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The Problems with “African Solutions”
The Problems with “African Solutions”
A Changing Environment Brings Opportunities and Threats for the African Union
A Changing Environment Brings Opportunities and Threats for the African Union
Commentary / Africa

The Problems with “African Solutions”

This week Paris will host the annual France-Africa summit. In a year in which Africa and the West clashed over the International Criminal Court – and amid growing doubts over the UN Security Council’s legitimacy, in part because of its unrepresentativeness – there will be no shortage of issues that Africa’s leaders will seek to address.

President François Hollande has chosen to focus the agenda on peace and security. Following the deployment of French troops to end crises in Mali and the Central African Republic (an additional 800 troops are expected to arrive soon in Bangui, bringing the total to 1200), he does not want to be dragged into another intervention and would like African states to assume greater responsibility, particularly financial, in resolving the continent’s conflicts. France and the AU both want much greater African financial contributions for peace operations, in part to make them more sustainable. Since becoming AU Commission chairperson in 2012, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has pushed for a more self-sufficient AU to end its perpetual and disruptive dependence on external funding.


Other Western countries also do not want their troops fighting in Africa’s wars, and would rather not pay for Africans to fight them either; they are perhaps all too ready to endorse “African solutions for African problems”, a policy embraced by the African Union and many of its members to prevent external interference. But this overlooks some fundamental facts. “African solutions” are often as problematic and riddled with hidden agendas as traditional interventions; they are not necessarily the preferred option of all parties, and usually still require significant international assistance. Finally, some conflicts are such an international threat they require an international response.

The pressing need is not for African solutions as such. It is for improving cooperation by defining a clearer division of labour based on a hard-nosed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of all relevant actors–national, sub-regional, continental and international. As Africa’s many conflicts have demonstrated, usually peace can only be imposed through the rapid, pragmatic and effective coordination of most, if not all, the actors in a conflict.

A convergence of interests

President Hollande and AUC chairperson Dlamini-Zuma share another common interest: they are worried about the viability of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), particularly the African Standby Force (ASF). The ASF was supposed to be a collection of brigade-level, mobile, joint forces, regionally based, that could respond quickly to threats to peace and stability. More than a decade after its conceptualisation, the ASF remains a distant goal.

Frustrated with the continent’s inability to field a credible intervention force in Mali earlier this year, and embarrassed by the decisive French intervention, the AU proposed, as a temporary mechanism, the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), capable of acting swiftly, and – crucially – independent of Western support. It is to be based on a coalition of willing states and would be financed by AU member states solely on a voluntary basis. Chad, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda have pledged troops, while Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger and Sudan have signalled their willingness to participate in future coalitions.

But the ACIRC may face the same problems that confront the ASF: unwillingness of African states to finance such initiatives; gaps in military capability; and lack of the sustained political leadership necessary for effective peace enforcement. The ACIRC will also not resolve other political challenges that undermine the AU’s efforts to promote peace and security, most importantly tensions among regional bodies and the UN over the leadership of, and division of responsibility in, peace operations.


The problem with some African solutions

Much is made of looking for African solutions, but the AU (and its member states) have no shortage of ideas, whether appropriate or not, on how to resolve the continent’s peace and security challenges. In the last decades, African states, and African statesmen, have played frontline roles in brokering peace agreements and have sought ways, ostensibly African, to end crises. AU member states have deployed ever more troops to peace operations in Africa, including in Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan and, more recently, the Central African Republic (CAR). The AU is more robust and more mature than its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, with meaningful institutions to tackle the continent’s array of peace and security challenges. In 2011, it established a regional cooperation initiative to hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army and the U.S. provided 100 army personnel to support Uganda in this military campaign (although, two years on, Joseph Kony remains elusive).

But even with increased engagement in peace operations, questions remain about the quality and capability of African troops. Many African armies have pretty dismal track records in their own countries and are often poorly equipped and trained to deal with complex peace operations. Even Africa’s strongest armies have been found lacking. The decision by Pretoria to unilaterally intervene in the CAR, which resulted in the death of thirteen South African soldiers, led to an embarrassing political and military retreat by one of the continent’s stronger powers.

And while “African solutions” sound more legitimate, interventions by African states are often no less controversial than more international ones. For example, Ethiopia’s and Kenya’s interventions in Somalia in 2006 and 2011, respectively, were deeply problematicand had less to do with stabilising that country and more to do with their own national concerns. The sound principle that neighbouring countries with interests in Somalia should not be part of the African Union mission there was abandoned when the AU and UN agreed to re-hat (as part of AMISOM) Kenyan troops already in the country; Ethiopia is now seeking to do the same. One possible upside is that integration of both countries in AMISOM might force them to accept a more coordinated international role in helping to stabilise Somalia.

Similarly, there is great anxiety that Chad might use MISCA, the new AU-led mission in the CAR, to further its own regional ambitions following concerns that it may have been linked to the downfall earlier this year of CAR President François Bozizé. Neither Chad nor its neighbours weighed up the consequences of their African solution of essentially turning a blind eye to the Seleka rebel movement’s March 2013 coup. Today, Bangui and the entire country face a worsening security and humanitarian crisis.

Competing peacekeepers and peacemakers

Differences and competition among AU member states, between the continental and sub-regional bodies, and with multilateral actors have kept progress slow. The AU sees itself as Africa’s key interlocutor on peace and security, but it increasingly faces challenges to its authority, with member states seeking more immediate solutions and sub-regional bodies wanting to manage conflicts in their backyards. The Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), for example, want greater political and financial control over responses to conflicts in their region. While some felt humiliated by France’s decisive intervention in Mali, a core problem is that African states failed to act decisively because of disagreement among themselves: the AU and ECOWAS, still suffering a degree of distrust and mutual suspicion over their differences in handling the post-elections crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, competed over who was in charge; ECOWAS leaders were unclear about whether a military response was appropriate to address the twin problems of domestic crisis in Mali and transnational terrorism in the Sahel; Mali’s political leaders and the military junta were wary of an ECOWAS intervention; and neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania were not members of ECOWAS and did not share its views on military intervention. In Libya, the AU’s preference for an inclusive dialogue with Muammar Qadhafi and his opponents, as opposed to troop deployment, was stymied in arguably questionable circumstances when NATO chose to anoint the Arab League as its partner of choice in dealing with the Libyan uprising.

In its tenth anniversary year, the AU has become more assertive and wants to be the principle voice for Africa, but it has to balance this with its limitations and recognise there are other important, and equally strong-willed, actors. The AU wants to be treated as an equal partner by the UN Security Council, but, for a number of reasons, the permanent five council members want greater oversight and will not sacrifice their soldiers in African wars. Africanisation of peacekeeping has gradually increased since 2000 and took an innovative turn with UNAMID, the first hybrid (joint) AU-UN mission, in Darfur. The problems with the joint model have been widely acknowledged, even by the AU. Nevertheless, the UNSC, as well as the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, must realise that the international peacekeeping architecture has also failed to provide meaningful solutions to several crises and alternative thinking is required. In the DRC, the push by regional countries for an international intervention brigade to fight the rebel “March 23” (M23) movement was in part a response to fifteen years of failed UN peacekeeping (by MONUSCO) in eastern Congo, as well as frustration with Rwanda’s continued interference and President Kabila’s inability to govern his country. (Ironically, some African states, as well as the EU, U.S. and others, had turned a blind eye to his flawed electoral victory in 2011.) In the end, a combination of regional troops (mainly South African and Tanzanian), supported by MONUSCO and fighting alongside the Congolese army, defeated the M23 rebellion.

A new global division of labour

No single institution (or country) can address the numerous peace and security challenges on the continent; today a number of partnerships are required. Indeed, since the early 2000s, various divisions of labour, starting with the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), have evolved among the AU, sub-regional organisations and the UN.

Probably the most intense partnership is AMISOM. African troops do most of the fighting and have suffered hundreds of casualties. Before the establishment of the United Nations Support for Somalia (UNSOA) in 2009, troops suffered from serious logistical deficits and were in no condition to challenge the extremist Islamist movement Al-Shabaab. Discussions about a potential UN peacekeeping operation seem to be off the table in part because the UN is not willing to do peace enforcement, which is essentially what AMISOM is undertaking, while the AU is willing to risk more casualties. The AU considers AMISOM an important step in building its own peacekeeping credentials, but sometimes it conveniently ignores the crucial role that UNSOA continues to play in sustaining its forces. UNSOA serves as a critical link between the AU and UN, which otherwise would pass each other by.

After fifteen plus years of varied bilateral and multilateral initiatives focused on strengthening Africa’s capacity to manage its own crises, there should be a clear-eyed review of what has been achieved and what can be made to work better. UN and AU relations have improved, at least in peacekeeping, though the UNSC’s failure to reform its membership structure and tensions over the ICC militate against this. Nonetheless, the UN’s decision to bolster its office to the AU (UNOAU) with an Under-Secretary General at its head is a significant step.

Today, complex conflicts — involving extremism, transnational crime, and asymmetrical tactics — require the AU, sub-regional bodies and the UN, together with partners such as the EU, to field robust, agile and decisive operations based on an integrated system of response among multiple actors. They should also invest greater effort in prevention, as the best means of effective conflict management is for conflicts not to break out. Indeed, Africa and its international partners need to ask themselves how they allowed the CAR, which displayed sufficient signs of fragility, to once again slide into chaos. Deploying troops may sometimes be important to avert a crisis, but this can only be a temporary measure and cannot replace the essential need to focus more on governance, development, institution-building and appropriate management of natural resources to enable sustained peace

The December summit cannot address all these concerns, and is not necessarily the forum to navigate complex relations between the AU and its partners. But beyond the usual diplomatic photo opportunity, the gathering at the ÉlyséePalace should provide an opportunity to talk seriously about the future of Africa’s peace and security architecture. The goal should not be finding African solutions but achieving better coordinated responses to specific conflicts, and ensuring the better practice of conflict prevention.

African Union troops move on the back of one of their trucks just outside of the Somalian capital Mogadishu, on 22 May 2012. Mohamed Abdiwahab / AFP
Commentary / Africa

A Changing Environment Brings Opportunities and Threats for the African Union

Traditional stakeholders Europe and the U.S. are reassessing their commitments in Africa, generating new geopolitical realities for the African Union. Africa Program Director Comfort Ero argues that the AU’s future relevance and credibility will depend on its ability to generate more unity and leadership.

Addressing his first African Union (AU) summit as Chairperson of its secretariat, Moussa Faki Mahamat spoke some home truths about the state of the continent. After five months in office, he said he had arrived at five important conclusions:

  • Africa needs a new approach to peacekeeping based on dialogue, reconciliation and consensus rather than the use of force;
  • The AU “must act now” to address root causes of migration – poverty, exclusion, marginalisation and war – that lead to the “simply intolerable” numbers of African migrants dying in the Mediterranean;
  • The AU member states must be willing to implement adopted decisions as the organisation “cannot remain in its current form”;
  • The 55 member states need to speak with one voice. He noted that respect for the continent’s choices is only earned when AU unity is preserved;
  • Rapid change in the world means the AU has no choice but to “change [its] methods and styles of work and to reform quickly”.

Faki’s reflections resonated for all who attended the AU summit from 27 June to 4 July, amid fundamental global uncertainty and new levels of geopolitical unpredictability. Traditional partners in Europe and the U.S. are narrowing the definition of some of their interests, and upcoming actors like the Gulf states, Turkey, China and Japan are seeking greater influence.

How the AU is able to adapt will determine its relevance as well as its potential. Though challenging, current global strategic evolution does present the opportunity to develop a stronger, fit-for-purpose multilateralism on the continent. To maintain credibility and relevance, the AU must both deal head on with the five realities Faki pointed out and also seek ways to adjust to external pressures. This will not be easy, since change depends on member states. But getting both right is vital.

African Realities

The continent’s most debilitating constraint is conflict. The AU set 2020 as the year to achieve its “Silencing the guns” agenda, which has two strands – early warning and action and conflict management. That means peace enforcement, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction and development.

The union’s early warning and action track record has been poor, despite prevention being at the heart of the AU founders’ work. The AU’s main challenge remains pushing its disparate members to pursue peace, consolidate democracy and abide by constitutionalism. Its early years’ efforts to create continental norms, promote transparency and a respect for process were promising, but the principle task of democratisation “remains unfinished business”, as a former AU Commissioner recently put it to Crisis Group – a fact that leaves the continent more vulnerable to all manner of insecurity.

Africa’s five regions are developing unevenly. Some states in West Africa are pushing hard to preserve democratic gains. Africa’s centre, including the Great Lakes, remains traumatised by past and current political conflict. Overall, the trend of governance on the continent is strongly negative with growing authoritarianism, attendant mismanagement and systemic corruption. Transition and successions remain political challenges in several important countries such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

On conflict management, the success of African solutions has been decidedly mixed.

On conflict management, the success of African solutions has been decidedly mixed. Peace operations have evolved since the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) – the West African regional body – first intervened in Liberia (1990-1997). Subsequently the AU has tried joint operations with the UN, such as the hybrid United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which sought peace enforcement with UN logistical support. African forces have also backed up a UN peacekeeping mission, the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in eastern Congo, and most recently established coalitions of states such as the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to degrade the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency. These different peacekeeping formats show a welcome desire to adapt, but structural issues, especially lack of money and operational capacities, undermine them.

The AU can no longer count on the same levels of financing from the U.S. and Europe, even for operations under a UN flag. Africa – its regional power brokers, the AU as well as sub-regions – will have to do more. Some member states already realise this.

Much will depend on implementing reforms proposed by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame at the January 2017 summit. Leaders agreed in principle to a radical reform agenda that streamlines AU activities to key priorities. Central to the agenda is financial self-sufficiency. However, support for a proposed 0.2 per cent levy on imports to finance the union is lukewarm. The reforms are important indicators of member states’ ambitions, but they are also a wake-up call. If they have to pay for the AU Commission’s activities, reform and scrutiny are required.

A Lack of a Pan-African Vision

There are few AU leaders with a truly pan-African vision. A problem not unique to the AU is that not all members are committed to working through it or empowering a body that might take decisions that go against their interests. Power politics, often characterised as tensions between the AU and regional economic communities, threatens to reduce the AU to a bystander in places where it once held sway, such as in Burundi. The regions can invoke the AU charter’s principle of subsidiarity – or deferral to economic communities, as was the case in Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Equally, strong regional heads of state that constitute the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) will continue to limit its leverage, as is happening in South Sudan.

Some want to curtail what they see as the Commission’s activism. Egypt – one of the five recognised continental powers – was especially irked by the AU Peace and Security Council decision to suspend Cairo in July 2013 following President Mohamed Morsi’s ousting, a decision that was lifted in June 2014.

Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia, three of the AU’s five main powers, face troubles at home. Abuja and Pretoria, along with Algiers, are diplomatically punching below their weight. Other strong states – Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal – do not have deep financial pockets to sufficiently support the AU and those that do, like Angola, remain reluctant to engage. Libya, a former power, is a collapsed state.

The key, however, remains whether leaders are interested in supporting reforms, including self-financing.

The arrival of a new member, Morocco, may either be useful or complicating for the Union’s internal politics. Rabat’s ultimate objective to advance its claim to Western Sahara may reinstate an old discord in the AU and escalate tensions with Algeria. Its courting of West African states through political and financial investment will unsettle Algiers and Abuja. The idea that Morocco would contemplate membership of ECOWAS, which Nigeria helped found, is a sign of Abuja’s decline as the region’s lynchpin. However, Rabat is wooing Nigeria as a strategic partner so as to build support for its position on the Western Sahara.

Faki and his Commission cannot hope to resolve fully the AU’s numerous deficiencies or deal with power politics within and between Africa’s regions. He can, and must, nudge leaders to take more seriously the AU’s role. The key, however, remains whether leaders are interested in supporting reforms, including self-financing. Only by doing this can Africa begin to adjust to this unpredictable period and hope to gain more from it.

Adjusting to Trump’s America

The exact nature of the AU’s relationship with the current U.S. administration is unclear. The Trump administration is reforming the State Department and reviewing former President Obama’s past policies, but it appears the U.S. counter-terror focus will continue to hold sway. President Trump’s March directive delegating to U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) greater authority to attack the Somali Islamist Al-Shabaab movement is consistent with the Horn region’s hard line against Islamist radicals. But this is almost certain to mean more civilian casualties and thus is likely to bring only short-term gains. In the Sahel, too, the U.S. military’s focus will remain steadfast. Washington’s use of drones in Niger, assistance to Nigeria and Cameroon in their fight against Boko Haram, and support to France’s counter-terror role in Mali and Chad are all likely to continue.

To this day, the U.S. administration has not appointed a Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council (NSC). Nor has the most senior post of Assistant Secretary of State for Africa been confirmed, adding to uncertainty even though one has been nominated.

The U.S. administration’s preoccupation with saving money may hit the African continent hard. Trump’s proposed 30 per cent cut to the foreign affairs budget anticipates a lot less for traditional development projects and for the State Department as a whole, although Congress has made clear that Trump’s budget is a non-starter. The proposed cuts coincided with the UN Secretary-General’s warning of hunger and famine in four conflict countries, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. Fulfilling existing funding commitments means the impact on multilateral humanitarian activities – a large proportion directed to Africa – will not come before 2018, but the AU will need to work hard to build support for humanitarian assistance in the worst affected areas on the continent.

The UN and Africa

Relations between the AU and UN have strengthened under Chairperson Faki and Secretary-General António Guterres, who signed in April 2017 the AU-UN framework on enhanced cooperation in peace and security. This is important given U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s mission-by-mission review of peacekeeping operations. There are good reasons for candid discussions to make missions more efficient and effective – a point made in the 2016 High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations – and the argument for more limited UN mandates and footprints is well established.

The AU should concern itself with improving the effectiveness of the three African Security Council members in making the continent’s case. It should also continue to push for support of its various peacekeeping models which have often included hybrid, assessed contributions for AU-led operations, or transitioned from AU to UN missions. By being overly focused on securing UN assessed contributions, the AU does not always take advantage of the UN inviting it to take the lead. September’s annual joint meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the AU Peace and Security Council will be an opportunity to show the AU’s own progress on its financing agenda and to again look at options to secure sustainable, predictable and flexible funding for AU-led peace support operations authorised by the UNSC.

The AU and Europe

Another rapidly changing relationship is with Europe. The EU’s presence on the continent is extensive, ranging from massive aid assistance to joint military engagement and diplomacy, promoting governance, democracy and human rights. But it has been ten years since an agreement was reached on a Joint Africa-EU strategy, and Europe now faces a multitude of challenges. Its interests are changing and internal cohesion is under threat.

While presenting Africa with new opportunities, the UK’s decision to leave the EU will also change the balance of EU policy toward the continent. The task of unscrambling Britain from numerous EU-led initiatives will absorb time and energy and its exit may also shift emphasis toward countries and areas where the main European powers in the EU have greater interest. After France and Germany, the UK is the third largest contributor – around 14 per cent – to the EU’s Development Fund, which is the main vehicle for providing aid and support to peace and security on the continent.

Migration is another major preoccupation. As a senior EU official informed Crisis Group, it “will invite itself to the [fifth Africa-EU] summit, even if neither side wants migration to dominate discussions”. A hardline discourse in Europe resulted in the June 2016 EU Partnership Framework on migration with third countries, including several in Africa to thwart migration flows. Worryingly, the framework includes states where officials and institutions collude with local power brokers and smugglers and does not properly address migration’s root causes. It may undermine Europe’s moral standing on promoting human rights, good governance and rule of law.

Berlin, under pressure within Europe but also as a result of its own desire to take on more responsibility, is advancing various initiatives curiously labelled as its “Marshall Plan for Africa” to provide security and development. The question is whether Berlin can replace the UK or balance French interests. Chancellor Angela Merkel, aware of the fallout of French-British-American policy in Libya, has urged Europe to share greater responsibility in addressing migration.

Tired of being treated as a cash machine by the AU and some of its members, Europe wants to redefine its relations.

Tired of being treated as a cash machine by the AU and some of its members, Europe wants to redefine its relations. It wants to shift, as a member state official put it, from being a “technical” to a “political” role, though this may prove chiefly aspirational. Discussions will continue at the fifth Africa-EU summit in Abidjan at the end of November. Europe, along with Chairperson Faki, also wants to shift from crisis management to prevention, a 25-year-old idea noted in the UN’s An Agenda for Peace that has proven politically challenging to implement. The desire to reduce its overall spending in Africa could align with the AU’s stated focus on conflict prevention. But to make that common vision work, both institutions, and the UN, whose new Secretary-General has also placed much emphasis on early warning and early action, need to have a much clearer idea of prevention.

The EU does not want a repeat of the ten-year-old AMISOM model where it underwrites much of the mission’s finances. The EU has been financing AMISOM since 2007 and it is its most expensive project in Africa. European officials felt as if they were “held hostage” after bruising negotiations with the AU in 2016 when Brussels decided, after much warning, to reduce payment to the mission by 20 per cent per month.

Complicating relations with the AU was Brussels’ March 2016 decision, after the election crisis in Burundi, to stop paying AMISOM stipends to the AU that went through an account controlled by the government in Bujumbura (it kept some of the money). In December, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza threatened to withdraw his troops and sue the AU over non-payment, which forced the EU to climb down and agree to payment of Burundian troops via a commercial bank, rather than the government.

Accusations from parts of the AU of EU bad faith for pulling its money from the mission and EU frustrations that those who pay less to support the AU, such as China, get better treatment, has left officials wanting new ways of partnering with the continent.

China and the Gulf

That the EU is vexed by constant African overtures to China is a mark of Beijing’s weight on the continent. Brussels has sought to encourage it and Gulf states to pay into the AU’s peace and security architecture, but both have different bilateral and commercial interests. Particularly with Gulf states, African powers and the AU need to navigate relations carefully in order to avoid being unnecessarily sucked into current Middle Eastern tensions.

Crucially, Chairperson Faki understands the geopolitics of the Arab world and how Gulf states could either undermine stability or play a positive role in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. It’s not yet clear how far Africa will be drawn into heightened tensions between the Saudi-United Arab Emirates (UAE) axis and the Qatari-Turkey alliance, the latter having rapidly built commercial, diplomatic and military presence on the continent. So far, the AU and most of the Horn are trying to lower the temperature by proposing mediation rather than supporting one side.

China says it is a defender of Africa’s multilateralism and wants strategic partnership, but also prioritises quick bilateral gains. Economics has shaped Beijing’s Africa policy, but protecting business interests required it to enter the peacekeeping and conflict-resolution arena, including in Mali and South Sudan. It has concluded that it cannot influence South Sudan’s politics without engaging at least , IGAD, and sees it as the peace and security vehicle for engaging in the Horn. China views the Horn as an area where it could potentially enhance cooperation with the EU and U.S. to advance peace and security, but also an important military outpost for its activities – hence its recent decision to base troops in Djibouti, which already serves as a military base for France, Japan and the U.S.

Adapting to the New Security Environment

Africa is adapting to new external pressures and realities in its regions. In West Africa, the MNJTF and the G5 Sahel states’ force are novel ways to dealing with collective defence and tackling insecurity involving states in the immediate neighbourhood.

For the EU, the manner of funding is less burdensome, allowing it to avoid paying stipends to troops. Crucially for Brussels, the regional MNJTF military cooperation is a genuine regional approach driven and primarily financed by Lake Chad basin countries affected by Boko Haram (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria), with bilateral support from key Western governments. Although it faces problems and is overly militarised and thus imperfectly suited to a still-agile insurgency, the MNJTF nevertheless has pushed back Boko Haram.

In Mali, the Algerian-brokered 2015 Bamako peace agreement lacks impetus and despite French Operation Barkhane and the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA), jihadist and other violent non-state armed groups remain agile and able to adapt to military pressure. Earlier in 2017, they showed remarkable confidence and resilience in coming together – at least politically – much more quickly than states and international bodies that were slowed down by diverging interests and a burdensome multilateral infrastructure. The G5 force, intended to be highly responsive in dealing with border insecurity, especially the spillover of Mali’s crisis into the region, is an attempt to match the jihadists’ capacity to adapt.

Its supporters, including the EU, are trying to replicate the MNJTF’s relative success against Boko Haram in the much vaster Sahel, though dissatisfaction with AU procurement means it will not manage funds for the G5. However, this effort faces different challenges.

First, there is no financial heavyweight like Nigeria able to absorb costs.

Second, unlike the G5, the Lake Chad basin countries clearly agree that Boko Haram is the main threat and thus the fight against it is far more localised.

Third, the G5 forces have disparate interests and uneven capabilities. Mali’s army is yet to recover from years of war; the Burkinabé army has remained vulnerable since the 2015 coup (and is under pressure to protect its border); Mauritania’s interests are unclear; Niger’s forces are fragile, dangerously overstretched on its border with Libya and Mali, and are fighting Boko Haram; and Chad President Deby, whose troops are the most reliable and experienced, also fighting Boko Haram and deployed in MINUSMA, recently declared that his regime is too financially exhausted to commit more troops.

Fourth, the absence of Algeria, a vital regional actor, may raise questions about the force’s legitimacy and effectiveness. Algeria sees the G5 as a French-backed process and prefers its own regional initiatives, such as the Nouakchott Process on enhancing security cooperation in the Sahelo-Saharan region, advancing a rhetoric that the region’s countries should be in charge.

But Paris, overstretched, wants to substantially reduce the cost of Barkhane and is nonetheless accelerating setting up the G5. It was top of France President Macron’s agenda when visiting Bamako on 19 May soon after his election and when he returned on 2 July to launch the force. France wants to work with countries (and militaries) it knows and in which it has relative trust, hence its willingness to set up something without Algeria (or Nigeria). The EU has pledged €50 million. France did not, however, secure financial backing from the UNSC in resolution 2359 welcoming the force.

[T]he AU needs to generate more unity, more leadership and more of its own money instead of relying on handouts.

Within the new funding environment, the MNJTF and G5 should be understood as an expression of EU officials and member states’ desire for more ad hoc sub-continental arrangements that carry less financial burden and are likely more effective. While these arrangements may present some real opportunities, as demonstrated, they face complex challenges concerning authorisation, legitimacy and financing.

Still, if AU member states learn to fund its initiatives, bruising financial negotiations such as funding AMISOM and compromises around the G5 force can be managed. To remain credible, the AU needs to generate more unity, more leadership and more of its own money instead of relying on handouts. In some ways, the crisis, both political and financial, of Western countries is both a threat and an opportunity for the continent. But until it takes up many of the challenges Faki pointed to at the summit, much of the AU’s peace and security efforts will be based on partner concerns and not what the continent needs or wants.