The interrelation between violent conflicts, climatic and socio-economic vulnerabilities, and more recently the COVID -19 pandemic is the source of a historically unprecedented humanitarian situation in the world. More concerned by this situation, the African continent is today the center of the 10 most neglected humanitarian crises in the world. The gravity and complexity of African crises have put the humanitarian problem at a priority level of African Union within the framework of the 2014 -2063 Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063 which makes action humanitarian a cross-cutting issue integrated into the pillars on democratic governance, peace and security. This dynamism of Africanization of humanitarian action is registered in a more global movement that sees regional organizations play an important role in humanitarian aid.
Thus, although it was created primarily to address economic, political and security challenges, the AU has become aware of the need to reform itself to enhance the effectiveness of its response to African crises. Ahead of the first World Humanitarian Summit organized in May 2016 in Istanbul, it adopted the African Humanitarian Policy Framework in 2015, as well as the common African position on the effectiveness of humanitarian action and the African Humanitarian Agency by the. Decision Assembly/AU/ Dec .604 (XXVI) of 30 January 2016. This policy note explores the contours of this progress observed in the African humanitarian architecture. It analyzes the main constraints and difficulties faced by the recent Africanization of humanitarian action project and formulates concrete recommendations for the next Action Plan of Agenda 2063.
New African Humanitarian Architecture
The humanitarian action of the pan-African institution remained for a long time structured around a normative framework consisting, among others, of the OAU Convention on Refugees of 1969 and the AU Convention on the protection and assistance to displaced persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) of 2009. These instruments were associated with institutional mechanisms across different bodies. For example, the Protocol relating to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of 2002 recognizes an active role for this body in the coordination and conduct of humanitarian action through the involvement of the African Standby Force (ASF) in the facilitation of humanitarian responses and the continental early warning system which has humanitarian indicators to alert Member States to possible risks. Concerning prevention against humanitarian disasters, AU put in place the African Risk Management Capacity in 2012 which focuses on responding to natural disasters and extreme weather; the African Epidemic Control Centers which respond to public health emergencies; and the Special Emergency Assistance Fund to support African nations suffering from drought or famine, and which are dependent on foreign aid.
However, the AU policy on prevention and response to humanitarian crises experienced a new turning point after the adoption of Agenda 2063. A dynamic of Africanization of humanitarian action was observed with the adoption of the Common African Position (CAP) which represents the Agenda 2063 road map on forced displacement and calls for an inclusive and transformative global humanitarian architecture based on a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation and mutual accountability in humanitarian action. The CAP combines with the African Union Humanitarian Policy Framework (AUHPF) whose objective is to provide the AU, as well as other humanitarian actors and stake holders, with the strategic approaches and guidelines necessary to improve their ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to and mitigate humanitarian situations.
The African Humanitarian Agency
According to CAP, the AU Humanitarian Agency (AUHA) is an independent, innovative and self-funded instrument, set up to advance the continental agenda on humanitarian challenges. Adesina Badejo suggests that it is a coordination agency for humanitarian action in Africa that derives from existing continental instruments such as the Constitutive Act adopted in July 2000 and Agenda 2063. The AUHA will work to strengthen the efforts, capacities and means of AU Member States mechanisms and regional bodies to respond to crises in accordance with international and regional instruments. The objectives mentioned are strategic: improve early warning; addressing the root causes of crises; strengthen rapid and effective response capacity; and developing risk adaptation and resilience strategies.
The increasing complexity of threats, combined with the increasingly close links between conflict, disasters and other risk factors, requires an approach that incorporates risk assessment and integrates indicators of multiple risks and vulnerabilities at the national and regional levels. In this context, the AUHA has the potential to become a calibrated complementary mechanism to prevent conflicts in Africa. Ledet Teka points out that it is precisely for this reason that the AUHPF has emphasized the use of early warning systems, both within the AU Commission and in the Regional Economic Communities, in order to strengthen the predictability and prevent possible humanitarian crises by facilitating early action.
Constraints and Difficulties
The implementation of the first action plan of Agenda 2063 in the humanitarian field faced contextual and institutional constraints. The first constraint is related to the unpredictability and complexity of crises. In this regard, the emergence of the COVID -19 pandemic has aggravated existing humanitarian problems. Unprecedented border closures and movement restrictions have forced organizations and governments to adapt their efforts to assist refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs ). The Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat , along with former AU chairperson, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, established the AU COVID -19 Response Fund to strengthen the continental response to COVID – 19. Despite these efforts, AU capacities have remained limited and the continent continues to face a myriad of ongoing and emerging conflicts. The number of displaced persons is increasing due to climatic shocks, natural disasters, diseases and conflicts. In East Africa, for example, there are currently over 8.3 million internally displaced persons and over 4.6 million refugees caused by conflicts in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. In Mozambique, there are more than a million people displaced due to the ongoing conflict in the north of the country, in addition to the climatic disasters of recent years. In Central and West Africa, around 2.1 million people were affected by floods at the end of 2020.
The question of financing humanitarian interventions is a challenge on the continent. The AU remains dependent on external actors. Indeed, if the AU Member States are now funding the organization’s operating budget, the share of donors ranges from 97% and 100% in the domain of peace operations and amounts to 59%. of the AU programmatic budget in 2020. The AU must therefore explore new funding opportunities, especially in the face of reducing humanitarian aid from traditional partners and increasing fatigue from donors. At the continental level, there are two main sources of funding. The AU Commission’s core budget for humanitarian matters comes from the 2% contribution from Member States. This budget remains largely insufficient. By Decision EX.CL/591 (XVII), the Executive Council recommended that Member States gradually increase their contribution to the Fund for Refugees and Displaced Persons from 2% to 4% of the Commission’s operating budget. Given the increase in humanitarian needs, the Humanitarian Conference and the AU Donors of May 2022 in Malabo, mandated a review of the contribution of 4% in relation to its effectiveness as a funding mechanism for humanitarian.
At the political and institutional level, despite the developments observed, the AU is slow to make the AUHA fully operational, six years after the adoption of the decision to create it in 2016. In 2019, the AU Member States have asked the Commission to speed up its operationalization for the umpteenth time. decisions were nevertheless taken in this direction during the Malabo summit, where the AUHA was endowed with 140 millions of dollars in commitments. However, this agency will also face political challenges in its efforts to Africanise the continental humanitarian system. In his note published in The New Humanitarian in 2019, Oheneba Boateng suggests that the current anti-racism movement in various parts of the world highlights the international humanitarian system and the urgent need to decolonize it to reflect particular regional exegeses and contexts. A corollary to this is related to the challenge imposed by the exercise of sovereignty. The question remains whether AU Member States will fully and sincerely commit to equipping the new agency with the right mix of resources to prevent and address humanitarian crises.
The need to respond to the complex emergencies that characterize contemporary African humanitarian crises has prompted the African Union to reform its humanitarian architecture to maintain the chances of achieving its long-term development vision contained in the document “The Africa we want”. Under the first Ten-Year Plan of Action, progress has been made with the adoption of new instruments for humanitarian action. However, their operationalization is confronted with contextual and politico-institutional constraints which stand before the project of Africanization of humanitarian action. A profound will to reform is more than ever necessary within the framework of the next Ten-Year Plan of Action, if the AU and its Member States do not want the humanitarian problem in Africa to become an insurmountable obstacle to the developmental ambition expressed in Agenda 2063. In order to advance the ambitions of Agenda 2063 in the field of humanitarian action, the next Ten-Year Plan of Action should:
- Strengthen the institutional framework of the AU by accelerating the operationalization of the AUHA. The AU should clarify the agency’s comparative advantage over existing international and regional humanitarian agencies, as well as mechanisms to bridge the gap between needs and responses on the continent.
- Support innovative crisis response approaches to address the complexity of current African crises. The AUHA will have to play a role in this sense, including finding ways to be accountable to those in need, as it is an extension of the AU and its Member States. Accountability must also be to the affected population, both displaced people and host communities.
- Be oriented towards a new model of funding humanitarian action. This model should focus on non-traditional donors such as the private sector and African diaspora. This also implies a profound reform of cooperation with external actors in relation to paternalistic and neocolonial practices. The “new” cooperation should be based on the principles of partnership, responsibility and mutual accountability.
- Support initiatives and local civil societies in the search for sustainable solutions adapted to different emergency situations. The localization of humanitarian assistance at the African Union level needs to be strengthened to prevent African interventions in crisis systems from creating parallel crisis management structures that undermine local post-crisis recovery and reconstruction efforts.
Ph.D. Candidate in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa.