Under the Charter of the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council has ‘primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security’ (Chapter V, Article 24 (1)).
Chapter VIII of the Charter provides for regional arrangements under which, with the authorization of the United Nations Security Council, regional international organizations are permitted to take on the responsibility of keeping the peace in their respective regions.
The United Nations Security Council shall at all times be kept fully informed of activities undertaken under regional arrangements or by regional agencies for the maintenance of international peace and security.
In Africa, the regional organization that can implement regional arrangements is the African Union.
The African Union is represented at the United Nations in New York by a ‘Permanent Observer Mission’ while the United Nations maintains a similar mission at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
African Union peacekeeping missions
Currently there is one active African Union peacekeeping mission in Africa: the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). A new but yet to be operational African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) was approved by the UN Security Council on December 20, 2012. It has for the moment been sidelined by the French-led intervention in Mali.
The African-led mission in Mali would be headed by the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), the peace and security arm of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a Regional Economic Community (REC) of the African Union.
The emphasis on African-led was perhaps a response to African misgivings – as expressed by former South African President Thabo Mbeki – on what African Union members perceived as the hijacking by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of the United Nations mission in Libya in 2011.
On the ground, the situation in Mali is markedly different. Heightened international concerns that northern Mali could become a terrorist haven have been matched by regional alarm. Not only do West African states feel threatened by Al Qaeda-linked Islamist movements like the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine but also Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group, reportedly trained in Mali.
The African-led International Support Mission in Mali might become a fully-fledged United Nations mission. The head of United Nations peacekeeping said on February 6, 2013 that this possibility was increasingly likely.
Prior to the African Union Mission in Somalia, the African Union established two other peacekeeping missions – in Burundi and Sudan (Darfur). The 2003 African Union Mission in Burundi (AMIB) was the first operation wholly initiated, planned and executed by AU members.
In 2004, AMIB was replaced by UN Peace Operation in Burundi (ONUB). The former African Union troops were incorporated into the UN operation.
The African Union Mission in Sudan/Darfur (AMIS) was set up in August 2004 following an agreement between the Government of Sudan, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Joint African Union-United Nations mission
At present there is one joint/hybrid African Union/United Nations peacekeeping operation in the Darfur region of Sudan, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Sudan. It was established under UN Security Council resolution 1769 (2007) on 31 July 2007, to replace the African Union Mission in Sudan/Darfur (AMIS) mentioned above.
United Nations Peacekeeping missions
Currently, there are six active United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa run by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). These are in: Western Sahara (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara – MINURSO); Liberia (UN Mission in Liberia – UNMIL); Côte d'Ivoire (UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire – UNOCI); Democratic Republic of the Congo (UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – MONUSCO); Abyei (Sudan South Sudan) (UN Interim Security Force for Abyei –UNISFA); and South Sudan (UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan – UNMISS).
United Nations peacebuilding and political missions
In addition to peacekeeping missions, the United Nations is also involved in peace and security issues in Africa through the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (PBC).
PBC has established peacebuilding missions which advise on and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict peacebuilding and recovery through a broad range of activities, which include monitoring ceasefires, demobilizing and reintegrating combatants, assisting the return of refugees and displaced persons, supporting implementation of a peace process, providing electoral assistance, supporting justice and security sector reform, enhancing human rights protections and fostering reconciliation after past atrocities.
The following are the current peacebuilding missions in Africa: UN Integrated Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS); UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA); UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) and UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL).
Apart from peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions, the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (DPA) also manages political missions and peace-building support offices engaged in conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding.
The field operations currently under DPA's supervision in Africa are: UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA); UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA); UN Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) (currently based in Nairobi, Kenya) and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).