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.

Bellow are my talking points 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.

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 conflict CAR, 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 trade 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 here:

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.   

Today, as seating President you can put the opposition leader in prison before, during and after the elections in your country and nothing will happen, the elections could still be declared free and fair by AU Observation Team. Change to countries constitutions to ensure unlimited terms on power is becoming the norm.  Frankly, we cannot guaranty peace in Africa if we do not do something about these.

The only sanction mechanism in the reform is the sanction imposed to members for not paying their contributions to the AU. We need to do more on this. I believe a sanction project need to find it way on 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.  This could be championed by of a group of Heads of State.

Maybe, it is time to start talking about an eventual safety guaranty for those who stayed too long on power and maybe afraid for their life if they are out. There should not be a taboo if any proposal will 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!

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