Africa has a long history of regional cooperation, with many sub-regional and regional institutions and frameworks established and maintained long before the 20-year period of this environmental assessment report. While most of them focus on political and economic issues, others are concerned with the sharing and management of natural resources. In particular these include multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), river basin commissions (RBC), and institutions concerned with biodiversity conservation and the utilization of transboundary resources.

From the United Nations Charter and the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU) on one hand, to the sub-regional economic groups such as the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on the other, the region has many mandates and institutions which promote – directly and indirectly – peace and conflict resolution. The negotiation and adoption of regional and sub-regional MEAs and protocols, over the last 20 years, has facilitated the establishment of a more reliable body of laws and institutions to respond to the needs of Africa in a globalized world. Revitalized RBCs, some dating back to the colonial period, recently established transboundary national parks, and many other governance structures provide the foundation upon which the region is taking a more assertive role in resolving and avoiding conflict, and building opportunities for development.


In 1999, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) embarked on the process of establishing the African Union (AU) – which was launched in 2002. The AU’s objective is to accelerating the process of regional integration to enable Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems, compounded as they are by certain negative aspects of globalization. The AU is Africa’s principal organization for the promotion of accelerated socioeconomic integration.

Box 1: Provisions of the Constitutive Act of the African Union

The AU objectives and principles are key to promoting peace and security for sustainable development of which environment is an important factor. The AU Constitutive Act states that the scourge of conflicts in Africa constitutes a major impediment to its socioeconomic development. It highlights the need for the following responses:

  • Promote peace, security and stability as a prerequisite for the implementing the region’s development and integration agenda.
  • Achieve greater unity and solidarity between the African countries and the peoples of Africa.
  • Defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of member states.
  • Promote peace, security, and stability in Africa.
  • Peaceful resolution of conflicts among members through appropriate means decided upon by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
  • Prohibition of the use of force or threat to use force among members.
  • Peaceful coexistence of members and their right to live in peace and security.

The Act also provides for the Assembly to give directives to the AU Executive Council on the management of conflicts, war and other emergency situations and the restoration of peace.

Source: AU 2000

The AU builds on the long history of collaboration established by the OAU. The many achievements of the OAU include the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action (1980) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981). In the 1990s, the OAU committed to place the African citizen at the centre of development and decision making and the AU has continued to adopt measures to support this. In 1993 the OAU adopted the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution – a practical expression of the determination to find solutions to conflicts, and to promote peace, security and stability. In 2000 this was complemented by the adoption of the Solemn Declaration on the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation which establishes fundamental principles for the promotion of democracy and good governance.

Building on this history, the AU strives to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society, in particular women, youth and the private sector, in order to strengthen solidarity and cohesion amongst the peoples of Africa. A key focus is on the promotion of peace, security and stability as a prerequisite for the implementation of the development and integration agenda of the Union. Its organs include a Peace and Security Council, the Pan-African Parliament, and specialized technical committees.

The AU’s Constitutive Act (Box 1) is the compass by which member states should avoid the pitfalls of conflict and it provides the road signs they should follow to ensure sustainable development.


All 53 countries in Africa are members of the UN. The UN Charter emphasizes a global vision of peace as the basis for development, with a special focus placed on “fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of the people, equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small” (UN 1945). To this end, two essential purposes of the UN are:

  • To maintain international peace and security, and to that end to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace and the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace. Collectively, countries agree to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, the settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.
  • To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

For the UN, environment is an important aspect of its peace-building goals:

“Safeguarding the environment is a crosscutting United Nations activity. It is a guiding principle of all our work in support of sustainable development. It is an essential component of poverty eradication and one of the foundations of peace and security” (Annan 1997).

The UN has, over decades, organized various international conferences in which Africa has participated, that focus on strengthening cooperation in sustainable development efforts. For example, the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint for sustainable development which emphases the value of cooperation. A decade later, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg in 2002, further emphasized the centrality of peace and security in Africa to achieving environmental goals. Chapter 8 of the WSSD Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, which focuses on Africa calls on the global community to:

“Create an enabling environment at the regional, sub-regional, national and local levels in order to achieve sustained economic growth and sustainable development and support African efforts for peace, stability and security, the resolution and prevention of conflicts, democracy, good governance, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development and gender equality” (UN 2002).