Op-ed: The AU should transform ambitions into actions for a peaceful and prosperous Africa

By Mpako Foaleng[1]

The Tana Forum, which concluded its seventh edition (21-22 April 2018) in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, brought together high-level officials, representatives of the African Union, leaders of international and non-governmental organizations, civil society actors, intellectuals and international partners. The Forum focused on the theme “Ownership of Africa’s Peace and Security Provision: Financing and the Reforming the African Union”. Inspired by the motto of “African solutions to African problems”, participants discussed issues, problems, challenges, and explored potential ways forward on the implementation of the AU reforms. Of the points highlighted during the Forum, there are few reflections that can be made and points that cannot be overemphasized.

Financing will be important but not enough

The 0.2% levy on eligible imports that AU Member States committed to as part of the organization’s reform to finance its activities will certainly raise high expectations. By increasing their share of the financing, the AU will progressively become less subject to donor influence, with the prospect that self-financing will shape the organization’s agenda, priorities and actions. While money may be necessary, it is not sufficient as it cannot change the mindset and behaviour of Member States, who are the linchpin of the AU on the ground. Therefore, the AU will have to manage expectations raised by the reform agenda which will only materialize if the organization enjoys sufficient political capital to instigate important shifts at national levels.

Being ambitious is great but result-oriented action is better

The current practice of adopting policies and ambitious objectives such as Agenda 2063 will not suffice for the AU to change the outlook of the continent. The 2018 States Fragility Index ranks 32 out of 55 African countries between ‘high warning’ to ‘high alert’ with regard to their level of fragility.[2] In addition, a number of conflicts seem to have developed their own resilience to continue to permanently exist despite numerous efforts to wipe them out. These include Somalia, Central African Republic, Libya, Burundi and the Lake Chad Basin area with the threat of Boko Haram. Solutions will only be found by thinking out of the box and readjusting lenses to take successful concrete actions that will make people feel safe in these conflict-affected countries.

Good governance remains key

One of the pillars of the AU reform concerns the institutions. Quite too often, the responsibility of the leadership in African countries is questioned as to their capacity to carry the ideals of the organization with their respective constituencies. The opaque management of public affairs, which most of the time lies at the root of grievances that lead to political tensions and conflicts, is an element which the AU reform implementation should factor in. The lack of transparency in decision-making processes and corruption will certainly hamper the implementation of the AU decisions, policies and orientations. For national institutions to respond to the expectations of the citizens and the state in terms of security and socio-economic development, a reinvigorated AU will not suffice as long as democratic approaches to governance are not experienced at national levels.

The AU should therefore be more demanding on its members. To bring peace in Member States, defence, justice and security institutions should have their share by delivering services according to democratic standards and by respecting human rights principles. As the former President of South Africa Kgalema Motlanthe put during the Tana Forum, in our modern era, states are considered permanent entities while governments are supposed to come and go. Therefore, state institutions should be endowed with the most talented bureaucrats who will serve the successive governments. Most of the time, senior managers are changed constantly and this undermines institutional effectiveness. African countries will not be able to develop economically and be peaceful without strong institutions.

Rooting the reform into African societies will be crucial

Given the ambitions of the AU reform project, the question to be posed is whether there is the required political will and leadership to take the reform forward? The AU is often perceived as an Addis Ababa-based organization far from the realities of the African citizens. It is also perceived as a club of heads of state, male and old, making it challenging to the ordinary people to feel concerned by its decisions. Violence comes from the sociology of exclusion. The AU should create a critical mass of reform champions at state levels, and bring people on board through consultations in order to reverse the view that the continental organization is not grounded in African societies.

ll components of societies ought to be involved including the private sector and leaders at all levels. Graça Machel, who was also present at the Forum, stated that the reform focuses too much on governments and institutions when in reality, a huge majority of citizens are left out with little opportunity to influence the transformation of the continent. Women and the youth should be brought into the decision-making process of the reform’s implementation.

Nourishing peace for less focus on conflict resolution

A tremendous amount of funding is mobilized to finance peace support operations in Africa. The transformation of the security sector which has shown its limitations in managing the fast changing and multiple security threats that the continent is facing deserves particular attention.

By focusing on ensuring that justice and security institutions are professional, accountable to the citizens and the state, ruled by law, legitimate, and affordable with finances sustained by national resources, Member States will be investing in preventing sensitive and explosive situations from deteriorating into conflict, disrupting as such the realization of the 2063 AU vision. The return on investment will be fewer conflicts to resolve and more resources devoted to the socio-economic development of the continent.

[1] Mpako Foaleng, (PhD) is a senior expert on security sector reform and governance

[2] See Fragile States Index 2018. http://fundforpeace.org/fsi/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/951181805-Fragile-States-Index-Annual-Report-2018.pdf