Mohammed Uriel Hadebbe (South Africa)

On Thursday, 27 July 2024 the Pan-African Parliament Permanent Committee on Cooperation, International Relations, and Conflict Resolutions conducted a joint consultation on the zero draft of the revised Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism in Africa.

This meeting followed a briefing on the status of peace and security in Africa held on Tuesday, June 25. The session featured presentations by two representatives from the African Union Commission Department of Political Affairs, including Ms. Joseline Naimana, a security reform expert.The African Convention on Mercenarism was signed in Libreville, Gabon, on 3 July 1977, and came into effect on 22 April 1985. This convention is a significant regional instrument, addressing the real and perceived threat posed by mercenarism to many African states since the onset of decolonization.

The motivation behind the 1977 convention was to counteract the threats posed by mercenaries to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of African states and to protect the right of African people under colonial and racist domination to achieve independence and freedom.

Adopted less than one month after the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the convention provides an extensive definition of mercenarism but lacks a “safeguard clause” applicable to international humanitarian law. Although the African Convention condemns mercenarism (Article 1), these activities are not considered a “grave breach” under Protocol I of 1977.

The United Nations International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries classifies mercenarism as an offense.In 2018, the AU Commission on Security recommended regulating private security companies, further highlighting the need to revise the convention to address the proliferation of private military companies (PMCs) and the evolving security landscape.

The 12th Ordinary Meeting of the Specialized Technical Committee on Defence, Safety, and Security (STCDSS), held in Cairo on December 19, 2019, underscored the necessity of revising the OAU Convention.

The assassination of the President of Chad, Idriss Déby, on April 20, 2021, prompted the African Union to take comprehensive measures against mercenarism.During the consultation, legal expert Clement Mavungu emphasized the importance of revising the convention to address new forms of violence, including cyber criminality, and to broaden the definition of mercenarism to include ideological motivations and complicity. The Montreux Document, which delineates the relationship between PMCs and mercenaries, was also considered in the revision process.

Pan-African Parliamentarians stressed the significance of the revised convention in addressing the current security challenges faced by member states. They emphasized the need for strong state institutions, regional cooperation, and investment in modern security infrastructure to combat mercenarism effectively. The draft revision of the convention was presented to the AU Security Council in 2023, and the Pan-African Parliament MPs were encouraged to advocate for its ratification within their national parliaments. The revised convention aims to regulate PMCs, address governance and human rights concerns, and ensure that Africa can counter the threat of mercenarism.

The Permanent Committee’s consultation is a crucial step towards silencing the guns in Africa and eradicating mercenarism from the continent. Achieving this goal is essential for establishing the peace and stability necessary for any form of development, including the African Union’s Theme of the Year 2024: “Educate and Skill Africa for the 21st Century.”

The recommendations from this consultation will be considered by national parliaments, the PSC Military Staff Committee, and other technical committees before being submitted to the Executive Council. The revised convention will be presented to the Pan-African Parliament plenary on Tuesday, with the goal of familiarizing all MPs with its contents and securing widespread support for its ratification.