As of 31 March 2015, nine of the world’s 16 United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations (PKO) with a total of 106,595 peacekeepers costing US $8.47 billion per annum are in Africa. These African missions include 102,715 (96% of world total) peacekeepers and cost US$4.911 billion (60% of world total) per annum. Further, the African Union (AU), acting under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter and provisions of the AU Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council (PSC), is also running the world’s second largest peace support operation (PSO) in Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), with over 22, 000 peacekeepers.

The intra-state nature of African conflicts is a product of the breakdown of law and order, public safety and security as well as collapse of police and law enforcement institutions resulting in weak states. While most of the challenges of peacekeeping operations require policing skills, political decision makers are increasingly relying on military responses. Consequently, PSOs, policing and populations are being militarized in the process. Peacekeepers are obliged to bridge the policing gaps through the provision of interim executive policing services in host countries. More importantly, they are expected to assist in rebuilding and re-establishing credible policing and rule of law institutions and services in those Member States. The rule of law is the crucible of any state and cornerstone of good governance, without it there is chaos, crass impunity and rule of the jungle.

Some conflicts, in the Central African Republic, for example, are clearly fueled by criminality and the breakdown of law and order caused by marauding bands of Seleka and Anti-Balaka elements that were causing havoc in the communities. This situation required robust police intervention, not military capabilities, let alone the African and French troops who were deployed to the country. On the other hand, there are successful peace support missions run by the police, for example the recent Lesotho, where police from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) were deployed. The mission helped maintain law and order, leading to successful elections and a return to constitutional order. There are also good lessons that can be learnt from previous UN peacekeeping operations that included significant policing components, as occurred in East Timor, Haiti and Bosnia. International policing in support of strategic political objectives led to the restoration of law and order, as well as successful electoral processes, post conflict recovery and development of these countries.

A study of UN peacekeeping operations in African conflicts 1998 – 2008 found that missions with substantial policing units had dramatically stronger records of protecting civilians: “Increasing UN police by just a few hundred can make a substantial difference in protecting civilian lives”[ii] (14). Forcing militaries to morph into performing policing tasks, tasks they are not trained for, results in poor performance compromising the credibility and acceptance of the peace support operation.

Excessive reliance on military responses to conflict situations precludes the AU from implementing its root-cause approach as adopted during the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration of the meeting of the Assembly of the AU Heads of States and Government held in May 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The UNSC has spelled out and acknowledged the critical role police play in UN peace support operations in its resolution 2185 (2014). But the AU and its Regional Mechanisms have thus far paid less attention to police and policing roles in PSOs. They need to transition from the current militarized African Standby Force (ASF) approach to one that supports politically inclusive processes, capacity building, human safety and security, human rights, the rule of law, and good governance–for all of which the police are indispensable players. The police must be better situated within the ASF arrangement and the overall framework of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) so they are empowered to claim their rightful role.

Over-reliance on the military tools may have its roots in the militarization of the ASF during its conceptualization. Police are treated as add-on’s rather than substantive components in the formation and management of the African Standby Force. Granted, it is not easy for Member States to deploy police officers outside their borders, because they are needed at home to perform their domestic policing functions—a role that cannot be performed by the military. Further, it makes economic, security, and political sense for the states to deploy their armies as peacekeepers during times when they are not occupied at home. But this has perverse effects, as the saying goes, ‘every problem looks like a nail when you hold a hammer at your hand’. This has impacted the militarization of the AUPSC structures.

The Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (Protocol) provides for the roles of the African Chiefs of Defence Staff, a Military Staff Committee as part of its APSA structures, but does not even mention the police or policing duties. Most, if not all, of the Embassies of AU Member States in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the AU Headquarters is located, have senior military officer posted as Defense Attachés or Defence Advisers to the Ambassador or Head of the Embassy. Functionally, the Defence Adviser is also the link between AU Headquarters, the Embassy and the Member State on security matters, including policing issues. Effectively, this means even police and policing issues have to be channeled back home through the Ministries of Defense, to whom the Defence Adviser reports.

The AU, RECs, and Regional Mechanisms therefore need to review their structures to provide policing its proper place. The UN and African policymakers need to de-militarize peacekeeping and consciously determine the composition of peace support missions to fit to the challenges at hand. The Peace and Security Council of the African Union may need to broaden its analysis of issues to make appropriate decisions for intervention through its mandating powers and responsibilities.


[ii] Lisa Hultman, J. Kathman, and M. Shanon. 2013. “United Nations Peacekeeping and Civilian Protection in Civil War,” American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 00, No. 0, 2013, Pp. 1–17, 14. Available at:

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