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Africa should be better prepared for Europe’s security funding shift

The African Union (AU) has missed a vital opportunity to discuss a change in European funding for peace and security. The European Union (EU) announced the move in 2021 as part of its new defence package. Under the new arrangement, the European Peace Facility (EPF) replaces the African Peace Facility (APF), which for 17 years channelled EU security funding via the AU.

A lack of preparation and consensus ahead of the February AU–EU summit meant there was no common African position on the issue, so it wasn’t raised at the meeting.

The change means less money for African peace missions and less AU say over how the funds are spent. But it could also signal increasing European militarism and interventionism. The shift in Europe’s foreign and security policy enabled the EU to provide military support to Ukraine after the Russian invasion on 24 February. The EPF meant that the EU could, for the first time, supply lethal weapons to a third country.

Europe’s military support to Ukraine has raised concerns in Africa about whether similar interventions could take place on the continent. Research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has shown that some experts worry the EU’s new strategy may not benefit Africa as a whole and could even have serious negative consequences.

Although the new facility promises to build the capacity of EU partners and provide predictable funding, it could threaten multilateral engagement between the two continents and collective African decision making on security.

The APF was founded in 2004 and has contributed €2.68 billion mainly to finance 16 African-led peace support operations in 19 countries. Direct member state contributions made the EU the biggest funder of African-led peace missions.

Governed by the 2018 AU–EU memorandum of understanding, the AU had primary responsibility for planning, authorising, coordinating and disbursing EU funds to African-led peace operations. However, under the new facility, the AU is no longer the channel for European financing of military missions and operations in Africa.

The EU may now finance direct military intervention by a member state, such as deploying a taskforce in support of France’s Operation Barkhane in Mali. Europe will also provide strategic direction and political backing to such missions, which could hamper AU leadership of peace operations.

The move away from the APF and towards direct engagement with stakeholders will also significantly reduce EU funding to the AU, especially peace missions such as in Somalia.

According to the EU, one factor driving the change was a 2018 European Court of Auditors report. It said the AU hadn’t taken sufficient ownership of financing its peace and security mechanisms, forcing the EU to cover operational costs rather than capacity building as was intended. The report also cited the lack of coherence of AU financing instruments, paucity of information on results, and inadequate monitoring and evaluation.

Another factor is the change in Europe’s global stance on defence issues. The EU’s 2021 defence package includes the European Defence Fund, which allocated around €8 billion to enhance Europe’s defence industrial base and increase its military autonomy from the United States. This indicates Europe’s ambition to influence and intervene in peace and security outcomes, including in Africa. European countries are motivated by the effects of terrorism and violent extremism in Africa, and undocumented migrants entering their continent.

ISS research found that several AU member states worry that the EPF represents a policy shift from political engagement to a militarised and interventionist approach. Although they acknowledge challenges in the AU’s use of the APF, African officials believe the EPF’s primary role is to control how Europe’s money is used in Africa and elsewhere.

The concern is that military intervention will make the EU a direct actor in African conflicts, which could bring more foreign forces to the continent, with or without African states’ consent. Bilateral or regional interventions may not align with AU priorities or have AU approval, sources told the ISS. Experts also think the new arrangement could lead to arms proliferation across the continent.

The lack of a comprehensive list of EU partners complicates the situation. Although the AU, regional economic communities and AU member states are named as partners, the definition is vague. African diplomats worry the list could include armed opposition groups fighting governments the EU opposes. A similar scenario unfolded in Libya in 2011 when EU member states provided direct military support to armed groups fighting president Muammar Gaddafi.

The EU didn’t discuss the EPF’s provisions with the AU because the new facility is a global strategy, with Africa being one of many ‘beneficiaries’. For its part, the AU Peace and Security Council didn’t broach the issue before the February AU–EU summit, despite having almost a year to formulate a response. According to AU sources, the EU hadn’t formally informed it of the EPF’s establishment or the termination of the APF.

Support for the EPF in West Africa and the Sahel has divided Africa’s position on the new facility. Countries in these regions believe it helps eliminate bureaucratic delays and overhead costs incurred by AU financial oversight. They also argue that the EPF will give African military missions more funds, modern technology, capacity building and infrastructure.

So while Europe has agreed on how to approach African peace and security issues, African countries don’t share common priorities and concerns regarding the EU’s foreign and security policy. The AU, particularly its Peace and Security Council, should discuss the implications of the EPF for Africa.

Although AU–EU technical meetings are ongoing, the AU needs to formulate a policy position on Europe’s potential supply of lethal weapons to Africa. The EU’s support for military operations that are neither led nor endorsed by the AU must also be discussed.

The AU needs a plan to compensate for the financial shortfalls expected from Europe’s change in strategy under the EPF. A good place to start is to allocate money sitting in the AU Peace Fund and access United Nations-assessed contributions for African peace missions.

Shewit Woldemichael is researcher, Africa Peace and Security Governance, ISS