What’s new? In 2021, the European Union will introduce new ways of financing African peace and security. It will replace the dedicated fund that supported the African Union’s (AU) efforts to prevent and resolve conflict with successor instruments that give the EU more flexibility in choosing who and what to support.
Why does it matter? The new instruments will allow the EU to directly finance both a broader range of African-led peace support operations and coalitions and direct training and equipment for national armies. Without careful implementation, however, Brussels could wind up making counterproductive investments that might worsen already fraught situations in fragile states.
What should be done? Robust safeguards to manage these risks will be key. The EU should insist that funding recipients develop political strategies to guide their military activities. It should continue to work closely with the AU, empowering it to play an oversight role, and refrain from giving fragile states money for lethal equipment.
In 2021, the European Union (EU) will overhaul the way in which it has financed African peace and security efforts over the last sixteen years. Until now, the EU has largely channelled funds in support of these efforts through African Union (AU) structures. But the new financial tools will give the EU the option of bypassing the AU to directly pay for national and sub-regional military initiatives. For the first time, they will also allow Brussels to finance lethal equipment for African armies. With the flexibility that the EU is creating for itself comes some risk. Often, military operations to address threats to African security lack overarching political strategies to deal with the drivers of conflict or build trust among local populations. To spend its money effectively and avoid investing in military efforts that could make fraught situations yet worse, the EU should insist that the peace support operations it funds be governed by political strategies and subject to AU oversight. Brussels should also do risk assessments before financing military training and equipment for African armies and refrain from supplying lethal equipment to fragile states.
Since 2004, the EU has contributed to AU conflict prevention efforts through its African Peace Facility (APF), a fund that helps finance African-led peace support operations, capacity building for AU institutions and AU-led conflict prevention initiatives. In 2021, the EU will replace this facility as it restructures its foreign policy funds. Instead of working through the APF, it will provide financial support to African peace and security through two successor global funds: one for military and defence operations and one for development aid.
While there will no longer be a mechanism exclusively dedicated to funding African peace and security, the new arrangement will allow Brussels greater flexibility that the EU hopes will generate better results for the continent. Brussels will be able both to provide direct funding to African-led peace support operations and military coalitions, even when they are not operating under an AU Peace and Security Council mandate, and to provide bilateral financial support for military training and equipment to African armies. It had neither of these options under the previous funding arrangement.
The EU is making these changes, in part, to address some of the limitations it experienced with APF funding and to complement its own civilian and military missions on the continent. With the new flexibility, Brussels wants to avoid AU-led missions becoming too dependent on open-ended EU financial support and prevent the long procurement delays associated with channelling funds through the AU. In addition, European and member state officials see the new capabilities as an opportunity to augment bilateral support that member states and the EU are already providing for military training and capacity-building missions in places like Mali or Somalia.
But there are also possible downsides to the new approach, including that it may weaken the AU’s role in peacekeeping on the continent. As money in the APF’s successor facilities will no longer be exclusively earmarked for AU peace and security, a larger number of potential beneficiaries could well create competition over financial resources. Addis Ababa’s oversight role in African-led peace support operations could also become more limited, as Brussels will be able to directly fund ad hoc coalitions constituted outside the AU. The EU should not let that happen; it both needs the AU’s expertise and has an interest in developing its capacity. Brussels needs a strong partner in Addis Ababa to address stability challenges on the continent that many EU leaders see as linked to European security.
The EU should also learn the lessons of ad hoc coalitions such as the Multinational Joint Task Force that is fighting Boko Haram in the Lake Chad basin or the G5 Sahel Joint Force, both of which have struggled to advance enduring stability, in part, because they lack a political plan to build trust among populations, prevent exacerbation of communal tensions and lay the groundwork for provision of basic services. If Brussels increases its financial support for such coalitions, it should insist that they subordinate their military operations to political strategies and be prepared to draw from its development fund to help with their implementation. Linking the EU’s civilian and military tools in this way will require strong political leadership in Brussels and better integrated strategic planning by different EU institutions.
Perhaps most controversially, the EU’s new approach to funding will allow Brussels to finance military training and lethal equipment for national armies. This type of support can be especially risky in states where security forces are rife with mismanagement and corruption, making it difficult to ensure that equipment is used for the intended purpose and does not fall into the wrong hands. Militaries themselves can become a threat to stability, with the August 2020 military coup in Mali being a case in point. Before and during the provision of this kind of support, Brussels should undertake thorough risk assessments, based on intelligence from EU member states, to analyse how far its support could exacerbate conflict dynamics. In fragile states, characterised by high levels of institutional and social fragility or affected by armed conflict, where the risk of misuse is especially acute, the EU should refrain from funding arms and ammunition and focus its attention on non-lethal support.