In the momentous Security Council debate that took place in January 2012 on cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations, the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, rebuked African members on the Council for suggesting that it formally mandate the African Union (AU) to take the lead role in maintaining peace and security in Africa. As she put it, “cooperation cannot be on the basis that the regional organization independently decides the policy and United Nations member states simply bless it and pay for it. There can be no blank check, politically or financially.”1Susan E. Rice, “Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Open Debate on UN-AU Cooperation,” U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York, (2012), available online at Accessed on 6 July 2012. Susan Rice’s position, which seems also to be that of the United Kingdom, France and Russia, is disconnected from reality.

It assumes relations between the UN and regional organizations that no longer exist. Since the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided, in August 1990, to intervene in the Liberian civil war with a military monitoring group (ECOMOG) without Security Council authorization, African regional organizations have more than once independently intervened in conflicts to impose peace.2Max A. Sesay, “Civil war and collective intervention in Liberia,” Review of African Political Economy 23, 67, (1996):35-52. Not only did they receive the Council’s blessing after the fact, but they made the UN keep the peace they had imposed in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Burundi, and in the Darfur region of Sudan. This sequenced intervention has actually proven more successful than intervention by the UN alone. The UN’s disastrous performance in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it is supposed to be keeping peace on its own, compares unfavorably with the African regional interventions noted above. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Burundi have enjoyed relative peace and a successful transfer of political power, even as the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, the largest in the UN’s history, has timidly watched new rebel forces emerge and advance, and as humanitarian crisis, including more than 1,100 reported rape cases a day, has continued unabated.3Amber Peterman, Tia Palermo, and Caryn Bredenkamp, “Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” American Journal of Public Health 101, 6 (2011): 1060-67. The successes of African-led interventions, coupled with the ineffectiveness of the UN peace operation, have made the AU determined to institutionalize the sequenced peace-mission model in Africa.

This determination by AU is reflected in the common African position on intervention and UN reform, known as the “Ezulwini Consensus.”4African Union, “The Ezulwini Consensus. The Common African Position on the Proposed Reform of the United Nations”, New York: United Nations, 2005, available online at Accessed on 20 July 2012. Among other things, the 54 members of the AU (which means all African states except Morocco) agreed that regional organizations are best placed to take the lead in interventions in conflicts, and should be “empowered to take actions in this regard.” The African members on the Security Council were thus expressing a position common among AU members and also suggesting that the Council formally recognize an intervention model already practiced in Africa for more than two decades. The last person African delegates expected to oppose what one senior diplomat termed a “common sense approach” was the former US Under-Secretary of State for African Affairs and a Democrat-appointed African-American ambassador to the UN.

The opposition of the US and her European allies to the African common position flies in the face of incontrovertible evidence that the UN lacks the analytical foresight, political fortitude, and deeper understanding to make and maintain peace in Africa. There would have been no reason to create the AU security apparatus, and certainly no need to establish the AU Peace and Security Council, if the Security Council had performed, and could now perform its primary duty in Africa. The opposition by the permanent five members reminds me of what Ghanaians call konongokaya: a porter who not only refuses to carry a particular load, but will even prevent another, willing porter from doing so. The security mess in the greater Sahel of Africa generated by regime change in Libya devastatingly demonstrates the accuracy of the African collective view that “the General Assembly and the Security Council are often far from the scenes of conflicts and may not be in a position to undertake effectively a proper appreciation of the nature and development of conflict situations.”5Ibid. Against the wise counsel that military intervention in Libya would produce insecurity in the Sahel, the holier-than-thou members on the Council cunningly used Resolution 1973 to embark on regime change, which has left in its wake the destruction of Mali’s democracy, the division of Mali into two states, the spread of weapons in the Sahel, and the emergence there of terrorist-jihadist groups, something the US under President George W. Bush spent millions of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars to stop. The irony is that regime change in Libya—which, by the way, could have been achieved peacefully if the all-knowing permanent five members had had an atom of humility and listened to insightful suggestions from the AU Peace and Security Council—has undermined the long-term strategic interests of the US in the Sahel.6Mali, together with Cape Verde, Ghana, South Africa, and to some extend Senegal, was touted as a shining beacon of democracy in so-called sub-Saharan Africa.

The least Susan Rice and her allies could have done would be to draw lessons from the Libyan experience, abandon their konongokayazation of African lives, and lead an international effort to design funding and political formulae for the AU and its regional economic communities to make and keep peace in Africa. After all, these regional organizations have better context-specific and innovative toolkits for preventing and resolving conflicts than the UN has. The AU peacemaking tools, indeed, make the UN look ultra-conservative and out of touch with African realities. The AU has left the UN behind the non-interference and sovereignty wall, and developed an array of Responsibility to Protect (R2P)-like intervention approaches. Intervention can take different forms, including mediation, as in the case of Kenya in 2007-08; suspension from participating in activities of African international organizations, as in the case of Mauritania in 2008; rebuke and suspension of AU membership, as in the case of Côte d’Ivoire in 2011; economic sanctions, as in the Malian case in 2012; and, as a last resort, military intervention, as in the case of Comoros in 2007. Conditions for military intervention are detailed in Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act of the AU. This gives the AU the right to intervene in the internal affairs of a member state in order to “prevent war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.”7Mark Malan, “New Tools in the Box? Towards A Standby Force for the African Union,” Johannesburg: Institute of Security Studies (2002); Jackie Cilliers and Katharine K. Sturman, “The Right Intervention: Enforcement Challenges for the African Union,” African Security Review, 11, no. 3. (2002), available online at The article has been amended to include intervention to “restore peace and stability” and in response to “a serious threat to legitimate order.” This threshold condition, Schoeman points out, “goes ‘beyond’ the provision made for intervention in the internal affairs of a country in the UN Charter.”8Maxi Schoeman, “The African Union after the Durban 2002 Summit,” Centre of African Studies in the University of Copenhagen (2004), available online at Accessed on 10 July 2012 The specification of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity as grounds for intervention has created a clearer set of criteria by which the AU can decide to intervene in a state for humanitarian purposes.9Kristiana Powell and Thomas Kwasi Tieku, “The African Union and The Responsibility to Protect: Towards a Protection Regime for Africa?” International Insights, 20, no.2 (2005): 215-235.

The institutionalization of R2P-like intervention within the AU is in sharp contrast to the selective use and misuse, at the UN level, of R2P language for political purposes. For some Security Council members, R2P has become a convenient cover for eliminating regimes they dislike. The selective application of R2P is in contradistinction to the nuanced way the AU looks at R2P doctrines. Although the AU endorses all three pillars of R2P, it added a number of caveats to make it difficult for powerful states to use the AU’s R2P-legal language to serve their own interests. The Ezulwini Consensus not only shifted the power to decide when, where, and how to intervene to regional organizations, it also de-linked R2P from regime change, noting that even though “it is important to reiterate the obligation of states to protect their citizens, this should not be used as a pretext to undermine the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of states.” The Ezulwini Consensus also affirmed that regional organizations can seek the Security Council’s approval after interventions, and called on the UN to “assume responsibility for financing such operations.”

The powers that are in the Security Council should have been happy with the charitable role African states have assigned to the UN. The AU and its regional communities can render the UN irrelevant in African peace and security matters by seeking direct donor funding, particularly from China, and by developing independent sources of funding for its peacemaking operations. Even the poorly managed Konare and Ping Commissions managed to solicit funding directly from donors to pay for over 90 percent of AU peacemaking activities. In 2013, for instance, the AU is expecting USD $155 million from donors, about 56 percent of its total budget. There are also signs that AU leadership is finally taking seriously the idea of alternative sources of funding: the high level panel on alternative sources of financing recommended a number of options, including a USD $2 hospitality levy per stay in a hotel; a five cents (USD) levy per text message sent; and a USD $5 travel levy on flights to and from Africa.10Jakkie, Cilliers and Jide Martyns Okeke, “The Election of Dr. Dlamini-Zuma as AU Chairperson: Towards Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance,” (2012) available at Accessed on 14 July 2012. There is a strong likelihood that the incoming chair of the AU Commission, the former South African Interior Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, will implement at least two of the three recommendations. The UN could be pushed to the margins in regard to African security issues if the Security Council does not take the sequencing and subsidiarity idea seriously, and especially if Dr Dlamini-Zuma performs as most people expect her to.

In the near future, the UN will be less important to the AU if it is not footing some of the AU peace and security bills. What will the AU need the Security Council for if the latter does not want to pay the peacemaking bills, or provide the international political blessing for Africans to do the dirty work of the Council? The last 10 years have taught us that it is the AU Peace and Security Council, not the Council, that is willing and able to use the most appropriate conflict resolution tools in a timely fashion in crises in Africa. One can cite many examples to support this claim, but it is perhaps enough to indicate that the AU has used mediation to quietly defuse potentially explosive pre-election tensions in many African states, including Senegal in January 2012 and to resolve post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-08. It has employed suspension and sanctions to force a return to civilian rule in some African states, including Togo and Mauritania. And the AU Peace and Security Council used military force surgically to prevent the breakup of Comoros.

Susan Rice and her European allies’ fervent opposition to UN funding for an AU-led peace mission is surprising, given that it is cheaper for the AU to intervene than for the UN. In Burundi, for instance, the UN mission that took over from the AU spent twice the resources the AU had expended to create peace. Ambassador Mamadou Bah, former AU special representative to Burundi, delivered his usual witty illustration of the reason for this. He quipped, “I do not need two armored cars, two bulletproof vests, many bodyguards, and others before I go out. My staffs do not need the biggest SUV in the world and a fat paycheck to do their jobs. UN people think they need all these and more.”11Interview with Mamadou Bah by author at Bujumbura, Burundi on 30 October 2008.

The infusion of enormous sums of money into the local economy of conflict-ridden states by UN peacekeeping missions creates its own problems, including transforming the informal economy into a “militarized, criminal enterprise with the power and interest to perpetuate state collapse indefinitely.”12Aisha Ahmad, “Agenda for peace or budget for war? Evaluating the economic impact of international intervention in Somalia,” International Journal (Spring 2012): 315. As Aisha Ahmad’s study of the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia shows, the injection of billions of dollars by UNOSOM I and II and by aid agencies “directly financed the fragmentation of Somalia and drove local security providers to engage in increasingly predatory behaviour against the Somali populace.”13Ibid. The distortion of the Burundi economy by SUV-obsessed UN mission officials, who made a very modest contribution to the peace process, in part compelled Pierre Nkurunziza government’s to ask the Security Council to end the peacekeeping mission in 2006, earlier than planned.

This request by Burundi underscores the legitimacy-deficit that Ban Ki-Moon’s UN has in Africa. The attraction of UN peace missions across Africa is not what it used to be. African states increasingly prefer an AU-led peace mission. Even Joseph Kabila’s government, which has benefited more than others from the UN mission in the DRC, has, on many occasions asked for the troops to be withdrawn. In March 2010, he requested the Security Council to begin to draw down the mission. After pressure from development partners, he softened his position a little, calling on the UN General Assembly in September 2011 to “progressively abandon the strict framework of peacekeeping operations to help the country progress in its development and economic regeneration.”14UN News Centre, “DR Congo calls for UN mission to move from peacekeeping to development,” available online at Accessed on 7 June 2012. And the Sudanese government rejected the UN’s request to deploy troops in the Darfur region, though it happily welcomed the AU mission. The Sudanese government agreed to allow the UN to deploy only after the Security Council piggybacked on the AU mission.

The preference for AU peace missions will only increase in coming years. There is a widespread view in African political circles that Ban Ki-Moon’s UN is easily manipulated by Western states on the Security Council to serve their foreign policy goals. The abuse of Resolution 1973 by Britain, France, and the US has made African governments extremely distrustful of the current UN. The Secretary General reinforced the perception that he cared only about Western and South Korean interests when he lamentably failed until after the fact to draw the Council’s attention to a letter sent on 5 April 2012 by Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo, president of the ECOWAS Commission, on behalf of ECOWAS and the AU.15For the letter, see The letter had been written to the Council through the Secretary-General to draw the Council’s attention to a potential coup in Guinea and the possible destabilization of the West African region. The Secretary-General shared the letter only after the army had overthrown the Guinea government and begun to destabilize the subregion. In fact, few African states, if any, trust the current UN to come to their aid if they have security problems.

Even more worrying for the UN is that even fewer African governments will be willing to consent to the deployment of UN troops on their soil in the near future. The best route the UN has to influence peacemaking in Africa is through the AU and its regional economic communities. The AU will entertain cooperation with the UN only if the Security Council is prepared to agree formally to pay for the lion’s share of AU peacemaking activities. Dr. Dlamini-Zuma’s Commission will likely call the UN’s bluff if the Council does not recognize the new standard in the division of labor between the UN and AU. She is aware that the UN has not always been a good big brother to the AU. It has sometimes undermined the AU’s work by poaching the best trained and most competent staff in the AU peace and security department. The so-called 10-year UN capacity-building project for the AU Commission has been a complete farce. Madam Dlamini-Zuma is acutely aware that African lives are too precious to be left to the mercy of games played in air-conditioned rooms in New York.


African Union. (2005). The Ezulwini Consensus: The Common African Position on the Proposed Reform of the United Nations. New York: United Nations. Available at

Ahmad, Aisha (2012). “Agenda for Peace or Budget for War? Evaluating the Economic Impact of International Intervention in Somalia.” International Journal no. 315: 113-130.

Cilliers, Jakkie and Okeke, Jide M (2012). “The Election of Dr. Dlamini-Zumah as AU Chairperson: Towards Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.” Policy Brief No. 33/ 2012. Available at:

Malan, Mark. (2002). “New Tools in the Box? Towards A Standby Force for the African Union.” Johannesburg: Institute of Security Studies.

Peterman, Amber, Palermo Tia, and Bredenkamp Caryn (2011). “Estimates and Determinants of Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” American Journal of Public Health, 101, 6; 1060-1067.

Powell, Kristiana and Thomas Kwasi Tieku. (2005). “The African Union and The Responsibility to Protect: Towards a Protection Regime for Africa?” International Insights, 20, no. 12: 215-235.

Rice, E. Susan (2012). “Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, At a Security Council Open Debate on UN-AU Cooperation.” U.S. Missions to the United Nations. Available at:

Sesay, Max A (1996). “Civil War and Collective Intervention in Liberia.” Review of African Political Economy 23, 67; 35-52.

Schoeman, Maxi. (2004). “The African Union after the Durban 2002 Summit,” Centre of African Studies in the University of Copenhagen. Available online at

UN News Centre (2012). DR Congo Calls for UN Mission to Move from Peacekeeping to Development. Available at:

UN Security Council (2012). “Letter dated 23 April 2012 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council.” Available at:

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