Commission (AUC), takes office in mid-March as the continent faces its worst spate of humanitarian crises since the 1990s. The most alarming is in the Lake Chad basin where more than eleven million people need emergency aid. In Somalia, 6.2 million (almost half the population) face acute food shortages and in South Sudan, where the UN recently declared a famine, nearly 5 million are severely food insecure. The suffering is largely man-made: the effects of drought have been exacerbated by prolonged wars and mass displacement.

More promisingly, Gambia’s peaceful transition, negotiated by the Economic Community of West African States with AU support, is one of the steps toward democracy and rule of law being taken in much of the continent. Whether these gains can be multiplied across Africa depends on how well Mr Faki, Chad’s former foreign minister, will use the tools at his disposal to persuade member states to address the triggers and longer-term drivers of conflict: fraught electoral processes; leaders who refuse to leave office as scheduled; corrupt, authoritarian or repressive governments; population growth; joblessness and climate change. These same forces precipitate two other major continental challenges, migration and the threat from religious extremists and other violent non-state groups.

Mr Faki arrives at a time of upheaval for the AU. At January’s summit, heads of state agreed to proposals from Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame that the organisation should focus only on a limited number of key priorities with continental scope, such as political affairs, peace and security and continental integration, and that institutional structures should be redesigned to reflect this. He will have to carefully manage this radical reform, as well as Morocco’s recent re-admission, to avoid aggravating existing tensions and divisions and maintain morale in a beleaguered secretariat.

The geopolitical context for multilateral diplomacy is also changing rapidly. The influence of China, the Gulf states and Turkey (especially in the Horn, the Sahel and North Africa) cannot be ignored. Growing nationalism in Europe and the uncertainty of U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies have created new concerns. There are opportunities here for the AU along with challenges, but to take advantage of them, Mr Faki will have to push it and its member states to take greater responsibility, both politically and financially, for conflict prevention and resolution. Crisis Group offers below ideas on how the new chair of the AUC can drive change and revitalise key relationships so as to strengthen the AU’s response to threats to continental peace and security, as well as suggestions for how the organisation can help prevent conflict escalating and move peace processes forward.

Strategic Direction

1. Build support for a stronger, more self-sufficient union

In a deeply unstable global environment, with old power centres in disarray and Middle East rivalries infecting the continent, African multilateral diplomacy is more necessary than ever. The new chair’s challenge is to convince member states of the AU’s worth, in particular the value of its peace and security architecture. That leaders signed on to a bold reform agenda would seem to suggest they want a more effective AU. But for the process to be truly transformative, they must make tough choices on sovereignty, and the tensions between popular aspirations for more open government and the authoritarian tendencies of many of those governments.

There are opportunities here for the AU along with challenges, but to take advantage of them, Mr Faki will have to push it and its member states to take greater responsibility.

Working closely with presidents Kagame, Idriss Déby (Chad) and Alpha Condé (Guinea), the troika appointed to supervise implementation of the reforms, Mr Faki should build a coalition of leaders representing each region, who are committed to reform. But, building political support for a stronger AU will not be enough. Member states also need to provide adequate funding. Aside from the loss of credibility and ownership that reliance on external donors brings, the AU can no longer count on the same levels of external financing from the U.S. and Europe. The AUC’s ability to work effectively depends on member states willingness to implement the July 2016 summit decision for a 0.2 per cent levy on imports, with proceeds going to the AU. Only a handful of states have begun to enact the tax into law. Mr Faki should provide full support to the AU’s High Representative for the Peace Fund, Dr Donald Kaberuka, and encourage member states to fulfil their financial commitments. Those who pay only lip service to the idea of a stronger AU must recognise that without significant additional African financing, AU peace support operations will likely remain blocked from sustainable funding from UN assessed contributions as well.

2. Make effective use of the existing conflict prevention architecture

The AU has the tools necessary for conflict prevention but finds it difficult to use them effectively because of resource constraints and the great influence member states willing to play the sovereignty card to avoid scrutiny wield. Changing leaders’ thinking is hard, and Mr Faki should focus on building political support for conflict prevention among like-minded members. Even without such a coalition, there are ways to improve existing mechanisms. Translating data and analysis of the AU’s early warning system into early action has been hampered, in part, by the way information flows within the AUC and between it and the regional economic communities (RECs). The chair should break down AUC barriers, especially between the Political Affairs and Peace and Security departments.

Mediation mechanisms are fragmented, with little oversight and direction from the chair or the Peace and Security Council (PSC). Creation of the mediation support unit (MSU) has been a good first step, but Mr Faki must ensure it is well-staffed by skilled, experienced specialists. For it to be truly effective, all mediation activities, including those of the Panel of the Wise, special envoys and representatives, liaison offices and special political missions, should be under its purview. There is little transparency in how special envoys and representatives are selected. Mr Faki should work to change this as well as examine their performance and mandates, making changes where needed. He should also use the reform process either to reinvigorate or dispense with the Panel of the Wise. Likewise, he should engage more personally in preventative diplomacy, especially to unblock stalemated processes in Burundi, Central Africa Republic (CAR) and Mali, and work to build consensus at the local, regional, continental and wider international level so as to bring coherence to the efforts of all those involved in peacemaking. Mr Faki should understand the limitations of his office and bring respected former heads of state into the mediation process.

Many crises are predictable, especially those linked to poor governance and disputed political transitions. The effects of generational and demographic changes, the slow pace of economic growth in many countries and the persistence of repressive or authoritarian regimes mean we can expect increasing discontent and violent protest. Mr Faki must ensure that AUC fulfils its responsibility to alert the PSC to impending conflicts, engaging with affected member states and encouraging the PSC to put them on its agenda at the first signs of crisis. This will be uncomfortable and provoke backlash, but it cannot be avoided if the AU is serious about conflict prevention.

3. Strengthen the institution

The January summit adopted Kagame’s bold reform outline, which aims to streamline the AU, making it more efficient, focused and results oriented. The new chair is charged with realising these ambitions. This is not the first reform attempt; ten years ago an independent panel drew up a comprehensive program on which Kagame’s team drew heavily. Mr Faki must learn from previous failures by not rushing the process and building broad support by consulting widely within the AUC and with member states. He should push forward on the reforms linked to the most urgent needs (eg, implementing the PSC protocols and strengthening sanctions mechanisms) and which have the greatest consensus.

The AU’s relationship with the RECs, vital for effective conflict prevention and resolution, is often strained and competitive. The principles, rights and obligations governing this relationship are clearly set out in PSC Protocol (Article 16) and the 2007 memorandum of understanding. The chair should ensure these instruments are implemented. Some tension could be eased by more effective communication. Mr Faki should seek opportunities to work collaboratively with RECs and encourage direct, frequent exchanges at all levels during the lifecycle of a crisis. RECs should be consulted before major decisions, such as the selection of a special envoy or deployment of observers. Uncertainty regarding the principle of subsidiarity limits the AU’s its ability to intervene when regional peace processes stall, as in Burundi and South Sudan. He should use the reform process to establish comparative advantage, not subsidiarity, as the basis for the AU-RECs relationship.

4. Revitalise security partnerships

During the past decade, the AU has taken on a greater role in preventing and resolving conflicts. At the same time, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has increasingly delegated to it a central role in political management of Africa’s conflicts, in part due to a growing recognition that it cannot manage these crises alone. The AU’s confidence and capacity have increased, but it still relies on partners and donors to fund its peace and security activities and fill capacity gaps. As a result, relationships are often strained, sometimes blighted by mistrust and misunderstanding.

Collaboration with the UN, arguably the AU’s most important security partner, has increased, but room for improvement remains. Together with the UN Secretary-General, Mr Faki should ensure that UNSC and AU PSC agendas are more closely aligned and reflect the continent’s priorities. By preparing PSC positions ahead of major UNSC decisions, there is a greater chance Africa will speak with one voice and so increase its influence on decisions. Closer AU-UN cooperation, including collective assessments and joint field visits, would foster more understanding and help build common positions and a shared analysis. Mr Faki should take the lead in this area, setting the tone and direction for the rest of the commission.

The European Union (EU) is identifying its strategic interests in Africa, and Mr Faki should ensure the AU defines its interests so common security challenges can be determined. The EU is a vital partner, but the relationship was tested in 2016 by its decision to reallocate 20 per cent of its funding for the AU’s Somalia mission, AMISOM, and stop directly paying Burundian troops serving in it. The EU-Africa November summit in Côte d’Ivoire is an opportunity to renew the partnership, discuss priorities and confirm areas of cooperation. The migrant crisis and terrorism threat will likely reshape EU-AU relations and feature prominently there. The chair must try to counter EU desire to focus narrowly on unpromising short-term curbs of migration to Europe by emphasising the need to address the drivers of the exodus: war, poverty, repression and the youth bulge.

5. Beyond a military response to “violent extremism”

The past decade has shown the costs and limits of a military response to jihadist groups and other violent non-state actors, especially in the absence of a political strategy. Military action is sometimes a necessary part of a strategy – the efforts against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin and jihadists in Mali are cases in point – but recent history in Africa and elsewhere suggests governments cannot rely on coercion alone.

Military action is sometimes a necessary part of a strategy ... but recent history in Africa and elsewhere suggests governments cannot rely on coercion alone.

The AU and its member states must not overlook the conditions that enable jihadist groups and other violent non-state actors to thrive: distrust of the state, especially in the peripheries; declining state authority; underdevelopment and social deprivation; readily available weapons; and heavy-handed, ineffective security forces. Mr Faki should articulate a stronger focus on developing coherent plans for returning effective government to affected areas. The possibility of a U.S. return to heavier-handed counter-terrorism policies could encourage others to adopt similar approaches. This is especially dangerous in Africa, where rule of law is often weak or absent. The chair should remind leaders that in dealing with these groups they must not forget human rights obligations, and he should dissuade them from labelling all opponents as “terrorists” or “violent extremists”.

Major Crises

6. Burundi

Contrary to government claims, the crisis is far from over. Intimidation, disappearances and killings continue and could quickly escalate, infecting a volatile region. Exact causes and motivations are hard to judge, as authorities have made no serious attempt to investigate and have frustrated the efforts of others, including the AU. The government and ruling party are intent on unilaterally dismantling the gains of the Arusha process that ended the last civil war, of which the AU is guarantor, including all vestiges of genuine power sharing and the critical presidential term limit. Internal debate on the direction is not permitted. The stability and relative peace Burundi recently enjoyed was premised on political pluralism and respect for Arusha’s main tenants, notably power sharing. The current path is highly likely to increase violence if left unchecked; the government’s drive to change the constitution to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to run again would undoubtedly be a major spark.

In December, Benjamin Mkapa, the East African Community-appointed mediator, spoke out against the opposition’s maximalist demand that the 2015 election result be revisited but did not balance this with criticism of the regime’s crackdown. The ruling party made no concessions and continues to refuse dialogue with exiled opposition.

The AU’s path is difficult, especially following its retreat from active engagement after the failed January 2016 attempt to send an AU peacekeeping mission. Mr Faki should personally re-engage the government, but he should hold to principled positions. The absence of PSC discussion makes it difficult for the AU to intervene, and the chairperson must encourage the PSC to put Burundi back on its agenda. The AU can support future mediation by clearly stating the current dangers, underlining that violence and intimidation is unacceptable, abuses must be investigated, and free, democratic debate is vital for stability. The AU should also emphasise that opposition violence is unacceptable and dangerous. Burundi’s future direction, including continued application of Arusha Agreement, should be freely debated by all parties.

7. Central African Republic

2016’s peaceful elections raised hopes of a longer-term resolution of the crisis that began in 2012. Yet, barely twelve months after President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s victory, little has changed. A fifth of the population is internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries, intercommunal tensions are high, and armed groups de facto control most of the country.

Though security in Bangui is improved, violence against civilians and fighting between armed groups have intensified in the provinces. In the east, ex-Seleka factions compete for territory and resources, triggering massive new displacement and strong anti-Fulani sentiment. In the west, the exclusionary “centrafricanité” concept that emerged in circles close to François Bozizé in 2013 and stigmatises Muslim as “foreigners”, prevents return of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The government, though legitimate, is not in full control and cannot respond to all the challenges. Little has been done at national level to advance reconciliation, and talks between the government and armed groups over disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration are blocked. Regional powers have organised several parallel initiatives to kick-start talks between armed groups, including meetings in 2016 in Chad and Angola. A proliferation of processes with unclear agendas could undermine attempts to persuade groups to disarm. All initiatives should support Touadera, who must develop a clear strategy for the negotiations, so that his government leads the process. The AU could be important in this, coordinating the initiatives and pushing armed groups to join the talks. A major challenge will be dealing with armed-group leaders – much of the population views their exclusion from government as a prerequisite for a sustainable solution.

8. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The 31 December agreement brokered by the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo (CENCO) calmed tensions resulting from the failure to hold elections the previous month. The deal was more inclusive than what the AU mediated in October and shortened the new date for the delayed polls from April 2018 to December 2017. But implementation is stalled over three issues: its timelines; appointment of the prime minister and composition of the interim government; and functioning of the oversight mechanism.

The death in February of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has suspended the talks, aiding the ruling majority, which consistently seeks to postpone elections. His loss deprives the Rassemblement, the main opposition coalition, of a genuinely popular leader able to cut deals, at a time when its inability to mobilise large protests undercut its legitimacy. The competition to replace Tshisekedi threatens the Rassemblement’s cohesion and could push the opposition to more hard-line positions.

The AU, in close cooperation with the region and the UN, should call on all parties to implement the 31 December agreement.

Armed conflict has displaced more than 2.2 million persons and is increasing in many provinces. In addition to the recurrent fighting in North Kivu, instability is spreading. In Kasai-Central, the August 2016 killing of a traditional chief by security forces has pitted militias against government forces and displaced some 200,000. In Tanganyika, fighting between the Twa (Pygmy) and Luba (Bantu) communities is taking an increasing toll and also affecting Haut-Katanga and Haut-Lomami provinces. Increased tension in Kongo-Central province directly affects the capital, Kinshasa. Rising insecurity is linked to a crisis of state legitimacy, combined with deepening economic crisis. All this makes the organisation of elections increasingly unlikely and creates real risk of an implosion.

The challenge is to ensure credible elections are held on schedule, and the constitution is respected. The AU, in close cooperation with the region and the UN, should call on all parties to implement the 31 December agreement and prioritise organising polls as soon as realistic. It should give full support as CENCO tries to keep the signatories on track. Mass violence remains a distinct possibility, the outcome of which could be state collapse and the entire region’s destabilisation. The PSC has taken a backseat on the DRC but needs to fully engage in attempts to broker a political transition.

9. Libya

The immediate priority remains preventing an escalation of violence. The country’s de-facto partition into eastern and western areas dominated by loose, fractious military coalitions has been reinforced by failure of the Libyan Political (Skhirat) Agreement. Escalation would most likely come from an advance on Tripoli by General Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army, buoyed by their takeover of oil facilities in the Gulf of Sirte and the dwindling international consensus behind the Skhirat deal. This would provoke fierce fighting, particularly with Islamist militias in the capital and from Misrata. Preventing this probably requires Egypt and Russia to dissuade Haftar; even with foreign backing, he cannot conquer the entire country. Resetting Skhirat is essential. Direct talks are needed between the Tripoli-based Presidency Council and politicians from the east, leading toward a new, broader-based unity government. A parallel security track should include Haftar and major western armed groups.

But the diplomatic process is in limbo: the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj, barely functions, and there is a lack of direction from major outside powers. Only Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia appear to be proposing new solutions, but Algeria and Tunisia support the GNA, while Egypt is close to Haftar. The three share security concerns but differ on how inclusive a negotiated solution should be, especially toward Islamists.

Time is not with the GNA. Electricity and water shortages, looming collapse of the health sector, shortages of local and foreign currency all have made life much tougher for ordinary Libyans. This gives GNA foes, especially Haftar, an opportunity. Signs of wider confrontation in the absence of a viable peace process abound, and local conflicts (for instance between Arabs, Tebus and Touaregs in the south and among Tripoli-based militias) are gaining importance.

The AU should support Algeria’s and Tunisia’s more inclusive approach and urge more pressure on Haftar from Egypt, whose legitimate interests must be accommodated. AU support might help impose a solution proposed by neighbours (ultimately bringing in Chad, Niger and Sudan) and help it gain wider support. At a time when the peace process lacks clear direction, encouraging consensus among neighbours could show the way for the UN and non-African powers.

10. Mali

With implementation stalling there is a real possibility the June 2015 Bamako peace agreement could dissolve. The Malian parties have little faith in the significantly flawed deal they were pressured to sign. Insecurity could increase with the fracturing of the main rebel coalition, the Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad, into new community-based armed groups. Jihadist organisations, like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Ansar Eddine, are still operating – striking provincial and district centres from rural bases. Insecurity is also rising in long neglected areas like central Mali, which is not covered by the northern peace process. The emergence of new groups, such as the Islamic State in the Great Sahara, and the possible incursion of defeated IS fighters from Libya further complicate the fraught security landscape.

The crisis is now spilling over borders. The G5 countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) thus announced the creation in February of a regional force to combat terrorism and transnational crime. The AU is well placed to give political and logistical support, as it does for the Multi-National Joint Task Force fighting Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin. But Mr Faki should push the G5 to take a realistic approach and work primarily on border security and improved intelligence sharing and to develop economic cooperation, not focus solely on military action.

A recent high-level Follow-up Committee meeting convened by the international mediation, was a last-ditch try to revive the peace process. It must not be squandered. Through Pierre Buyoya, the AU Special Representative, the chair should work with other partners to maintain momentum, focussing on relaunching the Mécanisme Opérationnel de Coordination (MOC) in northern Mali, including Kidal, and continuing to push for the newly-appointed interim authorities to start working effectively.

11. Somalia

Despite a fractious, fraudulent and corrupt electoral process beset by divisions and delays, Somalia elected a new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, with unprecedented cross-clan support. This is a chance for progress toward peace, economic prosperity and political stability. Expectations are inordinately high, however, and to avoid a backlash he must move swiftly on pledges to rebuild the security forces and state institutions, tackle corruption, improve justice and unify the country. His nationalist rhetoric, supported by Islamist factions in his government, threatens to antagonise powerful neighbours capable of undermining his administration. It is critical for Mr Faki to encourage discreet diplomacy and foster dialogue between Somalia and its neighbours, especially Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen.

Farmajo’s credibility and popular support improves the odds of progress in the government’s stalled national reconciliation process. A bottom-up approach has the greatest chance to produce lasting political settlements with and between federal member states. Mr Faki must seize this opportunity and encourage the new government to revive the process and help it mobilise technical and financial resources. Failure to reduce clan tensions and build sub-national administrations would create openings for Al-Shabaab and an emerging, albeit small, IS branch.

Failure to reduce clan tensions and build sub-national administrations would create openings for Al-Shabaab.

Despite significant successes against Al-Shabaab, AMISOM is struggling to win a guerrilla war it is ill-suited and inadequately resourced to fight. Internal challenges, national rivalries and frictions among troop contributing countries compound this problem, hampering military effectiveness. The AU should help to repair cohesion and encourage more realistic, strategic thinking in preparation for a well-managed drawdown framed around Somalia’s security sector needs. Hasty withdrawal would be disastrous for Somalia and the region.

12. South Sudan

Famine, driven by a deadly combination of conflict, economic crisis and drought, has left 100,000 on the verge of starvation with a million more at serious risk. Almost eighteen months since a peace agreement was signed, fighting, accompanied by atrocities, shows little sign of stopping in Equatorias, Upper Nile and Unity states. Fierce combat in Juba last July between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) forced ex-First Vice President Riek Machar to flee. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development and other major international actors have acquiesced in his exile and replacement by First Vice President Taban Deng Gai. Without Machar, the SPLM/A-IO is less cohesive, and new armed groups are emerging, while President Salva Kiir strengthens his position in the capital and the region.

Kiir’s December 2016 call for a renewed ceasefire and national dialogue presents an opportunity to promote negotiations between the government and parts of the armed opposition (including groups outside the transitional government) and to address the grievances of disaffected communities at the grassroots level. This will only succeed if the government is willing to negotiate fairly. Mr Faki should ensure that the AU High Representative Alpha Oumar Konaré receives the support needed to fulfil the mandate given him at the IGAD-UN-AU meeting in January 2017 to encourage all stakeholders to begin genuinely inclusive discussion on the scope and format of a national dialogue. He should also look for ways in which the AU and its partners can support local communities in this process, in particular by helping them formulate and articulate their complaints.

Under the August 2015 peace agreement, the AU is responsible for establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, mandated to investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the recent civil war. Insecurity and severe restrictions on freedom of speech make it currently unfeasible to set up the court, but Mr Faki should ensure that preliminary work defining operation, funding and composition goes ahead and that the collection of evidence begins.