‘…Therefore the skillful General captures cities without laying siege to them. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.’ -Sun Tzu, Art of War (III 6-7)
If you want to avoid solving a problem, you must start at the end, a maxim is known to say. Tales of a United Africa are told through songs, literature and speech since, at least the first wave of African independence in the early 60s, galvanizing guerrilla groups, university agitation and popular uprising across our continent, with Romanesque ideology and a sense of moral high ground.
Like ‘democratic’, ‘People’s’ or ‘Revolutionary’; ‘Pan-Africanist’ had, over time became a sobriquet appropriated by forces of good and evil alike and thus been emptied of any concrete meaning; typically clamored by tyrants to evade international scrutiny or – my favorite – sung with melancholy by elders at dusk, after a calabash or two of Mokombthi, Banana or palm wine…
Anywhere else, the hour for revolution and romance, dreams of chaos and systemic change had come and gone, except in Africa. Alas! According to the Nuer of South Sudan, ‘the hyena says: All roads lead to a village…’ The music had to be stopped and in ushered sobriety and substance to the empty slogans that had come to be of African Unity.
That the new African Union Chairperson and his team of reformists meet resistance in their mission is in the order of things, afterall, they are attempting to implement the Pan-African threat; they are threatening to bring down the African Wall!
The aforesaid songs played in my mind as I consulted the mixed tarot reading, a day after the Summit by the usual psychic: ‘Kagame imposes his method!’ one France-based paper titled, profiling the reform team to highlight the absence of this or that block, imagining a clash of egos and personal rivalries; amplifying negotiation procedures into stumbling blocks, all to conclude that African reform remains a pipe dream… One song hit home; ‘Quand l’Afrique va se réveiller, ca va faire Mal!’ by Yvorian Signer Doumbia Moussa Fakoly, a.k.a Tiken Jah Fakoly: ‘When Africa wakes up, it’s going to upset!’ (http://bit.ly/2nqUZDa)
Kagame they fear, is disruptive, he has disrupted Rwanda, broke up with business as usual. What people call disruption however is rather routine in Asia, in Germany, in Ethiopia and is the work ethic of most fast growing economies.
If the African Union requires reforms, fifty years into existence before fulfilling the dream of Nkrumah, its founding father, it is that there are persistent hurdles that have hindered such vital reforms, as Tiken Jah intones, ‘Tout le monde veut le paradis, mais personne ne veut payer le prix’ : ‘all want paradise but no one wants to pay the price’ (http://bit.ly/1Ovk46q); As it turns out, people do not voluntarily contribute to their own obsolescence, redundancy and decay. Any change that is perceived, wrongly or rightly to disrupt established forces and interests is resisted.
In different proportions, President Kagame encountered similar resistance in Rwanda to which coercive force couldn’t do. His leadership knew how to harness Africa’s philosophy of Ubuntu; enshrined as 10(6) fundamental principle of the Rwandan constitution: ‘constant quest for solutions through dialogue and consensus’, captured in the Zulu phrase ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’, reflected in the Senegalese ‘Teranga’ spirit; the Zimbabwean ‘Ubukhosi’, the Oromo’s ‘Gada’, and in all tribes across Africa.
The philosophy, which devises that a human being is a human being through human beings, strives to reach beyond a purely managerial approach and strengthens an attitude of open conversations. ‘Coercive powers were generally not employed by the chief to achieve Unity of purpose through the process of consensus building’ (Ayittey, 1991, p. 100). In reforming the AU, Ubuntu reflects a critical discourse because it includes the voice of all participants in the organization and the building of consensus.
Through the years, President Kagame has sharpened the mastery of consensus seeking, and resisting environments are his element. In every situation he selects his soldiers: Amina Mohammed, Mariam Mahamat Nour, Vera Songwe, Cristina Duarte, Acha Leke, Strive Masiyiwa, Kaberuka, Tito Mboweni, Carlos Lopes and now Hajer Gueldich, a team chosen, not for their political or tribal affiliations, but for their successful track record.
This was the first disruption; attempts at reforming Africa had been tried, entities erected and gradually failed into inertia having been ‘captured’, to become the proverbial cemeteries of ideas and agency. President Kagame would never be ‘captured’ into sterile speeches and action-less undertakings by interest groups and regional cronies.
Yet, as he said repeatedly, his action will succeed only with the support of the African elite; I focus on the elite, because the crisscrossing of small vendors, at African border posts everyday, testifies of the endorsement of the working class for Africa’s full integration. However, it may be easier to achieve political will at Heads of States level. Beyond the formal gesture of signing pacts and cutting ribbons, substantively the 0.2% levy must be collected, the non-tariff barriers removed, the borders, the marketplace, the skies and our hearts opened.
Let the people, the produce and the birds of Africa move unhindered on the continent of our ancestors; by removing barriers, Africa will have taken down a huge vestige of colonialism and sent a message to all nations of the world that Africa is officially open for business!
These reforms will reveal Africans who clamor for emancipation, so long as they are not asked to make sacrifices. As he assumed Chairmanship, the common airspace was launched, on the soundtrack of Jeanne Kaligirwa’s liberation ballad: ‘Turaje ibihumbi n’ibihumbi’: ‘We are coming in thousands’ (http://bit.ly/2Fz4OFX); by march this year, free movement of goods will be launched and Insh’Allah, a Visa-Free Africa will be achieved within his tenure too!
For that we must take a moment to think of those who started this journey, didn’t make it, but set in motion the wind of change that will hopefully sweep across the African continent in this year. Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel and more recently, Moummar Gadhaffi, Abdoulaye Wade, Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo. Yet, this has not only been an agency of heads of states, it was too, a struggle of civil servants, scholars, artists and activists, all Pan-Africanists who share enthusiasm and passion for our continent and our people.
Unlike in times past, Africa’s prosperity won’t be consumed by politics and ideology. The virtues of African integration have been known to all and for long. Debates on the subject have been held, exhausted, closed and opened again; mindset is like religion and it won’t change in a year. President Kagame won’t dwell on that; he will hire effective technocrats, push tangible pacts and programs; He is not a preacher, he is a strategist, a general of the army.
In Things Fall Apart (1958), Chinua Achebe ironizes: ‘The sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them.’ While the journey must be inclusive and consultative, we must accept that those ready to move will board on the plane while others follow at their pace, however, they must know that this is the last call of the African flight; ‘C’est le dernier appel de vol Afrique’ (http://bit.ly/1mVQj2x). If Tiken Jah says it, it must be true.
As for those who pose preconditions upon our success, the defeatist zero sum game is a thing of the past; Africa can and will succeed within its current status, or lets narrow it down: The African passport can be issued now, the free economic area can be implemented now, the self-funding 0.2% levy can be collected now, the integrated air space will be implemented now.
We Rwandans believe that words create matter, and thus eschew speaking ill to travelers. Allow me then, to prophecy godspeed upon the African reform team;
By the time his chairmanship is done: One African Network will be alive, routing all international calls from Africa; removing roaming charges for all inter-Africa calls, while reducing and harmonizing tariffs for all international calls. That’s one of the flagship projects of Smart Africa. By the time he is done, Africa will have strongly and irreversibly moved into becoming a one single digital market, increasing inter-African digital trade capturing the flow of data that has become the new oil…
To those understandably in doubt; let these few stories, told to me by a friend, be your encouragement:
First: The ‘0.2% levy on eligible imports’ to fund AU Programs – It was adopted only in July 2016 at the Kigali Summit, and one-and-a-half years later already 21 countries are implementing it and ten more countries indicated that they were working out technical details It is expected that more than half of member States will be using the mechanism in the course of this year of 2018 a record in the history of the AU!
Secondly, the structure of the 0.2% levy solves a number of entrenched AU problems. The state is no longer a contributor, but a mere collector. The funds are collected on importers, deposited in special central bank accounts and remitted directly, which solves the problem of late payment of membership fees and defaults. Also since it is a new tax, the Africa Union will be funded, not by the good will of the state, but directly by the people.
Thirdly, the Heads of State adopted the Protocol on Free Movement of People, which has many complexities and announced at the Summit in Addis that there will be a special summit in late March in Kigali to adopt the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) — a huge step that has been pending for a long time. To quote a legendary song by Cameroonian military band the ‘Golden Sounds’, Zamina mina, waka waka, it’s time for Africa! (http://bit.ly/2nwehGE)
To conclude, reporting on the AU reform process has been misleading in the sense that President Kagame was appointed not elected. He isn’t the boss, he is the servant. It is up to Africans to direct him and he executes. So he won’t ‘impose’ his method, like those articles say; first because, apart from ‘his legendary word, being his bond’, he has no leverage beyond Rwanda, but also, in his own words, he learned from Professor Alpha Conde and President Deby on how to lead the Union and will be counting on the-already-shining efficiency of the Chairperson of the Commission, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat. Within the framework of the AU reforms, he is only the boss of Strive Masiyiwa, Acha Leke, Donald Kaberuka and other members of the team he picked after receiving the mandate from his bosses, namely the African Heads of States, who comprise the Assembly of the Union, which he was called to reform.
More importantly, aware that implementation is where the Union has fallen short, the implementation of the institutional reform is conducted by a special Reform Implementation Unit in the Chair’s office.
Samuel Beckett once said, ‘to find the form that accommodates the mess, that’s the task of the artist‘; virtually all the elements in the Reform Report presented by President Kagame in January 2017 (and then adopted as a formal AU Assembly Decision) were drawn from previous reports and reform initiatives. His method was to pick out the most important and urgent of the many things that had already been committed to, and propose that it made sense to prioritize them, in light of current regional and global conditions.
In forums like these, the key to implementation is really political consensus-building which require constant efforts and attention, at each stage. It’s not as simple as: We agreed this, now just do it! Things always arise and need discussion etc., which is normal and that’s where President Kagame’s style of leadership, informed by Rwanda’s post-conflict nation-building, focused on results, but highly attuned to the need for consultation and re-consultation — is very well suited to this task.
To those fearing for their jobs within the AU commission, I am told all that’s needed is a clarification of mandates and processes within agencies, but that AU needs more qualified people, not fewer.
And to the African media, while it’s hard to write stories about complex international agreements and make them interesting to readers, we ought to try. If African media does not run the show, all we’ll hear of western media are rumors of political disagreements within our union, which will erode citizen’s ownership – a key pillar to our agenda 2063.