Close this search box.

Financing global peace and security: A paradigm shift needed

There is now a general agreement that the UN’s peacekeeping model and doctrine are outdated and no longer fit for the purpose

A famous economist, Maynard Keynes, once said that the biggest problem in the process of change is not ‘adopting new ideas’ but ‘abandoning old ones’. Financing global peace and security is one of the most recent challenges of our time. Those who have the means lack the will, and those with the will are short of resources. Examples abound. In Mozambique, Rwanda has been providing a global public good since 2021. However, Rwanda has to rely on its limited national means. The UN and similar bodies on the other hand have resources but are not able to respond due to a whole range of constraints. This creates quite a dilemma. As the nature of war and conflicts across the globe has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, the need for fresh thinking on financing mechanisms has become more critical.

Conflicts are now largely within rather than between states. In Africa alone, terrorist insurgencies are wreaking havoc in large swathes of the continent, from the Sahel, Mozambique, and the Horn to parts of the Great Lakes region. Despite asymmetric capacities, several African countries and regions can and have offer(ed) solutions with significant positive outcomes, but they lack financial means. Since World War II, the ruling doctrine has assumed that the responsibility for responding to insecurity and other threats to world peace rests on the United Nations and that the instrument for carrying out this objective should be UN Peacekeeping. The question now is whether the UN or even any other organization alone is capable of keeping peace in the world. Over the years there is the recognition, even from the UN itself, that the answer is ‘no’. There is now a general agreement that the UN’s peacekeeping model and doctrine are outdated and no longer fit for the purpose.

To begin with, it is very costly, ineffective and sometimes ends up becoming a part of the problem. Since the early 1990s, there have been several attempts to reform the peacekeeping doctrine and its financing. Some progress was made. However, this has been incremental, and timid, reflecting inertia and ‘real politik’ among big powers. Attempts to significantly reform the financing have been particularly challenging. This should not be surprising.

The existing global peace and security architecture has been in place for the past 70 years. Initially, it was in a way successful in cases such as the Indo-Pakistan crisis, or Cyprus. But these were very different types of conflicts. The framework in force at the time rested on four assumptions. The first assumption was that there was peace to keep. The second was that the intervention would be at the invitation of a host sovereign state or states. The third was that the peacekeepers would be neutral and use minimal force, except in self-defence. Finally, it was an unwritten rule that the big powers would not participate in peacekeeping. Needless to say, the ruling doctrine was that all the financing needed would come from UN-assessed contributions. Over time and as the nature of the conflicts evolved, it became clear that almost all these assumptions were no longer relevant.

In the case of Rwanda in 1994, those UN forces who were supposed to protect the people were not only toothless, but many decided even to flee or were withdrawn by their home governments at a time when they were most needed. In Somalia, it was a case of a failed state, which gave rise to a whole range of non-state actors, remnants of the state, or just terrorist groups. It is obvious that force was needed to protect those in danger and restore some level of stability pending political solutions. There was no established authority to invite the peacekeepers because the Somali state had failed. So, the UN could not act. It was the AU, and a number of neighbouring states that moved in through AMISOM, with all the well-known challenges and complications. Finally in recent years, contrary to the unwritten rules, the big powers are increasingly becoming involved in peace enforcement in various forms, including through unilateral interventions.

The above landscape has complicated matters for regional organizations such as the AU. Typically, when the UN Security Council authorizes and mandates a peacekeeping mission, it can take up to a year to get the logistics in place, secure the commitment of troop-contributing countries (TCC), and mobilise the civilian and police components. During this waiting time, the humanitarian toll gets worse, as was the case in Darfur and the Central African Republic. At such a moment, the urge, the need, and the pressure to send in first responders become very high, which typically comes from the region or its environs. In such circumstances, the AU has often had no choice but to intervene, but it often lacks the wherewithal to do so, at least as much it might want. The organization then, as in the case of Somalia, has to appeal to partners such as the EU for support. In the case of AMISOM, this support was indeed provided by the EU. The UN and some bilateral parties, too, made contributions. However, the real problem was that it was all ad hoc support and purely voluntary. The same happened in the early stages of the interventions in Mali and CAR. While awaiting outside financial support, the AU was obliged to draw down on its limited reserves. Within a few months, AU’s financial means got exhausted, forcing it to very quickly and prematurely hand over the responsibility to bilateral parties or the UN itself.

Since the early 1990s, different UN Secretaries-General have been aware of this conundrum and commissioned several reviews. I refer to the Brahimi report, the HIPPO report, or the Prodi report. All of these reports recommended the urgent need to re-model UN’s peacekeeping operations, recognize the changing landscape, and acknowledge the key role of regional organizations. However, these reports all fell short in indicating where financing should come from. At the moment of writing this piece, the Sahel is an existential challenge. Even West African Coastal countries are now affected. It is in that recognition that the UN Secretary-General and his AU counterpart approached the former President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou to lead a High-Level Advisory Panel to reflect on the lessons from the Sahel, which could be relevant (mutatis mutandis) to other parts of Africa. There is no doubt these are complex issues from political, security, socio- and geopolitical perspectives. However, whichever new approach is adopted, financing should be at the heart of it; at its core should be how to access UN ‘peacekeeping’ resources.

So, I return to Maynard Keynes: it is time to figure out what it would take to “abandon old ideas” and “embrace new ones”. Clearly, a new financing model is needed. For a new model to succeed, it must address three important elements. One, it must ensure that peacekeepers actually have means and are capacitated to protect those facing imminent danger. Depending on the nature of the crisis, all options should be on the table. Regional organizations which are able to act as immediate first responders must be financially enabled to get into the theatre that needs stabilization, while longer-term solutions are envisioned or planned. Two, if there are individual unilateral initiatives that have broad acceptance and are able to provide solutions, the same should apply; they should access financing. Three, once the peacekeepers are deployed, and succeed in doing the job there must be adequate thinking as to how to sustain their operations and avoid premature abandonment or unworkable ad hoc solutions.

The question of how to access UN financial resources has to be addressed in that context. In general, what I have heard from those constituencies who are reluctant or sceptical are three sets of arguments:

  1. That regional organizations such as the AU do not yet have the financial governance robust enough to meet fiduciary and accountability standards of the UN and the P5. Therefore, there will have to be a lot of “asks” and “ring[1]fencing” before the AU or an individual country can assess UN contributions.
  2. That there is a risk of such interventions falling short in the aspects related to compliance with international humanitarian law.
  3. That some have raised the issue of burden sharing; in other words, that any regional body like the AU accessing UN resources should pay its share.

Here is the issue though. The observation that the AU (or similar organizations) does not have accountability or fiduciary standards applies to the UN too. Most international organisations (chief of which is the UN) need financial governance. That is why the AU has been working hard to reform its finances. The same applies to matters of humanitarian law. If we all agree that these are important matters, they can be addressed in the context of UN/AU dialogue, and there are signs that such a conversation is underway. This is especially relevant because the UN has faced similar challenges in several of its missions.

With regard to burden sharing, this is an issue which needs careful thought. AU members are also UN members. Asking them to pay would be “double dipping”. In cases such as Somalia, the EU was helping out with AMISOM financial costs, because the Troop-Contributing Countries (TCC) were already bearing quite a heavy burden. The case of MINUSMA in Mali is the same. In this case, the countries in the region had to set up a structure called G5 Sahel because they were concerned about premature transitions and sustainability. However, G5 Sahel is underfunded, underequipped, dependent on a few individual countries, or volatile and politically complex bilateral support.

In the case of the Lake Chad Region, it is actually the affected countries (Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Niger) that have borne the largest burden – with some limited external support. In Mozambique, where terrorist groups had overrun large swathes of the country, it is Rwanda and SADC that had to carry the burden. So, the correct analysis is that individual countries and regional blocs which have intervened do actually carry a large burden for what is a global problem. In places like Mozambique, the question of sustainability must sooner or later be addressed, including the return of the IDPs and the reform of the security sectors. Friends such as Rwanda have demonstrated efficient, effective first responder capabilities and are still doing so. However, they are incurring a huge cost to their national budgets and yet they are providing a regional and global public good. It is not sustainable. A lasting solution is now more urgent than ever.

To return to the question: why can’t the UN, with its considerable resources, often ineffectively wasted elsewhere, not pay for such missions? The three concerns articulated above which emanate from the UN P5 have not yet been overcome. The current leadership of both UN and AU are doing their best to make it happen. It may take time to overcome the inertia, geopolitical calculus and asymmetrical state interests. We are in that space where everyone agrees that conditions are ripe for a different approach and a new financing architecture, and yet actions in that direction are particularly slow, if any. At the global level, the issue is not necessarily a lack of money. In recent times, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), when at full capacity, has spent up to eight billion (8bn) from assessed contributions. In DRC alone, they reportedly spent 1.6 billion per annum. In most other crisis theatres, it is said to cost between ½ to 1 billion dollars per year. These are quite astonishing sums.

AU peace facility

In recognition of this fact of “realpolitik”, AU member states decided to re-activate a Peace and Security Fund which was instituted in 1993, but which has never been fully functional. The objective of the Fund was to enable the AU to have the minimal resources needed to at least quickly respond to any crisis, pending durable solutions. It is not the intent that the African Union Peace Fund, now endowed with 300 million USD, does fund peacekeeping. Where there is no peace to keep, peacekeeping operations are a very costly solution. This facility cannot replace UN financing. First of all, 300 million USD is a drop in the ocean. And secondly, it is not right, nor even fair, that AU members, who are full members of the UN should ‘double dip’ to fulfil a role the UN should fund, let alone the fact that the burden they already bear is quite onerous.

The idea at the moment is that this facility could enable countries, with first responder capabilities, such as Rwanda (as demonstrated in the case of Mozambique) to move in quickly, pending the availability of global resources. Upstream mediation and prevention are also another “good fit” function for the Fund which, at the moment, is largely dependent on donors. ECOWAS, over the years, has demonstrated real upstream capabilities. In the Gambia, for example, the organization prevented a potential crisis through proactive diplomatic initiatives. But the organization has to meet the costs itself. The AU peace facility normally should indeed be deployed to capacitate such preventive diplomacy to avoid a wider crisis breaking out. It is efficient; it is cost-effective. A review of such activities by the AU in the last decade shows that on average, the astronomical cost is about 60 million USD per year. Compared to peacekeeping, this shows the effectiveness of well-funded preventions.

One should of course not be naïve to believe that all conflicts can respond to prevention or mediation. In the current landscape, vast resources will always be needed for stabilization or peace enforcement missions. Hence, it is time to explore new approaches. As this moves forward, it is important to learn from what works on the ground, not what is “correct political speak” in diplomatic circuits.

The capacity of the state

At the moment, many of these peacekeeping missions are in Africa (with a few exceptions). There are many reasons for this: both external and internal. Crucially, while external causes must always be factored in, the outbreak of major conflicts like the ones we now face in some parts of Africa and indeed the larger Middle East are due to the failure of these states to function effectively. This suggests that initiatives to strengthen the ability of the state to fully assume its regalian functions, of which providing security is primordial, have to be part of the solution.

In many countries in Africa, such as those in the Sahel, some states are unable to provide basic necessities to their security structures due to governance and financial challenges. International organizations such as the IMF need to appreciate the need to boost defence spending. In the past years, international organizations may unwittingly have complicated matters by putting maximum limits on defence spending, sometimes as low as 1.5% of the GDP. This needs to change. Restoring state authority is a necessary condition to capacitate investments and economic growth. Otherwise, non-state actors, local and foreign, will fill the void and exploit underlying socioeconomic grievances. Resources spent on building domestic capacity should be seen in that context. Needless to say, this must be accompanied by security sector reforms, sound governance and a fight against corruption.

Final reflections

For Africa, and indeed everywhere in the world, security cannot be solely defined and addressed simply by military means. A strong security sector is the guarantor, the enabler, and the foundation upon which a successful state is built, but sound governance, service delivery, addressing broader socio-economic issues is what creates stable and cohesive societies. That is why, as part of this financing conundrum, African countries must secure means to address the economic, social, and environmental challenges, while dealing with external shocks such as a pandemic.

As we all deal with these long term challenges, the ability to achieve inclusive economic growth is the ultimate bulwark for lasting security. In Africa, there is another key aspect of financing peace and security – how to ensure African countries with limited fiscal space can mobilize international capital. At the moment, economies are shrinking due to external shocks such as Covid-19 or war in Eastern Europe. The ability to access capital markets is constrained by debt sustainability. And yet, the needs are immense and increasingly evolving. This is a much wider issue of the reform of the international financial architecture, not the subject of this paper, which we shall return to later.

The problem described in this paper is not an easy one. It calls for bold thinking, innovations and re-engineering solidarity – there is much to do:

  • (i) rebuilding capacities of the states to ensure they perform their regalian responsibilities; this implies rebuilding, reinforcing, and reforming security sectors in many countries;


  • (ii) addressing socio-economic issues that constitute sources of tensions, and which create room for opportunist local and foreign non-state actors;


  • (iii) financially empowering regional organizations especially the AU and/or even individual countries with the capacity and willingness to provide the global public good that is peace and security for all; and


  • (iv) mobilizing international capital to enable countries to respond to shocks, whether these are from financial markets, pandemics or conflicts. The current turmoil in Eastern Europe has impacted energy and food markets, payment systems and global supply chains, deepening poverty in the Global South given their limited shock absorbers


The African Union and its RECs, with all their imperfections, will have to play a bigger role. Diplomatic efforts by the AU to access UN resources must be beefed up. We must strive to narrow down differences among UN constituencies. The AU too has its work cut out for it: to be in shape for the new challenges. The cost of inaction will be much more consequential than the cost of getting something done. Years of stability, of steady economic gains, are put at risk across Africa. The issue is not that the world lacks financial resources. It is rather a case of inertia, lack of will and zero-sum calculus. Time is of the essence for the needed paradigm shift, and that time is now. Sometimes it takes less time to do the right thing than the years we have spent explaining why it could not be done.


The author is the AU High Representative for Finance, former President of African Development Bank (2005-2015) and Chair of the Global Fund.



This article is part of the upcoming issue of the Panafrican Review quarterly magazine, titled

“Weakening multilateralism calls for robust African Institutions”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Support The Pan African Review.

Your financial support ensures that the Pan-African Review initiative achieves sustainability and that its mission is shielded from manipulation. Most importantly, it allows us to bring high-quality content free of charge to those who may not be in a position to afford it.

You Might Also Like