Africa & the International Criminal Court: A new Era is Possible

To Mark the Day of International Criminal Justice, today 17 July, here is another article I published some years back after speaking to African Ministers of Justice gathered in Dakar, Senegal by the then Minister of Justice of Senegal and President of the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC Treaty, Mr. Sidiki Kaba.

Assodesire

Subsequent to my article on Africa and the ICCpublished on this blog, I was invited by H.E. Sidiki Kaba, Minister of Justice of Senegal and President of the Assembly of States parties to the International Criminal Court to resource a ministerial discussion  on the challenges and opportunities of the International Criminal Court going forward. Present at this meeting was also the ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda as well as other officials of the court.

In my presentation at a session chaired by H.E. Cheik Sako, Minister of Justice of Guinea, I proposed to African Ministers of Justice ideas that would re-establish trust between Africa and the ICC in order to work together to address impunity and ensure justice for victims. I argued that grievances of the African Union against the ICC’s  “exclusive” targeting of Africa is understandable because crimes under ICC jurisdictions are also committed by none Africans, outside of Africa and the ICC does not seem to be in…

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The International Criminal Court or the African Union: Who can Ensure Justice for African Victims?

Today, 17 July is the Day of International Criminal Justice, marking the anniversary of the adoption of the International Criminal Court Treaty in 1998. I am sharing an article I published some years back, but still relevant today on Africa and the #ICC: https://assodesire.com/2017/02/14/the-international-criminal-court-or-the-african-union-who-can-ensure-justice-for-african-victims/

Assodesire

La version en Français ici

I spent several years of my professional career working on human rights and justice first as the Founder and Chairperson of Juris-Club, then as Commissioner at the National Commission of Human Rights following my election by the Parliament of Togo, then as Outreach Liaison for Africa at the Global Coalition for the International Criminal Court in New York among others … The conflict between the African Union and the ICC therefore interests me in several respects but especially as African and a human rights lawyer; therefore I would like to share here some personal reflections on the different episodes of the serial “ICC versus the African Union”.

The International Criminal Court: The Basics

The creation of the International Criminal Court is an important step in mankind’s efforts to make our world more just. The court was established by an international law treaty “The Rome…

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Africa Day: Beyond the Celebration

On 25th May each year, Africa Day is commemorated diversely in the continent and the diaspora. I would like to share some thoughts about what I believe must be an important day of reflection and re-commitment in our continent.

On 25th May 1963, the first African continental intergovernmental organization was created, following the independence of most countries. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), mother of the current African Union (AU), was born with the adoption of its Charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during a diplomatic conference hosted by the then Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

Africa Day should not be confused with African Union Day (AU Day), commemorated on the 9th of September each year, marking the day the Assembly of Heads of State decided to transform the OAU to the AU in Sirte, Libya on 9/9/99.

The OAU was founded by 32 countries. Later, 23 other nations have gradually joined the body over the years. OAU was an unprecedented commitment to Africa’s aspiration for the total political liberation of the continent from colonialism as well as the unity and solidarity among its people. While the main objectives of the OAU were to rid the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonization and apartheid and to promote unity and solidarity among African States, the new African Union aimed for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”

The transformation of the OAU to the AU created the hope of greater unity and solidarity of African countries and among African people. The desire to build a people-oriented and people-centered institution is the main distinguishing feature between the African Union and the former Organization of African Unity, which was exclusively state-focused. People called it the “Club of male Heads of State.”

Beyond the Celebration

First, it’s important that Africa Day is commemorated in all African countries and the entire diaspora. It should be a day on which we tell African stories to our young generations. The stories of our past glories, the stories of a future hope… Africa Day should also be a day of re-commitment to our Shared Values and our common Agendas, both the Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals of which we are fully part. The AU has a set of Shared Values that centre around democracy and good governance, the rule of law and human rights, peace and security, and continental development and integration. Africa Day should be a day of a renewed African solidarity. A day of remembrance that an important part of our continent is still devastated by the ongoing unjustifiable conflicts, a day of determination to fight extreme poverty and all kind of inequalities and discriminations in Africa.

I still have memories of the Lomé Summit in 2000, when the new Constitutive Act of the AU was adopted. Managing the Civic Education Division of the National Radio of Togo, Radio Lomé, I broadcasted a radio show titled “from the OAU of Heads of State to the AU of Citizens” to my 2 million listeners. I can remember the excitement and the big hope of African citizens to be part of a new continental organization that aimed to pave the way to a stronger democracy, human security, prosperity, development.

Since its inception, the African Union has raised the normative bar for the socio-economic and democratic development ambitions of the continent. But the adoption of norms, treaties, policy frameworks is not enough to take us to the “Africa We Want” We must realize the promises by effectively implementing those instruments and regularly hold each other accountable to them. It is time to close the gap between continental promises and the daily reality of most citizens.

How is our Union Doing Today?

Are citizens genuinely given a chance to participate in the Union’s processes fully? Are we implementing fundamental principles that aim to secure a democratic Africa, the respect of human and people rights, and unlock potential for development?   Are we managing our natural resources responsibly for the benefit of the continent and its people? How are we preparing our youthful population to take over? Are we harnessing our demographic dividend as promised in the related Roadmap? Are we abiding by our shared values? How consistant are the responses of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union to the issue of unconstitutional change of government or Coup d’Etat that is still happening in our continent?

Between 2014 and 2021, over 20,000 Africans have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea trying to run away from our continent. Many others died in the Saharan desert before reaching the Sea. Why are they leaving the continents?

34 out of the 54 African Countries are labeled as “Least Developed Countries,” while at the same time billions of dollars are illegally taken out of the continent through illicit financial flows (IFF), according to the Thabo Mbeki Report.

Africa is said to possess over 90% of the world’s chrome resources, 85% of its platinum, 70% of its tantalite, 68% of its cobalt, 54% of its gold, plus significant oil and gas reserves. The continent is also home to uranium, manganese, diamonds, phosphate, and bauxite deposits in very high quantities. It has timber and other forest resources added to its vast arable land for agriculture.

We need to reflect on the many questions being asked by our people today: Have we really and genuinely moved from the OAU to the AU? Or are we still turning around with old practices? Why is 60% of the African Union budget still paid by external donors? What are the implications of such a fact on the integrity and effectiveness of our Union?

Ways Forward to the Africa We Want

We need to create a conducive environment for development to flow. The rule of law, democracy, and good governance ideals are critical to establishing peace and security in the continent. We promised to silence the guns in Africa by 2020, but we failed to do so and postponed the deadline to 2030. We are failing because we are doing the same things, using the same approach over and over again and excepting a different result.

Conflicts: Beyond Military Solutions: The AU itself has identified 21 current conflicts in the 55 countries that make up the Union. Root causes of most conflicts in Africa are to be found in extreme poverty, deep structural inequalities, discrimination, underdevelopment, unfair sharing of natural resources, political repression, mismanagement of our diversity, and climate change.

Military operations alone will not bring peace to Africa. We need to prioritize addressing governance crisis, promote inclusive dialogue, provide social services and boost development. Military interventions should only be at the service of this approach. Young people mostly used by warlords are vulnerable because they have nothing to lose.

During its special sessions, I have made submissions to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union on how we can silence the guns and make peace happen in the continent. Check it out here.

Prioritizing the Demographic Dividend: The age structure of our population has important impacts on our economic development. The “demographic dividend” refers to economic benefits arising from a significant increase of working-aged adults vis-a-vis those who are dependents. These working-aged adults must be healthy, educated, trained, skilled and, decent jobs and other economic opportunities should be created to meet their demand. Having a youthful population is not enough to catalyze development and prosperity.  All African countries should effectively implement the AU Roadmap on harnessing the demographic dividend in Africa.

Stop the Outflow of Capital: Every year, $89 billion leaves the African continent as Illicit Financial Flows, according to a UNCTAD’s Economic Development in Africa Report. These are movements of money and assets across borders that are illegal in source, transfer, or use. It includes illicit capital getting out of the continent, tax and commercial practices like wrong invoicing of trade shipments, and criminal activities such as illegal markets, corruption, or theft. The shocking fact is that the billions lost annually to IFF are almost equal to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) and the Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) altogether. These are missed development opportunities. Tackling IFF requires international cooperation and actions both within the continent and outside.

Commissioned by the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, a High-Level Panel led by President Thabo Mbeki made practical recommendations to tackle the IFFs.  We need to go back to those recommendations and implement them fully.  If not, our journey to 2030 and 2063 will remain a dream.

Wishing you all a thoughtful Africa Day!

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika!

God Bless Africa!

Your comments and suggestions are also welcome on this site or directly to my email address: Desire.Assogbavi@assodesire.com or Assogbavi@me.com

If you would like to continue receiving my articles, follow this blog at the bottom left of this page.

Is the Reformed African Union ready to meet the challenges of the continent?

The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) has published my article titled “Will the Restructured African Union meet the Continent’s Urgent Challenges?”, written from the notes bellow. You can read it here.

I have used the same notes below as talking points to speak at the Seminar hosted jointly by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) on the 16th February 2021 following the 34th Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union.

Talking Points:

To answer the question above, I propose we analyze 3 key elements against the reform agenda proposed by President Kagame and adopted by the Assembly of the Union.

  • The New setting of the AU
  • The Leadership and Management
  • The Resources needed to do the job  

Let’s look back into the reform agenda:

1st : The new setting, including the scope of intervention of the AU

The African Union should focus on a fewer number of priority areas, which are by nature, continental in scope, such as political affairs, peace and security, economic integration, and Africa’s global representation and voice: this has not happened enough in the new structure of the commission. Basically, we find every issues/thematic that were in the previous structure with 8 departments, squeezed within new 6-department Commission, sometimes under different names. There are even new items added. I believe we failed here…

On the positive side we have the merging of Political Affairs with the Peace and Security Department. This will catalyze a stronger synergy and, the Commissioner will have a unique opportunity to effectively work on the root causes of the conflicts (the political Affairs side), and not just to embrace the conflicts when they happen with their, already devastating consequences and implications. That was a missing link in the previous setting of the AU Commission.

There is an unfinished business: The Peace and Security Council (PSC) needs to be reformed with a focus on results.  We can’t continue evaluating the PSC just by counting the number of meetings they have had. They should be judged by how many conflicts they have helped to stop, or to prevent.

Also, the situation where countries in conflict continue to be member of the PSC or even chairing the PSC need to be resolved in the new setting because it has had negative influence on the work of the PSC and on its credibility.

2nd: The Leadership/Management

The Kagame Report called for managing the African Union efficiently at both political and operational levels. This is not only directed to the AU Commission. It is for the entire African Union System, including Member States:

  • We now have the Operational leadership of the Union just elected, with 2 more commissioners to be found.
  • Member States need to get into the game. Looking at the most serious challenges of the continents it is imperative to ensure a better governance based on our agreed shared values (which include democracy, human rights, credible elections, accountability), a fair sharing of our natural resources and a better management of our diversity in the continent. If we succeed in doing these, the “silencing the guns target” will rather be an easy one, and of course peace and security will pave the way for our development projects.
  • The newly elected leadership seems up to job. The business plan proposed by the Chairperson Moussa Faki put a strong emphasis on these issues. He promised to facilitate a conflict-free continent, he promised to interrogate some of the ongoing situations, to ask some of the hard and sensitive questions.  I believe he can build on his lifelong experience on conflicts and fragility as well as his last 4 years learning, to take us there if political will follows from member states.
  • The new Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, has a strong profile matching the portfolio.  Also, the unprecedented political support that he enjoyed by having been voted for by all the 55 member states, is definitely a big asset.
  • The Deputy Chairperson in charge of the Administration and Finance is coming from a related background. She is from a rigorous and disciplined political environment, Rwanda. We are also good here.  In fact, there are a lot of internal matters on her plate right now at the Commission to look at urgently fix:

  Following are a few facts from a recent forensic and performance Audit of the AU Commission covering the period 2012- 2018:

  • For the period reviewed, more than 70% of AU Commission Staff are with short time contract. 
  • In terms of quota related to how many nationals of each member state work in the AU organs, some member states have passed their quota by up to 500% while some countries have 0-5%
  • 200+ staff have passed retirement age and were still employed by the AU during the period considered  
  • More than 100 staff at the AUC are relatives to other staff
  • More than 100 staff’ qualifications could not be verified by the audit team…

  Political Efficiency at member States level: the need to embrace our shared values

  • When we talk about Managing the African Union, we should not forget the political level! The African Union is, and will be, as good as Member States are. It is not the job of the AU Commission to implement decisions at national level. It is the responsibility of member states.
  • On peace and security for example, we all know what the root causes of most of the conflicts in Africa are. They are actually well articulated in the AU Roadmap on silencing the guns by 2020, now moved to 2030 just a few weeks ago… We currently have deadly conflicts still going on in C.A.R., in the Lake Chad Basin, in Cameroon… It is not over in DRC, Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan. There are risks in Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Uganda… and we can go on… How can we trade for economic development within the continent in such a situation?

3rd: Financial Resources

It is one of the pillars of the reform agenda. The African Union should be financed by resources from within the continent. Progress have been very weak on this:

Current average contribution of the 55 AU member states all together is still less than 40%!!!

Development partners continue paying more than 60% of the African Union budget. This is happening despite all the talks, the scenarios, the decisions many years back, from President Obassanjo’s proposals in 2013 to President Kagame’s recommendations in 2017.

Lack of an Accountability Mechanism for the Implementation of AU Decisions at National Level

There is no practical accountability mechanism to track progress in the implementation at national level, of AU decisions, policies standards, treaties etc, adopted. There is no sanction for the lack of the implementation of these decisions by member states. AU Policy organs have been even trying to weaken the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, as the Banjul based body questions member states’ behaviors that go against AU human rights policies.   

The only sanction mechanism in the reform agenda is the sanction imposed to members for not paying their contributions to the AU. We need to do more on this. I believe a comprehensive sanction project need to find it way to the table at some point, but in the meantime the Commission’s leadership could come up with a few innovative ideas to have at least, a certain system of political pressure on members who violate AU principles in their countries. This could be championed by a group of Heads of State.

Maybe, it is time to start talking about an eventual safety guaranty for Heads of State who stayed too long on power and may be concern for their life if they are out. There should not be a taboo in terms of proposals that can bring peace in the continent.

So…. back to the main question: Is the African Union and its Commission ready to meet the challenges of the continent? Not yet!

I believe we are getting somehow on the track…. we have a potential to make it if we are courageous enough. It is looking a bit better than before, but we are not there yet!

Highlights from the ongoing African Union Summit, 6-7 Feb 2021

The very first leadership team of the restructured African Union Commission has been elected this 6th February 2021 for a 4-year term as follow:

Chairperson: Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat (re-elected) from Chad, Central Africa

Deputy Chairperson: Ms. Monique Nsanzabaganwa from Rwanda, East Africa

Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment: Ms. Josefa Sacko (re-elected) from Angola, Southern Africa

Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade and Industry, and Mining: Mr. Albert Muchanga (re-elected) from Zambia, Southern Africa

Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy: Ms. Amani Abou-Zeid (re-elected) from Egypt, North Africa

Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security: Mr. Bankole Adeoye from Nigeria, West Africa

Postponement:

The elections for the following posts have been postponed likely for six months when the Executive Council meet next (June/July 2021)

– Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs, and Social Development

– Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation

The outgoing 2 Commissioners Ms. Amira Elfadil and Ms. Sarah Agbor, respectively, will continue to serve in their positions until the next elections.

Why the postponement of the last two elections?

According to the rules and regulations of the African Union, the Commission’s leadership should respect a fair balance between the 5 geographical regions (North, Central, West, East, South) as well as a gender balance (male/female) in the overall team.

There are 8 positions, so, every region would have at least 1 post, and no region could have more than 2 posts. The Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson should be from different regions. If the Chairperson is a male, the Deputy Chairperson should be a female and vise versa. In addition, the regions of the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson could not have a second post. This will allow the other 3 regions to share the remaining 6 posts: 2 for each region. When a region has 2 posts, it should be 1 male and 1 female, so the whole leadership team should have an equal number of males and females meaning 4 men 4 women.

By the time the voting reached these two posts, the regions from which the candidates had come had already met their regional and gender quotas, so those candidates became automatically disqualified to be voted for due to regional and gender balance rules.

Technically the two upcoming Commissioners should come from West Africa (female) and Nord Africa (Male). ECOWAS has already decided internally that the second West Africa post would go to Burkina Faso. Central Africa and East Africa have already been granted the two highest posts (Chair and Deputy Chair), so, they could not have a second post.

A similar scenario already happened during the 2017 AUC elections, and voting for the remaining posts has been postponed for the following Summit.

So far the African Union is the only regional body with a strict written gender balance policy at the leadership level, a situation to be celebrated.

Other highlights from the Summit:

  • President Felix Tshisekedi from DRC is the new Chair of the Union for 2021
  • President Macky Sall from Senegal will be the following Chair of the Union for 2022
  • Chairperson Moussa Faki becomes the first AUC Chair to have a second term since the transformation of the OAU to the AU almost 20 years ago
  • The New Commissioner for Peace, Security, and Political Affairs breaks the record of having 55/55 member states’ votes.

Watch this space for more updates and analysis. Your comments and suggestions will be highly appreciated at Desire.Assogbavi@assodesire.com

African Union Summit Decisions in 5 Points

Dear Friends

Here are the key outcomes (unofficial) of the just-ended summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union held in Addis Ababa 8 – 10 February 2020. While the theme of the year 2020 is “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”, no concrete decision has been taken on the matter besides the acknowledgment of the Orientation Concept Note on the theme and a request by the Assembly of the Union for a comprehensive report on the implementation of the AU Master Roadmap at the end of the year. South Africa offered to host an extraordinary Summit end of May 2020 on Silencing the Guns. In my last blog, I have suggested 7 prerequisites for the guns to be silenced in Africa.

1/ LEADERSHIP

Chairperson of the African Union for 2020: President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa

Chairperson of the African Union for 2021: President Felix Tshisekedi of DRC

Chairperson of NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee HSGOC: President Paul Kagame, of Rwanda elected to replace President Macky Sall of Senegal

AU Champion for Financial Institutions: President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana, to provide political leadership and awareness to accelerate their establishment as scheduled in the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.

See other Champions here.

2/ INSTITUTIONAL REFORM OF THE AFRICAN UNION

  • AU Commission to submit to the 34th Ordinary Session of the Assembly (Feb 2021), after due consideration by the Executive Council, practical proposals for rationalizing the Agenda and the Program of Work of the Assembly, as well as streamlining the program of meetings and side events. of the Assembly and the Executive Council.
  • The Executive Council (Ministers of Foreign Affairs) has a delegated authority to consider and adopt provisionally the Rules of Procedures of the Assembly and the Statute of the Commission during its 37th Ordinary Session in June/July 2020;
  • The Protocol on the Relations between the African Union and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) is adopted and the Chairperson of the Commission authorized to sign the Protocol on behalf of the African Union;
  • The following eminent Persons have been appointed to assist for the AU Senior Leadership job profiles, competency requirements and assessment process: a) Central Africa: H.E Yang Philemon (Cameroon) b) East Africa: Amb. Konjit Sinegiorgis (Ethiopia) c) Southern Africa: Amb. Tuliameni Kalomoh (Namibia) d) West Africa:   Hon. Hassan Bubacar Jallow (The Gambia). North Africa to nominate 1 representative to join the group.

Read my previous articles on the AU Reform here.

New Structures of the following organs have been adopted:

  • African Union Commission Departmental Structure;
  • Continental Operational Centre – (Khartoum);
  • African Centre for the Study and Research on Migration – (Mali);
  • African Migration Observatory (the Observatory) – (Morocco);
  • African Union Mechanism For Police Cooperation (Afripol) – (Algeria);
  • AU Centre for Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development (AUCPCRD) – (Egypt);
  • Secretariat of African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) – (Lesotho);
  • African Observatory of Science, Technology and Innovation (AOSTI) – (Equatorial Guinea).

The Executive Council got delegated authority to appoint (not only to elect) members of the following AU Organs and Institutions:  

  1. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
  2. African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child;
  3. African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
  4. African Union Advisory Board on Corruption;
  5. African Union Commission on International Law;
  6. President and Vice President of the Pan African University; and
  7. African Space Agency.

  3/ AFRICAN CONTINENTAL FREE TRADE AREA (AfCFTA)

  • Mr. Wamkele Mene (South Africa) is appointed as Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area for a four-year term. The Permanent Secretariat of the AfCFTA to start operating by 31 March 2020
  • AfCFTA Council of Ministers to have an Extraordinary Summit on 30 May 2020 to approve all instruments required for the start of trading under the AfCFTA on 1 July 2020. South Africa to host the Summit
  • 6 Countries that made reservations (Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) decided to “compromise their national interests in the interest and solidarity of the African continent to join the rest of the States Parties in implementing the modalities on tariff liberalization”.
  • AfCFTA shall not accept requests for observer status from States that are not Member States of the African Union

4/ LEGAL INSTRUMENTS & ELECTION

The following Legal Instruments have been adopted:

  1. Statute of the African Peer Review Mechanism;
  2. Rules of Procedure of the Heads of State and Government of Participating States of the African Peer Review Mechanism;
  3. Protocol on Relations between the AU and the Regional Economic Communities;
  4. Rules of Procedures of the Mid-Year Coordination Meeting;
  5. Statute for the Establishment of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Migration;
  6. Statute for the Establishment of African Migration Observatory;
  7. Statute for the Establishment of Continental Operational Centre in Sudan for Combating Irregular Migration.

Election:

The following 10 Members have been elected for the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union for a 2-year term starting from April 2020:

  1. Cameroon: Central
  2. Chad: Central
  3. Djibouti: Eastern
  4. Ethiopia: Eastern
  5. Egypt: Northern
  6. Malawi: Southern
  7. Mozambique: Southern
  8. Benin: Western
  9. Ghana: Western
  10. Senegal: Western

The New PSC (from 1st April 2020) will be composed of:  Algeria, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Senegal.

5/ CALENDAR

  • 34th AU Summit: 6 & 7 February 2021 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • 38th Session of the Executive Council: 3 & 4 February 2021 in Addis Ababa
  • Extraordinary Summit of Silencing the Guns: May 2020 in South Africa
  • Extraordinary Summit on AfCFTA: 30 May 2020, in South Africa
  • 37th Session of the Executive Council: July 2020, N’Djamena, Chad
  • Next Mid-Year Coordination Meeting between the AU and the RECs: 4 July 2020 in N’Djamena, Chad. AU Commission to consult with the RECs, Regional Mechanisms and Member States with a view to finalize the detailed proposal for an effective division of labor between the AU and RECs and present it to the 2020 Mid-Year Coordination meeting, after due consideration by the 37th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council.

Please send me your comments and suggestions via email to Desire.Assogbavi@assodesire.com or what’s App/Telegram to +19172160155

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Les Dirigeants Africains Peuvent-ils Faire Taire les Armes en 2020 Comme Promis? 7 Prérequis Incontournables

English version here 

Les Chefs d’État de l’Union africaine se réuniront prochainement pour leur 33eme session ordinaire prévue pour les 9 et 10 février 2020 à Addis-Abeba, en Éthiopie.

Comme d’habitude, ceci est le premier de ma série de réflexions et d’analyses que je partagerai sur ce blog www.assodesire.com  avant et après le Sommet.

Le thème de l’année 2020 est «Faire taire les armes: créer des conditions propices au développement de l’Afrique». J’ai eu l’honneur de contribuer à ce débat depuis 2017 à l’Union africaine sur invitation du Conseil de paix et de sécurité de l’Union comme personne ressource, à plusieurs de ses sessions sur la question.

Dans leur déclaration solennelle du 50e anniversaire de l’Union africaine, les Chefs d’État et de Gouvernement africains se sont engagés «à atteindre l’objectif d’une Afrique sans conflits, à faire de la paix une réalité pour tous nos peuples et à débarrasser le continent des guerres, conflits,  violations des droits de l’homme, des catastrophes humanitaires, et prévenir le génocide ».

Silencing... French image

En novembre 2017, le Conseil de paix et de sécurité a adopté une « feuille de route traitant des étapes pratiques pour faire taire les armes à l’horizon 2020 ». La feuille de route a également été approuvée par le Sommet des Chefs d’État. La Feuille de route reconnaît qu’au-delà des efforts politiques et militaires en cours, il y a un besoin urgent d’interventions structurelles dans le domaine du développement socio-économique, pour tenir compte des questions de gouvernance, des jeunes et des femmes, de l’emploi et de l’éducation, du changement climatique et d’autres facteurs pertinents.

Qu’est-ce qui pousse les individus et groupes d’individus  à détenir et faire confiance aux armes?

Aujourd’hui, seulement 1/3 de toutes les armes légères en circulation sont aux mains des forces de sécurité légalement constituées. Les 2/3 sont détenues illégalement par des acteurs non étatiques ou des individus, ce qui est préoccupant car, l’utilisation de ces armes affecte directement et indirectement des centaines de milliers de personnes et compromet gravement nos engagements en faveur du développement durable.

Chaque année, la Commission de l’Union africaine présente un rapport sur l’état de la paix et de la sécurité sur le continent à l’Assemblée des Chefs d’État, et des décisions sont prises en conséquence, mais la paix ne se fait toujours pas voir. Dans de nombreux cas, les gens détiennent, gardent et font confiance aux armes, parce que leurs divers problèmes récurrents restent non résolus par les détenteurs du pouvoir.

Les institutions africaines doivent se comporter différemment

Les détenteurs d’armes illégales sur notre continent ne considèrent pas leurs propres actions comme illégales mais plutôt légitimes contre des problèmes tels que le partage inéquitable des ressources nationales, la confiscation du pouvoir d’État et des ressources d’État par un individu ou un groupe d’individus, des formes modernes de changements anticonstitutionnels de gouvernement qui se manifestent aujourd’hui par des élections frauduleuses ou «cosmétiques» pour se maintenir au pouvoir, souvent avec la bénédiction déguisée  de certaines de nos institutions régionales et continentales à travers l’observation des élections qui ne portent principalement que sur les opérations de vote, et qui sont toujours «déclarées libres et équitables».

Si nous maintenons cette façon de conduire nos affaires, je crains que nous ne revenions ici à la fin de 2020 ou même 2030, seulement pour réaliser que les armes ne sont pas réduites au silence sur notre continent. Cela veut dire que le voyage vers notre Agenda 2063 deviendra plus long que prévu et les promesses contenues dans l’Agenda 2030 ne seront que de beaux rêves. En conséquence, la crise de confiance de nos populations – en particulier les jeunes – envers nos institutions, les instances régionales et continentales, va plutôt augmenter. Les populations affectées et marginalisées continueront bien sûr de ne faire confiance qu’aux armes.

Je dois insister sur le fait que la modification des constitutions nationales aux fins de garantir des mandats présidentiels supplémentaires ou illimités, renforcés par des élections injustes, constitue un réel risque de fragilité qui ne contribuera pas à faire taire les armes en Afrique. Pour que la campagne «Faire taire les armes» atteigne ses objectifs, nous devons faire les choses différemment. Nous devons être plus courageux si nous voulons voir des résultats différents.

Nos institutions continentales et régionales devraient avoir le pouvoir et l’autorité de faire un monitoring objectif de la performance des États membres dans la mise en œuvre de nos valeurs partagées qui sont contenues dans les nombreuses décisions, cadres d’action, traités, etc adoptés . Il devrait y avoir un mécanisme solide de sanction pour violation de nos valeurs partagées. Les sanctions ne doivent pas seulement viser le non-paiement des contributions financières. Je ne vois pas d’autre moyens pour changer l’Afrique et y assurer la paix et la sécurité.

Curieusement, l’Assemblée des Chefs d’Etat de l’Union Africaine dans sa dernière décision prise au Niger en juillet 2019 sur «l’Année pour faire taire les armes» a souligné le lien entre la bonne gouvernance, la paix, la stabilité et le développement et a reconnu que ces concepts sont intimement liés et ne peuvent pas être traités les uns sans les autres.

Ça ne commence pas forcément par les armes

La disponibilité des armes ne crée pas nécessairement des conflits. Mais leur prolifération et leur circulation incontrôlée peuvent entraîner une propagation plus rapide de la violence et amplifier leurs effets dévastateurs. Bien entendu, les pays sont moins sûrs si les armes sont facilement disponibles. Cependant, les conflits en cours en Afrique n’ont pas commencé simplement parce que des armes étaient disponibles. En fait, les armes sont arrivées plus tard dans la plupart des cas parce que les problèmes ne sont pas résolus.

7 Prérequis pour faire taire les armes en Afrique

Voici quelques conditions préalables clés que l’Union africaine, les États membres, les organismes régionaux, les citoyens et leurs groupes ainsi que les partenaires devraient rechercher si nous voulons vraiment faire taire les armes:

1 / La constitution et les lois de tous les États membres de l’Union africaine garantissent tous les droits civils et politiques à tous les citoyens sans discrimination. Cela signifie également que des manifestations pacifiques peuvent avoir lieu chaque fois que les citoyens ne sont pas satisfaits de la conduite des affaires publiques, et sans intimidation ni violence contre les citoyens.

2 / Les systèmes de justice de tous les États membres sont indépendants et exempts de pressions indues de la part de l’exécutif dans leur fonctionnement. Les auteurs de violations des droits de l’homme et les criminels sont effectivement poursuivis quel que soit leur statut social et politique et la réparation des victimes est assurée au niveau national… Si cela se produit constamment, la Cour pénale internationale n’aura plus grand chose à faire…Souvenons-nous que sans justice et sans redevabilité, les gens perdront confiance en tout sauf en les armes.

3 / Les institutions étatiques mettent en place des mécanismes socio-économiques et juridiques pour lutter contre les inégalités, l’extrême pauvreté et la corruption à tous les niveaux. Les flux financiers illicites sont considérablement réduits… De gros investissements sont réalisés à partir des ressources nationales, soutenues par la coopération internationale Sud-Sud et Nord-Sud, pour assurer les services sociaux essentiels, principalement l’éducation, les infrastructures et les soins de santé à tous les citoyens.

4 / Des élections crédibles sont regulierement tenues et gérées par des commissions électorales indépendantes sans aucune ingérence, et les résultats du vote reflètent le véritable choix de la majorité mais, les minorités sont respectées, délibérément protégées et ont la possibilité de participer aux affaires publiques à travers différentes autres institutions et par les lois et les règlements. Cela conduira naturellement à une situation où les élections seront davantage influencées par des programmes politiques et non par des origines ethniques. Les perdants des élections, y compris les anciens Chefs d’État ou les Chefs de l’opposition, sont traités avec dignité, respectés et bénéficient de la protection de l’État, mais ils sont tenus responsables s’ils ont commis de crimes.

5 / Des programmes innovants créent des opportunités d’éducation et de formation diverses et de qualité. Le secteur privé est réglementé, accompagné et encouragé pour créer de nouvelles opportunités d’emploi pour les jeunes. Les institutions publiques garantissent l’égalité des chances aux citoyens, sans discrimination d’être employés et engagés dans les affaires publiques.

6 / Le Traité de l’Union africaine sur la libre circulation des personnes et des biens est ratifié et pleinement mis en œuvre sur tout le continent. Le passeport panafricain ou même une carte d’identité africaine standardisée est délivrée rapidement sur demande aux citoyens. Ainsi, l’interaction entre les peuples de différentes nationalités et régions du continent catalyse d’importantes opportunités d’apprentissage, crée une synergie et stimule notre intégration économique. Les jeunes ne ressentent plus le besoin d’immigrer vers l’extérieur. Aucun décès n’est enregistré en Mer Méditerranée ou dans le désert du Sahara et une bonne partie de la diaspora rentre au bercail pour participer à la reconstruction du continent.

7 / L’Union africaine regagne la confiance de ses citoyens et devient une organisation véritablement axée sur les citoyens, et efficace pour assurer la mise en œuvre de ses décisions par les États membres. L’espace civique est garanti pour que les citoyens et leurs groupes participent à la vie politique. Cela signifie que l’UA a déclaré illégales toutes les lois draconiennes votées, empêchant la société civile d’opérer normalement dans les Etats membres. La liberté d’association est respectée mais les ONG sont redevables pour leurs actions.

Si tous ces prérequis sont observés, les armes seront sûrement réduites au silence en Afrique.

Observez cet endroit!!!

Je partagerai bientôt ma note d’information sur les autres questions clés de l’ordre du jour du Sommet à venir.

Veuillez m’envoyer vos commentaires et suggestions par e-mail à Desire.Assogbavi@assodesire.com ou sur What’sApp / Telegram au +19172160155

Can African Leaders Silence the Guns in 2020 as Promised? 7 Unavoidable Prerequisites!

La version en Français est ici

Dear Friends

The Heads of State of the African Union will soon meet for their 33rd Ordinary Session scheduled for the 9th and 10th February 2020 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

As usual, this is the first of my series of reflections and analysis to be shared on this blog www.assodesire.com  in the lead up to the Summit and after.

The theme of the year 2020 is “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”. I have had the honor to contribute to this debate several times since 2017 at the African Union as an invited Guest Speaker at the Peace and Security Council of the Union to its sessions on the issue.

In their Solemn Declaration of the 50th Anniversary of the African Union, African Heads of State and Government have committed themselves “to achieve the goal of a conflict-free Africa, to make peace a reality for all our people and to rid the continent of wars, civil conflicts, human rights violations, humanitarian disasters, and violent conflicts and to prevent genocide.” They further pledged “not to bequeath the burden of conflicts to the next generation of Africans and undertake to end all wars by 2020”.

Theme 2020 pictureIn November 2017, the Peace and Security Council adopted a Master Roadmap of Practical Steps to silencing the guns by 2020. The Roadmap has been also endorsed by the Assembly of Heads of State. The Roadmap recognizes that, beyond the ongoing political and military efforts, there is a need for structural interventions in the area of socio-economic development, to allow for issues of governance, youth and women, employment and education, climate change and other pertinent factors to play constructive roles in the efforts to silencing the guns in Africa.

Why are people holding and trusting the guns?

Only 1/3 of all small arms in circulation today are in the hands of legally constituted security forces. The remaining 2/3 are held illegally by non-state groups or individuals and this is cause for concern because, the use of these weapons, directly and indirectly, affects hundreds of thousands of people and severely undermines our commitments for sustainable development.

Every year, the African Union Commission presents a report on the state of peace and security in the continent to the Assembly of Heads of State, and decisions are made accordingly but peace is still not happening. People are holding, keeping and trusting the guns, mostly because their various recurrent problems remain unsolved by power holders.

African institutions must do business differently

Illegal weapon bearers in our continent do not consider their own actions as illegal, but rather legitimate against issues like the inequitable sharing of national resources, the confiscation of state power and state resources by an individual or group of individuals, modern forms of unconstitutional change of government manifested today by fraudulent or “cosmetic elections” to ensure additional or unlimited terms on power, often with the hidden blessing of some of our regional and continental bodies through election observation that mostly look at just the voting operations, often “declared free and fair”.

If we stick to the current way of doing business, I am afraid we will come back here at the end of 2020 or even 2030 or later, only to realize that guns are not silenced in our continent. This means that the journey to our Agenda 2063 will become longer than planned and the promises contained in the Agenda 2030 will remain beautiful dreams. As a result, the mistrust of our populations – especially the youth – and in our institutions, regional and continental bodies, will rather increase. Affected and marginalized populations will continue trusting nothing else but the guns.

I should insist that changing national constitutions in order to ensure additional or unlimited presidential terms, reinforced by unfair elections constitute a real risk for fragility that will not help to silence the guns in Africa. So, for the “Silencing the Guns” Campaign to happen, we must do things differently. We must do something courageous and probably painful if we want to see different results.

Our continental and regional bodies should be given power and authority to objectively monitor member states’ performance in implementing our adopted shared values contained in the numerous progressive decisions, frameworks, treaties adopted by the African Union.  There should be a serious sanction mechanism to be used in case of violation of our values on which the African Union was built. Sanctions should not be limited to the non-payment of financial contributions to the Union. I see no other ways to change Africa and ensure peace and security.

Curiously, the Assembly of the Union in its last decision taken in Niger in July 2019 on the “Year of Silencing the Guns” underscored the nexus between good governance, peace, stability and development and recognized that these concepts are thoroughly intertwined and cannot be considered exclusive of each other.

It does not necessarily start with the guns

The availability of arms does not necessarily create conflicts. But their proliferation and their uncontrolled circulation can lead to a more rapid spread of violence and, magnify their devastating effects. Of course, countries are less safe if weapons are easily available. However, conflicts that are going on in Africa have not started just because arms were available. In fact, arms come in later in most of the cases because problems are not resolved. So silencing or collecting the guns can only succeed with a holistic approach.

7 Prerequisites to silence the guns in Africa

Here are some key prerequisites that the African Union, member states, regional bodies, citizens and their formations, as well as partners, should look after if we truly want to silence the guns in Africa:

1/ Constitutions and laws of all member states of the African Union guaranty all civil and political rights for all citizens with no discrimination. This also means that peaceful demonstrations can be held whenever citizens are not happy about the conduct of public affairs, without intimidation or violence against citizens.

2/ Justice systems of all member states are made independent and free of undue pressure from the executive in their functioning. Human rights violators and criminals are effectively prosecuted regardless of their social and political status and reparation for victims is ensured at the national level… If this happens constantly, the International Criminal Court will have nothing else to do… Let us remember that without justice and accountability people will lose their trust in everything except for the guns.

3/ State institutions set up socio-economic and legal mechanisms to tackle inequality and extreme poverty and to combat corruption at all levels. Illicit Financial Flows are significantly reduced and stopped… Heavy investments are made from national resources, supported by international South-South and North-South cooperation, to ensure essential services, mainly, quality education, infrastructures, and health care are accessible for all citizens.

4/ Credible elections are regularly held and managed by independent electoral boards with no interference, and the results of the pools reflect the true choice of the majority but, minorities are respected, deliberately protected and given the opportunity to participate in public affairs through different other institutions, by the law and affirmative actions. This naturally will lead to a situation where elections are influenced more by political agendas and not by ethnic origins.  Losers of elections including former Heads of state and opposition leaders are treated with dignity, respect and enjoy state protection, but they are held accountable if they are responsible for crimes.

5/ Innovative programs create diverse and quality education and training opportunities for the youth. The private sector is regulated, accompanied and encouraged to create increased job opportunities.  State institutions ensure equal opportunity to citizens with no discrimination, to be employed and engaged in public affairs.

6/ The African Union Treaty on Free Movement of People and Goods is universally ratified and fully implemented all over the continent… The Pan African Passport or even an African standardized ID is delivered promptly upon request to citizens. So, Interaction between peoples of different nationalities and regions of the continent catalyzes strong opportunities for learning, creates synergy, and boosts our economic integration. Young people feel no need to immigrate to Europe or America.  No death is recorded in the Mediterranean Sea or in the Sahara Desert and, a good part of the diaspora comes back home to take part in the reconstruction of the continent.

7/ The African Union gains trust from its citizens and becomes a truly people-driven body, and effective to ensure the implementation of its decisions by member states… A genuine and effective space is provided for citizens and their formations to be part of the decision-making process. But this means that the AU has declared illegal, all draconian laws against CSOs in member states, and pushed countries to abolish them, and replace them by provisions that respect universally agreed freedom of association principles while ensuring accountability of NGOs.

If we do these, guns will be surely silenced in Africa.

Watch this Space!!!

I will soon share my briefing note on the key other issues on the upcoming Summit agenda.

Please send me your comments and suggestions via email to Desire.Assogbavi@assodesire.com or what’s App/Telegram to +19172160155 

Generating Knowledge and Evidence to Promote Inclusive & Sustainable Development

Generating knowledge and evidence to support inclusive & sustainable development: I recently made the case, during a key note speech in the Hague, Netherlands, for different stakeholders – academia, researchers, NGOs, practitioners policymakers, UN bodies etc – to work together. The seminar was on  ‘Knowledge and Research: Theory and Practice for Dialogue and Dissent’. Participating researchers came from various countries working on the research programme ‘New roles of CSOs for inclusive development’, staff of CSOs and NGOs, and staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands involved with the policy framework for Dialogue and Dissent came together to discuss and reflect on knowledge and experience concerning the role of civil society in influencing pro-poor policies.

The original article was published here.

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen!

Today, we aim to have a conversation about building bridges between different stakeholders – including academic researchers, researchers working in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), practitioners and policymakers – and we seek linkages and collaboration among those different actors when it comes to generating knowledge and evidence in support of civil society taking up its role in pro-poor policies. Under the ‘New roles of CSOs for inclusive development’ (the Assumptions Programme), we reflect on the following three sub-themes:

  • Evolving relationship between global, regional, national and local civil society actors
  • Legitimacy and effectiveness of civil society organizations (CSOs) in influencing
  • Stretching civic space in practice

While discussing this, we should be deliberately guided by how we generate, use and integrate evidence from academia, practitioners and NGOs in order to increase impact.

Evolving relationship between global, regional, national and local civil society actors

There are many reasons for universities and NGOs/CSOs to explore working together to influence policy and practice. NGOs and CSOs can build on the trust enjoyed by university research, while universities can capitalize on NGOs and CSOs’ success in reaching policy and practice.

NGO research is rooted in real life – the experiences of partners and communities. NGOs are pioneers in participatory methods and their media teams are quick to make their findings noticed by policymakers. NGO people are ‘doers’ and activists, with little time for theorizing. They think in terms of guidelines and toolkits. They tell stories that stick in the minds of policymakers. On the other hand, research from universities is better structured. As academics, they have the education to make research smarter and they enjoy more credibility. They can take a more long-term reflective perspective, which activists often lack. Research from universities is the most trusted, but the least used, source of evidence. NGO research is generally less trusted than university research, but their output is far more likely to be read than that of academia. On a timescale, the focus of NGOs is urgent, immediate and often in response to events. Academics work to a different rhythm, both in terms of the issues they address and the way they respond to them.

So, there is a strong need for more ‘knowledge brokers’, not only to bridge the gap between science and policy, but also to synthesize and transform evidence into an effective and usable form for policy and practice. We should talk to each other early on: academics should not wait until they have written a paper before looking for an NGO or knowledge broker to help disseminate its message. At the same time, NGOs (or donors) should not decide their policy line, then commission an academic to do policy-based evidence making. We should create research ideas together. Donors, could also help by encouraging collaboration through 50/50 funding, half for action and half for research. Better cooperation among those actors would lead to better policies – policies that meet the most important and urgent needs of the people.

I have spent 15 years of my career seeking to promote impactful citizen’s participation at national and Pan African levels. I would like to share a few stories on how the actions of NGO actors have had a serious influence on policies. In 2007, Oxfam, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Safer World published a report titled Africa’s Missing Billions1, showing how Africa suffers enormously from conflict and armed violence, costing the continent around USD 18 billion per year and seriously derailing its development. It was the fruit of a collaboration by NGO researchers, then later used by NGO advocates to influence important policies at the continental and regional levels. That report catalysed a Summit of African Union (AU) heads of state and governments in Tripoli, Libya in 2009. The report of the Summit, drafted by the African Union Commission, is extensively quoted this report.2 At the Summit, a detailed plan of action3 was adopted, including institutional reforms, to deal with the conflicts in Africa. This was a direct result of the action by NGO/CSO researchers and activists at various levels. The report has also been a strong catalyst for the signing and ratification of the Arms Trade Treaty by many African governments.

However, the publication of a report in the media is not enough to bring about policy impact. Activists have to create an influencing space, but also use existing invited space, to showcase their findings. Local organizations have identified victims and survivors of violations, convinced one or two progressive states to put the issue on the agenda, and brought the victims and survivors to speak directly to the Peace and Security Council of the AU. I have seen an ambassador crying when a Somalian woman brought by a local partner described to the Council how she was raped. Personal stories such as this can have great impact. But these reports are usually strongly criticized by academia, because of lack of academic rigour. Publishing NGOs have recognized the issues linked to research methodology. But, despite this, the policy impact is there.

In 2014, Oxfam published a global inequality report4 with concreate suggestions for action by policymakers in order to tackle inequality. This report catalysed a special session of the AU Peace and Security Council on the issue and its links to conflict and humanitarian challenges. The session gave important policy guidance to other organs of the AU and its member states on how to tackle the issue, including dealing with Illicit financial flows.

Here again, the findings were not kept on the shelves of libraries or merely uploaded onto a website. Activists had to co-create space ‘conspiratorially’ with friendly governments, and the result is that the AU and its member states have become aware of the findings. Several ambassadors have formally written to receive copies of the report. Once this happens, then local civil society can follow up at the national level. In addition, the recommendations from the reports made it into the AU’s strategic plan of action. In a similar case, a paper by NGOs promoting universal health coverage during the Ebola outbreak convinced a number of governments to come on board and support the agenda. So research by NGOs/CSOs can have a powerful impact.

Legitimacy and effectiveness of influencing by CSOs

I would like to say a few words on the legitimacy and effectiveness of influencing by CSOs, but also on the relationship between global national and local civil society. Civic space is defined as the set of conditions that determine the extent to which members of society, both as individuals and in informal or organized groups, are able to freely, effectively and without discrimination exercise their basic civil rights. Civic space is the foundation of any open and democratic society. When civic space is open, citizens and their formations are able to organize, participate and communicate without hindrance. In doing so, they are able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. Civic space enables citizens to participate and hold governments and the private sector to account. Civic space is, therefore, a critical enabler in the fight against poverty and pursuit of social justice.

The legitimacy of civil society participation at the international level was affirmed by the UN Charter5, which states that the United Nations Economic and Social Council may consult with NGOs on matters within its competence. In a prosperous and democratic society, the state and a vibrant civil society are two sides of the same coin and complement each other. Civil society must be seen as a reservoir of social capital capable of contributing to all aspects of a country’s development including health, education, peace and security.

The influence of civil society in national and continental policy making does not diminish the relevance of governmental or inter-governmental processes, but rather enhances it. If we look at the area of peace and security, for example, because of its immersion in society, civil society is able to contribute to peace-building initiatives and social cohesion. Civil society has shown its capacity to organize, collect, analyse and evaluate first-hand information, allowing the identification of the sources of potential tension as well as emerging conflicts. Although ‘traditional’ conflicts are usually well understood by diplomats and specialists in political science, addressing new conflicts requires a much more on-the-ground knowledge, new skills in  social and cultural analysis, the active involvement of communities and their leaders, links to vulnerable groups, bridges into mainstream development processes, and new ways of working. Many civil society organizations have unique capacities in all these areas.

But, is this picture still the same today and everywhere that CSOs operate? That is the question. Are today’s CSOs really linked to the grassroots where the directly affected populations live? How much our are elite, frequent travellers working on the rights of marginalized people in touch with those affected people living in rural areas? How much of the donors’ money accounted for in global statistics actually reaches the beneficiaries?

In January 2010, I met with the then Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, who introduced one of the most restrictive CSO laws in Africa. On that subject, he indirectly referred to the instrumentalization of national CSOs by big international NGOs, as well as the lack of capacity development of local actors, whose agenda is defined by western NGOs. In this way he partly justified some aspects of his NGO law. However, shouldn’t we consider a more genuine solidarity between national and international CSOs and make a deliberate plan for capacity building, leading progressively to the ‘localization’ of interventions by CSOs?

Stretching civic space in practice

Around the globe there is a proud history of civic activism that is under threat today. Social movements and activists has been a vital component in most independence struggles, and civil society a driving force behind state formation. It has also been instrumental in the affirmation and realization of human rights and dignity.

Civil society across Africa has played a central role in the continent’s history and development. Today, however, the gains brought about by citizen participation are being reversed by increasing restrictions on civic space. The consequences of this have not only been felt by the activists, social movements and civil society groups at the sharp end of these restrictions, but by society at large.

Without CSOs and the independent voices they represent, the ability to address abuses of power and build responsive, accountable institutions is severely constrained. In almost every constitution, there are commitments to allow citizens’ participation in one form or another. However, these commitments to protect civic space are being eroded as many governments across the region characterize civil society more as political opponents than organizations making a positive contribution to social change. While exceptions exist, the current trend is for citizens, activists and the organizations that represent them to have less space to operate in.

We have talked about shrinking space, but there is also shifting space: space can be open for some time and closed at other times or for other people. It can also open for some issues, while blocking others. Sometimes, in order to enforce their restrictions, governments create their own NGOs (GONGOs), which only pretend to speak for the people.

Looking at the current geopolitical trends with the rapidly growing influence of China in Africa promoting the idea of a development state, it is not expected that civic space will reopen again just like that. This is the moment to invest strategically in promoting active citizenship, nationally, but also regionally. Regional civil society and coalitions targeting regional and Pan African institutions have an important role to play, complementing and backing up national groups.

Interventions at the regional level are less exposed to risks, compared to those by national CSOs. In many cases regional CSOs can really contribute, influence and pressure member states through regional and continental bodies on regional policy issues. For example, the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) forum reacted differently to CSO/non-state actor engagement. Another example is, ECOWAS, which seems to be more open to CSOs than the RECs. But the general trend is more encouraging at the regional than at the national level.

I thank you.

African Continental Free Trade Area Launch: Opportunities and Challenges

Last update: 7 July 2019

In this blog, I am sharing 7 takeaways from the African Union Extraordinary Summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area, held in Niger on the 7th July 2019, but also some possible pitfalls that may obstruct or delay the implementation of the AfCFTA in Africa.

The idea of the an Africa Free trade area was first raised by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the then President of Ghana, during his famous speech at the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on the 25th May 1963 in Addis Ababa, as part of his proposed business plan for African integration. In 2013, the African Union launched Agenda 2063 with 14 flagship projects including the establishment of an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Adopted in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018, the negotiated framework has entered into force on the 30th May 2019 and officially launched during a special Summit of Heads of State of the African Union in Niamey, Niger this 7th July 2019. As of today, 54 out of the 55 African Union Member States have signed the Treaty and 27 of them have ratified it, the latest being Nigeria and Benin at the launch ceremony of the operationalization phase of the Treaty. Eritrea is now the only African country that has not signed the Treaty. The launch of the AfCFTA  is probably the most important concrete step in the African integration project since the setting up of the OAU and its replacement of the AU.

7 Key Takeaways from the AU Summit:

AU Summit

  • Trading under the AfCFTA will commence on the 1st July 2020
  • Ghana has been chosen to host the continental Secretariat of the AfCFTA
  • 7th July will be officially celebrated as the Day of African Integration in commemoration of the historic operationalization launch of the AfCFTA
  • The following 5 operational instruments of the AfCFTA have been negotiated, adopted and launched together with the AfCFTA operationalization phase: A/The Portals of The Rules of Origin, B/The Online Negotiating Portal , C/The Monitoring and Elimination of Non-Tariff Barriers, D/The Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) and E/ The African Trade Observatory Dashboard.
  • The 2nd phase of the negotiations should end in December 2020 and the documents will be submitted to the AU Assembly for adoption. Phase 2 issues are investment, competition policy, and intellectual property rights. These will provide important complement to the Phase 1 issues of trade in goods and services.
  • AfCFTA aims to progressively reduce and eliminate customs duties and non-tariff barriers on goods. The goal is for 90% of products to have a zero duty across the continent. 6 countries have been allowed for 85% only for the first 15 years.
  • Afreximbank committed to support the AfCFTA with 25 Billion USD mostly for the establishment of the online payment platform which will result in 5 Billion USD savings in transaction costs annually.

About the African Continental Free Trade Area

AfCFTA pic

The Treaty establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area aims to 1/ Create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, therefore, pave the way for accelerating the establishment of a continental customs union, 2/ Expand intra-Africa trade through better harmonization and coordination of trade liberalization, facilitation regimes and instruments across the continent, 3/ Resolve the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships and expedite the regional and continental integration processes , 4/Enhance competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level through exploiting opportunities for scale production, continental market access and better reallocation of resources in Africa.

The African Continental Free Trade Area then provides an opportunity to promote policies and resources that could create conditions for harnessing Africa demographic dividend in the context of creating space for jobs, especially for the youth and economic diversification. This requires attention to expediting domestic capital formation and using capital market strategies to drive the creation and expansion of small and medium enterprises involving youth ownership.

If genuinely implemented, the AfCFTA will provide a framework to ease the cost of doing business within Africa. It will aggregate the very fragmented African market but will the continent quickly address non-tariff barriers, such as infrastructure backlogs, border corruption, heavy bureaucracy, poor communication means etc? Above all do we have enough to trade among ourselves with this ambitious trade agreement while our economies are mostly alike and largely dominated by the exportation of raw material? To take full advantage of the AfCFTA African leaders should deliberately and aggressively invest in industrialization without waiting. An initial focus should be on agriculture and agro-industry development.

If fully ratified, the AfCFTA will open the largest free trade zone in the world with a combined GDP of around $3 Trillion and more than 1.2 billion consumers. AfCFTA is expected to boost intra-Africa trade, which is less than 17% (70% in Europe, 50% in Asia). The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has estimated that intra-Africa trade would likely increase to 52.3 % by 2020 due to the AfCFTA.

Pitfalls that may threaten the implementation of the AfCFTA

The implementation of the AfCFTA is not going to be as easy as it looks in a continent currently fragmented in several economic/trade zones with a poor business infrastructure and with the existing numerous trade agreements with outside partners. The following issues are some of the gray areas that may delay the implementation of the AfCFTA beyond the July 2020 target date:

  • The treaty on free movement of people adopted even before the AfCFTA treaty is not attracting ratification from member states. As of end of June 2019 only 3 countries have ratified it. How can we trade without being able to move freely within the continent?
  • Will poorer countries with insufficient natural resources and landlocked benefit from the AfCFTA the same as mineral-rich countries that are in an advanced stage of industrialization? For example about 50% of Africa’s cumulative GDP is contributed by Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa only. Without a compensation mechanism for poorer and disadvantaged countries, will the argument of benefits from free trade be convincing for all? There is a need for comprehensive policy-preferential treatment for the most at-risk economies. As we move, Member sates should then build an efficient and participatory institutional architecture to avoid leaving some economies behind.
  • How will the 90% tariff line rule fairly apply if – as it is the case in some countries – a single product (oil, coffee, cocoa for example) represents more than 70% of all the country’s exportation?
  • What will happen to the existing specific and competitive  bilateral and multilateral trade agreements between African countries and current outside partners such as the European Union?

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