Ghana looks to reconfigure UN peace operations in Africa

By Julian Pecquet

Posted on Tuesday, 1 November 2022 12:10
President Akufo-Addo and US Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield in conversation about Ghana's role in the UN Security Council.

Ghana takes over leadership of the UN Security Council today (1 November) with the stated goal of rethinking international peacekeeping in Africa.

During its month-long presidency, Accra will be hosting two signature events to ensure the world body is aligned with African priorities, Ghana’s envoy to the UN Harold Agyeman told The Africa Report. The focus comes against a backdrop of military coups and militant insurgencies across the Sahel that threaten coastal West African states.

President Nana Akufo-Addo will be in New York on 10 November to chair a high-level debate for council members on how the UN can best support counter-terrorism efforts in Africa.

The focus will be on securing “adequate, predictable and sustainable financing” for African-led operations, the Ghanaian mission to the UN wrote in a concept note for the meeting.

“UN peacekeeping operations play an important role,” Agyeman tells The Africa Report. “Nonetheless, they are not able to play the full role that countries that are in conflict expect them to play. And that is because peacekeeping by its nature has certain limitations. It has certain principles that it abides by;  The consent of the parties, the non-use of force except in defence of the mandate, and to some limited extent also for civilian protection.”

“As Africans,” he adds, “we have come to the understanding that to deal with the terrorism situation, it is important to have a robust force.”

Time for a rethink

Peacekeeping operations in Africa have focused on military action to end intra-state conflicts in countries such as Somalia, South Sudan and Liberia, according to the Ghanaian mission.

But threats on the continent have evolved over the past two decades, with violent extremism now posing a greater risk than conflicts driven by political or ethnic tensions.

Peacekeeping by its nature has certain limitations. It has certain principles that it abides by….”

Underlying causes of conflict include poverty, poor governance and climate change, according to the mission. To address these, Ghana will kickstart its presidency with a 3 November Open Debate chaired by Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey on ways to integrate “effective resilience-building” into peace operations.

Ghana can count on support from Kenya and Gabon, the other two members of the so-called A3 grouping of African countries on the Security Council. (You can read our interview with Kenyan envoy to the UN Martin Kimani here and with Gabon’s Michel Biang here.)

Ghana notably supports efforts to tie climate change to security challenges in the Sahel and beyond. Last year Russia vetoed a resolution brought forth by Niger and Ireland. It would require the council to measure the impact of a warming planet when assessing peacekeeping operations.

“During our turn on the council we hope we’ll have some understanding on climate and security,” he says, “particularly situating it within a regional context and not making it a global principle … which perhaps may be acceptable to other parties.”

Ghana also hopes that the debate will rekindle international efforts to alleviate poverty. Over the summer the UN said the Covid-19 pandemic had “wiped out” more than four years of progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that world leaders committed to in 2015.

“We fully agree that the SDGs have been thrown off target by the pandemic, but also by the impact of the war in Ukraine,” Agyeman says. “It’s important that we turbocharge it through increased resources.”

Regional force

Likewise, Ghana intends for its 10 November high-level debate to focus attention on the creation of African forces to combat terrorism. Agyeman says his office has two main objectives for the discussion.

“The first is to ensure the more or less emerging consensus within the Security Council for support for African-led regional forces is clearly established.”

The second is to reach an agreement on funding for such a force.

As Africans, we have come to the understanding that to deal with the terrorism situation, it is important to have a robust force.”

African countries have previously supported using UN-assessed contributions to support the regional security partnership between Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad known as the G5 Sahel.

However, some Security Council members, including the US, have resisted. Mali pulled its military out of the grouping in May, throwing it into disarray.

For the Sahel, Ghana is looking toward the creation of a “new unified force” that would be led at the level of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or of the African Union, “taking into account the African peace and security architecture”.

Funding needs

The Ghanaian envoy says funding is needed for “keeping the troops in the field, airlift capabilities and other requirements to support such a regional force”.

He says options include direct funding from bilateral sources or using a base contribution through the UN.

Ghana is optimistic that international support for a regional force appears to be on the upswing, Agyeman says.

“In recent weeks, the narrative in support of such a regional force has become stronger and more harmonised,” Agyeman says.

African Union in the lead

Even as Ghana looks to the UN for help in the Sahel, Agyeman says his country continues to trust the African Union rather than the Security Council to take the lead in negotiating an end to the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

“Our position on this is that the African Union-led mediation effort that is being led by former [Nigerian] President [Olusegun] Obasanjo should be given the space and the scope to pursue the mediation,” he says.

“If it can’t be resolved,” he adds, “we’ll see how to cross that bridge.”

As for potential Security Council action regarding reports that Kremlin-backed Wagner Group mercenaries are fuelling instability in the region, he said Ghana would be pressing for clarity about their role.

“There’s a bit of opaqueness about that matter, especially in the Sahel,” Agyeman says.

Indeed, while the Malian government claims to have a bilateral cooperation arrangement with Moscow for the use of Russian military advisers, Russia says Mali has the sovereign right to hire whichever private military contractors they desire.

“I think that it is for the Wagner Group, if they are indeed private military contractors, to so distinguish themselves. But if they are mercenaries, they should be leaving the continent.”

“The difference between mercenaries and private military contractors is essentially on whether they are regulated and obey laws,” Agyeman adds.

Gulf pirates

Another priority for Ghana is the implementation of a resolution it co-authored with Norway to draw international attention to the piracy scourge in the Gulf of Guinea, which is estimated to cost coastal states some $2bn a year. The Security Council adopted the resolution in late May.

“Essentially we have asked the Secretary-General to assess the state of maritime piracy and look at recommendations as to how we can better address it,” Agyeman says. “But also, we have asked that he look at the possible linkage between the pirates and land-based terrorists.

The 10-year anniversary of the Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery against Ships and Illicit Maritime Activity in West and Central Africa – also known as the Yaoundé Code of Conduct – is coming up next year.

Agyeman says Ghana hopes to see some activities to further reinforce the maritime security arrangements that exist in the Gulf of Guinea region.

Ukraine fatigue

Agyeman says Ghana continues to support the international condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He adds, “For smaller states, such as ourselves, it [the UN charter] is the law that is the protector of our sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.”

Agyeman says he understands that some African countries “may have expressed certain remarks that seem to suggest that they have Ukraine fatigue.”

He says that’s “reflective of the fact that if it was easy, it would have been resolved,” adding that when dealing with conflicts involving a permanent member of the Security Council such as Russia, “the levers of response can become either paralyzed or limited.”

“My position,” Agyeman says, “is that if some people feel there’s a fatigue, how much more do the people in Ukraine themselves?”

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