Governance News & Analysis

Reforming the AU

Reforming the AU
  • PublishedFebruary 1, 2018

If there is one thing that all 55-member states of the African Union (AU) can agree on, it is that the institution needs to be reformed. To this end, the AU set up a commission to shape the way forward, asking Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame to prepare recommendations. Stephen Williams reports.

The latest initiative to reform the African Union (AU) has its roots in the Mekelle Ministerial Retreat in Ethiopia in early 2016 where the former AU Chair, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma stated: “We now have Agenda 2063 as our clarion call for action, supported by all sections of the African society. We are now clear on the priorities of Agenda 2063, investing in our people, especially youth and women; in agricultural modernisation and agro-businesses; in manufacturing and industrialisation; the development of our infrastructure; democracy and developmental governance, as well as the need of silencing the guns by 2020”.

To achieve these objectives, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame was asked to set up a commission on the way forward as well an implementation strategy.

A successful implementation of the reforms could lead to a “new African Renaissance”, according to the current AU Commission Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat at the opening of the 29th AU summit in Addis Ababa on 3 July 2017.

Nine-member committee

The nine-member committee selected by President Kagame included: Amina J. Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment (now the UN’s deputy secretary-general); Mariam Mahamat Nour, Chad’s Minister of Economy, Planning, and International Cooperation; Cape Verde’s Cristina Duarte, former Minister of Finance and Planning; Cameroonian economist Vera Songwe, regional director for West and Central Africa at the International Finance Corporation (now UNECA’s Executive Secretary); Dr Acha Leke, a senior partner at McKinsey & Co; Strive Masiyiwa, executive chairman of Econet Wireless; and Tito Mboweni, former governor of the South African Reserve Bank.

Also part of the team were Carlos Lopes, the former Executive Secretary of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa; and Donald Kaberuka, former president of the African Development Bank. Both Lopes and Kaberuka spoke to this magazine about the AU reforms – Lopes more generally about the process and Kaberuka about a new funding proposal and the Peace and Security Commission Protocol.

The report on the institutional reform of the AU presented to the AU Summit in January 2017 pulled no punches. Although both measured and diplomatic in tone, its findings were stark.

To quote Kagame’s report: “By consistently failing to follow up on the implementation of the decisions we have made, the signal has been sent that they don’t matter. As a result we have a dysfunctional organisation in which member states see little value, global partners find little credibility, and our citizens have no trust.”

A key recommendation of the Kagame report was that the organisation should be streamlined. Along with realigning duties and responsibilities within the AU itself, such as the various bureaus and departments (to avoid duplicating the workload), it was proposed that partnership summits convened by external parties should be reviewed and, rather than all countries, Africa should be represented by a five-person group comprising the chair, the previous chair and incoming chair of the AU, a troika joined by the chair of the African Union Commission and the chair of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs).

As Carlos Lopes explained to New African: “China is about the same population as Africa, India is too, so you have to have a bit of political interpretation of size, not just the UN interpretation, in order to regulate the ways things are done and how we engage partners.”

Lopes also highlighted another important reform. “What is being proposed is that the AU should avoid having two full summits each year at the Assembly level [the current arrangement] and rather only have one full summit and have a second smaller summit with each of the RECs and the five-person AU representatives.”

But it is certainly true that Africa is not in perfect lockstep regarding the proposed reforms. Several African countries have raised objections about the process that produced the decisions on AU reforms, believing that the decision process failed to follow the regulations set out in the Constitutive Act of the AU and should be referred back to another summit for them to be adopted following the right channels. NA



A Fund for Peace

Donald Kaberuka, the former president of the AfDB, is generally acknowledged as finding a solution to the AU’s perennial funding crisis, so it comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that Kaberuka himself credits both the work of former Nigeria President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and the European Union with inspiring the Reform Committee’s recommendation to resolve this problem. 

“The budget of the African Union had two fundamental problems,” Kaberuka explains. “It was excessively dependent on the outside world, especially for programmes and peace-support activities. And just five or six countries paid the bulk of Africa’s contributions – and if one of the top five or six does not come in on time, that is a problem.

“This is what happened with Libya. Libya was a big contributor, and when Libya was going through a challenge to its leadership the AU came under stress. So, it was crucial to find a sustainable way of funding which reflects a country’s capacity to pay, and can reflect a degree of solidarity and African ownership.”

What was recommended was a 0.2% levy on imports originating from outside the continent, without taxing capital goods or raw materials needed for industrialisation.

Kaberuka adds that this levy assists the AU in its aim to form a continental free trade area by promoting intra-African trade. “We think over time this could generate enough impetus to buy and sell to each other.

”Countries are doing it in different ways but the aim is to generate the equivalent of the 0.2% levy without violating national treaties or other commitments they’ll be having. One particular country has kept raising the WTO issue, but I am fairly sure that is not an impediment.”

Given different countries’  legislative cycles and parliamentary processes, Kaberuka confirms that introducing this levy will not be a ‘one size fits all’ exercise. “As I speak with you now, we have 15 countries which are putting this in place and are at different stages of implementing the levy”.

The revenues raised by the levy will be paid to the AU budget and to the Peace Fund. But Kaberuka clarifies that the Peace Fund is not a continuous payment. “It is meant to attain an endowment of about $400m in five years and from that point on there are no other contributions. There are no replenishments depending upon how much is being spent.

“If there is no conflict, there is no cause of mediation, so we will invest this money for the fund which will have its own governance structures.

“Let me make two separate points. There are three large boxes of expenditures in the upcoming year.  There is the administrative budget to run the organisations. Then you have got programmes and peace-related operations. 

“So at the summit in 2015, it was decided that African countries will seek to cover 100% of the administrative budget and 75% of socio-economic programmes and then 25% of peace-related operations. It is important to note that this was a formal decision in Johannesburg because, remember, peace-keeping is the role of the UN.  It has got budgets for that. So this is why the AU’s role is in peace-support operations.

“So, the Peace Fund is not simply about peacekeeping. It is about supporting peace activities upstream which are equally important.” 

Written By
Stephen Williams

Stephen Williams is a freelance journalist, based in London UK. Having worked in publishing for over 40years, he has focused on covering issues that directly affect the majority world. A specialist on Africa, his remit also includes the Middle East and North Africa region. Currently, Williams works for a number of London-based print publications including New African magazine.

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