Between multidimensionality and integration: The feasibility of an African model of peace operations

Michelle Ndiaye*


Increasingly, Africa’s complex security environments are placing high demands on peace operations, not the least because they also tend to complicate efforts aimed at achieving long-term peace and consolidation of state-building initiatives. From the experiences of the African Union (AU) and the regional mechanisms on the continent over the last decade, a fledgling African model of peace operations is in the making that could, from time to time, be at odds with the prevailing mission scenarios and the major assumptions that underpinned the original framework of the African Standby Force (ASF).[1]

This paper will revisit the evolution of the concept peace operations as understood by key actors in the broader peace and security landscape; interrogate the different approaches used to achieve multidimensionality and synergy; the tangible inroads made by those actors during interventions; and finally, the challenges they face in terms of achieving sustainable positive impacts in the aftermath of peace operations. Looking closely at the notion and practice of multi-dimensionality in peace operations, the paper will argue that regardless of well-intended efforts to mount peace operation missions, these have not been overwhelmingly effective and sustainable.

Furthermore, the paper makes the point that the African model of peace operations currently in place aims more at context–specific integration and multidimensionality to improve strategic coherence and delivery; including the achievement of the political agenda linked to Peace Support Operations (PSOs) globally. This is particularly so, given the nature and increasing complexity of such operations around the continent, as much as the imperative of ensuring robust planning, implementation, monitoring and sustainability of peace operations on the continent. Invariably, the question to ask prior to the deployment of peace operations must centre on how to secure a ‘win-win’ multidimensional and integrated African PSOs framework in the short-, medium-, and long terms. By so doing, those who are actively involved in the spectrum of activities leading to the deployment of peace operations are able to take into account key lessons learned, and play better for the future.

  1. Introduction

The concepts of multidimensionality and integration have evolved over time; from mere conceptual frameworks to routinely used methods to increase coherence and consistency in Peace Support Operations (PSOs) by the United Nations. In less than two decades, they have become transformative tools in enriching field-based practice to the extent that the predictions contained in a recent UN Integrated Missions study[2] on the evolution of the concepts have been mostly validated. There is no doubt that the demands for a variety of peace maintenance options have grown worldwide over the past decade. Today, the bulk of the peacekeeping efforts are undertaken in Africa, with a staggering 87% of UN peacekeepers deployed around the continent. At the same time, however, peacekeeping in Africa continues to witness shifts in conflict dynamic implicated by greater regionalisation and globalisation, as well as the presence of unconventional threats such as the proliferation of extremist groups operating side by side with criminal networks in conflict zones. Invariably, all of these call for the involvement of many more actors in a manner that redefines the relationship between the African Union (AU) and the UN, for instance. Even at that, it cannot be ignored that a fledgling African model of multidimensional and integrated PSOs is already in place as the profoundly complex realities of conflict make them both likelier and highly expedient.

Since the first AU mission to Burundi was deployed in 2003 to stem the tide of regionalisation of the conflicts, African-led peace operations have blossomed. In the last decade, AU and RECs/RMs have fielded over 10 peace operations; in Burundi, Central African Republic (CAR), Comoros, Darfur, Mali, and Somalia. In that period, also, the AU has shown persistence and strength in the face of daunting challenges; especially in Somalia. Sometimes at very short notice and un challenging circumstances as was the case in Mali and the CAR, new missions have been mounted. In 2013 alone, approximately 40,000 uniformed and civilian personnel were mobilised to serve in various AU peace operations; approximately 71,000, if the joint African Union–United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is also taken into account. Since these missions have, in one way or the other, tested different approaches to integration and multidimensionality, they have become models for African government and institutions playing indispensable roles in international efforts to enhance peace and security across the continent.

However, we also need to pose a vital question. How successful are these multidimensional and integrated missions in Africa in the context of myriad issues relating to political will, operational competence, legal authority, finance, monitoring and evaluation measures, sustainability, to name a few? In a number of cases, also, simple procedural issues constrain the ability of the AU, RECs/RMs, and member to respond decisively and in a timely manner to crises.

It can therefore be argued reasonably so, that, whilst the rationale behind most peacekeeping missions is above reproach, their ultimate impact sometimes leave a lot to be desired. For the most part, a lot have to do with how the underlying issues identified above are mainstreamed strategically into planning, implementation, and general oversight functions in multidimensional and integrated peace missions.

      2.Approaches, actors and challenges of the new African model

It is clear that peacekeeping missions will continue to attract substantial attention and resources in the Africa’s peace and security agenda given especially the prevailing continental conflict trends. Still, there is a strong imperative for concerted and integrated efforts aimed at further developing and enhancing existing frameworks to bridge current challenges and setbacks. This should be done simultaneously by significantly scaling-up institutional capacity at all level; especially placing emphases on African-Centred solutions (AfSol) that focus on impact, replicability, and sustainability.

Much has changed, and a great deal achieved, since the foundations for the African Standby Force (ASF) were laid over a decade ago. These achievements include a portfolio of common policy documents, an annual continental training programme, improved in-country training standards, and standby forces that can be used collectively; albeit one with an initial operational capability logistical purposes.

Further, an understanding of the significant roles of police and civilian components in African peace operations is now full-fledged. This is regardless of the fact that the AU has continued to refine its doctrines and guidelines; for instance, for the protection of civilians, as well as those on policing and gender, so that it is able to respond to high-intensity operations that are now common across Africa. What is left, perhaps, is for concerted efforts to be made not just to see to it that the ASF achieved full operational capability in a short period but also that the Force’s rapid deployment capability is in a position to respond to the changing conflicts landscape in the continent.[3]

How would a ‘win-win’ PSOs framework look like?

Obviously, a winning approach would be to put in place a framework that is adaptable to any spectrum of conflicts and at the same time addresses some of the challenges of peace missions mentioned earlier. This would require a systematic and coherent approach to designing and deploying successful interventions, capacitating institutions directly involved in such operations and generally improves security within the shortest possible time in a conflict situation.

 1.Political will

At the epicentre of achieving this would be to mobilise the requisite amount of political will and at the right time. Even though a caveat remains as to what constitutes the right amount and the right time, there is no doubt that peace operation requires strong political commitment on the part of all stakeholders; especially when such operation might eventually involve combat and fatalities. In quite a number of cases, the commitment must also be carried on for several years, even when the situation on group seems irredeemably hopeless because little or no progress is being made. ECOMOG and AMISOM are examples of missions where neighbours played- or continues to play- an important role in mounting and sustaining effective missions even if those where not at the instance of the respective RECs, ECOWAS and IGAD. The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) is also another example where a neighbour was ready and capable to provide troops and logistics because vital interests were at stake.

 2.Operational competence:

Alongside the urgency of mustering political will is the equally important need to gain deep familiarity of the conflict. Here, tactics and logistics resources are much easier to handle for neighbours- although there is a flipside that such neighbours can also be spoilers or constitute a stumbling block. One of the lessons learned from most peace operations is that the involvement of neighbours could readily bring tactical and logistical advantages than when interlocutors are afar. Also, strengthening operational competence by virtue of a bottom-up approach makes sense when seen against the AU’s quest for African-led solutions. When such an approach is privileged, it is likelier that the operation is better informed regarding the realities on the ground than otherwise. This argument is based on the widely held (and plausible) notion that each violent conflict is unique such that dealing with it needs familiarity with local conditions and direct access to specific actors on the ground.

These are some of the key arguments that proponents of an AU intervention capacity use, including when they want to point out the contrast between AU-mandated versus UNSC mandated peace operations. The practical experience of ECOWAS’ intervention in the Liberian civil war is also widely seen as an example of African vigour and “doability” of deploying in less than optimal situations. In the case of ECOMOG in Liberia, the political commitment was clear, and resources could be raised within the region with a clear country, Nigeria, ready to take the lead. Possibly, the IGAD-led intervention in Somalia may also count in this regard. Once these are in place, what would perhaps remain are critical military capabilities; mainly in the forms of surveillance and air transport, that are mostly beyond the means of most African countries despite the best of intention to intervene quickly and decisively.

 3.Legal authority and political legitimacy:

The current legal regime for peace operations in Africa is lack coherency and consistency. Unfortunately, any prospects of streamlining them by the various institutional actors such as the AU and RECs/RMs to meet international best practices are possible, but not very bright. For instance, some RECs (e.g. SADC and ECOWAS) continue to nominally retain the right to mount peace operations without waiting for approval from the AU. This is in prejudice to the 2005 Roadmap for the Operationalisation of the African Standby Force which explicitly stated that: “The AU will seek UN Security Council authorization of its enforcements actions. Similarly, the [regional economic communities] will seek AU authorization of their interventions.”

Originally it was thought that the 2008 MoU between the AU and the RECs/RMs would be followed up with a detailed arrangement regarding the individual pillars of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), including that of the ASF. However, almost seven years down the line, this has not happened. At the highest level, in fact, the authority of the AU PSC to mount peace operations has been contested on the grounds of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter interpreted differently by various ‘P5’ states, some UN representatives and the AU. Against this background, what seems to be emerging is an understanding that the UN Security Council (UNSC) will “no longer authorise an African REC/RM to undertake a peace operation, like it did with ECOMOG and ECOMIL in the past, without the consent and authority of the AU Peace and Security Council” is emerging.[4]


A key determinant, as ever so often, is the financial capability of Africa governments and their institutions to bear the heavy costs of peace operations. Here, it has become abundantly clear that only the UN is sufficiently buoyant to single-handedly decide, mount or sustain any sizeable peace operations; bearing in mind, of course, that the UNSC- and specifically the P5- are not about ready to relinquish this fiscal leverage. Invariably, then, if legal authorisation by the UN is a precondition for UN financing of peace operations, this leaves continental and regional institutions like the AU and RECs/RMs in difficult positions. Indeed, this point had been previously raised in the backdrop of mobilising alterative financing for AU peace missions by the Chairperson of the Tana Forum Board and Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, who suggested that the should impose levies in the range of 2$ on every passenger for every flight originating from Africa and 10$ from hotels. According to him, that will provide no less than 700 Million dollars/year to the AU to carry out peace missions and other key activities. The African Union and member states should take such suggestions with the seriousness of purpose they deserve if only to reverse the trend of over-dependence on external donors, especially the UN and other development partners who, for the most part, could have different perspectives about the imperative for peace operations in Africa.

5.Monitoring Measures:

Who monitors the monitors? On the onset of POSs, measures should be put in place to ensure that systems and indicators are in place that helps gauge their success, or otherwise; including on the immediate theatre of operation. It should be within contemplation to successfully establish a monitoring and compliance agency that is independent of the main structure of the POSs to ensure impartiality and consistency.


Many times peacekeeping missions in Africa, and around the world, have failed to make meaningful and long-lasting impact because measures were not put in place to ensure sustainability of peace, security and development, during post interventions periods. This trend cannot continue, not the least because it very easily could lead to a costly relapse into violence. It equates to giving insufficient know-how/skills to someone before handing over a task. In this instance, sustainable measures put in place may include the following:

  • Fostering of peace agreements between conflicting parties;
  • Human and institutional capacity-building;
  • Implementation of long-term legal instruments for peace and security;
  • Mediating bodies;
  • Monitoring bodies;
  • Follow up, monitoring and impact assessment evaluation activities.

The list is not exhaustive and more may be added on depending on the nature of conflict.Underlying the above approach would be the standard core peacekeeping mandates which are:

  • To deploy to prevent the outbreak of conflict or the spill-over of conflict across borders;
  • To stabilise conflict situations after a ceasefire and create an environment for the parties to reach a lasting peace agreement;
  • To assist in the implementation of comprehensive peace agreements;
  • To lead states or territories through a transition to stable government based on democratic principles, good governance and economic development.

Alternative futures and ways forward

  • The operating framework of peace operations in Africa should be constantly revisited and revisited to adequate respond to changing security threat landscape on the continent;
  • The principle of subsidiarity between the AU and RECs/RMs should be better articulated to create better synergy that allows timely and flexible interventions as well as give a measure of autonomy to RECs to deploy troops within their proximity;
  • Partnerships with the UN and international actors, all Africa-based institutions and governments should embrace the principle of African-Centred/led solutions. Further, transitions from AU missions to UN missions should incorporate lessons learnt, and clearly anticipate and clarify principles of subsidiarity vis-à-vis autonomy of different institutional actor;
  • The AU should set up its own Peace Missions Fund that can be accessed quickly easily to respond to conflicts within the region;
  • In partnership with the UN and other international actors, the AU should set up in mechanisms for monitoring, evaluating, and following up on lessons learned from peace operations around the continent for greater effectiveness and sustainability.


Given the sheer number and intensity of violent conflicts raging on the continent, Africa understandably has a fair share of peacekeeping efforts in the world; be it those singly or jointly carried out by the AU. UN, RECs/RMs, The ways forward is to ensure that current and future missions are easily adaptable to new and complex dynamics of African conflicts increasingly now complicated by the proliferation of extremist groups, transnational crime networks, and vicious migration patterns. This would mean, for the most part, integrating those changing dynamics and contexts into the operational scope and framework of the ASF. At the same time, international actors (states and multilateral institutions alike) must quickly endorse and come to terms with the time-tested principle of African led-operations for African conflicts. With this, and on a clear basis of subsidiarity, the AU must also give a measure of autonomy to RECs/RM who tend to be smaller and quicker in responding to grave situations within its neighbourhood. Finally, to complement such efforts, the AU and RECs have to develop home-grown financing solutions for peace operations in Africa. After all, charity must begin from home before external assistance is required to build a better future for Africa in terms of peace, security and sustainable development.




African Union, Peace and Security Protocol of the African Union

African Union, Common African Defence and Security Policy (CADESP)

African Union, MOU AUC – RECS/RMs in Peace and Security

African Union, Roadmap for the Operationalization of the African Standby Force, AU document EXP/AU-RECs/ASF/4(I), Addis Ababa, African Union, and March 2005.

African Union, APSA Assessment Report, Addis Ababa, AUC 2010.

Ancas, S. The effectiveness of regional peacemaking in Southern Africa – Problematising the United Nations – African Union – Southern African Development Community relationship, African Journal on conflict resolution; Journal Home, Vol 11, No 1 (2011).

De Coning, C. et al “Strategic Options for the Future of African Peace Operations” Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2015 Seminar Report

Dr. Brosig, Malte and Dr. Sempijja, Norman (2015) The African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis: Advice for African Policymakers; Policy Insights 22. Johannesburg: SAIIA


Machakaire, James Pumzile. “Peace operations review and implications for the Training for Peace programme: strengthening United Nations and African Union operations in Africa.” Conflict Trends 2 (2015): 50-56.


United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on lessons learned from AU-UNtransitions in Mali and the Central African Republic, December 2014 (Draft report).

United Nations (UN) Integrated Missions study that was commissioned by the UN Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA) in 2004.

1 De Coning, C. “Strategic Options for the Future of African Peace Operations” Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2015 Seminar Report

2 The United Nations (UN) Integrated Missions Study commissioned by the UN Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA) in 2004.

3 African Peace Operations: Trends and Future Scenarios

[4] De Coning, C., Gelot, L. and Karlsrud, J. (2014) Strategic Options for the Future of African Peace Operations: 2015-2025; Seminar Report. Oslo: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.


*Michelle Ndiaye-Ntab is the Director of the Africa Peace and Security Programme, APSP; a joint initiative of the African Union and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. She also Heads the Secretariat of the Tana High-level Forum on Security in Africa.

All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact This article was a Lead Paper for the 13th APSTA Conference and Annual General Meeting IPSS, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; 7-9 September 2015 .Thematic Session: “African PSOs: From Concept to Practice: Integration and Multidimensionality”




One thought on “Between multidimensionality and integration: The feasibility of an African model of peace operations

  1. It is so thrilling piece which is touchy and shall be delivered in Practice. About “Finance” i wish the recently launched ‘African Union Foundation’ may succeed, as it also intended to levy tax from member states, on behalf of African Union, from Air Tickets,Hotels and so on.

    About the issue of ‘monitoring ‘, i hope this is the right time to go for it. But i am not sure whether there is any index for measurement the success of Peace Support Operations. Indeed, quite recently, Political settlements Research project of Edinburg University, do crafted measurement index for any political settlements of conflict zones.In a similar s fashion measurement index for Peace support operations has to be in place. If there is none so far, i would advocate rather to let us go for research and come with measuring index for peace support operations, by way of practicing monitoring PSO’s. I would rather argue that we shall have non-subjective, non-politicized monitoring which focuses on the technicality in pros and cons of the intervention, before bringing the monitoring output for political bargaining.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s