With the increase in complex intrastate conflicts and insecurity in Africa, the ability of the African Union (AU), its Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs) to maintain peace and security on the continent, comes into spotlight.
A rapid rise in global pressures highlights the need for home-grown approaches that are not only authentic, but also effective. The call for African solutions to Africa’s problems may not be new, but it is amplified in this context. Crucially, this means that responses need to take stock of regional and continental complexities, and also make full use of existing capacities.
As successive waves of COVID-19 pose a worldwide public-health crisis, states are forced to redirect resources to meet domestic priorities. The concomitant economic pressure will affect the ability of development partners and donor agencies to deliver programmes and resources; a reality that will reverberate across African states and recipient entities for a long time to come.
These effects of the pandemic will be compounded by another global crisis, namely climate change. African states comprise some of the worst-affected areas, and nations that are facing or emerging from conflict are likely to suffer disproportionately. Changing weather patterns dramatically affect availability and access to crucial resources such as grazing, arable and habitable land, as well as water. The shrinking of natural resources has already become a driver of conflict. These factors also fuel human migration, which is just one of the ways in which climate change shapes and exacerbates local and regional conflict and tension.
The net effect of these factors constitutes a clarion call to the AU, RECs and RMs to prioritise, capacitate and effectively implement every necessary and conceivable means to optimise prospects for sustainable peace and security in Africa. One such means is the deployment of Peace Support Operations (PSO) and Special Operations (SO) in affected areas.
A global legacy exists whereby PSOs and SOs have traditionally been approached through an excessively militarised lens. Yet these operations are multifunctional in nature and scope. Amongst other components, the Police Component plays a critical role in the success of these efforts.
Policing that occurs in the context of a multidimensional peace operation, humanitarian action and natural-disaster support – as well as in contexts marked by simmering political tension to prevent conflict from escalating, which may also include civilian and military components – is part of international policing. (It differs from national policing, which is characterised by direct enforcement of domestic criminal law, and transnational policing, which is typified by assistance networks and mechanisms that facilitate investigations with a cross-border element.) In all of these contexts, there are clear tasks that require a policing response.
International policing must be authorised within the context of a political mandate of a PSO, and it is undertaken by police officers from various nationalities. It involves a range of mandated tasks designed to re-establish the rule of law; protect civilians; public safety; public order; prevent human-rights violations and support the extension of state authority. It is also key to supporting security sector reform, capacity building of host nation police and other law-enforcement institutions and individuals. Yet the role of the police has historically been under-recognised and under-utilised.
A significant step for enhancing the recognition and mainstreaming of the integral role of the police was the approval of the AU Police Policy in 2018. It represents a momentous occasion for consolidating and optimizing police capabilities for PSO and SO. It is now crucial that the Policy be fully implemented.
The AU Police Policy provides for the deployment of the police to provide the required support in PSOs and SOs, including technical support. It further addresses the identified structural challenges that inhibit sufficient recognition and prioritisation of the police (namely policy, practice and perceptions) in a concrete and comprehensive manner.
Since international policing is dynamic, the AU Police Policy also creates the basis for the development of other police strategic guidance instruments, such as guidelines, standard operating procedures, directives, training manuals and others.
AU PSOs require a comprehensive and multidimensional approach underpinned by the primacy of politics at all stages of the conflict. The draft AU Doctrine for PSO, AU 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration and the AU continental blueprint Africa Agenda 2063 are instructive on these aspects.
Just as perennial inattention to the role of the police in PSO and SO comes at a great cost, so too are there rich peace and security dividends to be gained through the full and effective implementation of the AU Police Policy. As humanitarian crises and various disasters continue to occur, affected countries will need support to deal with these emergencies. If given the necessary support and latitude, the Police will make tremendous and positively impactful contributions towards the maintenance of international peace and security, which are crucial for stability and sustainable development in Africa. Therefore, timely and effective implementation of the AU Police Policy cannot be overemphasised and the AU, RECs/RMs and member states should demonstrate bold political will to facilitate and expedite this process.
Crowd Chirenje, Former Commissioner of Police and TfP Police consultant