The first UN Assistant Secretary-General to the African Union Commission, Ambassador ZACHARY MUBURI-MUITA was recently accredited as the Head of the United Nations Oice to the African Union, the first such position to be created. He spoke to DEA’s JANE MWANGI on the critical mission of engendering peace and security on the continent. Below are excerpts.
DIPLOLMAT EAST AFRICA: Please comment on your accreditation as the UN Assistant Secretary General to the African Union. How did this come about given that you are the first diplomat to be formally accredited by the UN to the AU?
AMBASSADOR ZACHARY MUBURI-MUITA: I was appointed by the UN Secretary- General, Ban Ki-moon in August 2010 as the first head of the new United Nations office to the African Union. It is a creation of the General Assembly resolution for the purpose of co-coordinating all UN assistance in the enhancement of capacity to the African Union to undertake peace-keeping and security issues, so we are going to be the interface representing the Secretary-General and the UN system.
In 2006, the UN and AU signed the 10-year capacity-building programme for the AU, with a view to enhancing United Nations- African Union co-operation and helping to bolster the AU’s capability to fulfil its mandate. Therefore it is in support of this initiative that the United Nations office to the African Union was created on July 2010.
Q: What will be your role as the head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU)?
A: My office will work to provide an improved mechanism for co-operation at the regional level, primarily with the African Union and sub-regional organisations throughout Africa, and also coordinate with the United Nations peacekeeping operations and special political missions on the continent. My office implements its mandate to support the AU’s long-term capacity building efforts and the operationalisation of the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). We shall work closely with the regional economic communities such as ECOWAS, SADC, EAC, and the regional mechanisms such as IGAD towards a vibrant tripartite arrangement.
Before this office was established, there were three different entities in Addis Ababa that represented the UN system in matters of security: one was the UN planning team for AMISOM to offer short-term capacity building in the planning of implementation of the Somalia peace-keeping mission. The other was the UN liaison office, in the political matters between the UN and the AU. The third office was the AU peace support team involved in the long-term capacity building enhancement, the African peace security architecture. These three offices were merged to form the UN office to the AU, the first office of its kind globally to be established for the purpose of representing the UN in matters of peace and security.
Q: What structures have been put in place for UNOAU’s effective operations at your base in Addis Ababa?
A: We are looking to have a staff of 65 to engage mostly in preventative diplomacy. There will be an election officer, a mediation officer who will work with the AU on engaging on electoral processes and re-thinking to what direction peace-keeping will go as the traditional method is no longer working: it expends a lot of resources and does not necessarily resolve conflicts, if at all.
The new office will have experts in the various fields – military, police, political scientists who will help the AU to determine the direction of future peace-keeping missions. We have to think out of the box. The office seeks to provide technical advice for the AU to plan, deploy and manage complex peacekeeping operations, particularly with regard to AMISOM.
The office also maintains close links with the United Nations Political Office for Somali (UNPOS) and the United Nations Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) and other relevant stakeholders. We are now in Nairobi sensitising and telling the world about the creation of our new office and how we can work together. We have had briefings in Gigiri (UN offices) with our colleagues at UNSOA, engaging the military colleges engaged in peace and security studies in Karen, peace support centre, so that the message can get out to the public so that as we go along it will be easier to engage together for the cause of peace and security on our continent. The nexus of the prevalence of peace and security and the lack of economic development is not lost on us and these are things we shall be dealing with.
Q: What is the UN position on the current political impasse in Ivory Coast?
A: President Laurent Gbagbo has to step aside. As long as he is not quitting all international pressure - political, economic and military must be put to bear so that Ivoirians can begin the process of national reconciliation. From the very beginning the United Nations held the view that Allasane Ouattara was the genuine winner of that election.
Q: What is the long-term UN strategy for and in Somalia?
A: In the prevailing conflict situations, I am very optimistic that we are going to realise greater progress in Somalia. The Security Council 1964 allowed a troop search of 12,000 down from 8,000, we expect that is going to create some room for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to be able to engage in matters of providing social infrastructure and political space to harmonise better the political process in Somalia. That has been the major shortcoming. As much as the International community has helped in the security side, truth is, progress can only come from the Somali’s themselves through greater political dialogue.
The long-term strategy is certainly to resolve the political problem for that country as it has been going on for far too long and has had a negative effect in the whole region. With every fresh skirmish, a wave of refugees crosses the border and the area experiences environmental and social challenges. The pirate issue and the negative effect on international trade is a direct consequence of the peace situation. I expect us to engage on the political side via AMISOM and also in nudging the political players via the TFG to be more engaging and accommodating to their political adversaries and to have a sound political process to be the bedrock on which peace in Somali will be borne. I am very optimistic.
Q: The just concluded and rather successful Southern Sudan referendum. What are your sentiments on that?
A: Come July, we expect Africa’s newest state to be born and we expect the issue of the border, Abyei, citizenship and sharing of oil revenues to be resolved. So we expect to help those two parts of the Sudan to have a peaceful conclusion of these outstanding issues. The hybrid force-UNAMID has been helping a lot in the Darfur and the political process is about to go into the second phase to include all the major political forces in the Darfur. So I am also very optimistic that they are going to realise peace in the not-too distant future. The resolution of all these issues is a major concern of the UN that both the North and the South are viable states. We wouldn’t want any to be fragmented to the extent that it is not a viable state, and if we allow any part of the Sudan not to be viable, it would be very dangerous for the region.
Q: Are we likely to hear less of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as far as matters of peace and security on the continent are concerned?
A: I don’t think so because we operate at different levels. I will be working at the continental level, hence will be articulating his policies. He will continue to be outspoken as he has been. I am a bridge between the United Nations and the African Union<
Muburi-Muita served as the Permanent Representative of the Government of Kenya to the United Nations in New York, where he assumed several responsibilities within the Bureau of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
He was elected President of the UN High-level Committee on South–South Cooperation. He is the immediate former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Kenya to the AU, High Commissioner to Dar-es-Salaam and has spent nearly 30 years in Kenyan diplomacy virtually across all the continents. He has also been a member of Faculty at the National Defence College in Karen.
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