West must foot security bills as Africa slides into turmoil

African Union presidents gathering in Rwanda this weekend will discuss how member states can fund peacekeeping operations on the continent. Western backers will still end up picking up most of the tab.

More than a decade after the continental body adopted the maxim “African solutions to African problems,” it’s still unable to fund operations needed to quell violence including political conflicts from South Sudan to Libya, and Islamist insurgencies from Nigeria to Somalia.

A proposal to compel the organization’s 53-member states to provide a quarter of the funding required over the next five years is being discussed at a summit that kicks off Friday in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui said in an interview. If agreed, it will allow the body to receive United Nations funding for the balance, he said.

More than 100,000 uniformed peacekeepers are deployed in African nations, twice as many as a decade ago, with locations including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Mali and South Sudan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The UN’s annual peacekeeping budget is about $8 billion, with the biggest contributors the U.S., Japan, France and Germany, the CFR said in a report published May 2015.

Moribund Ambition

The plan being discussed by the African Union is for a fund “independent” of its annual budget that would breathe life into a moribund ambition — an African force that can “deal with threats all by itself,” Chergui said.

African leaders need to agree on raising 25 percent of the funds required over five years, before asking the UN Security Council to finance the balance, according to Chergui.

“There is political will, there is determination and hopefully we will have the tools,” he said. “We have to make sure we don’t continue to depend on partners.”

Conflict management and peace operations are the largest single item on the African Union’s budget, according to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who’s stepping down as AU Commission chairwoman, after serving one term. All the same, the continental body has been able to do little over the past year as violence has gripped Burundi, South Sudan, Mozambique and Libya and Islamist insurgencies persist in Somalia and Nigeria.

Violent Upsurge

The most recent upsurge was in South Sudan, where forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and supporters of Vice President Riek Machar engaged in clashes last weekend that left at least 272 people dead. The country, which marked its fifth anniversary of independence from Sudan on July 9, has had a transitional government since April, when the two leaders agreed to work together to end a civil war that began in December 2013. A spokesman for Machar’s fighters this week called for the UN to separate the warring sides.

Old Mutual Plc and Standard Bank Group have temporarily halted operations and evacuated staff, while the world’s newest nation’s currency has lost 90 percent of its value and annual inflation has exceeded 300 percent. The economy will contract 7.8 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

A lack of political will and governments running high budget deficits makes financing an African force a “chronic problem,” according to Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based analyst with Teneo Intelligence. “There is always talk about Africa solutions to African problems, but many governments fail to realize this requires funding.”

Burundi, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia are part of an African Union mission in Somalia which is fighting al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked group that’s previously targeted other East African nations in attacks that have threatened economic growth.

‘Morally Unacceptable’

The capabilities of the mission, known as Amisom, are severely limited by a lack of funds after the European Union cut budgetary support that went toward troops’ salaries. It’s not “morally acceptable” that Amisom gets no financial backing from the UN Security Council, Chergui said.

“We don’t have enablers, we don’t have multipliers, the UN is not delivering,” he said. “Amisom is reducing terrorism by undermining al-Shabaab, yet we are paying with the blood of our troops.”

Africans won’t “keep troops in the field without Western financial support,” said Ben Payton, head of Africa at U.K.-based consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. There is no unified response “even where there is agreement that terrorism poses a common threat.”

While African leaders are concerned with creating the impression they’re not dependent on former colonizers for security, a lack of airlift capabilities and elite troops mean “the continent still largely relies on Western powers to undertake more complex emergency interventions,” he said.