Ping: ‘Together, We Can Succeed In Making Africa’s Voice Heard’

Ping: ‘Together, We Can Succeed In Making Africa’s Voice Heard’
  • PublishedMay 8, 2012

From the crisis in Mali to terrorism in the Sahel region, Jean Ping, the chairperson of the African Union standing for a second term, shares his views.

Interview by Hichem Ben Yaïche and Junior Ouattara.

Q: The Sahel-Saharan region is experiencing a deep crisis. The formation of the Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist group there is not a recent event. What did you do to anticipate this situation, which now seems to be totally out of control?

A: We have always paid particular attention to this region. The Sahel zone is home to all types of trafficking. Drug trafficking, human trafficking… Add to this terrorism, banditry, as well as separatist claims. The main motivation of these traffickers is nothing but money. Therefore, it was important to have an adequate policy in place as this zone is a vast cross-border platform. We have always attracted the attention of governments on the ill-considered distribution of weapons by various parties. The troubles in Libya have heightened tensions in the region. Some very sophisticated weapons have started to circulate.


Q: Beyond this, how are the States and the African Union working together?

A: At three levels of concentric circles. First circle: reaction at the State level. Each country must take responsibility. It must evaluate threats and try to find solutions internally. Second circle: the rallying of certain States to combat the same threat together. In reality, terrorists and traffickers disregard borders. The grouping of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger in what we call the “core countries” is an example of the inter-state structure. Third circle: other countries and international bodies. Some countries fall victim to the influence of certain terrorist groups, either temporarily or permanently, but indirectly. Take Boko Haram in Nigeria for example. Terrorist groups have ties to the AQIM. Likewise, neighbouring countries like Burkina Faso suffer from the collateral effects of these circles of influence. As a result, it’s a question of tackling these problems in their entirety. Bodies such as the African Union and Ecowas are also included in this third circle. The EU is affected by the Sahel problems. If drugs arrive from America and travel through Africa, the final market is none other than Europe. It is also implicated due to the abduction of western citizens.


Q: These alliances can hinder the strategy of individual countries within the region. How can we work towards a better understanding of these key issues?

A: We must set out the ground rules together. If we deal with a problem together and in its totality, then effective solutions will be found. Even the core countries found that Mali was their weakest link. There is no complete harmony between the countries in this region. There are many points of view and approaches to the problems, this is one of the difficulties that we face. Thus, it’s important to broaden our strategy. The core countries must examine these questions with other countries like Libya, which has tried and is continuing to try to standardise relations with its neighbours. We met at Tripoli a few months ago to consider cross-border security. The new authorities criticised some countries for not helping them to stabilise their internal situation. People spoke to each other frankly and solutions were drafted.


Q: You are the embodiment of Africa’s desire to develop a common approach. What are your tools to combat terrorism, famine and all types of trafficking?

A: We must tackle these problems simultaneously, including famine which is a serious phenomenon. Famine fuels misery which, in turn, fuels despair. With regards to conflicts, there is no chance of lasting peace without development. So what are we doing in this regard? Firstly, there is prevention. We have measures in place and we are bringing about solutions. Prevention is better than a cure. When violence erupts, we must contain it.

Take Libya for example. This country mustn’t collapse. It mustn’t become like Somalia, a country in a state of chaos. We believe that we need to help it to turn over a new leaf, to establish lasting peace and to develop justice and democracy. We have opened an office in Tripoli. It is managed by a Tunisian. We have tasked the manager of this office with two main missions: the first is to continue working towards stability. He must collaborate with other organisations (the UN, Arab League, OIC, EU, etc.). The second mission is to help to normalise Libya’s relations with all its neighbours. This is an absolute must!


Q: Mali’s unity is under threat, after a coup d’état, which is currently being resolved, and a partition of the north of the country. What are you doing in light of this situation?

A: We condemn all acts that threaten the national and territorial integrity of Mali.

We are doing everything possible to protect it. More generally, we can mention the work of one of our centres in the fight against terrorism, which is based in Algiers. This centre is committed to assessing the situation in different regions, evaluating the risks and taking action. Today, there are around 70 people working there. It is managed by one of our civil servants originating from Mozambique. He is working in collaboration with all the regions concerned and with the rest of the international community.

When we attract the attention of developed countries, we tell them that it isn’t a Sahel problem. This isn’t just an African problem. Africa provides a through-route for drugs, cocaine, etc, products coming from South America and Latin America. Western Africa serves just as a crossing point for this trade. We are in great danger. We need help in combating this as the end market is Europe. Today, heroin seems to come from Afghanistan. It arrives via Somalia but always heads towards Europe.


Q: You are standing for a second term as the head of the AU against Ms Dlamini-Zuma. How do you feel?

A: I am continuing my mission. I am travelling to Africa. I am meeting leaders. I am behaving like a soldier, getting on with the job in hand. We are making decisions together.


Q: Do you think that this divide within the AU in relation to the forthcoming election will have a lasting effect?

A: There will be difficulties whatever happens. Now, it will be up to him/her who remains to resolve these problems. Perhaps I am ambitious but nevertheless I believe that I am the man. For the time being, we need to concentrate on the here and now.


Q: Many say that you are verging on a certain “Françafrique”? Who or what do you blame for these rumours?

A: There is nothing easier than spreading a rumour. In this case, my detractors are using fallacious arguments, lies. Some people go as far as talking about health problems…All this has just one aim: to destabilise me.


Q: The president of South Africa was very personally involved in the Libyan conflict, acting in a mediatory capacity. What do you think about this?

A: I’m not going to get involved in that. I enforce decisions with which I have been entrusted by the African Union. Some of these decisions are far from being in harmony with French opinion. On the contrary, yet I have enforced them.

Q: Is this divide not a good reason to reform the AU in order to give more decision-making power to the chairperson in office?

A: The African Union is only 10 years old. We can compare it with the European Union. This is facing a serious crisis whilst it is the most integrated regional organisation, the most progressive. For Africa, there are two possible approaches: the Pan-Africanist on the one hand, that supports the top-down development of an AU. This approach has been defended in particular by Gathafi.

On the other hand, there is a more bottom-up approach, meaning through local economic frameworks. We talk about “building blocks”. This approach rests on the idea that we don’t build a house from the top down but from the bottom up. Brick by brick. These two schools of thought have come up against each other without a solution being found, yet we can provide a summary. The “building block” approach is gaining ground. The top-down approach has met with opposition from the States themselves who see it as a desire to forcefully impose a man and an ideology. Through its work, the AU is looking to create a United States of Africa.


Q: Do you feel transformed by the five years spent as the head of the AU?

A: I’m not sure about transformed, but I’ve certainly learned a lot. Above all, I’ve come to understand that Africa’s future relies upon better communication between States. No country, no matter how big it may be, can pull Africa out of the situation in which we find ourselves singlehanded. Individually, there isn’t much we can do, but together we can make the voice of Africa heard. We can change the way that people think.

Take the case of climate change. In the past, each African country would negotiate separately. They were divided….and did nothing but line up behind the Group of 77. This disunion was sterile. Two years ago, for the first time, the AU managed to talk about Africa in a single and unique voice. We were asked to create a framework, a message and content, and we’ve done it! If we succeed, and we will succeed, it will be because we have managed to speak as one.

Written By
New African

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