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Heading in the Wrong Direction? Rethinking the EU’s Approach to Peace and Security in Africa

Megatrends spotlight 26, 18.07.2023

With the European Peace Facility (EPF), the EU's approach to supporting peace and security in Africa is moving towards a strong focus on military capacity-building. Instead, it should strengthen prevention and peacebuilding dimensions, argues Julian Bergmann (IDOS) in this Megatrends Afrika Spotlight.

With the creation of the European Peace Facility (EPF) in 2021, the European Union (EU) has placed greater emphasis on military instruments in its foreign policy. It has adopted a range of assistance measures under the EPF to support Ukraine against Russia’s aggression, but also for the benefit of African countries and regional organisations. The recent EU decision to provide lethal equipment to Niger’s armed forces demonstrates that the bloc is strengthening its efforts in military capacity-building. It is a key element of its engagement for peace and security in Africa. However, such a one-sided focus on military capacity-building stands at risk of not contributing to sustainable peace in fragile and conflict-affected countries if it is not embedded in a broader political strategy.

What is needed is a clear strategy for the EU’s conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities in Africa, the strengthening of EPF safeguard measures to prevent the misuse of delivered equipment, and a fresh impetus for AU-EU cooperation on peace and security.

Military Aid for Niger

On 8 June 2023, the Council of the EU adopted an assistance measure under the EPF to support the Nigerien Armed Forces worth €4.7 million. It complements two previous EPF assistance packages for the country worth €65 million in total, adopted in July 2022 and March 2023.

Remarkably, this is the first time that the EU uses the EPF to provide lethal equipment – i.e. weapons and ammunition – to an African partner country. The concrete type of equipment to be delivered is usually not disclosed. In this case, media reports suggest air-to-surface missiles for the use by helicopters.

The Bigger Picture: Gradual Securitization of EU Action in Africa

Policymakers designed the EPF as an off-budget instrument to make the provision of such equipment possible – which is not an option for EU budgetary instruments. There was no need to earmark funds for assistance measures in Africa, as one EU official explained to the author at that time. The majority of EPF funding would go to African partners anyway given the EU’s strong profile as a security actor in Africa.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has overturned this premise quickly. According to figures provided by the latest EPF factsheet, 83 per cent of €6.8 billion of EPF funding allocated so far support Ukraine. Meanwhile, the share of funding provided for assistance measures in Africa (both national and regional measures) stands at roughly 14 percent.

Scaling-up the EU’s engagement in Niger now is in line with a longer-term trend in the EU’s approach to support peace and security in Africa. It implies a stronger focus on military capacity-building as a key instrument of EU engagement. It is no coincidence that all EU military training missions so far have been deployed in African partner countries: Somalia (since 2010), Mali (since 2013), Central African Republic (since 2016) and Mozambique (since 2021) – long before the EU military assistance mission for Ukraine (EUMAM) was established in October 2022.

The EU's Security Cooperation with Africa Today: Serving to Boost Brussels' Geopolitical Profile?

At the 6th AU-EU summit in Brussels in 2022, leaders agreed on a renewed and enhanced cooperation on peace and security in Africa. The summit declaration reiterated long-standing commitments, such as supporting the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) to promote “African solutions to African problems” and the plea for an integrated approach that addresses the entire conflict cycle. What got more attention in media reflections on the summit afterwards was the declaration’s strong emphasis to foster military cooperation “through support for adequate training, capacity building and equipment”. This priority is also reflected in the 2022 EU Strategic Compass, that called for security and defence dialogues and partnerships with individual African countries as well.

EU policy-makers frame the EPF in line with this overall strategic direction. As analysts have recently noted, the EPF – initially portrayed as an instrument for conflict prevention and peacebuilding – is now described as a tool to defend the EU’s geopolitical aspirations. Clearly, this is not to say that the EU has fully given up on conflict prevention and peacebuilding as an element of its engagement for peace and security in Africa. Neither is this to contend that military capacity-building does not have any value in supporting peace and security efforts on the African continent. However, if the EU adopts an overly militarized approach and only uses the EPF as an instrument to bolster the EU’s own positioning as a geopolitical actor, it may not serve the Union’s long-term objective to support sustainable peace and security in Africa.

From an African partner countries’ perspective, gaining increased EU support for strengthening their national armed forces, including through weapons deliveries, is a legitimate objective. Evidently, there is a demand for enhanced military capacity-building, including the provision of equipment. However, the limited impact of long-standing capacity-building in Somalia or Mali on achieving the broader objective of sustainable peace and security should also caution to overestimate the “peace dividend” of those measures. Recent evaluations and analyses have shown that despite successes in terms of tactical training and capacity-building, intended positive effects of past EU military training missions on stabilizing the security situation and promoting good governance have often not materialized. Although accompanying EPF assistance measures can enhance the effectiveness of CSDP training missions, they do not compensate for a lack of broader strategic and political embeddedness of those missions.

Refocus on Prevention and Regional Cooperation

Three points of action need to be addressed to rebalance the EU’s approach and the broader Africa-EU partnership on peace and security: (1) enhancing the EU’s strategic profile in conflict prevention and peace-building activities, (2) strengthening the safeguards for EPF assistance measures, and (3) providing new impetus for cooperation with regional actors, primarily with the African Union (AU).

First and foremost, the EU should complement its “robust” approach with a clear strategy for conflict prevention and peace-building activities. It might be common sense in Brussels that a political approach should accompany the military capacity-building to foster sustainable peace and security. However, the EU’s conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities still largely follow an ad hoc and fragmented approach. The joint Conflict Analysis Screening procedure for 68 fragile and conflict-affected states – introduced with the creation of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI-Global Europe) – is an important first step to strengthen the coherence and effectiveness of EU activities. By conducting a systematic conflict and risk analysis for a country or region, the EU creates an evidence-based foundation for a strategic approach to conflict prevention and peacebuilding. There is much potential for an enhanced EU role complementing and supporting African-led efforts with certain conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities. Recent lessons learned implementing the humanitarian-development-peace nexus showcased this in six pilot countries, including Nigeria, Sudan and Uganda.

To be effective, the EU needs a strategy that provides a coherent “theory of change” for conflict prevention and peace-building activities. Strengthening this dimension of the EU’s peace and security engagement in Africa actually adds to its geopolitical power and should not be seen as being opposed to that vision. The German government could push for such an effort at the EU level; it would be well aligned with the concept of “integrated security” that is fundamental to its recently published National Security Strategy.

Second, to prevent that the EPF turns into a facilitation tool for arms exports, EPF assistance measures should be used primarily to support African countries with EU military training missions on the ground. This would ensure that military capacity-building efforts are embedded in a broader political effort to promote democratic governance efforts. In addition, giving EU missions a strong role in monitoring the implementation of EPF assistance measures enables stronger oversight over safeguard measures that ensure transparency and prevent the misuse of the military equipment provided.

Certainly, linking EPF assistance measures to the deployment of CSDP missions does neither guarantee a positive impact on the security situation nor automatically implies that the host country allows for such a monitoring role. A case in point being recent experiences with the Malian authorities. Nevertheless, taking a precautionary approach and rethinking suitable scenarios for the use of the EPF in the first place is more reasonable than following a demand-driven approach that aligns with the EU’s current geopolitical narrative. Doing the latter is not sensible given the high risks that come with delivering weapons and ammunition to fragile and conflict-affected countries.

Third, the EU needs to provide new impetus for the AU-EU partnership on peace and security. Through the EPF, the EU shifted focus towards bilateral partnerships with individual African countries. The AU has minimal involvement in EPF decision-making compared to the previous African Peace Facility. As analysts have proposed, granting the AU a formal observer status in the EPF could be a good starting point. Another idea would be to strengthen the cooperation on conflict prevention and peace mediation. Over the past years, the AU has mediated numerous conflicts and gradually increased its human resources capacity and expertise for peace mediation and mediation support. Closer cooperation in peace mediation would allow the two partners to learn from each other – what a major step towards forging a genuine partnership of equals.

PD Dr. habil Julian Bergmann is Senior Researcher at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS). He has published widely on EU foreign and development policies as well as Africa-EU cooperation on peace and security.