AU Institutional Reform: A Flicker of Hope?

November 30, 2018 Africa , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

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Fanuel Lakew



The recent institutional reform of the African Union (AU), under the leadership of its current chairperson Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Commissioner Moussa Faki Mahamat, would bring a flicker of hope to the continent if it was backed by the political will and leadership commitments of the member states, so remarked experts on African politics and diplomacy.


The institutional reform, which was adopted by the member states at the 11th AU Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the Union held here in Addis, consists of four action areas—enable the AU to finance itself in the long term; focus the organization on key priorities with continental scope; realign AU institutions to deliver against those priorities and manage the business of the AU effectively in both political and operational terms.


Experts on the area argue that the politics and commitment of the member states does really matter for the realization of the AU institutional reform as the power of the union relies upon them. Otherwise, experts argue that the process would be like business as usual which the continent has been experiencing for years.


Pertaining to the reform to reduce donor dependence, Rita Kiki Edozie, Professor of Global Governance and African International Relations at the University of Massachusetts, related to me that member states feel bad about the reality that 72 per cent of the AU’s programs are funded externally and they are aware that this fact opens the door to greater dependency of the union on the west especially.


As a result of this, dependency also leads to a subtle form of neo-colonialism whereby the AU is used by international organizations to fund non-African priorities for the continent rather than the self-determined goals formulated by Africans, she added, saying the reform priority to reduce donor dependence is a necessary, important step toward AU Agenda 2063.


In an exclusive interview, William Reno, who is a Political Science Professor and African Studies Program Director at Northwestern University in Illinois, related to me that this pledge is a reflection of aspirations. “Most governments really would like to reduce donor dependence, but some countries on the continent still rely heavily on donors to provide basic services, then take political credit when their citizens get these benefits.”


Moreover, Endale Nigussie, School of Diplomacy and International Relations Head at the Ethiopian Civil Service University, on his part says that the institutional reform is must and timely to reduce AU’s financial dependence on external powers. He argues that AU’s financial dependence on others actors causes it not to have an independent policy and ownership rights over its own tasks.


Thus, it is much better for the AU to finance itself relying on member states as it would bring a positive outcome. Depending on foreign aid is and will not be reliable for the union as there is no free lunch in international relations. Otherwise, AU would remain a toothless dog, Endale adds.


Similarly, member states also have to combat corruption, money stealing and laundry that goes abroad which causes Africa to lose billions of dollars every year, he adds saying the Africans money deposited in western countries could build the continent and assist the vision of the union to bring Africans as one.


In addition to this, Minas Feseha, Legal Advisor and Consultant on Peace and Security issues, seconds that aforementioned views saying financing the AU would be possible in the long run based on the political will and commitment of the member states. It is because the power of the AU relies upon the member states. So far, AU’s plan of financing itself has not been achievable because few members states were committed to contributing 0.2 per cent levy to the union. The introduction of the sanction regime would be helpful to realize equal and responsible participation of all member states.


Minas also said that the member states ratified 681 million USD as the annual budget of the AU. There is a 12 per cent budget reduction as compared to last fiscal year. This shows that the union has identified major focus areas setting the budget to all departments and utilizing them effectively unlike the previous years, Minas added. Minas further noted that 14 countries already contributed 0.2 per cent levy and other 23 countries are on the process to fulfil this duty. This is a great move which the continent have never experienced.


Moreover, Rita Kiki Edozie points out that the implementation of the 0.2% levy on eligible imports is a good idea, and the AU has established a Committee of Ten African Finance Ministers to spearhead the process to assume responsibility for oversight of the AU budget and Reserve Fund and develop a set of ‘golden rules’, establishing clear financial management and accountability principles and establishment of the use of a Reserve Fund for continental priorities.


Some experts argue that the reform of the AU may bring an implication to the Regional Economic Communities (RECs). It is because there is a political and economic fragmentation on the continent.


With regard to this issue, Rita Kiki Edozie says that the value and process of subsidiarity between the AU and the regional economic communities have been a long-standing continental strategy to affect African integration toward ultimate political-economic union. She further notes that it doesn’t represent fragmentation but simply democratic federalism. It is more efficient and democratic for the AU to function as the “federal” steering committee and work in an overarching way with its RECs in a partnered, power-sharing way, Rita adds.


William Reno argues that the RECs actually work well in some instances, and shouldn’t be seen as rivals to the AU. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for example, has a strong record of dealing with regional security issues. In addition, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is a serious player in the Horn of Africa. These organizations work because they are more responsive to the actual concerns of the major powers in these regions.


Similarly, Endale says that RECs should be considered as building blocks of the AU and they cannot be against it. RECs have also proximity for the sub-regions they work in so that they can be resourceful for the AU vision to integrate the continent. However, rivalries and unnecessary competition among states in the RECs have to be resolved. Equal participation of members in the RECs must be ensured.


However, Minas says that RECs don’t want to be subsidized under the AU. He also says that there is also membership and task overlaps between the AU and RECs. This creates a gap between them.


Furthermore, the fourth focus action of the reform is to manage the business of the AU effectively in both political and operational terms. In this regard, there are barriers to do businesses across the continent such as a visa. And only a few countries offer visa-on-arrival services to African nationals.


Rita Kiki Edozie notes that the All-Africa or Common African passport will help advance the goals of managing businesses. She further notes that the passport is not just a step toward connecting African countries economically and politically; it is another symbol of African unity signalling to businesses that they can cross borders with ease. “Of course, there will be challenges in implementing all three passport types – ordinary, business/government, and diplomatic – but the AU’s charge to create the conditions for member states to issue the passport to their citizens, within their national policies, as and when they are ready is the right step.”


Moreover, Endale argues that these barriers do exist because of the lack of political will by African leaders. So that African countries should somehow need to compromise and surrender their sovereignty for the realization of the Au institutional reform.


William Reno underscores that new technological developments may make the on-line electronic visas a more viable option. These actually allow for more thorough and accurate visitor movements than the traditional visa stamped or pasted into a passport. While some will be concerned about privacy issues, this method may be more effective for increasing border security. Continental integration and shared visa protocols are separate, though related issue, he adds.


However, Horace G. Campbell, Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University in New York, opposes the view mentioned above. The professor argues that the ‘reforms’ and the REC are the continuations of the minimalist positions adopted by the current leaders after they jettisoned the discussions for the full unification of Africa by 2015 at the 2007 AU summit in Accra, Ghana.


He as well says that the idea of donor dependence arises because there is not a clear understanding of capital flight from Africa. The Thabo Mbeki/UNECA report on illicit capital flight from Africa outlined the fact that every year over the 50 billion USD is illicitly shipped out of Africa, he adds saying if the AU concentrates on the return of the stolen assets from Africa, there will be no need for the so-called ‘donor’ dependence. Africans must be at the forefront of enforcing the United Nations StAR (The Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative).


Moreover, Prof. Campbell notes that progressive and committed Africans will have to use the returned funds to invest in the reconstruction and transformation of Africa. The AU discussions on ‘reforms’ are very similar to the Structural Adjustment ‘reforms’ of the World Bank and the Washington Consensus, as to him. As long as the AU focus on ‘reforms’ and not on the Kwame Nkrumah program of free movement of people, common currency, common monetary policy and an African common market, then the discussions will go nowhere.


He points out that the French led the way for the destruction of Libya. There can be no reconstruction, freedom of movement, and common free trade area until France ends its destabilization of Africa. Recently, the President of France apologized for the crimes against humanity committed by France in Algeria. There is the need for a committed push by the African Union to establish the African Union Commission for Reparations and join with the Caribbean Reparations Commission, he adds.


According to Prof. Campbell, there has been little or no evidence of movement toward the REC since 2007. The region that was the most advanced in this direction, the East African Community (EAC) is bogged down by war as a business in Somalia and imperial intrigue in the Horn of Africa. He as well argues that the biggest obstacle to African unification remains external powers, he adds.


He argues that external powers work full time to oppose the coming into force of the African Currency. “The 14 countries in Africa that are held hostage by the CFA [currencies used in parts of West and Central African countries which are guaranteed by the French treasury] cannot participate in meaningful discussions about ‘reforms’ or a common currency.


Prof. Contends that Consider the possible impact if one country in Africa such as Nigeria and Ghana started to make claims for reparations and mobilized the African Union to implement the outcomes of the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) program of action.


The progressive women who pushed to expose sexual harassment and corruption in the African Union will need to mobilize with the Pan African women from the USA, Caribbean and South America to lead the struggle for dignity and the unification of Africa.


All in all, member states should be committed to the reform of the AU. The current AU Chairperson Rwandan President Paul Kagame says that: “We have everything needed to succeed. To fail Africa again would be unforgivable.” Thus, experts argue that political will in this regard is crucial to attaining the reform in a sustainable way.





Fanuel Lakew

Fanuel Lakew is a reporter at the Ethiopian Herald Newspaper of the Ethiopian Press Agency. He did his B.A. degree in Political Science and International Relations from Addis Ababa University in 2012. He also served as the Secretary-General of the Ethiopian Political Science and International Relations. He as well studied M.A. in Politics and International Relations at the Central University of Gujarat, India. He can be reached at [email protected]

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