The United Nations and the African Union (AU) have worked in tandem since the AU’s establishment in 2002. During this time, their partnership has evolved to focus increasingly on conflict prevention and crisis management, culminating in the 2017 Joint UN-AU Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security.
While the organizations’ collaboration on peacekeeping has been extensively studied, other dimensions of the partnership warrant a closer look to understand how to foster political coherence and operational coordination. The relationship between the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) is a central driver of the UN-AU partnership.
Despite tensions stemming from the councils’ unequal relationship, an informal division of labor has emerged, with the AUPSC mandating the AU to lead conflict prevention and crisis management on the continent while the UNSC sustains international attention and exerts political pressure. However, the councils’ internal political dynamics, the uneven diplomatic capacities of member states, and broader debates over political primacy and subsidiarity can limit cooperation.
Moreover, while the three African elected members of the UNSC and the councils’ annual joint consultative meeting serve as a bridge between them, engagement between the councils is not consistently sustained. Compared with the uneven relationship between the two councils, the partnership between the UN Secretariat and AU Commission has grown considerably stronger.
This partnership is underpinned by institutional mechanisms, including the Joint Task Force on Peace and Security and the UN-AU Annual Conference, as well as the AU Permanent Observer Mission to the UN and the UN Office to the AU. Equally important are day-to-day working relationships, including between special envoys, focal points, and other staff. At the highest level, the relationship between the UN secretary-general and AU Commission chairperson has driven the partnership’s recent growth.
With the UN development system reforms that took effect in January 2019, UN country teams, especially the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and peace and development advisers, also play an increasingly valuable role in the partnership. The depth and nature of the UN-AU partnership varies across different areas of work. Cooperation on mediation is particularly advanced, with both organizations nurturing institutional mechanisms to work together.
Similarly, the UN and AU have a long-standing working relationship on electoral support, with the UN focused on technical assistance and the AU on election observation. The AU’s Silencing the Guns initiative is a growing feature of the partnership, with the UN considering how to advance the AU’s initiative beyond 2020. In terms of the women, peace, and security and youth, peace, and security agendas, both organizations have progressed on internal implementation but could expand cooperation across the range of UN and AU entities working on these crosscutting issues.
The partnership is weakest on peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.