Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

The Changing Role of Regional Organizations in African Peace and Security

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

The Changing Role of Regional Organizations in African Peace and Security

Article excerpt

This panel was convened at 2:15 pm, Friday, April 5, by its moderator, Ademola Abass of the Institute for Comparative Regional Integration Studies, United Nations University, who introduced the panelists: Theodore Christakis of the University of Grenoble; Francis M. Ssekandi, Lecturer-in-Law, Columbia University Law School; and Sarah Nouwen of Cambridge University.


When the UN Charter was adopted in 1945, it was envisaged that regional organizations would play certain roles in respect of peace and security. This role, it needs to be emphasized, was only the product of an afterthought. Initial discussions during the United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO) that led to the creation of the UN Charter did not include the possibility of regional organizations playing any peace and security role.

The UN Charter provides, in Chapter VIII, for regional organizations to play both pacific and enforcement roles in respect of peace and security. Whereas these organizations, which are organically referred to in the UN Charter as regional arrangements or agencies, could settle disputes among their members peacefully without involving the UN Security Council (Article 52), they are forbidden by Article 53 to take enforcement action without Security Council authority. The Charter also empowers the Security Council to use regional organizations for such actions as it deems fit.

It is probably correct to state that in no other continent has the role envisaged for regional organizations in 1945 undergone such profound change and transformation than in Africa. Not only have African regional organizations become, by far, the most actively engaged with peace and security (at least insofar as being physically involved in such matters is concerned), they have also been extremely proactive in interpreting Chapter VIII provisions in a manner that has enabled them continuously to undermine the constitutional structure of the Chapter's framework.

Up until about 1990, the majority of African regional organizations were essentially economic groupings with little or no competence in maintaining peace and security among their member states. This situation was owed partly to the Cold War, which ensured that regional organizations would not obtain the required UN Security Council authorization for undertaking muscular military operations among their member states, and partly to the fact that African states were themselves notoriously protective of their sovereignty. Thus, any talks of military intervention by African organizations (or any organization, for that matter) during this time were a non-starter.

One serious consequence of the inability of the UN to respond to conflicts in an equitable and timely fashion is the opening up of a subsidiarity space for regional organizations. African organizations, coming from a region that has unarguably been the worst hit by the UN's selective intervention machinery, began to tackle African conflicts from 1990. From the brave, if neophytic, intervention by ECOWAS in Liberia and Sierra Leone between 1990 and 2003, to the virtual irrelevance of the African Union in the resolution of the Libya and Ivory Coast debacles in 2011 and 2012, African organizations have played varying roles in maintaining peace and security on the continent.

Naturally, interventions by African organizations in armed conflicts have produced some costly mistakes, just as they have also authored some modest gains. Serious lessons have (and are still being) learned as the process continues.

The role of African regional organizations in peace and security continues to change in key areas, both in respect of their member states and, more importantly, in their relation to the UN Security Council. With regard to their member states, some African organizations have been able to adopt treaties, which enable them to disaggregate or altogether dispense with the consent of their members before they can take enforcement action in response to their conflicts. …

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