Friday, April 19, 2024
In DepthAnother year, another summit. Can the AU live up to expectations?

Another year, another summit. Can the AU live up to expectations?

It is the time of year when Addis Ababa plays host to the leaders of Africa as they gather for a collaborative look at the issues pressing the continent and the world at large.

The agenda for the 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government is thicker than usual as conflicts from Ukraine to Gaza, and growing tensions between US and Iran, as well as Russia and NATO, have complicated the situation for African leadership seeking to assert the continent’s interests on the world stage without ruffling too many feathers in either the Eastern or Western camps.

It has been a tough yet eventful year for Africa’s determination to shake off the foreign influence and unipolar whims that have played such a significant role in shaping the continent’s economic and political landscape in the decades following the end of colonialism.

Yet, leaders gathering in Addis Ababa have more on their minds than throwing off foreign influence. Ever-rising political tensions and a wave of coups on the continent mean that few African leaders take their seats in the halls of the AU headquarters in Sarbet without a nagging worry about the stability of their authority in their respective countries.

From Mali to Mozambique and Burkina Faso to Niger, insurgencies continue to rock African governments and long-standing regimes. It is a threat that the AU has repeatedly failed to neutralize or address.

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The AU has also been unable to find a solution to the ten months of bloody war between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

During the summit’s opening speech, Dhoihir Dhoulkamal, Comoros minister of Foreign Affairs and chair of the AU Executive Council, said the AU had done everything in its power to find a resolution for the crisis in Sudan.

“We have also spared no effort to find a lasting solution to the various crises that are currently affecting the continent. In Cairo, Addis Ababa and Djibouti, the war in Sudan has mobilized energies to bring the positions of the warring parties closer together. I believe that the two rival factions, in patriotism, will soon resume negotiations and thus shorten the suffering of the Sudanese people. In the Sahel, political transitions in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso appear to be stalling. The withdrawal of these three countries from the regional bloc is not likely to promote a rapid return to institutional normalization,” he told heads of African states and governments.

Internal strife and diplomatic tensions are also rife in host Ethiopia. The federal government’s negotiations with armed groups in Oromia have stalled, while questions surrounding the implementation of the Pretoria Agreement have been adding strain to relations with the Tigray Interim Administration.

A recent MoU between Ethiopia and breakaway Somaliland has also turned up the heat in the Horn, as Mogadishu fiercely opposes the land-for-recognition deal. The UN Security Council has redirected the issue to the AU and IGAD, but the AU has been silent thus far.

However, Ethiopia’s newly-minted Minister of Foreign Affairs is hopeful that peace will prevail in the country.

“The Pretoria Peace Agreement that ended the conflict in Northern Ethiopia shows our commitment to African solutions and the African Union’s ability to deliver peace,” said Taye Atske Selassie. “The government of Ethiopia continues to work with the African Union, and the monitoring, verification and compliance mechanism to consolidate peace. The inclusive national dialogue process will contribute to further consolidate our stability and we are determined to work closely with other countries to enhance our stability.”

However, Taye sees no reason to reform the AU. 

“The African Union Peace and Security architecture is central to the success of the African solutions to African challenges. The architecture must continue serving in the promotion of sustainable peace and security in Africa,” said the Minister.

It is worth noting that Rwandan President Paul Kagame tendered his resignation from the AU Reform Program directorship in the days leading up to the current summit. Kagame had held the position since 2016.

“Our work has made a positive difference, I believe. When we started, the AU was nearly bankrupt. There was no guarantee that the reform effort would be any more successful than previous attempts. Today, the Peace Fund stands at nearly USD 400 million and almost all member states are paying their dues,” said Kagame.

The fund is headed by Dagmawit Moges, former Ethiopian Transport Minister.

Kagame foresees more challenges ahead for the reform program, but believes the groundwork for further advancement has already been laid.

“The reform and improvement of the AU is a continuous process; it doesn’t begin or end with our work. Indeed because of the advances that have been made, it is now possible to envisage even more ambitious reforms to make our organization even more effective,” he said.

The comments come as tensions between Rwanda and DRC reach a fever pitch, with each accusing the other of instigating and hosting rebel group movements accused of committing atrocities in that part of the continent.

These tensions, the war in Sudan, the drama brewing on the coasts of the Red Sea, the nine military coups orchestrated in Africa since 2020 are only a few of the pressing problems facing the African Union. The continent’s latest coups were in Gabon and Niger in 2023.

Even the relatively stable Senegal has run into trouble as President Macky Sall’s attempt to postpone elections fueled widespread rioting in the West African nation, which enjoys a reputation as a bastion of democracy in the region.

Senegal’s highest court ruled the postponement was unconstitutional while the AU summit was taking place in Addis Ababa. Sall served as AU Chairperson in 2022.

Security remains a worry on the continent, as Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48 percent of global deaths from terrorism in 2023. Prolonged conflicts, poor rule of law, human rights abuses, discrimination, exclusion, and unemployment have all contributed to the crisis.

Reports predict the Sahel region, eastern DRC, parts of Cameroon and Somalia, as well as regions of Ethiopia, will continue to be conflict hotspots in 2024.

It was clear that the lives and wellbeing of millions of Africans remain at risk, as tensions and conflicts escalate across the continent, as the summit convened in Addis from February 17 to 18.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission, did not try to evade the questions surrounding peace and security on the continent. He highlighted the security deficits in Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, and the Sahel region, which are currently embroiled in armed conflicts and terrorism.

“The resurgence of military coups, pre- and post-election violence, humanitarian crises linked to war and the effects of climate change, are all very serious sources of concern for us. They pose a serious threat to tarnish the signs of the emergence of the Africa of which we are proud. At a time when all these tragedies are killing in large numbers and throwing thousands of people into precariousness and misery, another new phenomenon of collapse of our institutions of regional and continental governance is taking place. One that is affecting almost all regional economic communities (RECs),” he said.

Much is expected from the newly-elected members of the AU Peace and Security Council. Ten African nations, including Tanzania and Uganda, have been chosen to serve as Council members for a two-year term beginning April 2024.

These members will be expected to address the AU’s conspicuous silence over political and security crises on the continent, which analysts observe has been eroding any gains made thus far. Analysts also say AU member states and governments must take decisive action to maximize their financial contribution to the AU to wean off dependence on funding from partners such as the EU, China, and the US.

Raila Odinga, former Kenyan Prime Minister, has expressed an interest in replacing Faki and leading the AUC during a time of concerted continental pressures. 

On the economic front, the continent is faced with grim prospects, but analysts and leaders alike see economic growth is dependent on the resolution of peace and security issues. Africa has yet to fully recover from the economic effects of COVID-19, but a new wave of climate change, food security, and external debt crises is already taking a toll on the continent’s weakened economy.

Due to these layers of economic shocks, over 55 million people have fallen into the poverty line since 2020m according to reports.

It has reversed the poverty reduction gains Africa has made in the past two decades, or even further back, according to Chatham House.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts South Africa will soon overtake Nigeria and Egypt as the continent’s largest economy. Egypt is struggling with a fall in revenues from the Suez Canal and a dwindling tourism industry as violence and tensions in the Middle East sour the Red Sea corridor for global shipping giants.

No less than nine African economies, including Ethiopia, are in debt distress. A further 15 are considered high-risk, while 14 are moderate risks for investment. Zambia, Ghana, and Ethiopia are among the countries who have defaulted on their debts.

The theme for this year’s summit is: ‘Educate an African fit for the 21st Century: Building resilient education systems for increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa.’

It is a fitting theme, as recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) present new opportunities for digitizing education, health, and finance, which could in turn drive a new era of transformation on the continent.

However, analysts say there is a need for Africa to retain its best and brightest to drive the changes, as a large number of African researchers, academicians and intelligentsia are continuously drawn to labor markets in Europe, Asia, or the Americas by significantly higher wages and other equally important considerations.

Whether the theme will help solve these dilemmas is up to debate. The theme for last year’s summit was ‘Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation,’ but there has not been much in the way of significant progress regarding the trade deal over the last 12 months.

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