By Desire Assogbavi, Head of Oxfam Liaison Office to the African Union
The Heads of State and Government of the 54 Member States of the African Union are gathering this week in Addis Ababa for the 24th Ordinary Summit of the African Union. The year 2015 has been declared by the Assembly of the African Union as the “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. Both bi-annual Summits of the AU will then be organized around this theme. In practice, the theme will be symbolically launched during this Summit but actual discussions on the theme will happen in June/July.
This week Oxfam has been following a number of significant issues dominating the AU Summit agenda reflecting the high expectations from African citizens.
Ebola Crisis: Ebola has already claimed more than 8,000 lives in Africa. Currently the AU response is on the right path. The recent move of the AUC Chairperson Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma to call for funds from the private sector within the continent is excellent, but there is a long way to go with the number of cases still increasing and West African economies being extremely hard hit. Beyond the transmission rates, the disease has caused a crisis across the non-Ebola health sector, and major concerns around food security, livelihoods, vulnerability and long term economic impacts are now surfacing. Will the AU take action to prioritize prevention of further infections? Can the AU member States revive the AU’s Abuja Declaration by which they have committed to allocate 15% of their national budget on health? Beyond containing the epidemic, efforts are needed to begin building stronger and more resilient public health systems. The Assembly should call upon all member states to prioritise free public health care, and increase public expenditure on health care to achieve targets as a minimum. We’ll be looking forward to seeing the AU Commission’s report this week on the crisis and what decisions are taken.
At a bare minimum, the Summit must strongly call on all member states to intensify their contribution to the fight Ebola. The setting up of the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention must be speedy. We need to improve our collective response and make sure this never happens again. This can only be realized through a partnership that includes communities, civil society alongside private sector. The Summit must encourage member states to work proactively to build this partnership.
African Union Agenda 2063: The drafted 50-year plan of the continental body is expected to be adopted during the January Summit. A previous decision taken in Malabo this year by the Executive Council strongly recommended to member states to consult nationally on this important plan but this had not happened in many countries.
There are some bold targets in this visionary document such as the eradication of poverty in one generation by 2025, the elimination of hunger and food security by 2025 including reducing imports of food by 50% and ensuring that women farmers access at least 30% of agricultural financing, silencing all guns by 2020 to end wars, conflicts, human rights violations, gender based violence and genocide, achieve gender parity in five years in all public & private institutions, abolish visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries in 3 years, doubling of intra-Africa trade from 12% to 24% in seven years and by 50% by 2045, among other elements.
This vision is definitely a ground-breaking achievement for Africa. It will enable Africa to give direction to its citizens and all public and private actors in its territories. It will enable Africa to speak with one voice, and negotiate with clarity on what the continent seeks to achieve in all partnerships it engages in.
The milestones and targets articulated in Agenda 2063 are an important catalyst for communicating the urgency required to implement the plan – however much has to move/happen to meet some of the milestones. Are African governments really willing to resolve the immigration issues so that Africans can travel to any African country without requiring a visa in three years? The only regions that have achieved this are ECOWAS and EAC.
Alternative Sources of Financing the African Union: There is still no consensus among AU Members on how to stop or at least to reduce the current financial dependency of the African Union on external donors. Currently, external donors pay 72% of all AU expenses (including peace and security budget). Proposals made by President Obasanjo and a report of the UNECA are the following:
$2 hospitality levy per hotel stay and a $10 airfare levy on international flights originating in or out of Africa (Obasanjo) and a half a cent per SMS levy.
If adopted and implemented, these proposals will theorically generate over 1.8 Billion per year for the AU but how can all this be implemented in practice? Will these be collected directly from the sources or will Member States be able to gather these funds and asked to hand them over to the AU? Are there not more options available from other sectors to generate what funds are needed? Is the SMS option sustainable at a time when many people are moving to free social media such as Viber and What’s Up to communicate? And is the African Union Commission in its current configuration capable of absorbing more than its current budget? But the goal is admirable – the African Union cannot continue to depend financially from outside donors and keep Africa’s Agenda on track. Something bold and major must be decided…
Presidency of the African Union for 2015: The Chairmanship of the AU shall normally go to Southern Africa for 2015 and the established tradition is that the region presents a candidate. It is vital that the selected Chairperson of the African Union symbolizes and reflects the shared values of democracy, respect for human rights and accountability adopted by the Union.
Citizens’ Participations: Observers (including citizens and CSOs) have been invited for this January Summit- this is great news!!! In June last year, the African Union did not invite African non-state actors to the Summit held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. There is an unfinished discussion on whether observers should be invited to both the January and the July Summit of the Union. There are a growing number of member states that support the idea that observers are to be invited only to the January Summit in order to reserve the July Summit for closed discussions within member States only. CSOsare not in favour of any restriction of access to the Summit. This 24th African Union Summit must clarify this policy.
We should however note our appreciation that, in between the AU summits, other policy spaces including experts and ministerial meetings have been more and more open to non-state actors from civil society in recent years.
Peace and Security: The Summit will review the state of peace and security in the continent and will adopt decisions on each situation. Hot spots include South Sudan, Sudan, DRC, Somalia, CAR and Mali. It is also expected that terrorism including the situations in Nigeria and Kenya will come up. We are hoping for real progress on the situation in the Great Lakes region as it will be discussed in a special meeting on the DRC Framework Agreement at Heads of State level.
On DRC, there is a need for a credible, accountable disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration process for FDLR which requires stronger action from the government. While working towards its goal of silencing the guns by 2020, the AU must intervene to ensure the protection of Congolese civilians during the recent political unrest.
A High Level dialogue, to include space for CSOs, under the auspices of the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for DRC and the Great Lakes must happen.
It is also important to cut the economic channels which allow FDLR and other armed groups to prolong their activities, in accordance with the UN arms embargo, and strengthen accountability mechanisms within the PSCF to ensure signatories uphold their responsibilities.
In Central Africa Republic, there is a concern that since the handover of peacekeeping to the UN, CAR seems to have fallen down on the AU agenda. This is a missed opportunity to ensure sustainable peace and stability in CAR. Atrocities are still being committed against civilians outside the capital of Bangui. AU must remain strongly engaged in CAR to bolster the UN’s intervention.
Illicit Financial Flows and unfair exploitation of mineral resources of Africa: Illicit outflows from Africa are estimated at almost$ 50-60 billion per year. This represents 1 billion per week leaving the continent through extractive industries, tax evasion and trade mispricing. President Tabo M’beki, Chair of the AU High-level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa is now confirmed to present a report on the issue on January 31st. This issue should be closely tied to AU positions on financing for the further development of the continent as it could mean solutions to numerous African problems.
Citizens are expecting African leaders to act boldly!