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The African Union, a turning point? 0

The eyes of Africa are this week turned to Kigali, host of the African Union Summit, where a new Chairperson of the AU Commission will be elected.

The Summit presents yet another opportunity for African Heads of State and Government to place the continental body on a new path that will genuinely respond to the needs and aspirations of the African people.

This week, as from 10 July and for the following eight days, worldwide interested media attention will be focused on Rwanda. The African Union (AU) will hold its biennial Summit in the panoramic hilly surroundings of Kigali, capital of Rwanda. It will be the 27th Ordinary Summit since the AU took the baton from its illustrious predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

In 2002, when the AU was “proudly” launched in Durban, South Africa, a feeling of elation and justifiable pride pervaded the chanceries across the continent. For, in a matter of three years, Heads of State and Government of member states of the OAU had successfully translated the spirit of the Sirte Declaration that they had adopted on 9.9.99, in the city of the same name in Libya.

The ravages of the Cold War had had a restraining effect on the lofty aspirations of the OAU, for the continent had found itself caught as the involuntary theatre of the competing East-West blocks. Many a courageous decision and consequential instrument adopted in Africa’s quest to free itself from the shackles of under-development and propel it forward was stymied as many member states could hardly devote their undivided attention towards the implementation of the accompanying plans of action and programmes. They were either caught up in the externally-induced ideological rivalries and had therefore to grapple with attendant internecine conflicts or simply did not have the means, financial and otherwise, to translate their ambition conclusively. In the process, the hard-won independence for which countless lives had been sacrificed was seriously compromised and put in jeopardy as rent-seeking considerations overrode ideals.

The end of the Cold War suddenly relegated the importance of the continent which found itself orphaned. The geopolitics had changed. The African leadership rose valiantly to the challenge with the decision and determination to take the destiny of the continent in its own hands. The Sirte Declaration blazed the trail and the AU was born, its end-objective being the emergence of a politically united and economically integrated Africa.

Almost fifteen years later, the fruits are yet to uphold the promise of the flowers. Already, at the Ghana Summit in 2007, Heads of State and Government had come to realise that the institutions set up to give substance to their ambition and lead the continent to the goal they had set for it called for an overhaul. There were simply too many stumbling blocks. The policy consensus was there but there appeared to be a strategic vacuum. The instruments to steer the policy ship forward were unadapted and required a complete re-engineering. A panel of eminent African personalities was constituted which immediately set itself to work and audit the AU. It produced a timely report three months later with far-reaching recommendations. The report was aptly titled: “Towards a People-Centred Political and Socio-Economic Integration and Transformation of Africa”. Regrettably, as is often the case in such enterprises, the mandarins and potentates who put their personal interest ahead of that of the continent put paid to the bulk of the recommendations. The results are there for all of us to take dismal stock of.

The AU Commission has had three Chairpersons so far, experienced, committed and all determined to move and shake our continent forward. But the instruments with and parameters within which they have had to operate have not permitted any of them to fulfil their mandate to their own satisfaction, let alone that of the African constituents.

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by Vijay Makhan

Photo Credits: Daily Maverick

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