The Controversial Closing of the AU Summit to Citizens/Observers

Observers including citizens and their formations as well as non-African countries and other bodies are not invited to the upcoming Summit of the African Union  to be held in Kigali, Rwanda next month. This move is being strongly contested by the civil society and is seen as part of the whole strategy of governments to shrink civic space.

I am sharing the following personal reflections on the issue:

In January 2015, the Assembly of the Union directed the Commission to make proposals on the streamlining of the AU Summits and the working methods of the Union in order to accelerate the implementation of the Agenda 2063. In June 2015, the Commission proposed a set of recommendations to the Assembly including a proposal that only one summit be open to partners and that only partners (observers accredited to the AU/with MOUs with AU) with business related to the theme of the Summit be invited to the AU Summits. The Assembly then decided among other things to “continue with two summits every year which should be streamlined with one Summit focusing on policy issues with participation of partners (…) and the other Summit focusing on the implementation of decisions”. The decision did not precise which of the 2 Summits will be open and which will be closed but given the practice of the last 2 years, it is looking like the January Summit will be open and the June/July summit closed.

While the African Union Commission and its various departments are being more and more open to civil society’s participation in between  Summits, namely during experts and ministerial policy gatherings, closing the AU Summit space to African citizens as observers is a challenge to a key mission of the Union which is to build “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.” The AU Summit is a unique a symbolic opportunity for informal yet important interactions between the people and power holders.

Some country representatives argued that the closure of the July Summit is mostly due to the disturbance caused by development partners around the summit… puling delegates to side/bilateral meetings while policy discussions were going on… but this is not a good reason to close the summit to everybody else including citizens and their formations. Delegates must be more disciplined and accountable in managing their own schedule during the Summit.

The Agenda 2063 itself recognised that people’s ownership and mobilisation is needed as one of the critical enablers to concretise the seven aspirations of the 50-year business plan of our continent.

Today, civic space is being terribly challenged in a growing number of countries in our continent. Since 2012, at least 29 restrictive laws  on civic space have been introduced in African countries. Unless this trend of massive shrinking of citizens’ space is stopped, and closed space reopened, I am afraid the road to 2063’s aspirations will be longer than planned.

 I will post another blog on this issue this week on including tips for civil society to deal with such a situation.


Oxfam at the African Union: How Change Happened in 2015/16

I am pleased to present you, attached, our 2015/16 overview: a summary of the key outcomes and impacts of our work from January 2015 to March 2016. It can also be read online here:

Last year, our team worked closely with over 100 national and regional NGOs and coalitions OI-AU Annual Review 2015/16 to engage with and contribute in various decision-making processes of the African Union. Our partners and staff participated in more than 20 gatherings of AU policy organs, and met with AU Permanent Representatives and officials of the African Union Commission and other organs. Over 10,000 African citizens regularly received our “AU Weekly” bulletin and other daily alerts on policy issues and activities of the African Union Commission.

In collaboration with the AU’s Directorate of Information and Communication and other partners, we trained over 100 citizens, NGO leaders and media practitioners from the 5 geographical regions of Africa on Understanding and engaging the African Union. Throughout the year, we supported the work of the peace and security organs of the AU, linking policy makers with citizens and affected populations from the 35 African countries where Oxfam operates. Highlights included our work on Central African Republic, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan. We worked with the Peace and Security Council to ensure that community voices were heard in the discussions at the PSC. Our experts were invited to serve as resource persons at several PSC sessions.

We were part of the 3rd UN Conference on Financing for Development in July advocating for a truly visionary financing framework to both bolster inclusive growth and tackle poverty across the developing world.

We launched an unprecedented Africa-China Dialogue Platform, a multi-stakeholders forum aiming to encourage and facilitate a permanent and constructive engagement and dialogue of citizens, policy makers, researchers and other stakeholders on the growing partnership between Africa and China.

Looking ahead, we will remain focused on addressing inequality and the injustice of poverty in communities affected by crises, food shortages, lack of educational opportunities, gender inequality, and lack of accessible health care. Our collective power to tackle these issues is remarkable. We are also committed to ensuring that civic space is open and available for citizens and affected populations to make their voices heard.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Oxfam colleagues in Addis Ababa and around the world as well as our volunteers who contributed to these achievements. I also thank the African Union leadership and departments of the African Union Commission, the embassies, and civil society partner organisations for their collaboration and support. Finally, I would like to thank our host, the Government of Ethiopia and in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Immigration for their consistent support.

Warm Regards


 DÉSIRÉ ASSOGBAVI (Mr) | Resident Representative & Head of Office

 Oxfam International Liaison Office to the African Union

 TK Building 2 – 6th Floor, Bole Airport Area | Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia | GMT+3

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