With Egypt as the new African Union (AU) Chair, the theme of the summit and the body of work set to take place in 2019 is dedicated to “Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons”. In view of prevailing internal domestic issues across countries and continent wide challenges; internecine conflict, repression, economic driven migration, and climate change, a lingering question is whether the African Union is fit for purpose .
The challenges to the AU remain systemic, systematic and synergetic, and therefore addressing particular issue areas is not as simple as clustering policy initiatives because of the inter-linkages between the issues. Three core areas need to be addressed simultaneously in order to make inroads for an efficient AU. These are: 1) institutional capacity and reform, 2) concretizing a responsive and realistic security architecture, and 3) implementing a continent wide political economic integration, including the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), notwithstanding the consolidation of regionalisation.
While the AU has made improvements to its institutional capacities, operational systems and procedures over the years, a number of improvements still need to be made to daily operations in terms of finance, human resources, administration, and other critical areas. The AU has committed itself to meeting standards and performing monitoring and evaluation activities, particularly through digitization. This would mean synthesizing a digitalization policy across the continent.
President Paul Kagame’s reform package provides the architecture to address the institutional capacities of the continental body by redressing systemic and systematic practices that deal with continental priorities, institutional realignment, sustainable financing, operational effectiveness and efficiency. All of this points to an institutional recalibration that will hold greater relevance for Africa in the 21st Century by protecting the human rights of people, creating an environment for economic opportunities and connecting the diaspora in a more pragmatic way to support the continent’s development agenda.
But reforming the AU has been viewed by member-states from different perspectives. This is based on divergent views of what constitutes reforms and what should be the implementation strategy. And, of course, Kagame’s iron fist approach did not always fit well with member-states while there seems to be uncertainty over whether Egypt will advance the reform agenda. In addition, the AU will need to take more divisive steps in holding staff accountable to higher professionalization standards. Reports of not following due diligence processes in political appointments of senior officials and sexual harassment and further discrimination on the basis of gender are further exposed in the tensions among senior leadership officials AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Deputy chairman, Thomas Kwesi-Quartey.
A critical dimension associated with the reforms is the streamlining of the Commissions from eight into six, which will come into effect in 2021. The integration of the Political Affairs Commission with the Peace and Security Cluster demonstrates a crucial aspect of the AU’s engagements in responding to conflict that is supported by a comprehensive approach to implementing the Continental Early Warning System (CEWS) and the African Standby Force (ASF).
In addition, aligning crisis response mechanisms with Regional Economic Communities/Regional Mechanisms(RECs/RMs) for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution is paramount in enabling the new integrated Commission to improve interventions and combine resources in a more productive manner. This means building up capacity and enforcing its own rules and decision-making procedures that is defined by African interests and not dependent on external largesse, especially if the AU is to ‘silence the guns by 2020’.
Of course, politics cannot exist without economics and economic integration holds vast possibilities to mitigate how the AU deals with political and socio-economic difficulties that underpin security challenges across the continent.
Africa’s growth in trade and investment has not reached the potential that it can. According to the UNCTAD Report 2018 Africa accounts for less than 3% of global trade while the 2018 African Trade Report by the African Export-Import Bank notes that intra-African trade constitutes 15%. This is the lowest in comparison to Europe (67%), Asia (58%), North America (48%) and Latin America (20%)
The adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) demonstrates the push for greater Africa-led integration, particularly through the RECs in terms of: better traction in intra-Africa trade; investment in infrastructure that strategically positions populations and services in a manner that complements intra-regional trade; and the growth of African business and greater encouragement to engage in public-private partnerships that contribute and build towards seamless connectivity and coordination between African governments, RECs and the continent.
Needing 22 member-states to ratify the AfCFTA before it can be entered into force, at present, 9 countries have deposited their instruments with the AU Commission, and another 9 are pending for governmental approval. This means that 18 of the 22 are expected to be confirmed.
By the time of the proposed launch of the AfCFTA, which is to take place in Niger in June 2019, member states need the single continental market to move beyond rhetoric if their aspirations of continental economic integration are to be realised. Instead, member states need to become active partners who facilitate competition, intra-African trade liberalization and the free movement of goods and services.
Although it should not be assumed that implementing the AfCTA will automatically guarantee the functioning of REC/RMs across all regions, including the defunct Arab Maghreb Union, such a forward looking roadmap to regional integration is expected to address more proactive growth through job creation, lift people out of poverty and create a responsive pro-poor socio-economic policy framework.
Coupled with the outcomes from the 31st AU summit, held from 25 June to 2 July 2018, where 52 of 55 AU members signed the AfCTA, 47 signed the Kigali Declaration and 30 signed the Protocol on the Free Movement of People, the key decisions from the 32nd AU Summit demonstrate that deadlines cannot be missed and timelines need to be met by member-states. One such deadline is the request to AU ministers working on trade issues to submit schedules on tariffs and trade concessions for African investment, competition and intellectual property rights; this has to be submitted by the July 2019 and January 2020 Sessions of the Assembly.
The AfCTA seems to have widespread approval but it will be political will and member states’ clear intentions and concise actions that advance the continent’s agenda in achieving deeper and robust integration.
Therefore, with the AU’s theme for 2019 focused on: Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Peoples, the three elements of institutional reform, a solid security architecture and economic integration all have significant consequence for Africa’s continental integration agenda, notwithstanding its position and voice in global affairs. With migration a key feature of the above three elements, the AU needs to become an efficient and responsive institution that is fit for purpose. It may not be a perfect fit but the time has come to move beyond platitudes of a continental body that is undermined by crony politics, and selfish interests of leaders. Perhaps the fit for purpose for the AU is a new generation of young leaders that are decisive and innovative when it comes to action and governance as well as to the needs of Africa’s people.
Arina Muresan is a Researcher and Sanusha Naidu a Senior Research Fellow based at the Institute for Global Dialogue.
This blog piece was based on the interviews done by Sanusha Naidu, Senior Research Associate, at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), with Aljazeera