The African Union, broadly modelled after the European Union is set to launch itself on the path of consolidation. Apparently drawing lessons from the dilemma of the EU occasioned by Brexit, AU has since the last Summit in Kigali, Rwanda set in motion machinery to reorganize its structures, functions and processes. The recent appointment of the committee to overhaul the AU means the journey has already begun and the member states can only look forward to a reinvigorated Union if the reforms sail through as expected.
Since its creation in 2002 as a successor organization to the defunct Organization of African Unity (OAU), the AU has consistently sought to justify the purpose for which it was set up including to “accelerate the process of integration in Africa, support the empowerment of African states in the global economy and address the multifaceted social, economic and political problems facing the continent.”
Soon after its inception, the AU set up its functional organs and ratified most of the needed protocols to enable it discharge its mandate to the People of the continent.
From the onset, it seemed as if the structures and organs of the AU were sufficient in dealing with some, if not all of the continent’s multifarious problems. However, a number of emergent challenges across the continent have necessitated a total reorganization of the AU to make it even more relevant to the challenges of the day.
Although the continent has always been infested with one form of violent conflict or the other, the sudden spread of violent extremism and international terrorism are twin issues capable of eroding all the gains made by the various countries in the quest for development. In the last one decade, international terrorist organisations have made life most insecure in some countries of the region. While Al- Shabab has tormented much of East Africa, the Alqaeda in the Maghreb has been behind the violence in Mali, Libya, and other West African countries while the Boko Haram sect has through its violent campaigns caused the death of thousands of people and displacement of millions of others in Nigeria and all over the countries of the Lake Chad region- Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
In order to effectively contain the terrorists, the AU needed to set up multinational joint military operations, an activity it was not prepared to undertake.
While the continent contended with the activities of terrorism, the emergence of killer diseases like Ebola, Lassa fever, which ravaged many countries especially in West Africa, presented an overriding need for concerted continental action in dealing with it. But for the unique role played by Nigeria in supporting other African countries, the situation would have spelt more doom for the continent.
Closely associated with the above are such cosmopolitan issues like hunger, poverty, illiteracy, refugees, etc ,all of which require continental cooperation to effectively tackle.
While Germany is contributing significantly to the world migrants population especially those trooping into Europe to seek abode, some African countries rank among countries of the world with the least development indices including access to potable water, Medicare , basic education, shelter and food with the populations living below $1 per day.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Programme adopted by the United Nations Annual Summit in 2015 to primarily address the development deficit in the developing world has further necessitated a stronger AU to champion a continental action towards the attainment of the goals.
In the last decade also, AU had to deal with a plethora of political crisis in the continent from Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Gabon, Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of Congo to Burkina Fasso, Burundi, South Sudan and Sudan itself, the continent has more than enough politically motivated crises to deal with requiring a strong AU to handle.
Like EU which June had to, contend with the exit of Britain, Morocco has for years left AU because of its stance on the political future of Saharawi Republic. Burundi also recently stayed away from the Kigali Summit of AU raising concerns about her continued membership of the continental body. And unless adequate measures are taken, there are chances that more countries may be buoyed to opt out of the Union at the slightest provocation.
It is perhaps, for these and other factors that the AU is embarking on reorganization.
Nigeria which has been a major player in continental affairs has already nominated her Minister of Environment, Hajiya Amina Mihammed to serve on the committee. As the committee begins its work, a number of issues would require its consideration if the AU will be better positioned to effectively handle continental issues that tend to retard the Continent’s progress.
One of such issues is the creation of a Permanent Security Council whose members would have the powers to singularly veto a decision as it is the case with the UN. This organ is urgently needed to deal with the problem of decision making on security and peace issues in the continent. The AU has often prevaricated on sensitive issues leading to sometimes belated response to serious security issues. The case of the political crisis in Burundi where AU decided to send 5,000 troops to prevent further blood – letting in the Central African country is one case in point. The decision was not only delayed, Burundi called the bluff of the continental body and frustrated the arrival of the peace keeping troops in spite of pleas even from the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki- Moon. Since the face- off, Burundi has remained at arm’s length with the AU and as stated earlier, was conspicuously absent at the July Annual Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. AU would need to adopt new measures to forestall possible exit of member states from the Union.
Another instance was the recent attempt to elect a new set of AU Commission executives following the expiration of tenure of incumbent Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, from South Africa who has held the office since 2012. After series of voting in the Kigali Summit there was no clear winner among the contestants for the top job of Chairperson at the Commission including the Deputy Chairperson and the five Executive Commissioners! In line with an antiquated rule of the AU, the executives were allowed to continue in office until January next year when another Summit in Addis Ababa will likely elect a new set of executives. And the rule allows new entrants to join the race, making the previous vote in Kigali a nullify and without any effect whatsoever. Such rules and many similar ones would have to be reviewed as it makes no sense extending the tenure of the AU executives simply because a clear winner could not emerge through the ballot.
With the benefit of hindsight, an AU Permanent Security Council would have simply stepped in to appoint a new Chairperson for the body or nominated the candidates for confirmation by the General Assembly.
The proposed Permanent Security Council should have five members drawn from each of the sub- regions. And I make bold to recommend its membership as follows: Nigeria( West Africa); South Africa( Southern Africa); Rwanda( Central Africa); Kenya( East Africa) and Egypt for North African sub- region. Four other countries should rotate their membership in every four years without powers to veto.
Closely related to the above is the issue of standing continental military force. Like its precursor, the OAU, the continental body has often being criticized as a “toothless bulldog” which can bark but cannot bite. Without a fighter force, AU decisions and resolutions are often disregarded by member countries with little or no consequences. Yet the time has come for the AU to back its decisions with the capacity to enforce including through the use of force.
Another area requiring reform is the occasional hosting of the African Union Annual meeting of the Assembly of Heads of States and Government as recently held in Kigali. In our view, there is absolutely no need for the relocation of the Annual meetings from Addis Ababa headquarters which boasts of an ultra-modern secretariat complex. AU Summits hosted outside the headquarters only serve to massage the ego of the host presidents and the accompanying waste of scarce resources to provide for the comfort of visiting Heads of States and delegation leaders. Like the UN, AU should restrict the annual Summit to the headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The new international system where information and communications technology has collapsed geographical boundaries and reduced the world to a global village has made it impossible for the African continent to live in isolation. Africa must therefore, adopt international best practices in every way if the continent must surmount the many problems confronting it.
A stronger AU is necessary to galvanize continental efforts towards achieving the set developmental goals. The AU leaders are justified by initiating the reforms and deserve the support of all African leaders who desire a better continent for the African people.