The United Nations Charter lays emphasis on the responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security, but significantly also recognises the need for the SC to encourage regional arrangements to deal with peace and security.
This delegation of powers is subject to two conditions: no enforcement should be applied by regional organisations without the security council’s authorisation, and the latter should, at all times, be fully informed of the activities undertaken or contemplated by regional organisations in the maintenance of regional peace and security.
The Constitutive Act of the African Union of 2002 takes due account of the UN Charter, and the AU’s 15-member Peace and Security Council (PSC) protocol is also mindful of these provisions. Yet, African regional and sub-regional organisations, frustrated that the security council has not always lived up to its responsibility towards the continent, have decided to create some degree of self-sufficiency by setting up their own instruments to support peace, security and stability initiatives — usually at great sacrifice.
The AU deployments in Burundi (2003) and Darfur (2004) are cases in point. This position is underpinned by the challenging principle of “non-indifference” that emerged when the AU officially launched the PSC in Addis Ababa in May last year.
On that occasion, leaders reaffirmed their commitment to “the promotion of a stable, secure, peaceful and developed Africa”, and their “desire to assume a greater role in the maintenance of peace and security in Africa”. African leaders also spoke of the dawn of a new era of “non-indifference”, which they hailed as a marked change from the old non-interference policy that had crippled its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
The PSC makes it possible for the AU, in the name of non-indifference, to interfere in the internal affairs of member states in the event of an imminent threat to peace, security and stability.
Apart from practical necessity, non-indifference is warranted also as a moral imperative to concretise the ideal of African solidarity and accelerate regional integration.
Since the OAU morphed into the AU, the political and legal context has changed dramatically in terms of interference in the internal affairs of member states. The AU enjoys the use of broad prerogatives, yet the question is, can it really deliver on its promise? Put simply, can non-indifference really make a difference?
The answer depends, among other factors, on whether the AU is apt to build a genuine security partnership of trust and cooperation with national governments, sub-regional security mechanisms and other partners.
Central to this partnership is the problematic issue of member states’ commitment to live by the norms they have freely adopted within the framework of the AU, and whether they are willing to allow the union to enforce agreed norms. Also critical is the willingness and ability of member states to provide the AU with adequate and sustainable funding for its peace initiatives.
Musifiky Mwanasali was a political analyst in the conflict management centre of the AU Commission
Contributors to this special focus on UN reform have written in their personal capacity. Yazeed Fakier, the communications programme manager at the Centre for Conflict Resolution, assisted with the editing.