AU reforms: Member States must go an extra mile

Late last week, a team of experts advising on African Union reform met with President Kagame in Gabiro – where he was chairing the annual National Leadership Retreat—to discuss how far their work is progressing.

President Paul Kagame presented to the 28th African Union (AU) Summit, in Addis Ababa recommendations for institutional reforms of the African Union to enable establishment of a system of governance that is effective in tackling challenges facing the continental body.

President Kagame was given the assignment by heads of state and government during the 27th AU summit held in Rwanda in July 2016.

The reform process was hailed by many as something that should have taken place many years ago, but better late than never.

In as much as the 27th AU summit, held in Rwanda in June 2016, adopted the Kigali Declaration with a formula on how to raise the required financing of the AU, and do away with external dependence, almost 8 months down the road, observers are concerned with the slow progress by member countries with a mere less than 5% said to have initiated the process of the proposed self-reliance funding mechanism!

Freedom has a cost; therefore, AU member states have to agree to make sacrifices to raise the required financial contributions.

On the side of Rwanda, a law that will enable the country to collect her contribution to the AU through tax levy on imports has already been put in place.

“The speed at which Rwanda implements key decisions is the source of the country’s rapid development and transformation.  Kagame is leading the AU reform by example”, a regional lawmaker observed recently.

This probably was the reason behind the 27th AU summit to have their trust in the Rwandan president to prescribe medicine for a seemingly chronic ailment of Africa’s foreign aid dependence.

Currently, 74% of the AU funding is sourced from donors, while an estimated 30% of member countries are sadly said to be defaulting on their contributions either in part or in totality!

This, therefore, makes the AU not able to fund its activities. The proposal of the Kigali Declaration, if maintained, the AU will be able to raise $1.2 billion which is beyond the required annual budget of $782 million.

The problem of Africa is not about lack of resources, but rather more about lack of commitment and a right sense of ownership by member states.

Quoting President Kagame’s AU reform proposal adopted in key decisions of the 28th AU summit, “The African Union stands at yet another crossroads in its history. It can carry on down the same road or change direction to become more relevant.

‘‘The decision to change lies with the leaders. It is time to guarantee our citizens a continent in which they can thrive”.  This is a very powerful statement given the fact that much of Africa’s problems are largely self-inflicted through weak leadership and absence of accountable governance.

Good intentioned decisions for the betterment of the African citizens are taken, yet their implementation remains a nightmare or when it happens it is at a snail’s speed. Furthermore, the AU member states do not fulfil their obligation of financial contribution, making the continental body look like a child neglected by its parents!

Unless African leaders take the mantle to reverse this trend, the African continent will remain trapped at the bottom of the global economy and the international governance system.             

According to Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International (2016), 50% of ten most corrupt countries in the world are in Africa, a position consistently held since 2014.

Countries like Denmark and New Zealand, which are the least corrupt countries in the world, vest safeguards against corruption and abuse of power mainly in a strong belief in integrity rather than formal rules.

The big question here is; what prevents African leaders and others in positions of authority from living with the right morals?

 The African continent loses billions of dollars annually due to poor governance and corruption. Taking a few examples, between 2012 t0 2013, studies indicate that  Nigeria lost $6.8 billion, Angola $4.2 billion,  while the Democratic Republic of Congo,  lost $1.3 billion,  in underpriced mine privatisation deals,  an amount more than double of what was  spent on health and education combined!

A country like Kenya which finances more than 90% of her state budget, with an estimated GDP of $74.7 billion but ranked 145th out 176 countries in terms of corruption, can easily become a donor to other African countries if it curbed corruption.

If the African Union takes serious measures to fight corruption, then it is possible for Africa to stop the donor dependence syndrome.

Rwanda is ranked the 3rd  least corrupt country in Africa (TI, 2016); giving hope that President Kagame can as well provide the AU reform process with the formula he used to curb corruption in his country.

The AU reform should seriously tackle the immoral culture of stealing with impunity public resources which hampers Africa’s development.

Africa does not belong to a third world by any standards in terms of  natural resources, as it holds  90% of the world’s cobalt and platinum, 50% of gold, 98% of chromium, 30% of world diamond reserves and much more.

DR Congo alone has 70% of the world’s coltan and an estimated $24 trillion of untapped minerals, which, if exploited,  makes the country number the richest country in Africa.

Unfortunately, most African countries with massive mineral resources come at the bottom of the Global Human Development Index, with the highest infant mortality rates!

According to the African Development Bank, about 620 million people, equivalent to 60% of the African population,  have no access to electricity, yet DRC alone has the potential to produce 100,000MW, Ethiopia 37,000MW and Cameroon 23,00MW of hydro power, not mentioning other potential sources of renewable energy.

The current trend of absurdity can be reversed if the AU took a more proactive approach of collective ownership and use of Africa’s resources.

Though agriculture supports 90% of Africa’s population and more than 70% of those employed in the sector are from poor communities, unfortunately, the African farmer remains largely poor due to inability to export processed commodities, yet Africa buys back processed products at exorbitant prices.

There are few agro-processing industries for value addition. Sadly, Africa spends $35 billion annually on food imports when it has the potential of being a world’s food basket. Connecting farm production, processing and distribution can eliminate poverty from millions of poor households.

The key decisions of the 28th AU summit give hope of Africa’s new approach meant to strengthen the AU, with the good news that Africa’s economy is on a positive trend, with its GDP projected to reach $2.6 trillion in 2020.  However, the AU still faces a few more traditional challenges.

The Union seem to be still lacking true African Unity. Let me explain. When the continental body is making vital decisions that require voting, countries still group themselves along colonial ties; calling themselves Anglo-phone, francophone, and so on, making the spirit of oneness quite fragile.

Africans must emancipate themselves from the mental slavery of accepting that they belong to others or are identified by foreign languages.

Again, the AU can do much better on security matters especially on conflict prevention and rapid response to intervene in cases of escalated violence or war on the continent.

The conversation of a new Africa we want looks to be in the offing with the institutional reform of the African Union, more than 50 years after independence of most African states.

In the words of Frantz Fanon, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”.  I believe that the current generation will not.

The AU entrusted President Kagame to spearhead the reform process with much confidence that he is the right man– a leader who has, in less than two decades, transformed a country called Rwanda from the brink of a failed state,  to a secure, progressive,   unified and hopeful nation.

The African heads of state and government have to take the lead to create a New Africa, with a renewed attitude and mind-set.

The Outgoing AU Commission chairperson, Dlamini Zuma, while opening the 30th session of the executive council of the AU, commented on what Africa needs to do to achieve its goal for 2063, saying,   “First and foremost, it requires that we revive and strengthen the spirit of Pan-Africanism, unity and solidarity. It means we have to guard our unity, and not allow ourselves to be divided and diverted from our agenda”. I couldn’t agree more.

The writer is is a journalist and Pan Africanist.

Twitter:  @GeraldMbanda