African Solutions to African Problems: Peacekeeping Efforts of the African Union and African Regional Organizations

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In the course of its postcolonial development, the African continent has faced many challenges, ranging from socio-economic crises to political instability and the proliferation of terrorism. The lack of security, which remains a source of constant concern for Africans, and the gradual disengagement of the international community, primarily the United Nations (UN), from armed involvement in the resolution of military conflicts on the continent in the 1990s, led to the emergence of the concept of “African solutions to African problems.” The phrase, which reflects the determination of Africans to solve their problems without the participation of external actors, has become a source of their pride; however, the possibility and ability of the inhabitants of the continent to implement this approach still raises justified doubts for a number of reasons that are to be discussed in this paper. The concept of “African solutions to African problems” has now become the main principle that determines the level and nature of the peacekeeping activities of the African Union (AU) and African regional blocs; the verbal adherence of the AU member states to this maxim has been noted by many Russian and foreign researchers. However, a comprehensive analysis of the reasons for the unsuccessful implementation of this concept has not yet been carried out by Russian scholars, so the present article aims to fill this gap. In particular, the paper examines attempts of Africans to solve their problems in the field of security independently. The study allows us to claim that the African continent, primarily due to its insufficient integration and lack of consensus on a number of issues of political development and security, is not yet ready to carry out full-fledged peacekeeping operations without external support, although the gradual acquisition of relevant experience, the decrease in economic dependence on the West, and the diversification of foreign policy will contribute to laying a solid foundation for the idea of “African solutions to African problems.”

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Many works of foreign authors1 are devoted to the concept of “African solutions to African problems” (ASAP) and the problems of its practical implementation (Mays, 2003; Botei, 2015; Lobakeng, 2017; De Coning, 2019; Oyeniyi, 2019; Gardachew, 2021), interpreting this approach as impossible to implement at least in the coming decades. In turn, Russian researchers,2 while pointing out the weaknesses of this underlying principle of the African Union (AU), are nevertheless more optimistic about the ability of Africans to solve their own problems (Usov, 2010; Shagalov, 2011; Iutiaeva, 2022; Khudaykulova, 2023; Bokeriya, 2021; 2022).

The idea of ASAP covers a wide range of issues, including economic development, education, healthcare, etc., but is most often applied to the challenges of overcoming military-political crises on the continent. The Rwandan genocide of 1994, when the West refrained from intervening, stimulated the formation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) in the late 1990s and early 2000s and the radical transformation of the policy of “collective Africa” from “non-interventionism” and “respect for the sovereignty” of a particular country to “non-indifference” against the backdrop of the same respect for sovereignty, albeit with reservations, which became a breakthrough in terms of the responses of African leaders to crises on the continent. In addition, since the Rwandan genocide, Africans have become increasingly determined to end their dependence on the United Nations (UN) in adverse situations. Thus, the concept of ASAP has also become an expression of opposition to Western solutions to African problems.

Based on an integrated approach to the processes and phenomena under consideration, as well as on the principles of comparative data analysis and critical evaluation of information, the present authors examine the attempts of the AU and African regional organizations to solve the continent’ security problems on their own in the context of ASAP.

The Emergence of the ASAP Concept

Although the emergence of the ASAP maxim is usually attributed to the 1990s, its origins can be traced back to the late 1950s and early 1960s, which was the time of the promotion of the ideas of Pan-Africanism by the first leader of independent Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and of the emergence of the concept of “African integration.” As a result of these processes, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was created in 1963, with the main goals of liberating African states from colonial dependency and ensuring collective support for their sovereignty and the security of their citizens. However, the countries of the continent at that time were disunited for many reasons, e.g., economic and military-political dependence on former metropolises and varying levels of socio-economic development of recent colonies. In addition, the longing for African unity ran into territorial disputes, inter-ethnic and inter-confessional contradictions, and the ambitions of national leaders.

The involvement of the OAU in peacekeeping was minimal: in its 36 years of existence, it conducted only three peacekeeping operations — two in Chad and one in Rwanda. The conflict between Chad and Libya in 1981 provided the OAU with its first peacekeeping experience, which proved unsuccessful due to the lack of funds, poorly equipped contingents and lack of consensus in decision-making (Sesay, 1991). Similar problems accompanied two other peacekeeping attempts.

Part of the failure or only very limited success of the missions was due to the fact that the OAU Charter did not contain any provisions regulating the use of military force as a tool for resolving conflicts. The absence of clauses on collective intervention was explained by the adherence to the values attributed to non-intervention, which was faithfully observed by the member states of the organization. Instead, the Charter advocated the use of various traditional ways of crises management — negotiations, mediation, arbitration, conciliation, etc.3

Only 30 years after its formation, in 1993, the OAU began to create a mechanism for preventing, regulating and resolving conflicts, but it never wavered from the principle of non-intervention: countries fought hard to defend their hard-won sovereignty. Even when conflicts claimed thousands of lives, the organization did not intervene by military means. In addition, there was hope that in the worst-case scenario the UN Security Council (UNSC) would make the “right” decision and fund the deployment of another peacekeeping mission to the continent.

In the first postcolonial decades, but also later, both the global context and the conditions of African state formation changed rapidly. The changes included, but were not limited to, the democratization of political systems, on the one hand, and the spread of religious and ethnic extremism and separatism, leading to military-political conflicts, on the other hand. Over time, African leaders came to the conclusion that the OAU could not adequately carry out tasks such as maintaining peace and security, combating terrorism and economic neocolonialism, dealing with natural disasters and epidemics, etc. On the other hand, the reaction of the world community to the genocide in Rwanda and the refusal of the United States to intervene in the First Civil War (1989—1997) in Liberia, despite its close historical ties with that country, as well as a number of other factors (such as the predatory exploitation of the natural and human resources of the continent), led African leaders to return to ideas of deeper integration. Thus, the latent desire to solve their own problems independently took on new shapes and resulted in the concept of ASAP, formulated, according to one version, in the mid-1990s by the famous Ghanaian economist George Ayittey (1945—2022).4

Later, Western researchers fleshed out the idea. For instance, according to D. Beswick, in accordance with ASAP, the governments of a number of African countries changed their policy regarding the resolution of African conflicts and decided that they should play a leading role in responding to them (Beswick, 2010, p. 741). In turn, S. Klingebiel (2005) and O. Bachmann (2011, p. 4) believe that the willingness of external actors to intervene militarily in African conflicts is set to decrease, so that ASAP will become an inevitable and long-term trend.

In general, the factors that contributed to the emergence and spread of ASAP ideas in the 1990s and beyond can be summarized as follows:

— dissatisfaction of African leaders with the degree of influence of external actors in the continent’s affairs;

—  the desire of Africans to take responsibility for resolving military-political crises;

—  greater awareness of Africans than that of “outsiders” about the affairs of the continent as a whole and the dynamics of local conflicts in particular;

—  the establishment of closer ties between African states in the framework of peacekeeping;

—  the obvious intention of the West to use its military capabilities to expand access to the continent’s natural resources and to keep loyal African leaders in power. The latter was clearly manifested, for example, in the desire of Belgium, France, and the United States to extend the rule of the consistent “anti-communist” Mobutu Sese Seko (1971—1997) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, then Zaire) through various economic and military means despite the high level of corruption and the repression of his regime (Lobakeng, 2017, p. 2).

There is also the factor of “geographic proximity” to the source of the conflict, which, however, does not always contribute to its settlement, thereby undermining the very idea of ASAP. Indeed, a neighboring country may support the “wrong” side (such as rebels) in a conflict, further destabilizing the situation. Looking ahead chronologically, Chad’s involvement in the resolution of the conflict in 2012 in the Central African Republic (CAR) can be cited as an example: soldiers of the Chadian element of the AU’s International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) not only maintained “business” contacts with Central African rebel groups, including the Seleka Islamists, and committed war crimes (Brosig, 2014, p. 18), but also contributed to the escalation of the conflict through smuggling, poaching, illegal mining of gold and diamonds, etc. (Denisova & Kostelyanets, 2019). One can also mention Rwanda, whose intervention in the situation in the east of the DRC undermines stability not only in that country, but also in Africa’s Great Lakes region as a whole (Denisova & Kostelyanets, 2023). We may call this approach “Africans creating their own problems.” It should also be noted that African states often unilaterally rather than in coordination with other countries assume the role of “peacekeepers” in order to increase their authority in the international arena and attract donors.

Creation of the African Union and Its Attempts to Implement ASAP

In parallel with the spread of the ASAP concept, the need arose to replace the OAU with a more effective body. As a result, at the July 2002 summit of African leaders in Durban (South Africa), the creation of the AU, which replaced the OAU, was announced. It was also decided to establish the Peace and Security Council (PSC) within the framework of the AU. The concept of ASAP formed the basis for the activities of the AU, which is reflected in the Constitutive Act of the AU and the Protocol on the Establishment of the PSC, since it is in this area that independence is especially important (Majinge, 2010, p. 470).

The AU Constitutive Act gave the PSC a mandate to intervene in the affairs of other states under serious circumstances — in cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. In February 2003, at the next summit in Addis Ababa, a number of amendments were adopted, in particular, providing for the right of the AU to interfere in the internal affairs of member states only in the event of a threat to the legitimate government there, as well as to restore peace and stability (Botei, 2015, p. 41). That is, the AU’s mandate remains limited and war crimes need to be proven each time, which contributes to the preservation of a “culture of impunity” in certain African countries and often turns the AU into a silent witness to violence.

However, the AU is the only international organization in the world that has the right to intervene in the affairs of its member states in case of emergencies there. The adoption of the principle of “non-indifference” shows firmness of intention and recognition that conflicts and insecurity are serious obstacles to socio-economic development. However, we have to admit that the APSA mechanisms for preventing and resolving conflicts remain insufficiently effective.

In the 2010s, the AU conducted a number of studies aimed at identifying the nature of the reforms needed to achieve the objectives of ASAP, which were agreed upon in 2013 (the 50th anniversary of the OAU) and set out in 2015 in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 (Agenda 2063) — the document that has become “a guiding concept for the development of Africa.”[5] The Agenda 2063, developed jointly by the African Union Commission (AUC), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Planning and Coordination Agency, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Economic Commission (UNECA) for Africa, is a rolling plan, which is carried out at three levels — national, regional and continental — and represents the long-term trajectory of Africa’s development.

In 2015, the AU adopted the first 10-year plan for the implementation of the Agenda 2063, which included a call to “put an end to all wars in Africa by 2020,”6 which, as it must be admitted, has not been implemented, since a general decrease in the number of large-scale conflicts on the continent is accompanied by an increase in the number of low-intensity conflicts and local armed confrontations (in the DRC, Sudan’s Darfur, CAR, Nigeria, Ethiopia and elsewhere).

The geographic scope, total size, and population composition of its member states make the AU the largest and most diverse international organization in the world. At the same time, it is precisely these parameters that create numerous problems that impede the effective fulfillment by the AU of its unifying mission. These include the complexity of its structure, poor coordination and rivalry between individual bodies of the Union for access to financial resources; the lack of qualified managerial and technical personnel to deal with a wide variety of tasks and activities; financial dependence on external partners, primarily the EU; limited coordination and lack of mechanisms for interaction between the AU and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

Despite the problems listed above, the concept of ASAP, inspired in part by the view that external military interventions, even under the auspices of the UN, tend to expand the political influence of non-Africans and create additional problems for the continent (Mays, 2003), has become a compelling maxim of the AU due to its emotional appeal that has resonated widely with governments and civil societies. The idea was embodied in the structure of the African Peace and Security Architecture, which, in addition to the PSC includes the Panel of the Wise, the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS), the Peace Fund, and the African Standby Force (ASF). The latter consists of five regional groupings — Northern, Southern, Eastern, Western and Central — in accordance with the geographic division of the continent. The functions of the ASF include monitoring the situation in the zone of instability, preventive deployment in the event of an increase in tension, the provision of humanitarian assistance, military intervention in the event of an aggravation of the situation, etc. (Bachmann, 2011, p. 12). It should be noted, however, that realities prevent the application of the principle of regionality. For example, the Islamist terrorist group Islamic State’s7 West Africa Province conducts transregional operations in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and other countries, thus challenging the ASF’s geographic design and operations.

The peacekeeping missions in Burundi (the 2003 African Union Mission in Burundi — AMIB), where the AU troops were able to stabilize the situation in a large part of the territory (Khudaykulova, 2023, p. 344), and in Sudan (the African Union Mission in Sudan, AMIS) were the first practical implementations of the concept of ASAP by the AU. AMIS was deployed to conflict-ridden Darfur in 2004 in accordance with a ceasefire agreement signed in N’Djamena (Chad) on April 8, 2004. At that time, the AU was only trying to adapt the principle of “responsibility to protect” that it had adopted, so the effectiveness of these missions was low.

In particular, the tasks of AMIS — the protection of civilians and camps for displaced persons and refugees, and the monitoring of the implementation by the parties of the points of the ceasefire agreement — were not feasible, since no conditions were created for the operation: the signing of the document was not accompanied by the creation of a map of the areas controlled by the armed forces of the parties, and the directions of the redeployment of these forces were not determined, which made it almost impossible to monitor the ceasefire. The activities of AMIS contributed to a certain stabilization of the situation in certain areas of Darfur, but the funds of the mission began to dwindle quickly, and soon the troops were left not only without funds, but also without food and fuel.

The mistake of the AU leaders was to rely on Western donors: it was assumed that Africa would provide military contingents while the West would donate the necessary funds and equipment. However, these hopes were not justified, and in 2005, when the level of violence in Darfur noticeably decreased (after its peak in 2003—2004), a campaign began in the West to replace AMIS with a UN mission, although certain successes achieved by the AU, on the contrary, should have encouraged the UNSC to support the mission rather than replace it. However, in March 2005, the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) was established to coordinate with AMIS: the rationale for the AU — UN hybrid operation was that the AU had not previously conducted peacekeeping operations of the complexity required in Darfur. On March 12, 2006, the AU PSC decided to transfer AMIS under the auspices of the UN; on August 31, 2006, the UNSC adopted a resolution on the deployment of an international contingent in Darfur; in July 2007, the establishment of the African Union — United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) was approved.8

The transfer of authority from AMIS to UNAMID took place at a time when the situation in the region had somewhat stabilized. That is, the African contingents had done the hard work before handing over the leadership of the mission to the UN. Supporters of the deployment of the UN troops, including Darfurians, believed that the arrival of international peacekeepers would reduce violence, as it was assumed that they would be better equipped and armed than AMIS. However, in a sense, UNAMID did not escape the fate of the AU mission and did not receive sufficient funding, equipment or vehicles. In essence, the joining forces of the two missions resulted in the repainting of the green berets of the AU soldiers in blue, with some soldiers simply pulling blue plastic bags over the berets. Moreover, hopes for a rapid deployment of UNAMID by the end of 2008 were not fulfilled: it was not until the end of 2010 that the mission was almost fully deployed according to the parameters and proportions that had been envisaged in the original plan. However, its activities continued to be hampered by the distrust of the UN toward African contingents and the dual accountability of the mission’s leadership.

As the Darfur conflict that broke out in the early 2000s remains largely unresolved, it can be argued that all peacekeeping missions that have operated in the region have failed, including the first attempt by the AU to solve an “African problem” independently. However, the presence of the UN contingents did not contribute to a noticeable stabilization of the situation in the region: violence broke out as the peacekeepers left their posts.

Meanwhile, despite the shortcomings and failures in the activities of AMIS, the AU learned some lessons and changed tactics by deploying peacekeeping missions (unlike the UN) peacekeeping missions in the early stages of a conflict — before the signing of a peace agreement. For example, the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was deployed in that country in January 2007 at a time when the terrorist group Al-Shabaab still controlled large parts of Somali territory. The mission troops carried out a number of major offensive operations and ousted the terrorists from the main settlements in the southern and central parts of the country, and then began to provide the population with food and other necessities. Admittedly, AMISOM was not able to achieve these successes on its own: funding came from the European Union (EU), the League of Arab States, and individual donor countries (USA, UK, Italy, Sweden, China) (Khudaykulova, 2023, p. 349), but this mission can be considered the first positive example of the implementation of the concept of ASAP.

The experience of AMIB, AMIS and AMISOM has shown that the AU is capable of at least partially reducing the intensity of a conflict, both through armed meansand by distracting maneuvers (negotiations, pacification, threats, etc.) independently, but the lack of funds (in fact, African countries account for only 2% of the spending on the AU peace initiatives) and experienced mediators have so far prevented it from achieving real success in peacekeeping activities. An important obstacle to the implementation of the concept of ASAP is the usual lack of consensus in the adoption of decisions by the leaders of the AU.

For instance, in 2010, after the presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire and the refusal of President Laurent Gbagbo to transfer power to the winner, Alassane Ouattara, the country became engulfed into a military-political crisis, which created another opportunity for the AU to demonstrate its ability to solve African problems. However, the AU took measures that not only failed to resolve the conflict, but also caused bewilderment of the African public: first, the former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, and then the Prime Minister of Kenya Raila Odinga were vested with the powers of mediators; the former had recently failed to resolve the 2008 crisis in Zimbabwe, while the latter had publicly sided with Ouattara, thus violating the principle of neutrality required for mediation. The formation of the so-called High-Level Panel for the Resolution of the Crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, which included the presidents of Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Tanzania, Chad, and South Africa, also did not lead to positive results, as did the intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), at the request of which the UNSC established the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) “to protect the lives and property of citizens and to ensure the immediate transfer of power” (Lobakeng, 2017, p. 3).

In the early 2010s, when the so-called “Arab Spring” “flared up” in North Africa, it was the AU by virtue of its powers that should have been at the forefront of finding solutions to the problems that had arisen, but apart from rhetoric, the organization, which was then approaching its 10th anniversary, did not possess the necessary tools in the arsenal to overcome crises. First of all, this concerns the events of 2011 (the uprising against the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi) in Libya, which required an armed intervention. In February 2011, the PSC issued a communiqué outlining its intention to send a peacekeeping mission to the country;9 however, while the mission was being prepared, the UNSC adopted resolution 1970, which created a pretext for the UNSC resolution 1973 and the intervention of Western countries in the Libyan crisis,10 and South Africa and Nigeria, which could have abstained and lobbied for an “African solution,” voted in support of it, going about their own interests.

The vote was indicative of divisions within the PSC; the positions of the two non-permanent African members of the UNSC on the Libyan issue differed: Nigeria insisted on the removal of M. al-Qaddafi by military means (which was opposed by South Africa) and on August 23, 2011, before other countries, recognized the Transitional National Council (TNC) of Libya, which came to power after the removal of al-Qaddafi.11 This was seen by many AU member states as a “premature and one-sided” action by Abuja (Agbu et al., 2013, p. 3). It must be said that Nigeria’s recognition of the TNC was caused by its grievances at al-Qaddafi’s repeated calls to divide the country into two parts — Christian and Muslim (Kasaija, 2013, p. 131). In response to the dissatisfaction of the majority of members of the AU, the then President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan said that the foreign policy of his country would not be dictated by the governments of other states.12

As a result, by adopting resolution 1970, the UNSC intercepted the AU’s initiative to resolve the Libyan conflict, and by resolution 1973,13 it completely prevented the AU from resolving the matter, thus demonstrating that African leaders lack both the political will and the commitment to implement ASAP in practice, and that their inability to compromise, even on issues that need to be resolved quickly, creates a vacuum that gets filled by external interference in African affairs.

Regional Organizations and Their Attempts to Implement ASAP

The implementation of ASAP was not the sole responsibility of the AU. Regional peacekeeping efforts undertaken under the auspices of ECOWAS, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) or other RECs have faced similar problems of funding, lack of consensus in decision-making, etc. As a result, despite some successes achieved by ECOWAS in Liberia and Sierra Leone, the UNSC was forced to approve the deployment of UN missions in those countries (UNMIL and UNAMSIL, respectively). The same can be said about SADC’s involvement in the resolution of the conflict in the DRC in 1995—1999 and later in 2008: in November 2008, SADC member countries were ready to send troops to help the government of the country where another rebellion was taking place, but at the same time they decided to seek UN support,14 and after a brief intervention by SADC, the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) became the main operation to ensure peace in the DRC.

Nevertheless, ECOWAS remains the most advanced regional organization in Africa in terms of peacekeeping. In 2017, when the internal political situation in the Gambia escalated sharply, following the announcement of the results of the presidential elections, ECOWAS conducted a successful military operation to stabilize the situation in that country. At the same time, disagreements among the leaders of the partner countries, partly due to their belonging to the French or Anglo-Saxon zones of influence, and other divisive factors (different levels of economic development affecting their ability to finance military contingents, etc.) are reflected in both the integration processes and the nature of peacekeeping carried out by the community, although, unlike the leaders of the AU, ECOWAS leaders are more willing and quicker to respond to conflicts as they are afraid of spillover of instability to their countries.

In 1990, the ECOWAS monitoring group (ECOMOG) was created, whose military forces participated in resolving conflicts first in Liberia and later in Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger and the Gambia, where they helped to stop hostilities and stabilize the internal political situation. However, in the case of Liberia, for example, the very process of deciding to send a mission revealed the degree of disagreement within the community and the fact that real regional integration is a matter of the distant future. While the “regional hegemon” — Nigeria, which accounts for more than a third of the ECOWAS budget, called for military intervention in the conflict, Côte d’Ivoire — the leader of the Francophone bloc — strongly opposed it (Adibe, 1997, p. 473). Ultimately, the English-speaking countries (the Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone) and the only French-speaking country — Guinea, an old adversary of Côte d’Ivoire, sent their contingents to Liberia. Moreover, in response to the Nigerian initiative, Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso increased their support for the rebels, i.e., the forces opposed to ECOMOG. Thus, from the very beginning of the regional peacekeeping operation, some ECOWAS member states found themselves on opposite sides of the “front line.” Although the mission achieved some successes, the situation in the country was not fully stabilized, and the conflict later broke out with renewed vigor (the Second Civil War in Liberia in 1999—2003); in September 2003, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was deployed to the country.15

The commitment to the idea of ASAP may serve as the basis for a decision taken by one or a group of countries to overcome crises specifically in their neighborhood. Perceiving the conflict as “local” and not seeing the need to seek help from the AU or the RECs, these states seek to resolve it on their own. A similar decision was made by the countries of the Lake Chad Basin (LCB) (Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, and Benin) to counter the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.

In the 2000s, Boko Haram’s activities were concentrated in the northeastern regions of Nigeria. By the end of the decade, Nigerian troops managed to push most of the Islamists out of the country, which led to a sharp decrease in the level of security in the LCB, where the rebels created their bases and carried out violence against the local residents (Kostelyanets & Okeke, 2021). Moreover, the transparency of the borders contributed to the growth of cross-border crime, which undermined the security of both Nigeria and other countries of West Africa and hindered the development of effective economic contacts and good neighborliness. At the same time, illicit traffic of small arms and light weapons and recruitment opportunities for rebel and criminal groups in border areas — on both sides of the border — created the basis for political destabilization at the national and regional levels.

Meanwhile, the activities of Boko Haram in the LCB, paradoxically as it may sound, have led to the rapprochement of Nigeria with its closest neighbors (with some of which, notably Cameroon and Chad, territorial disputes still persist) in connection with the need to jointly address security issues. Nigeria’s inability to confront the jihadists on its own led to a change in its foreign policy tactics and prompted the deployment in 2015 of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to counter Islamists.16

It should be mentioned that the MNJTF was established in 1994 under the auspices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), which was established in 1964 by Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon to manage the resources of the LCB.17 Nigeria unilaterally initiated the use of the MNJTF to curb cross-border crime. In 1998, the MNJTF was expanded to include military personnel from Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Ongoing instability and a growing number of terrorist attacks in the LCB in 2012 prompted the governments of these countries to revive the task force, which had been virtually inactive for a decade, and to expand its mandate to fight terrorism.18

However, until 2014 all these agreements remained mere rhetoric. It was only the increase in terrorist activity, the pledge of allegiance by the then leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, to the caliph of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the January 2015 militant attack on the MNJTF headquarters in the city of Baga in northeastern Nigeria near Lake Chad[19] (after which the headquarters were transferred to N’Djamena) that prompted Nigeria to strengthen military cooperation with its neighbors.

Despite the large number of casualties (according to various estimates, 20—30 thousand) among the inhabitants of the LCB, the leaders of these states initially considered the activities of Boko Haram as a “Nigerian problem,” and military cooperation was reduced to separate joint border operations. For example, in 2013—2014, Cameroonian and Nigerian troops, while pursuing Islamists, went deep into the territory of Nigeria, but these events received little publicity due to Abuja’s unwillingness to show its lack of combat capability and because the raids were organized by field commanders from these countries by simple agreement with their counterparts over the border.20 That is, the ambitions of the leaders of the LCB states and the mutual distrust between them hindered the fight against the spread of terrorism, not to mention the possibility of implementing ASAP in the LCB.

Only on the eve of the 2015 presidential elections in Nigeria, fearing that the activities of the Islamists would lead to their disruption, the then President Jonathan organized meetings in March 2014 of the leaders of Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Chad in Yaounde (Cameroon) and in May — in Paris, where agreements on security cooperation were reached.21 Later, similar meetings took place in London (June 2014), Abuja (September 2014), Niamey (October 2014 and January 2015) and again in Abuja (May 2015). By March 2015, the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) — a document containing detailed information on the command structure and tasks of the MNJTF (the elimination of the presence and influence of Boko Haram in the LCB, return of the IDPs to their countries, facilitation of the delivery of humanitarian aid to the affected areas, prevention of arms smuggling, release of the abducted, etc.) had been prepared with the help of the AU.22

In early 2015, the countries participating in the MNJTF agreed jointly deploy a military contingent of 8,700 soldiers and officers to the LCB. Later, this number grew to 10,000.23 The main positions were distributed as follows — the commander was Nigerian, his deputy a Cameroonian, and the chief of staff a Chadian, reflecting a change in relations between neighboring states and Nigeria’s readiness to make concessions, allowing military leaders from other countries to occupy important command positions. Initially, it was envisaged that representatives of the four states would alternate as commander-in-chief, but for the sake of Nigeria, this idea was rejected, and Abuja was given the right to retain this post, which could not but cause discontent, primarily among the Chadian military, since it was Chadian troops who played a key role in the 2015—2019 operations. Chad sent a large military contingent to Cameroon to secure its northwestern border, and these forces often carried out offensive operations in Nigerian territory, attacking Islamists in their places of concentration in Borno state.24

The armed contingents had the right to pursue militants up to 20 km deep into the territories of all countries participating in the MNJTF. Governments considered creating cross-border zones of military presence, but then opted for special sectors within a given country in order to avoid political complications, primarily with Nigeria, due to constant cross-border redeployments. That is, the contingents operated almost exclusively on their national territories, with the exception of large-scale joint operations.

The vagueness of the funding solution also had its consequences. The LCB countries wanted donors, primarily the EU, to fund the MNJTF directly, but the EU agreed to do so only through the AU. As a result, due to the complexity of the procedures, the European money was stuck in Addis Ababa (where the headquarters of the AU is located) for a long time, and the first tranche for the MNJTF was received only two years after its allocation — at the beginning of 2017. Thus, Nigeria had to pay for the upkeep of the mission.25

MNJTF offensives in 2017—2020 significantly weakened the Islamists and ensured the supply of humanitarian aid to residents of many affected areas. However, the achievements of the joint force, as a rule, were short-lived: the jihadists withstood the attacks, retreated to other areas and regrouped.

In addition, each country had its own vision and its own plan for the “liberation” of its part of the region. The MNJTF achieved sporadic victories, which increased the morale of the soldiers of all armies, but gradually the effectiveness of the task force’s declined due to the difference in offensive priorities, the unwillingness of the four countries to cede command of operations to each other and, accordingly, to cede the glory of victory, but in case of a defeat they actively blamed each other for it. The force suffered from poor coordination of operations, disobedience to the general command by the commanders of the national contingents, and the desire to fight only on their own territory.

Part of the distrust between countries was due to different perceptions of the threat and disagreements about how to solve the problem. Abuja, to save face, presented the operations of the forces of other countries, especially Chad, on its territory as a breakthrough in international cooperation, while trying to play a leading role in the fight against Boko Haram and being wary of a fuller integration of forces. In turn, Cameroon, Chad and Niger viewed the MNJTF as a mechanism of unobtrusive coordination of the actions of national contingents and also did not seek deeper integration. However, the 2016 split of Boko Haram into two organizations — Boko Haram itself and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province — has made it more difficult for the MNJTF to fight the Islamists (Denisova & Kostelyanets, 2021).

Ultimately, the MNJTF never achieved its primary goal of destroying Boko Haram, thus becoming another example of a failed attempt to solve an African problem by African means, not only because of limited operational capabilities, but also because of an inability to reach consensus on formation of military strategy.


At the beginning of the 21st century, Africans realized that it was not enough to blame the West for their problems: it was time to take responsibility for solving them. However, it turned out to be much easier to formulate the concept of “African solutions to African problems” than to put it into practice. Due to disagreements within the leadership of the AU and the RECs, inadequate funding and equipment for peacekeeping missions, the appeal for external assistance in almost all cases became only a matter of time. It can be said that this was the calculation: after seeing the failure of yet another African mission, the UNSC decided to send troops and equipment to the conflict zone. In other words, the success of promoting of the ASAP idea depended on external support. Moreover, the failure of one mission or another (for example, UNAMID in Darfur) was usually blamed by Western and African experts on its “Western” component (Prunier, 2011, pp. 137—138).

Indeed, the implementation of ASAP requires the political will of African leaders, but there are also objective obstacles to its realization. In addition to the disparity in resources between developed and developing countries, and between different states on the continent, there is also the geographical factor: the territory of Africa is larger than that of the United States, China, and Western Europe combined, i.e., too large to ensure stability monitoring and rapid response to military-political crises. At the same time, countries far from the hotbed of conflict may not have incentives to provide resources to a peacekeeping mission. In turn, the AU is not able to effectively intervene in the conflict, as it must remain neutral and simultaneously represent all parties, which is practically impossible due to the complex history of relations between the various peoples.

This does not mean that Africa should not bear responsibility for its problems, especially since it has the capacity to do so, but so far it has mostly used the already common concept of “African solutions to African problems” so as not to be held responsible by the West for its actions and for events taking place on the continent, such as illegal regime change. However, Africans — both leaders and ordinary citizens — are increasingly inclined to believe that the issues of economic development, security, and enhancing Africa’s role on the world stage should be decided by the inhabitants of the continent themselves, which means that the concept of ASAP will continue to receive more and more impulses. Perhaps, civil society structures, as well as youth, women’s and professional organizations should become more involved in addressing these issues.


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2 Korendyasov E. African Union Summit — More Protocol than Real Decisions // Russian International Affairs Council. June 30, 2015. (In Russian). URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

3 OAU Charter // African Union. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

4 18 September 2008: African Solutions to African Problems // Institute for Security Studies. September 18, 2008. (accessed: 22.04.2023).

5 Message from the UN Secretary-General on the Occasion of Africa Day (May 25, 2018) // United Nations in the Russian Federation. (In Russian). URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

6 Agenda 2063. The Africa We Want (Draft Document) // African Union Commission. 2014. P. 18. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

7 Hereinafter, an organization included in the list of terrorist organizations in the Russian Federation is mentioned.

8 Sudan Warns West of ‘Iraq-Style Disaster’ in Darfur // The Guardian. March 12, 2008. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

9 Dewaal A. The African Union and the Libya Conflict of 2011 // World Peace Foundation. December 19, 2012. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

10 Resolution 1970 (2011) Adopted by the Security Council at its 6491st meeting, on 26 February 2011 // The United Nations Digital Library. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

11 Bala-Gbogbo E., Cohen M. Nigeria Breaks Africa Ranks on Libya, Sparking Criticism // Bloomberg. August 23, 2011. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

12 Ogbu A. Jonathan: No Going Back on Recognition of New Govt in Libya // Nairaland Forum. August 26, 2011. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

13 Resolution 1973 (2011) Adopted by the Security Council at its 6498th meeting on March 17, 2011 // The United Nations. March 17, 2011. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

14 South African Countries Send Troops to Help the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo // TO. November 10, 2008. (In Russian). URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

 [15] UNMIL — Fact Sheet // UN Peacekeeping Operations. August 19, 2023. (In Russian). URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

16 What is the Role for the Multinational Joint Task Force in Fighting Boko Haram? // International Crisis Group. July 7, 2020. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

17 Security Council, 73rd year : 8212th meeting, Thursday, 22 March 2018, New York // The United Nations Digital Library. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

18 National Security Strategy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria // Government of Nigeria. December 2019. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

19 The city was burned; the number of those killed exceeded 2 thousand, about 10 thousand fled to neighboring Chad.

20 Ekott I. Africa: The AU’s Funding Woes Continue // AllAfrica. January 18, 2017. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

21 Report of the Chairperson of the Commission on the Implementation of Communiqué PSC/AHG/COMM.2(CDLXXXIV) on the Boko Haram Terrorist Group and on Other Related International Efforts // African Union. March 3, 2015. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

22 Report of the Chairperson of the Commission on the Implementation of Communiqué PSC/AHG/COMM.2(CDLXXXIV) on the Boko Haram Terrorist Group and on Other Related International Efforts // African Union. March 3, 2015. URL: (accessed: 22.04.2023).

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About the authors

Tatyana S. Denisova

Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6321-3503

PhD (History), Leading Researcher, Head of the Center for Tropical Africa Studies

Moscow, Russian Federation

Sergey V. Kostelyanets

Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9983-9994

PhD (Political Sciences), Leading Researcher, Head, Centerfor Sociological and Political Science Studies

Moscow, Russian Federation


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