Re-imagining the Role of the Humanitarian Agency of the African Union to Encompass Conflict Prevention

The impact of conflict on Africa's humanitarian crises has in recent years become far more devastating. As a major driver of humanitarian calamities, conflicts have led to massive displacement of already vulnerable populations and disrupted the societal fabric in many countries. This is happening at a time when the global infrastructure put in place to mitigate humanitarian crises has turned out to be grossly inadequate, especially in the face of the current public health pandemics, natural disasters, effects of climate change, and other structural challenges. Concerted efforts have been put in place to scale up the capacity of member states of the African Union to mobilize and deliver humanitarian assistance in the context of protracted conflicts and complex emergencies. In 2010, for instance, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) called for the establishment of an African Mechanism for Humanitarian Action in Africa and beyond. Six years later, in January 2016, the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly recognized the deficit in resources, infrastructure, and mechanisms for managing humanitarian crises and called for the establishment of a Pan-African humanitarian agency. The mandate of the African Union Humanitarian Agency is to strengthen the capabilities and capacities of African Union member states and regional mechanisms for effective coordination of humanitarian action in Africa. This policy brief makes a compelling argument for the need to press the reset button: first, by simultaneously making a case for renewed (and substantial) investment in conflict prevention; and second, by scaling-up efforts to address the structural and root causes of conflict. More precisely, the aim here is to provoke deeper reflections on how best the yet-to-be operationalized African Union Humanitarian Agency should be positioned.