Partnership peacekeeping involves official or unofficial attempts by multiple actors to coordinate the objectives of their peace operations. In Africa, the last two decades have seen partnership peacekeeping become more and more common. This is the result of several interrelated trends, but perhaps foremost among them is the widespread recognition that no single international organization has either a monopoly on peacekeeping or the capabilities to deal with Africa’s conflict-management challenges alone. It should also be noted that the unprecedented number and size of peace operations in 21st century Africa is particularly remarkable given that they have been deployed in spite of the challenges posed by the US-led “global war on terror” and the huge military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The trend towards increasing partnerships and ad hoc and hybrid relationships reveals some of the fundamental problems with the popular slogan that what the continent really needs is “African solutions to African problems.” This would make sense if Africans always agreed on the continent’s key problems and their solutions, and if the continent’s peace and security challenges were solely “African” problems. Of course, neither of those things is true. Recent conflict management initiatives across Africa have involved a range of hybrid solutions with important inputs coming from Africans and non-Africans alike. Similarly, the continent’s key security challenges are not somehow hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. Most of them have been significantly influenced by all manner of transnational forces. Instead of looking for simply “African solutions,” what is really needed is effective partnerships to tackle some wicked multidimensional problems.

But partnership peacekeeping is not easy – it brings both opportunities and dangers. On the positive side, since no single organization can deal with the whole range of Africa’s peacekeeping challenges, partnerships offer a way to develop pragmatic solutions that build on the comparative advantages of each institution. On the other, partnerships are risky. It is never simple and is usually undesirable to work with multiple bosses. And different institutions usually bring different conceptions of the threat agenda as well as the priority to be assigned to different threats. As a consequence, organizations often have divergent ideas about the most appropriate solutions and instruments.

Despite the challenges, we need to get partnership peacekeeping in Africa right because the stakes are so high. Africa still faces too many peace and security challenges, including wars, coups, mass atrocities, and deadly livelihood struggles. The continent also houses most of the world’s peacekeepers. The two Sudans and the Democratic Republic of Congo alone account for just over half of all United Nations peacekeepers deployed around the globe and about half of the annual UN peacekeeping budget. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is another huge operation now involving nearly 18,000 troops and a small number of police, and costing approximately $700 million a year. It is also an example of international hybridity par excellence. AMISOM’s troops have come principally from just two African countries (Uganda and Burundi), but they have been trained and given military equipment primarily by the United States with assistance from a handful of European states. Their allowances have been paid by the European Union (EU), while the UN has provided almost all their additional logistical needs, technical assistance across a variety of issues, and later significant compensation for the major items of contingent-owned equipment. Moreover, AMISOM’s troops have been supported in the field by two other states – Ethiopia and Kenya – which were not initially part of the operation (Kenya subsequently joined AMISOM after it signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Union in June 2012).

So in Africa at least, partnership peacekeeping is necessary. But it requires careful coordination to work efficiently and when done badly it can be counterproductive. While many lessons about partnership peacekeeping have been learnt in the last decade, it remains easier to say what hasn’t worked than what works well. In addition, partnership peacekeeping continues to be hampered by a range of challenges, some predictable, some less so. Key decision-makers in several international organizations and their most influential member states must therefore work hard to overcome these challenges. In Africa, the key peacekeeping relationships revolve around the UN, the African Union (AU), the EU, Africa’s so-called Regional Economic Communities (RECs), powerful African states, as well as pivotal external powers, notably the US, France, the UK, and Germany. It remains to be seen if China, India, Turkey, and Brazil, among others, will provide greater support to Africa’s regional peacekeeping initiatives.

The dangers of partnership peacekeeping in contemporary Africa lie in three related sets of structural challenges: economic, technical, and political.

In economic terms, a central issue is the huge disparities in wealth among potential partners. Of course, “partnerships” can come in all shapes and sizes and they are rarely completely equal partnerships. Rather, partners in most enterprises share some common goals but bring different qualities to the table. This is certainly true of the economics of international peacekeeping. The EU and NATO, for instance, are populated by some of the world’s wealthiest states, while the AU and Africa’s RECs comprise many of the world’s poorest countries. Moreover, there are huge inequalities in how regional institutions fund their peace and security activities. The EU and NATO have large transnational bureaucracies that offer officials the possibility of a long-term career and build their institutional expertise accordingly. Most African institutions, by contrast, struggle to get their members to pay their annual dues and have not established large or effective transnational bureaucracies to keep their organizations working smoothly. Between 1993 and 2005, for example, the Organization of African Unity’s Peace Fund received less than $70 million, roughly $45 million of which was provided by non-African actors. By 2009, the AU’s Peace Fund had a negative balance. While the AU’s member states have agreed to increase their contributions to the Peace Fund from 6 per cent to 10 per cent and soon to 12 per cent, the fund is still in arrears. This fact is important because although partnerships are rarely completely equal, as a general rule those who pay the piper call the tune. And in the realm of African peacekeeping, the money is distributed highly unevenly, with foreigners paying most of the bills. This has generated a variety of questions about the financial sustainability of peacekeeping conducted by African organizations. Two high-level panels – one chaired by the former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi (2008) and one by the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (2011) – have been formed in just the last four years to tackle the issue. As yet, there has been no fundamental breakthrough.

The second structural problem is linked to the first: the huge disparities in technical capacities for conducting peace operations. Effective peacekeeping operations need far more than just money. They require well-trained troops, police, and civilian personnel; good leaders; appropriate materiel, including armored personnel carriers and helicopters; strategic airlift capabilities (for both personnel and equipment); hospital facilities; logistics bases and hubs; training facilities; management structures; and qualified staff to sustain even relatively small-scale missions. While NATO and the UN have managed to sustain deployments of around 100,000 uniformed personnel, most other international organizations cannot even come remotely close to such figures. Even the EU, which used to have plenty of money, has downsized its ideas of common force projection. It now thinks in terms of battle groups of approximately 1,500 soldiers, compared to the early 2000s when its rhetoric centered on the deployment of a rapid reaction force of 50,000-60,000 troops. Similarly, while the AU’s initial concept of an African Standby Force envisaged a force of over 20,000 troops from five regional brigades, its emphasis in recent years has been on a rapid deployment concept more akin to the EU’s notion of battle groups. One of the AU’s internal assessments accurately diagnosed the problem as a basic “mandate-resource gap,” that is, a disjuncture between “the PSC’s [Peace and Security Council] willingness to authorize such missions and the AU’s ability to implement them” (para.68). Another indication of frustration with the AU is the fact that the more dynamic RECs within the African Standby Force concept – particularly the western and southern regional forces – are not waiting for the AU to get its house in order but are building their own capabilities. The latest debates within ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) about how to respond to the crises in Mali and Guinea-Bissau are just the most recent manifestation of this situation. Because the AU lacks lots of relevant military capabilities and management capacity, it is arguably much better suited for conducting mediation initiatives and addressing unconstitutional changes of government on the continent than running big military operations like AMISOM. But most people would not get this impression from reading the AU’s latest strategic documents on the subject (see below).

Economic and technical challenges are important, but the most crucial structural challenge to partnership peacekeeping is achieving political consensus on the most appropriate relationship between the UN Security Council and the AU. The last few years have witnessed a regular clash of philosophies, priorities, and practical approaches between the two councils—although the work of the new UN Office to the AU, established in 2010 but operationalized in September 2011, has helped calm the political atmosphere.

The basic contours of the philosophical disagreements between the UN and AU about peace operations can be summarized quickly. The UN’s peacekeeping philosophy derives from the lessons learned over the past six decades and the deployment of nearly 70 missions. These are that peacekeeping is unlikely to succeed where one or more of the following conditions are not in place: 1) a peace to keep, where the signing of a ceasefire or peace agreement is one (but not the only) important indicator that parties are genuinely seeking peace; 2) positive regional engagement; 3) full backing of a united Security Council; and 4) a clear and achievable mandate with resources to match (pp.49-51). The AU’s philosophy for what it calls peace support operations is significantly different. As articulated in its major report on UN-AU cooperation released in January 2012, the AU argues that the UN’s peacekeeping doctrine renders it unable to “deploy a peace mission … in a situation like Somalia … even though significant advances have been made on the ground” [in this case by AMISOM]. Unlike the UN, the AU has developed “a different peacekeeping doctrine; instead of waiting for a peace to keep, the AU views peacekeeping as an opportunity to establish peace before keeping it” (para.71).

With regard to the preferred relationship between the AU and the UN Security Council, the AU document is unclear. It frames the ideal working relationship between the two institutions in the following manner:

As the two organs continue to work together to deepen their partnership, it is important, in light of the fact that the African continent dominates the agenda of the UNSC, that the latter should give due consideration to the decisions of the AU and its PSC [Peace and Security Council] in arriving at its own decisions. While it is clear that, given its primacy in the maintenance of international peace and security, the UNSC cannot be expected to be bound by the decisions of the PSC on matters pertaining to Africa, the AU nonetheless is of the view that its requests should, at a minimum, be duly considered by the UNSC. This is crucial given its proximity and familiarity with conflict dynamics in its member states. Moreover, doing so would be consistent with Chapter VIII. (para.45)

The problem here, of course, is what giving “due consideration” to AU decisions means in practice if it doesn’t mean automatic agreement.

Other key political differences were on display at the UN Security Council debate on cooperation between the UN and regional organizations in maintaining international peace and security that took place in January 2012. For example, Kenya’s then foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, raised several African grievances with the UN Security Council. First, he argued that “the practice in the past two years seems to indicate an undesirable trend that appears to be selective on the part of the Security Council and that seems to disregard full consideration of the position and/or recommendations of the AU or its organs.” Moreover, he reiterated the AU’s challenge to the UN’s basic peacekeeping philosophy by concluding that “the practice that the United Nations can only engage where there is peace to keep translates into the United Nations abandonment of some of the most challenging crisis situations” (pp.9-10). Wetangula’s notion that the UN can only engage in a crisis when there is a peace to keep is, of course, complete nonsense, but the UN does have a more restrictive idea of the propitious conditions for deploying a peacekeeping force than the AU.

At the other end of the spectrum, some non-African members of the UN Security Council used the discussion to reiterate some of their frustrations with the AU. US Ambassador Susan Rice, for example, emphasized that

… some Security Council members feel that African Union Member States have not always provided unified or consistent views on key issues, and that the African Union has on occasion been slow to act on urgent matters. Beneath those perceptions and frustrations, however, is a deeper issue, that is who is on first? … The Security Council is not subordinate to other bodies, or to the schedules or capacities of regional or subregional groups … [UN-regional] cooperation cannot be on the basis that the regional organization independently decides the policy and that the United Nations Member States simply bless it and pay for it. There can be no blank check, either politically or financially (p.15).

Unfortunately, even this high-level discussion was also notable for the appearance of some all-too-frequent basic misunderstandings about the role of peacekeeping operations. In this case, it was Nigeria’s Ambassador Joy Ogwu who, speaking of Somalia, exemplified the problem when she said, “Ultimately, a full and robust United Nations peacekeeping operation will be the panacea to the relentless insecurity, piracy and humanitarian challenges in the country” (pp.8-9). Coming from the permanent representative of a country that had recently chaired the UN Security Council working group on peacekeeping operations, this is a worryingly naïve and/or badly misinformed statement. Put simply, no peacekeeping operation can provide a sustainable substitute for a country’s government and no peacekeeping operation, no matter how robust, can be “the panacea” for a country’s entire list of insecurity challenges. Peacekeeping operations are instruments that can help support local actors and implement political strategies to make peace and reconciliation, but they are not a sustainable solution to a country’s political crisis. In Somalia’s case, the fundamental problem has been disagreement among Somalis about how they should be governed, and this is something no peacekeeping operation can resolve.

This brings us back to the fundamental point that peacekeeping operations must only ever form one part of a broader political strategy for addressing Africa’s peace and security challenges. Unfortunately, while partnership peacekeeping is a necessary endeavor, it faces several enduring structural challenges. Specifically, significant economic and technical inequalities between the international organizations involved in keeping the peace in Africa make the prospect of genuinely equal partnerships remote. Moreover, until the differences between UN and AU peacekeeping philosophies are effectively managed or a compromise found between them, and until the political question of the appropriate relationship between the two councils on matters of peace and security in Africa is clarified, partnership peacekeeping is likely to endure a rather turbulent future.