Picture: Siyabulela Duda/GCIS

Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa has just returned from the 11th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa over the weekend.

The AU summit focused on institutional reform within the continental body, took stock of progress made thus far, deliberated on outstanding issues and challenges and considered a variety of proposals and recommendations. South Africa has been a strong supporter of institutional reforms of the organisation and the creation of an efficient and cost-effective union.

However, as the powerhouse of the continent, can Pretoria play a more effective role in peace-keeping operations in Africa by collaborating with the AU and the United Nations?

At the beginning of next year South Africa will be one of Africa’s three representatives on the UN Security Council (UNSC), replacing Ethiopia - the largest troop-contributing country to the UN and a strong champion of peacekeeping during its term on the council.

“The country can use this opportunity to actively promote more effective peacekeeping responses by the UN, while also repositioning itself as a troop-contributing country,” said Gustavo de Carvalho, Senior Researcher, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding, at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria.

Peacekeeping has been a priority for South African foreign policy since the late 1990s, and was presented as one of the key focus areas during its campaign to join the council, explained de Carvalho. During previous tenures on the UNSC Pretoria successfully pushed for the strengthening of UN-AU relations.

However, contributing to peacekeeping discussions in the Security Council won’t be an easy task for South Africa, asserted the ISS analyst.

A recent study by the ISS showed that despite its diplomatic successes the country has also lost some of its visibility in UN peace and security matters and has contributed less to peacekeeping contributions over the years. Currently it employs 1 242 personnel in UN operations, mostly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Ramaphosa will have to deal with the effectiveness of peace operations on the continent being compromised by continual geopolitical differences between UNSC members, particularly the permanent members of the organisation, when it takes its seat at the beginning of next year.

In addition to the political differences, heated debate has also revolved around peacekeeping budgets, largely pushed by the US, as well as calls for strengthening accountability and the behaviour of African leaders to be used as a litmus test for performance measurement. 

But creative politicking by European and African leaders, including Ramaphosa, has identified ways to overcome the disagreements which regularly deadlock UNSC debates.

South Africa has already started informally engaging with the Council. Last week in Pretoria it hosted, together with Sweden, two days of talks with the E10 (non-permanent members of the UNSC), including outgoing and ingoing countries.

“Some incoming members, such as Belgium and Germany, have strong interests in peacekeeping and have previously served on the Security Council with South Africa. Alliances could be made to move discussions forward," said de Carvalho.

For instance, ill-defined debates on stabilisation, the role of ad hoc security initiatives such as the G5 Sahel, and peacekeepers engaging in counter-terrorism could benefit from more specific, evidence-based analysis. This would help council members make informed decisions. Similarly, the council’s focus on accountability and performance should consider the role of technology in peacekeeping operations, added de Carvalho.

African News Agency (ANA)