African Union: The Need for Comprehensive Reforms
These are not the best of times for the African Union. The initial deafening silence of the African Union to the yearnings of the youth in North Africa for political and economic freedom spoke volumes. The hesitant actions of the African Union (AU) as the immediate past president of Ivory Coast cynically refused to hand over power after losing a national election exposed the soft underbelly of the continental organization. As the youth of Tunisia and Egypt cried out for help in their struggle to break free of totalitarian governments, the AU was conspicuously absent. As the youth of Libya sought an end to a heavy handed extra judicial system, the AU did not show up.
|Jean Ping, AU Chairperson Photo courtesy|
During the most momentous, historical four months of youth inspired political change in Africa since the wind of change movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, AU, the premier, continental organization and the custodian of the dreams of an African renaissance in the 21st century was essentially a bystander. I do not believe that the founders of AU envisaged a situation whereby the premier political entity in the continent will have virtually no influence on the most momentous political changes in Africa in the last 50 years.
Today, as bombs fall in Libya and as Western democracies retain the prime position in determining the future of one of the strongest member of the AU, the continental body from all objective analysis is a non factor in the conflict. No amount of buck passing, patriotic slogans, gilded rhetoric and ideological fulminations will hide the inescapable conclusion that AU was not at its best in the last four months of seismic political changes in North Africa. AU needs to reform and reform quickly if it is to seize back its vantage position as the premier fulcrum of Africa’s political destiny. The United Nations resolution 1973 authorizing use of force in Libya and the subsequent military action would not have been necessary if the AU had fulfilled its responsibility to the restive youths of North Africa.
What manner of reforms is necessary for the African Union?
Reforms of the AU should be precise and transparent. Reforms should focus on three important issues that every embattled organization must address if it is to emerge stronger, wiser and more decisive. AU reforms should be conceptual and strategic. It should address legitimacy and responsibilities issues. It should also address short and long term operational issues.
Conceptual/ Strategic Reforms
One of the most fundamental mistakes made in the founding of AU is the implicit and sometimes explicit reliance on external partners to finance or provide technical assistance on core African development initiatives. Africa’s renaissance in the 21st century will germinate, grow and prosper in Africa under the direction of Africans. A fundamental reform of the AU should be a total rededication to the concept of self reliance and self belief that Africa can solve its own problems. As James Shikwati argued on this medium ((http://www.africanexecutive.com/modules/magazine/articles.php?article=5812&magazine=330), Africa can solve its own problems. AU fundamental reforms should be embedded on a new organizational DNA that regards Africa as capable of solving its problems. African leaders should believe that no other organization should and can play the natural role of AU in 21st Century Africa. Closely related to a fundamental focus on self reliance and self belief is the need for AU to be tenaciously immersed and committed to population-based democracy, rule of law and individual economic freedom. AU should never again waver from total commitment to democracy and human rights. In addition to self reliance, self belief and commitment to democracy, AU needs to accelerate the actualization of its development partnerships with Africans in the Diaspora. The road to sustained Africa renaissance will include important stops in Africa Diaspora communities. Africa can benefit from the sustained contributions of Africans in the Diaspora. AU conceptual/strategic reforms should be anchored on four immovable planks: self reliance, self belief, deep commitment to democracy and deepening of development partnerships with Africans in the Diaspora. This AU conceptual/strategic reform requires strong leadership from South Africa and Nigeria, the two largest economies in the continent.
Legitimacy and Responsibility Reforms
AU needs fundamental reforms regarding its legitimacy and responsibility to all Africans living in North, South, East and West of the continent. How best can AU channel the hopes, desires and aspirations of ordinary Africans and their families? How can AU respond to the needs and aspirations of Africa’s future leaders, the youth? Is the AU addressing issues that matter most to millions of Africans? A representative organization can never be strong if it is inherently disconnected from the population it represents. A political organization with little evidence of connection to its grassroots is likely to be caught flatfooted on key issues. The AU needs to beef up its parliament to better channel the aspirations of grassroots on its policy making functions. AU should also reform its various forums for civil society to encourage better representation. To survive, AU must figure out a way to reach and understand issues relevant to the daily struggles of millions of African families.
AU needs to embark on immediate short term reforms that will last for the next two or three years. The major focus of the short term reform should be on how best to transform the African Union Commission (AUC) into a world class institution. AUC urgently needs to be strengthened to address peace and security issues in the continent; to better unlock trade between member states through freer movement of people, goods and services across national borders and between regions; to strengthen the role of regional economic communities, and; to better coordinate technical and operational collaboration between the AUC, the Africa Development Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. It is important to note that a short staffed AUC cannot neither solve all problems in Africa nor respond to all mandates. AUC needs to streamline its operations to focus on most urgent issues. For effective representation and better internal operational management, the Chairperson of AUC should explicitly have the recognition, privilege and protocol entitlements of a sitting head of state. The chairperson of AUC, the day-to-day public face of the AU should have the capacity to make decisive operational decisions and should perform representation duties at the highest possible level.
For the longer term (4-15 years), AU should focus on regional integration issues (a common passport, a common currency, cost effective regional infrastructure projects, viable transcontinental projects, and so on); establishment of continental democracy, law, investment and human rights institutions, and; and make final decisions regarding the desirability or otherwise of a political union of member states or a United States of Africa.
The AU is a 21st century creation. It can only operate effectively if it is attuned to 21st century issues. Political repression, stifling of political/economic space and disregard for the yearnings of the youth are unlikely to survive a 21st century that continues to place tools of information technology on more hands and in more homes around the world. In Africa, where the largest segment of the population is less than 30 years of age, unstoppable changes are afoot. Any organization that purports to represent the dreams and aspirations of African people must be in front of the curve of inevitable changes, not behind or besides the curve. The African Union was caught flatfooted during the most consequential four months of changes in Africa since the wave of political independence 50 years ago. The African Union has a unique opportunity to embark on comprehensive reforms to regain its vaunted status as the hope and embodiment of Africa’s renaissance in the 21st Century.
By Dr. Chinua Akukwe
The author is former Chairman of the Technical Board of the Africa Center for Health and Human Security, George Washington University, Washington, DC. He has written extensively on health and development issues in Africa.
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