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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.

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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.

European flags, German flags and flags with the G7 Summit logo fly in front of the G7 Summit 2022 press centre in Bavaria, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, June 20 2022. Angelika Warmuth / dpa / AFP
Special Briefing 7 / Global

7 Priorities for the G7: Managing the Global Fallout of Russia’s War on Ukraine

Two subjects will likely preoccupy the G7 heads of state when they meet starting 26 June: the war in Ukraine and the related spikes in commodity prices worldwide. The leaders need to show that they will address the economic woes as well as other crises.

What’s new? The leaders of the Group of Seven, or G7, are meeting in Germany from 26 to 28 June to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine and its reverberations in the world economy.

Why does it matter? The club of Western powers will – and should – display unity in opposing Russian aggression. It is equally urgent for them to communicate determination to address the global commodity price and other economic shocks related to the war.

What should be done? While reaffirming their support for Ukraine, G7 leaders should use economic and aid tools to help countries most threatened by the commodities crisis. They should also dedicate time to some of the world’s other pressing crises and push for action to manage climate change’s impact on international peace and security.


From 26 to 28 June, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will host his counterparts from the Group of Seven industrialised nations (Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and United States) in the Bavarian castle of Schloss Elmau for their annual summit. Two overlapping challenges will dominate discussions among the G7. The first is what to do about Russia’s war in Ukraine. The second concerns the grim state of the global economy, rocked not just by war but also the COVID-19 pandemic. Spiralling food and fuel costs threaten to worsen the humanitarian plight of people caught up in existing crises, spark unrest and instability in other poorer nations, and drive political upheaval in the G7 countries themselves.

While the G7 leaders will doubtless take Russia to task over its aggression in Ukraine, they must also signal to the rest of the world that they care about other crises, particularly the widespread economic woes. Many governments in Africa, Asia and Latin America have condemned Russia’s assault on Ukraine. But they also express concern that the U.S. and its allies are exacerbating the economic crisis through their use of sanctions against Moscow. Western officials deny such accusations, and certainly Russia, through its invasion and occupation of part of Ukraine, is primarily responsible for the war’s ramifications. But sanctions have contributed to the cascade of global shocks. G7 leaders need to show that they are listening to other states’ concerns and can respond effectively. They should also make clear that although Ukraine is consuming attention in Western capitals, efforts to resolve other conflicts and mitigate the suffering they cause, notably through the G7’s financial muscle, remain on their agendas.

Although the G7 has no doubt lost some of its capacity to shape global economic affairs in recent decades, it remains influential. Its members’ share of global GDP has lost ground from the 44 per cent they commanded in 2000, but they still controlled 31 per cent as of 2020. G7 members also hold over two fifths of voting rights at both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and they play an even bigger role in funding international humanitarian operations. The group’s members and the European Commission covered 70 per cent of the World Food Programme (WFP)’s almost $10 billion budget in 2021, whereas China provided less than 1 per cent of the WFP’s funding.

Given this still significant financial and political clout, the G7 should:

  • Complement their expressions of support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russia with clear signals that they will act to deliver essential financial aid to poor and middle-income countries, most vulnerable to economic shocks, while doing whatever they can to get more grain and other commodities, of which there are shortages, to global markets.
  • In Afghanistan, take steps to reverse the country’s economic collapse and alleviate a mounting humanitarian disaster, notably by redoubling efforts to reach agreement with the Taliban on getting the Afghan central bank working again.
  • In Lebanon, push the country’s elites to make needed reforms so that the IMF can start restoring a broken financial system and stop the state falling apart.
  • In Ethiopia, offer economic inducements to nudge the federal authorities and Tigrayan rebels toward a sustainable ceasefire.
  • In Haiti, support rebuilding the rule of law by developing new capabilities to counter the influence of powerful gangs.
  • In Sri Lanka, press the government to meet the criteria for an IMF bailout package to spare the country even worse suffering amid an unprecedented economic meltdown and a severe political crisis.
  • Finally, the G7 should turn to a global issue championed by Germany but now overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis: the impact of climate change on international peace and security. G7 leaders have already recognised how changing weather patterns, sea-level rises and other effects of climate change can aggravate dangers of conflict, but they need to help forge a broader international consensus, including at the COP27 summit in October, on how to manage those risks.

I. Addressing the Global Consequences of Russia’s War in Ukraine

Russia’s war in Ukraine will dominate the G7 agenda. The group’s members have jointly condemned Russia’s invasion, coordinated sanctions against Moscow and pledged $20 billion to Kyiv in financial assistance, in addition to offering military and economic aid.[fn]See Paola Tamma and Johanna Treeck, “G7 raises close to $20 billion for Ukraine”, Politico, 20 May 2022.Hide Footnote  For the most part, they have maintained a united front, striking a sensible balance between backing Ukraine against an aggressor, on one hand, while avoiding too grave a risk of direct war with Russia, on the other. The war seems set to drag on, with stalemate on most battlefronts. More to the point, the two sides are pursuing incompatible goals – Ukraine to recoup sovereignty over its territory and Russia to consolidate control of land it has captured and, eventually, instal an obedient government in Kyiv. Even were both to seek a pause, it would likely be temporary. At Schloss Elmau, G7 leaders will likely reiterate their positions on the war, renewing the denunciation of Russia and promising Ukraine further support. As NATO is convening a summit from 28 to 30 June, they will probably save substantial remarks on military and security policy for that meeting.[fn]Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, the only G7 member that is not a NATO nation, has a special invitation to this summit.Hide Footnote

Schloss Elmau is thus an opportunity for the G7 members to signal clearly that they recognise the gravity of the global commodity price and other economic shocks linked to the war and that they will take all realistic steps to address them. The world’s economy, battered by the pandemic and facing serious inflation, was in a parlous state even before Russia invaded Ukraine.[fn]From the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days in 2020 through January 2022, just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, prices of key commodities had already spiked – oil by 54 per cent, natural gas by 94 per cent and fertiliser by 85 per cent. Crisis Group estimates using data from the World Bank’s Commodities Price Dataset.Hide Footnote  The war has made an already gloomy economic outlook even more dire.

The impact is especially acute because Russia and Ukraine are central to commodity markets. Together, the two countries produce 12 per cent of the total calories traded worldwide, and both are among the top five global exporters of wheat, barley, sunflowers and maize.[fn]“Ukraine: Note on the Impact of the War on Food Security in Ukraine”, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 25 March 2022.Hide Footnote  Ukraine is an important source of sunflower oil, supplying about 50 per cent of what is purchased across the globe, followed by Russia (about 23 per cent).[fn]“How the Ukraine-Russia conflict will raise the price of snack foods”, Time, 7 March 2022.Hide Footnote  Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer, behind the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and the largest oil exporter to global markets.[fn]Oil Market and Russian Supply”, International Energy Agency, n.d.Hide Footnote  It is also one of the world’s major natural gas exporters, accounting for 17 per cent of global output.[fn]Country Insight – Russia”, BP, n.d.Hide Footnote  Price hikes and shortages in key Russian- and Ukrainian-produced commodities have hit many countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Fuel shortages in particular drive food price hikes, due to transport costs and, given the use of natural gas in producing fertiliser, increased fertiliser costs, hurting food production as farmers who cannot afford higher prices have lower yields. 

Russia shoulders the blame for the global ramifications of the war in Ukraine. It launched an illegal attack upon its neighbour, having been warned that doing so would provoke comprehensive sanctions. Since invading, furthermore, it has blockaded Ukraine’s southern ports in the Black Sea and closed off the Sea of Azov. Prior to the war, nearly 90 per cent of Ukraine’s grain exports went through its Black Sea ports.[fn]Oleksiy Blinov and Simeon Djankov, “Restarting Ukraine’s agricultural exports”, Vox EU, 10 June 2022.Hide Footnote  Alternate routes – mostly consisting of roads overland to other countries’ ports – cannot easily replace sea lanes, given the sheer volume of grain that needs to exit. Ukraine’s grain silos are filling up, meaning that farmers are struggling to find storage for summer crops and may be unable to plant for winter.[fn]“Ukraine’s grain crop at risk as silos still half full due to stalled exports”, Reuters, 8 June 2022.Hide Footnote  Russia has, alongside its forces’ other atrocities, destroyed and stolen grain supplies. It has disrupted farming in war-torn areas and struck grain storage sites with missiles. Moreover, in response to sanctions, Moscow has also banned exports of more than 200 products, including the fertiliser that many countries rely upon.[fn]The ban came shortly after the U.S. said it would proscribe, and the EU said it would reduce, imports of Russian oil. Russia claimed that its move aimed to maintain internal market stability. “Russia banned the export of other 200 goods. But is Putin retaliating against U.S. sanctions or stockpiling supplies?”, Fortune, 11 March 2022. Russia had temporarily banned export of the fertiliser ammonium nitrate in early February, before the war, to conserve domestic supply. The broader fertiliser ban came in March. “Russia to temporarily ‘suspend’ fertilizer exports”, Seeking Alpha, 10 March 2022.Hide Footnote

But while blame for the war lies with Moscow, the resulting sanctions imposed on Russia have exacerbated the commodities crisis. Exemptions of Russian grain and fertiliser from sanctions has not soothed jitters in financial and insurance markets. Many companies have opted voluntarily to cease trade with Russia, wary of the legal and reputational risks posed by a constantly evolving sanctions regime. The decision to ban seven Russian banks from the Swift system complicates payments to Moscow, even for non-sanctioned commodities. Put simply, it is hard for purchasers to either transfer money to Russia or insure Russian shipments.

There are other factors, too. More than a dozen countries, including major grain producers, have imposed export bans on essential commodities, fearful of shortfalls to come.[fn]India, for example, imposed a ban on wheat exports to maintain its supply and keep domestic wheat prices stable after heat waves had depressed wheat production.Hide Footnote

G7 leaders must show they can manage the commodities crisis if they are to maintain ... solidarity with Ukraine.

As Crisis Group has long argued, G7 leaders must show they can manage the commodities crisis if they are to maintain the solidarity with Ukraine that many governments expressed in UN votes early on.[fn]See “Maintaining a Coalition in Support of Ukraine at the UN,” Crisis Group Commentary, 31 March 2022.Hide Footnote  While many non-Western leaders evince sympathy for Ukrainian suffering, many also stress that they must put their own citizens’ needs first.[fn]See, for example, “The Impact of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine in the Middle East and North Africa”, Crisis Group Commentary, 14 April 2022.Hide Footnote  True, these leaders have diverse reasons for distancing themselves from Western efforts to isolate Russia, ranging from the desire not to pick a side in a war many perceive as pitting NATO against Russia to historical ties to Moscow, reliance on its arms or simply reluctance to anger the Kremlin.[fn]The Impact of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine in the Middle East and North Africa”, op. cit. See also “The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis?”, Crisis Group Commentary, 4 March 2022.Hide Footnote  Many chafe at the attention Western leaders give Ukraine above crises elsewhere or point to Western double standards, citing the Iraq and Libya wars in particular.[fn]Ibid. See also Comfort Ero’s “President’s Take” in Crisis Group’s EU Watch List Spring Update, 24 May 2022.Hide Footnote  But fear at the commodities crisis and the sense that the West has given little consideration to the sanctions’ unintended consequences are pervasive. Senegalese President Macky Sall, the African Union chair and an invitee at the G7 meeting, has warned that Africans are “caught between the hammer of war and the anvil of sanctions”.[fn]“Macky Sall: ‘Africa is caught between the hammer of war and the anvil of sanctions’”, Le Monde, 14 June 2022.Hide Footnote

Food and fuel shortages could prove destabilising in much of the world. People in places already suffering humanitarian crises are especially vulnerable; the WFP has warned that 325 million people are “marching toward starvation”.[fn]“‘Marching toward starvation’: UN warns of hell on earth if Ukraine war goes on”, The Guardian, 17 June 2022.Hide Footnote  Economic hardship could translate into social and political unrest in other countries. Many poor and middle-income countries – particularly those that import more than they export and whose major debt loads grew during the COVID-19 pandemic – will struggle to cope with high food and fuel costs.[fn]According to the International Monetary Fund, nearly 60 per cent of low-income countries are in debt distress or near it. Crisis Group interview, former IMF official, 17 June 2022.Hide Footnote  Whether higher prices bring tumult depends on local politics: some governments might be able to calm tempers through emergency spending, potentially aided by wealthy patrons; others might move to crush dissent; still others might face no new upheaval, simply because citizens are exhausted from years of protest over other grievances. But in many states, price hikes and shortages could fuel instability. Sri Lanka’s crisis, though it predates Russia’s 24 February invasion of Ukraine, could be a harbinger of things to come.[fn]Alan Keenan, “Sri Lanka’s Economic Meltdown Triggers Popular Uprising and Political Turmoil”, Crisis Group Commentary, 18 April 2022. See also Mark Malloch-Brown, “Sri Lanka is an omen”, Revista da Prensa, 26 May 2022.Hide Footnote

Western powers have responded in some detail to the challenges. In financial terms, the U.S has taken the lead on providing food aid, allocating some $2.5 billion since February. The EU and UN have also proposed support mechanisms, and the European Commission is reportedly considering a €600 million ($640 million) response to the global food crisis.[fn]Vince Chadwick, “The European Commission’s €600m food crisis plan”, DevEx, 10 June 2022.Hide Footnote

As for the G7, Germany hosted a virtual meeting of member states’ agriculture ministers to discuss the problem in the war’s first weeks.[fn]“G7 Agriculture Ministers Respond to Russian Invasion of Ukraine”, press release, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 11 March 2022.Hide Footnote  In May, the G7 and World Bank launched a Global Alliance for Food Security with a short-term focus on helping get food and other essential supplies to needy countries, reducing tariffs on agricultural goods and providing financial assistance to vulnerable economies.[fn]“G7 Presidency, World Bank Group Establish Global Alliance for Food Security to Catalyze Response to Food Crisis”, press release, World Bank, 19 May 2022.Hide Footnote  This first step should be useful in dealing with the food crisis, so long as these actors deliver on their promise of “up to $30 billion in existing and new projects”.[fn]World Bank Announces Planned Actions for Global Crisis Response”, press release, World Bank, 18 May 2022.Hide Footnote  Certainly, they should avoid repeating mistakes made during the pandemic, when the failure to deliver promised vaccines outside the rich world fed enormous frustration – a sentiment that has contributed toward the ambivalence in poorer countries about the Ukraine war.[fn]As of 15 June, just over 72 per cent of people in high-income countries had received at least one dose of vaccine, whereas only 18.25 per cent of people in low-income countries had got a shot. See data and updates at the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity, a joint project of the World Health Organization, the UN Development Program and the University of Oxford.Hide Footnote

Humanitarian relief for states already in crisis and facing further food shortages should be accompanied by economic buffers for other vulnerable countries.

Notwithstanding their efforts so far, G7 members should do more to tackle global economic turmoil. Immediate humanitarian relief for states already in crisis and facing further food shortages should be accompanied by economic buffers for oth-er vulnerable countries. One option is for G7 countries to promote use of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), a supplementary international reserve asset that is meant to maintain liquidity in the global economy.

The SDRs should go to the countries that most need them. The IMF issued $650 billion in SDRs in the summer of 2021, but due to the organisation’s rules, the bulk were assigned to richer countries. These wealthier countries can, however, “recycle” SDRs (or, in effect, lend their SDRs to the IMF’s trust fund for low-income countries, the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust or the new Resilience and Sustainability Trust) or donate them outright to other countries, though they rarely do the latter. Lending or donating is a complex process, but the G7 members could commit to redistributing these assets and convince other G20 economies to follow suit. G20 leaders in fact already committed themselves to support low-income countries by lending $100 billion from their SDRs. The U.S., which has yet to pledge any reallocations, should step up on this front in particular.[fn]Germany has pledged to redistribute 28 per cent of its SDRs allocation. The other G7 members have each pledged 20 per cent reallocations, except the U.S., which has pledged nothing. China has pledged 24 per cent of its allocation and Saudi Arabia 66 per cent. See data and updates on the ONE website. Republicans in the U.S. Congress say recipient countries could use the SDRs to buy Russian goods, thus funding the Kremlin’s war effort, or to pay off loans to China or other U.S. rivals. Sanctions would remain in place, however, and propping up the countries hardest hit by the commodities crisis is no less imperative than squeezing the Russian economy.Hide Footnote

While demand-side intervention to provide food is vital, solutions will have to come on the supply side, too. One option is to convince countries that have blocked export of vital commodities, including grain, to resume trade, but capitals are proving reticent, still concerned about hunger at home. Another option is to find alternative food sources in regions on a different farming cycle, for instance in Latin America. The G7 could look to encourage countries that already have the requisite industrial agricultural capacity to fill the gap.

Several proposals have been put forward for enabling shipments of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea. Challenges, however, remain numerous. NATO military escorts of grain cargoes would put the alliance’s warships close to, and maybe at odds with, the Russian Black Sea fleet. Ukraine is reluctant to remove mines it has placed underwater to prevent Russian attacks on Odesa or other coastal sites. Moreover, both Ukrainian and Russian mines have begun to float, meaning that no one knows their exact locations. The best bet would be either a UN convoy or one launched by Black Sea littoral states, so that no new ships need be brought into the area. Turkey has been active in exploring such options with the UN.[fn]Crisis Group interview, senior UN official, 8 June 2022.Hide Footnote It is unclear how serious Russia is about those talks, but the parties may yet agree on limited demining of specific corridors, which would help. Other options, such as overland shipping to other Black Sea ports, for instance in Romania, are less attractive but still worth pursuing (the World Bank estimates that perhaps half the grain awaiting export could be transferred to European countries in this way).[fn]

G7 leaders understandably see the Ukraine war as critical to global security. Russian success in Ukraine would threaten Europe for years to come, with cascading effects for the rest of the world. But many leaders elsewhere in the world baulk at having to pay steep, immediate costs – economic hardship for their citizens and potentially even unrest – in an effort to prevent what they see as either a longer-term problem or simply a European or Western concern, especially as the sanctions imposed on Russia are not in themselves guaranteed to weaken Moscow so much as to deter further aggression in the way Western leaders intend. Many governments in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are unlikely to fully buy into isolating Russia, whatever policy Western leaders adopt. But the G7 risks frittering away the support these countries have been willing to show thus far unless they demonstrate that they care as much about the commodities crisis as about the front lines in Ukraine. The Schloss Elmau meeting is a good opportunity to show that they do.


II. Easing Afghanistan’s Economic and Humanitarian Crisis

Although the Taliban won the war in Afghanistan almost a year ago, wealthy foreign states, including the G7 members, retain an economic chokehold on the country. All the group’s members are enforcing hefty sanctions regimes that hurt the Afghan economy. Some, including the U.S., have announced broad humanitarian exemptions, but Afghan banks remain crippled by asset freezes and lack of access to the global financial system.[fn]For more, see Graeme Smith, “Afghanistan: The Humanitarian Crisis and U.S. Response”, testimony delivered to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 10 February 2022.Hide Footnote  Nearly all development aid was cut off. These restrictions have contributed to the rapid decline of the Afghan economy and make it difficult for aid agencies to operate in the country. With almost 20 million Afghans facing hunger or starvation, humanitarian disaster is at hand and seems poised to grow. An enormous aid response helped relieve the crisis over the winter of 2021-2022, but concerns are great about the period ahead (especially, but not exclusively, the forthcoming winter), as donor funds for Afghanistan decline, and prices of food and fuel supplies rise due to commodity shocks.

The Taliban’s adoption of hardline policies, especially denying the rights of women and girls, including prohibiting secondary school education for girls – a move which the G7’s foreign ministers described as “further isolating [the Taliban] from the international community” – has raised obstacles to member states’ engagement with the regime and provision of material support.[fn]“G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on the Situation of Women and Girls in Afghanistan,” U.S. Department of State, 12 May 2022.Hide Footnote  G7 members are entirely justified to push for women’s rights and other human rights in Afghanistan. Yet it appears unlikely that Taliban leaders, placing their ranks’ unity above all other concerns, will yield to outside pressure. The country’s economic collapse has already caused terrible suffering for Afghans, with more likely to come, especially for the nation’s women and girls.[fn]For more, see “Stopping State Failure in Afghanistan”, Crisis Group Commentary, 27 January 2022.Hide Footnote  Nor should outside powers expect a change in government any time soon: despite an uptick in anti-Taliban attacks in northern Afghanistan, the group retains a solid grip on Kabul and the vast majority of the country.

The G7 should seek to avoid, or aim at least to cushion, a looming economic-humanitarian catastrophe. The full removal of sanctions, the return of all frozen assets and the Taliban’s formal international recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan are out of the question; these steps would be politically contentious in Western capitals under the circumstances. But G7 leaders should consider going further than they have so far in easing sanctions, looking at a phased and closely monitored unfreezing of assets for the sake of macro-economic stability, finding with the Taliban workable conditions for the revival of Afghanistans central bank and encouraging correspondent banks to resume business with the country (details of which Crisis Group has described elsewhere).[fn]See, for example, Crisis Group Asia Report N°317, Beyond Emergency Relief: Averting Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Catastrophe, 6 December 2021.Hide Footnote  They can also use their collective leverage to encourage the World Bank to deepen re-engagement with the Taliban on planning for economic development.

The G7 should focus primarily on meeting the basic needs of suffering Afghans.

The G7 certainly should not turn a blind eye to Taliban repression. Leaders should encourage the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan to make full use of a March UN Security Council mandate that authorised the operation to continue human rights monitoring, and should also continue to use bilateral channels to push for respect for the rights of women and girls.[fn]See Graeme Smith and Ashish Pradhan, “Toward a New Mandate for the UN Mission in Afghanistan”, Crisis Group Commentary, 28 January 2022.Hide Footnote  Overall, though, pressure for women and girls’ rights will be of little use if living conditions deteriorate further, immiserating the population – women and men alike. The G7 should focus primarily on meeting the basic needs of suffering Afghans. Whether such an approach can set a foundation for positive change over time is unclear. But aiming for gradual improvement of living standards through en-gagement remains a better bet than holding all development aid hostage to short-term concessions that the stubborn Taliban will not grant.

III. Rescuing Lebanon from State Failure

The knock-on effects of the Ukraine war – chiefly, global spikes in oil and wheat prices – are pushing Lebanon closer to the brink of state collapse. The country’s economy is already in tatters, after more than two years of runaway inflation, which hit 145 per cent in 2021. Public services are in disarray and, as usual, powerbrokers are using economic patronage to shore up their fiefdoms.[fn]For more, see Crisis Group Middle East Report N°228, Managing Lebanon’s Compounding Crises, 28 October 2021.Hide Footnote  As political parties haggle over forming a new government after the May elections, Lebanon needs urgent financial help.[fn]See David Wood, “Lebanon’s Elections Portend Protracted Political Vacuum”, Crisis Group Commentary, 23 May 2022.  Absent reforms, donors will be unwilling to make substantial investments in the country, and for good reason. Unless it is motivated to change, Lebanon will remain stuck in the cycle where it has been for years.

Now is an opportune moment for G7 members to put extra political weight behind efforts to fix the country’s financial system. On 7 April, the IMF and the Lebanese government signed a staff-level agreement, by which Lebanon would receive $3 billion in the framework of an Extended Fund Arrangement over four years.[fn]“IMF Reaches Staff-Level Agreement on Economic Policies with Lebanon for a Four-Year Extended Fund Facility”, press release, International Monetary Fund, 7 April 2022.Hide Footnote  To receive these funds, the government must carry out far-reaching reforms aimed at achieving fiscal sustainability, sound governance and conditions conducive for economic growth. By signing the agreement, the government also formally accepted that it must begin resolving the Lebanese financial system’s crisis before the IMF board would consider authorising the new funding. Accordingly, in its very last session as an executive body on 20 May, the outgoing cabinet approved a financial recovery plan designed to rehabilitate the defunct financial sector.[fn]“Outgoing Lebanon government approves economic recovery plan”, Voice of America, 20 May 2022.Hide Footnote

But powerful players with strong interests in maintaining the broken system are unlikely to go along easily. Indeed, the Association of Lebanese Banks has already rejected the government’s plan, complaining that it makes unjust demands of commercial bank depositors. The association may team up with politicians with stakes in the sector to stall, skew or even abort the recovery plan, as they did in 2020. Protracted negotiations over forming the new government, which could well end in stalemate, are liable to cause further delay.

G7 members should offer [Lebanon] direct financial support to keep public services … running.

The G7, along with the IMF, should lend both a sense of urgency to Lebanon’s political leadership and support to the Lebanese people. The leaders should impress on Lebanese politicians and decision-makers the absolute necessity of subordinating political differences to the reform agenda if the country is to avoid a complete economic collapse with grave humanitarian consequences. They can proactively contribute to the build-up of popular pressure in this direction by addressing the Lebanese public along the same lines. Through official statements, G7 members and the IMF can clearly establish that they will not accept a distorted version of the financial recovery plan.

Notwithstanding the concerns about Lebanon’s political elite, G7 members should offer the country direct financial support to keep public services – including schools, hospitals and water infrastructure – running. They should extend assistance to keep food prices as low as feasible. But donors should emphasise that this aid cannot last indefinitely and that the country’s politicians must make hard decisions to get the economy back on its feet. On the other hand, G7 leaders could express their willingness to facilitate large-scale development aid and investment if Lebanon can make swift progress toward putting genuine reforms in place.


IV. Creating Incentives for a Lasting Ceasefire in Ethiopia

Ethiopias civil war was a headliner at the 2021 G7 summit in Britain and it deserves a prominent spot on the agenda this time, too, though the trend lines are more positive than they were a year ago. In 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the participants to address famine conditions amounting to a humanitarian tragedy on a scale we have not seen so far this century” in the region of Tigray, that had suffered fierce fighting and a blockade by federal troops and allied forces, which included Eritrea’s military.[fn]Letter from the UN Secretary-General to the President of the United States, 4 June 2021. Copy on file with Crisis Group. The UN sent similar letters to other G7 leaders.Hide Footnote  Today, the situation in Tigray is marginally improved but still dangerous. A three-month truce between federal and Tigray forces is holding, aid convoys are slowly gaining easier access to the region and the first direct talks between federal and Tigray leaders may occur soon.[fn]For more, see Crisis Group Statement, “Building on Ethiopia’s Fragile Truce”, 15 April 2022.Hide Footnote  Yet there is a risk of renewed war – including between Tigrayan and Eritrean forces, which have recently clashed – and Tigray remains cut off from trade and basic services, including banking, electricity and telecommunications.

The G7 has an opportunity to coax the Ethiopian government and Tigray’s leaders toward a more durable ceasefire by tying … financial assistance … to progress on humanitarian and political issues.

The G7 has an opportunity to coax the Ethiopian government and Tigray’s leaders toward a more durable ceasefire by tying offers of financial assistance to Addis Ababa to progress on humanitarian and political issues. The national authorities face an economic predicament, with annual inflation at 37 per cent, hard currency in short supply and growth slowing. During the war, donors suspended budget support for the federal government and most bilateral development funding. They need a coordinated plan for restarting this assistance in a manner that nudges Addis Ababa to take steps toward peace.[fn]See “Ethiopia: Giving Talks a Chance”, Crisis Group Commentary, 27 January 2022.Hide Footnote

While there should be no limits on humanitarian assistance, development aid could be a useful tool for encouraging progress in conflict resolution if donors can develop a joint effort to encourage certain priorities. The World Bank has already resumed its development assistance to Ethiopias government, approving a $300 million program in May.[fn]“Ethiopia, World Bank agree $300 million grant for reconstruction”, Reuters, 17 May 2022.Hide Footnote  Yet criticism from European and U.S. officials made clear that approval of the funding was not part of a coordinated donor strategy. A further $2.7 billion for Ethiopias government is in the pipeline for approval at the World Bank, covering areas including water, health and disaster management. The risk is that a key incentive for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration to end the war fades amid the influx of hard currency.

To use its limited leverage wisely, the G7 should make sure that donors peg the resumption of standard amounts of development assistance to steps by Addis Ababa to widen the flow of emergency relief to Tigrays population, restore basic services to the region and prolong the ceasefire through formal direct negotiations. That does not mean withholding all new funding until a final peace deal is worked out (and donors should ramp up purely humanitarian aid regardless). But it does mean coordinating with one another to link major foreign support to a peace process that seems to be gathering momentum.

Looking ahead, to encourage political progress, the G7 should consider pledging a much larger recovery package for Ethiopia should authorities succeed in reaching a comprehensive peace. They could deliver such support in the event of, say, a permanent ceasefire or the commencement of an inclusive national dialogue to address Ethiopians’ deep-seated disagreements.


V. Salvaging the Rule of Law in Haiti

Haiti is among the nations in the Western Hemisphere most exposed to global food price and other economic shocks, with almost half the population already experiencing severe hunger. But, as the G7 foreign ministers acknowledged in a May communiqué, this dire humanitarian situation is made more difficult to address because violent criminal groups” have a firm grip on much of the country.[fn]“G7 Germany 2022 Foreign Ministers’ Communiqué”, French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, 14 May 2022.Hide Footnote  Gangs control large swathes of the capital Port-au-Prince and other cities, and murders and kidnappings are commonplace. The G7 ministers declared their priority to be strengthening the Haitian National Police to bring back security and civil peace”.[fn]Ibid.Hide Footnote

It will be easier said than done. A first step to restoring some stability would be to begin dissolving the historical links between the gangs and privileged Haitian elites, who have employed the criminals as private armies of a sort.[fn] See Crisis Group Latin America and Caribbean Briefing N°44, Haiti: A Path to Stability for a Nation in Shock, 30 September 2021.Hide Footnote  To this end, it is urgent to strengthen the investigative capacities of the chief prosecutors office. The G7 could finance a mechanism inspired by the UN-mandated International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala that operated alongside that countrys attorney-generals office from 2006 to 2019 to bring high-profile cases of corruption and extra-legal use of violence to trial.[fn]See Crisis Group Latin America Report N°70, Saving Guatemala’s Fight Against Crime and Impunity, 24 October 2018.Hide Footnote  It could also earmark its aid for the creation of an intelligence-gathering unit within the Haitian National Police, supporting the vetting of its members. Crucially, donors can help pay the members of this unit better than living wages to stop criminal organisations from recruiting them.

As major donors, G7 members can be helpful in other ways, too. Haitis gangs will continue to expand unless the country’s poorest inhabitants have other options for making a living. Community violence reduction programs – focusing on tasks like job training – are long-term investments that often do not fit into funders’ short-term grant cycles, but which are indispensable for weakening the gangs’ appeal. Representatives of the G7 members could work on developing a medium-term commitment to sustaining support for these programs, partnering with civil society organisations that would run them on the ground. They could also fund local aid groups to help the large number of internally displaced people, which topped 15,ooo in 2021.[fn]For more, see “Country Profile: Haiti”, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.Hide Footnote  These people are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by gangs, given their poor living conditions. Without such aid projects, simply trying to strengthen the police will likely fail.

VI. Bringing Sri Lanka Back from the Brink

Sri Lanka’s worst-ever economic meltdown and the political crisis that has followed have brought the country close to catastrophe and elevated the risk of a return to political violence. With inflation running at 40 per cent overall and nearing 60 per cent for food, the scarcity of fuel, cooking gas and cooking oil is causing long queues of angry customers to form across the island. Crop yields are expected to be down by half, raising the risk of widespread hunger by August or September, and the medical system is on the verge of collapse. To avoid the worst, G7 members should help lead a concerted effort to provide humanitarian assistance while pressing the government to adopt the reforms necessary to secure desperately needed funding from the IMF. That money, in turn, will allow for longer-term political stability and economic recovery.

The crisis has been long in the making; the result of years of unbalanced, debt-fuelled growth, worsened by gross mismanagement on the part of the administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which came to power in November 2019, and still further by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine. By April, these factors had combined to drain Sri Lanka of its foreign currency reserves and force a default on its international debt. The war in Ukraine has continued to accelerate economic deterioration by increasing food and fuel prices and reducing the value of credit lines from the Indian government that have kept Sri Lanka’s finances afloat since early 2022.

After the resignation of his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on 9 May, which was followed by a night of unprecedented arson attacks on the houses of pro-Rajapaksa politicians, the president appeared to be on the ropes. Many hoped he might finally bow to demands voiced by protesters and the opposition to abolish the position of executive president and agree on a timetable for leaving office. Had he done so, it would have been a huge blow to the Rajapaksa family, which has dominated the country’s politics since 2005, and created an opening for meaningful reform. Instead, on 12 May, the president appointed veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister (he has served five terms as premier before), taking the wind out of the protest movement’s sails and allowing the formation of a new government dominated by long-time Rajapaksa supporters.

Welcomed by Western governments, which hoped he could restore political stability and craft consensus economic reforms, Wickremesinghe has struggled. He has yet to show that he is in control of policymaking and his government has little public credibility. Neither the government nor the pro-Rajapaksa majority in parliament appears committed to the political reforms that would increase transparency and accountability in government – especially presidential – decision-making, and help rein in corruption and economic mismanagement. With the demands of months of mostly peaceful protests ignored and prospects for major change dwindling, many fear the popular response to the next, and worse, phase of the economic crisis will be angrier and more violent.

G7 members should work together ... [to press Colombo] to make the difficult economic reforms that will be required to secure a financial lifeline from the IMF.

In order to avert this scenario, G7 members should work together and with others, including India, to jog Colombo out of its inertia and press it to make the difficult economic reforms that will be required to secure a financial lifeline from the IMF. Ahead of a visit to Colombo by an IMF team the week of 20 June, the prime minister expressed hope that the IMF and government could reach a staff-level agreement on a bailout package by the end of June. To date, however, there is no sign of the far-reaching economic reform package the IMF has said it is looking for.[fn]As Crisis Group has previously reported, “these include a long series of austerity measures, from budget cuts to income tax and VAT increases, an end to inflationary money printing by the Central Bank, phasing out import restrictions, stopping government interventions aimed at stabilising the rupee, and ‘growth-enhancing structural reforms’, which will likely include the sale or partial privatisation of state-owned companies”. Keenan, “Sri Lanka’s Economic Meltdown Triggers Popular Uprising and Political Turmoil”, op. cit.Hide Footnote  Moreover, the government has yet to begin negotiations with international creditors to restructure Sri Lanka’s $51 billion in foreign debt, an essential criterion for an IMF deal. With negotiations expected to take at least three to six months, the economic and humanitarian crisis will almost certainly reach critical proportions before any IMF program can take effect. At the same time, G7 governments should act quickly to fully fund the UN’s recent humanitarian appeal and take additional bilateral steps to ensure there are sufficient food and medical supplies to avoid widespread starvation and a collapsed public health system, and the political chaos and violence these would likely produce.

Finally, beyond the economic measures that the IMF is insisting on, G7 leaders need to impress upon the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government the urgent need for meaningful governance changes, beginning with a constitutional amendment that effectively returns power to parliament and additional steps to increase transparency, strengthen oversight of executive decisions and combat corruption. G7 governments should make clear these reforms are conditions for their supporting an IMF bailout. Without such changes, it is only a matter of time before the country is back at the brink of crisis.


VII. Driving International Action on Climate Security

Even if Russia’s war in Ukraine and its global ramifications will dominate discussions at Schloss Elmau, the G7 should not overlook longer-term concerns, above all climate change. Berlin has used its G7 presidency to stress the implications of climate change for international security, a theme it has previously foregrounded at the UN. Across the world, millions of people already swelter in record heat, suffer through drought, cope with wildly erratic precipitation and anxiously watch rising sea levels. The impact of climate change is increasing food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition, while disrupting livelihoods and spurring migration. Today, half of the most climate-fragile countries also face conflict and crisis. As the world warms, climatic distress plays an increasingly central role in many of today’s conflicts. In May, the G7 foreign ministers promised to support “those states and regions whose stability and peace are most affected by climate- and environment-related risks”.[fn]“G7 Foreign Ministers' Statement on Climate, Environment, Peace and Security”, press release, German Federal Foreign Office, 13 May 2022.Hide Footnote  It was a positive step after setbacks including Russia’s veto of a Security Council resolution highlighting the issue in December 2021.[fn]See “How UN Member States Divided Over Climate Security”, Crisis Group Commentary, 22 December 2021.Hide Footnote

Expert consensus is growing that changing weather patterns, desertification and sea-level rise can increase risks of conflict, but many non-G7 powers – including not only Russia but G20 members, including Brazil, China and India – remain sceptical about the links between climate change and violence. Some developing countries also worry that the connection to conflict is a distraction from other climate-related tasks, such as helping them adapt economically to global warming. While it is good that the G7 has now recognised the challenge, the group needs to build coalitions of countries in the Global South to address climate security alongside these other priorities.

The G7 will need to build a cross-regional coalition to make progress [on Climate Security].

The G7 will need to build a cross-regional coalition to make progress. The African Union is one possible partner. The AU’s Peace and Security Council has recognised climate change as a security challenge.[fn]Press statement, AU Peace and Security Council 774th Meeting, 21 May 2018.Hide Footnote  In 2022, Egypt is hosting the annual Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) and promised a focus on Africa’s concerns.[fn]“Egypt rallies African climate consensus ahead of COP27”, Al-Monitor, 6 April 2022.Hide Footnote  Germany and the other G7 members could work with the AU and Egypt to convene joint high-level consultations on climate security around the conference. G7 members could also offer the AU Commission support to boost its own capacity to track climate security.

Another possible partner is the United Arab Emirates, which will host COP28 in 2023. At the UN in March, the UAE hosted a meeting on the linkages between climate adaptation and security issues.[fn]“UAE puts focus on climate finance at UN's top table”, The National, 9 March 2022.Hide Footnote  This gathering highlighted that multilateral agencies have failed to offer much financing for climate adaptation to conflict-affected countries due to the risks involved. As leading donors, the G7 could work with the UAE – hopefully roping in more G20 countries and other major aid-givers – to formulate and deliver commitments for channelling climate financing to fragile states as a goal for COP28. The G7 leaders in Germany could signal their interest in crafting such a process with the UAE through their summit communiqué.


If the G7 leaders can send a clear message that they have plans to deal with the global economic crisis, as well as to support Ukraine, they may win some good-will internationally. Some Western politicians and commentators speculate that the G7 could gain in stature in the years ahead, providing a platform for the U.S. and its allies to solve problems that a divided UN and G20 cannot agree upon. But it would be a mistake for the group to position itself solely as an anti-Russian (and perhaps anti-Chinese) coalition. If it does that, it would likely alienate many non-Western countries that are trying to triangulate between the G7, Moscow and Beijing in a period of geopolitical flux. Instead, the G7 should signal that it both recognises and has the means to help poorer countries navigate the current crisis, and that it will work with other international groups and organisations – such as the UN and AU – to tackle global challenges. That is the sort of leadership that many states worldwide are looking for after the trials of COVID-19 and the first months of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The G7 remains well placed to offer it.

New York/Brussels, 22 June 2022