Kigali Summit marks shift in how AU does business

Last week this column asked a question: how different will the AU Summit in Kigali be? We can now safely answer: it has been different and was bound to be.

Last week this column asked a question: how different will the AU Summit in Kigali be? We can now safely answer: it has been different and was bound to be.

But it is not being different alone that will define the Kigali Summit, but rather how much of its outcome has been implemented.

Now to those decisions that will mark the Kigali summit.

The African Union will soon be at its full complement when the only country that is not a member is allowed to rejoin the organisation.

For thirty two years, Morocco has been out of the African Union. In fact it was not there when the AU was formed, having marched out of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, when the rest of Africa recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) as an independent state. Morocco claims this to be its province.

This year, Morocco decided that three decades was a long time to be away from family and friends and so asked to rejoin the continental body.

What has changed? Not much on the ground. But Morocco must have come to the conclusion that staying out had not yielded much and getting back in might serve a better purpose. And so they want to return and have made a formal request.

The AU members must also have arrived at the conclusion that exclusion of one of their own isn’t very helpful and grant Morocco’s request. It may not be so immediately, but the fact that the step has been taken is in itself significant.

In the past, strict adherence to ideology or expression of solidarity tended to inform most decisions. Increasingly, however, there has been a noticeable shift to pragmatism in politics and diplomacy. For Rwandans, this has been a familiar story these last two decades. Reconciliation is part of the national ethic as is abhorrence for exclusion of whatever sort.

A pragmatic approach to issue allows for the re-evaluation of certain positions and relationships. Rigid ideological positions make the search for workable solutions difficult. On the other hand, flexibility works better and does not in any way mean dilution of conviction.

It is simply a means of accommodating alternative viewpoints. Similarly, consensus gets better results. It is smarter politics and diplomacy to bring everyone on board.

In this sense the Kigali Summit might mark the point when pragmatism finally took centre stage.

For a long time the AU has been grappling with the question of financing its activities. The organisation, founded to foster Africa’s independence and development, has had to depend on donor funding. This must have been an extremely embarrassing, if not humiliating, situation.

Self-reliance has been on the lips of African leaders since independence but its realisation has remained elusive. It seems finally the summit in Kigali came up with a financing mechanism that should save us from further embarrassment.

African countries will raise up to 1.2 billion dollars from taxes to fund the activities of the AU Commission. It is an important step. It means there is a definite move to reduce, if not break, dependence. It means many of them do not have to take instructions from those who pick their bills before they come to the summit.
Or as President Idris Deby of Chad and Chairperson of the AU said, it gives Africa the ability to take our destiny in our hands.

Another perennial problem for the AU has been resolving conflicts and ensuring peace. In the run up to this month’s summit in Kigali, fighting flared up again in South Sudan between the forces of President Salva Kiir and those of his vice president Riek Machar.

Contrary to previous practice where the approach regarding the actions of fellow leaders has been softly-softly, this time the organisation is taking a tough stance.

The regional body IGAD proposed unusually tough measures. They want UN Security Council authority to intervene and impose peace in South Sudan. That requires increasing the number of troops.

The AU has bought into the IGAD proposals, and with the readiness of some countries in the region to raise their troop levels in South Sudan, no one can accuse Africa of indifference to the plight of the long-suffering people of South Sudan.

In another departure from tradition, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar were named in person as bearing the responsibility for the conflict in their country. Indeed President Idris Deby called on the two men to accept responsibility for the situation in their country.

All these were possible because the Kigali Summit focused exclusively on African issues. That in turn was the result of keeping away external interests and lobby groups that usually lurk in the corridors and waylay African leaders to advance or influence actions they favour.

In this sense the Kigali Summit has set the standard and direction for future summits.

The general verdict is of a successful summit. The real test will be in how many of the resolutions will have been implemented by the next summit.