Is the AU blinded by its own vision?

The trend is showing that this third force is actually dominating the policy space of the AU.  And although the likes of Madam Zuma, who exclaims an overly optimistic projection of where Africa would be in the next fifty years, the reality paints a very different picture. 

April 8th, 2015

The talk going around the African continent is about a vision dubbed: Vision 2063.  Something that emerged from a futuristic email entitled: ‘A letter from the future’ by Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the AU Commission.  In the letter Dr Zuma states, amongst other things, that the ultimate dream of Confederation of African States (CAS) had finally been achieved. Not only that but  Pan African companies dominate our domestic market of over two billion people, overtaking multi-nationals from the rest of the world in their own markets. Once troubled regions like Eastern Congo, north-eastern Angola and Zambia’s copper belt are transformed and Kigali, Alexandria, Brazzaville, Maseru, Lagos and Mombasa, are the world’s Silicon valleys. The email to OAU founding father and first president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, presented an Africa at peace with itself and the world; an Africa at par and above other continental giants.  But 2063 is a long way away from 2013, which is the midpoint of the African integration vision started in 1963; something that different leaders chose to approach in different ways.  There were the integrationists and the gradualists, two traditionally dominant sections whose views on how to build the one Africa project differed; yet we understood both perspectives.  

But as of recent we have come to see a third force- ones I would dub the ‘Confusionists’.  

The trend is showing that this third force is actually dominating the policy space of the AU.  And although the likes of Madam Zuma, who exclaims an overly optimistic projection of where Africa would be in the next fifty years, the reality paints a very different picture. 

Progress made at the dawn of the millennium has been aggressively rolled back.  To mention a few facts courtesy of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s 2014 Regional Integration report: Only 5 out of the 54 African countries offer visa-free access or visas on arrival to other African citizens; trucks have to negotiate 47 roadblocks between Kigali & Mombasa – a stretch of 1 438 km; total intra-African trade amounts to only 11.3% of Africa’s total trade with the world; non-African airlines accounting for 80% of the intercontinental market share; all this after 50 years of the OAU/AU vision.  Added to these compelling ‘realities on the ground’, is the sheer lack of political will towards living up to commitments of continental normative frameworks.  There are currently 49 AU treaties, conventions and mechanisms in place (30 are in force and only 2 have been universally ratified by it member states). Most have been signed by AU member states. Few have ratified them and fewer, if any at all, are implemented. A quick glance at the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance-ACDEG, African Peer Review Mechanism-APRM and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption-AUCPCC provides the evidence.  Only 17 countries that have acceded to the APRM have bothered to undergo a country review. Very few members in the APRM have ratified AUCPCC and ACDEG.  Meanwhile, a country like Botswana, a nation hailed for its democratic credentials, decided that it is too good to accede to the governance mechanism, the standard and the convention. Continent wide harmonization of policies and laws are clearly not happening.  

But we cannot say these things too loudly as telling truth to power is becoming ‘un-African’- a taboo.  All of a sudden it is against our culture to criticize our leaders.  And ‘democracy and popular participation’ are being defined sparingly, labelled indiscriminately and conveniently compartmentalized into ‘Western Democracies and African Democracies’. When in reality it is just DEMOCRACY.  Abraham Lincoln may as well have stood in the cradle of Mankind, the banks of the meandering Limpopo and Senegambia rivers, the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro or dunes of the Kalahari and made his famous Gettysburg Address of 1863 (100 years before the OUA was ushered in and 200 years before email from Dr Zuma ‘materialized into reality’) in 2014 that: ‘a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth;’ and receive resounding support from Africans.   The point being- Africans, like everyone else, yearn for liberty, and expect accountability from their leaders, which is vested in mechanisms, and institutions that are transparent and inclusive.  But such a notion is not being embraced by the current AU leadership.  The growing trend of systematic undermining of existing Pan African organs, by heads of state and government is shocking.  Starting with the mother body- the Commission, which is shackled by the embarrassing albatross of a beggar’s bowl foisted on it due to the unwillingness of AU leaders to agree to a funding model that can sustain and drive the African agenda.  Currently a whopping 56% of the AU budget is being paid for by non-Africans. Compare this to the ECOWAS current budget of USD 604 million, 95% of which is funded from its own resources. Only 5% come from donors’ contributions, which begs the question as to, how and why is ECOWAS able to fund its own programs and agenda and not the AU? This is an irony that makes a mockery of the slogans of African solutions to Africa’s problems, African renaissance, shared values etc…mere words on paper, like the letter to Nkrumah.  

Executive power is also gradually being increased at the detriment of other arms of government, creating a skewed relationship and upsetting the concept of separation of powers.  Parliaments are increasingly being weakened. This has affected the quality of representation and ability for oversight by Parliaments and National Assemblies to hold the Executives to account.  A case in point being the recently held 23rd Ordinary AU Summit, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, where heads of state decided not to fully adhere to the principles of the founding fathers of the AU (former presidents Mbeki, Obasanjo, Wade, Bouteflika and Gaddafi-say what you will about him) who amongst other things, envisioned a strong continental legislature-a Pan African Parliament.  They instead decided that the Assembly alone shall determine the subjects/areas on which the Pan African Parliament (representing people of the continent) may legislate or propose draft model laws around; and in the same breath stated that the ‘Pan African Parliament may on its own make proposals on the subjects/areas on which it may legislate, submit or recommend draft Model Laws to the Assembly for its consideration and approval.’ This is confusing. The Assembly may decide not to approve anything, which takes us back to square one or worse. Many people believe that the chances are that Africa will never see an empowered PAP.  And this debate must now surely be transferred to new frontiers where the African citizen can engage.  This is about our future, our democracy, our African Union, and we must remain fully engaged in this debate.   

Some sceptics have stated that it is too soon for PAP to assume full legislative powers, citing the European Parliament as having taken almost three decades to gain any significant law making powers.  This is all well and true.  But Africans have a unique history, a different reality, a pressing urgency, and a greater possibility that they can and should achieve this sooner rather than later. Granted that the African Continent is a complex mix of 54 countries, with challenges of varying degrees- levels of implementation of reforms especially on the governance front, differs greatly together with variation of effective leadership.  But Africa is, nevertheless, a continent that has fought off the colonial yolk,  turned its battered economies of parallel markets, scarcities of foreign exchange and investment, and insolvent public service institutions into workable mechanisms that are attracting more foreign direct investment  than any place else.  Africa has increased the number of countries with democratic credentials and a great many more holding multi-party elections, ended the era of military coups d’etats on the continent and seeing incumbencies dislodged through the ballot, in a single generation.   The African continent has managed to establish no less than a dozen AU organs, six Treaty bodies, and 49 OAU/AU Treaties, Conventions, Protocols & Charters; all this in half a century, all largely due in part to strong and able leadership.  But Africa is currently experiencing a leadership deficit and civil society must address this by not allowing its current leaders to slow and derail progress toward the AU vision.   

The assertiveness of the African citizenry who stood up for democracy, going against the tides of strong men, one party states, military dictatorships and unconstitutional changes of governments through the majoritarian principle must be rekindled. African civil society must not rest on their laurels.   The current trend that Africans are witnessing, of leaders reneging on promises made, self-indemnification and propagation of impunity through diplomatic sophistry is enough food for thought. African civil society should therefore continue to play a role of accelerating progressive transformation and policy reforms that align with continental normative standards.  It must not relent in this quest.  It must continue to advocate for a strong continental institution with oversight that protects the interest of the African citizenry, through open debate, effective monitoring mechanisms, which demand greater accountability from leaders.  

Engaging with  therefore, must be a priority. The AU is the only continental organisation where its executive prepares and adopts the budget without any input or oversight from the representatives of its people. After all, PAP MPs are the representatives that are closest to their constituencies, whereby the derivation of authority to speak on behalf of the African citizenry within their national platforms can be harmonized, through the voices being echoed at the continental level. The ordinary citizens too must be accorded the opportunity to articulate their aspirations and demand a greater responsibility of leaders that they be governed well.  To stall and overlook this opportunity of following through on transforming the continental legislative body will be a travesty on so many levels.  The role that PAP can play in advancing the AU project is immense. Its mandate to dispense its duties and responsibilities is fundamentally central to everything that embraces the cardinal principles of integration, free movement of people and commodities, rule of law, good governance and accountability in a free and prosperous Africa; something that one billion Africans aspire toward and yearn for. 

But the vision of a united Africa will not be realized unless Africa commits to a seismic shift from rhetoric to reality. Mere letters to dead political icons will not suffice.  But concrete action will.  This should be AU’s shared values, this should be the answer to African solutions to Africa’s problems, and this should be the foundation on which the African Renaissance is anchored.

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