The Addis AU Summit in two acts

The 14th session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union convened in Addis Ababa from January 31 to February 2 made some significant decisions that will help Africa realise its vision of a united continent. But certain impediments cannot go unnoticed.

BY MUGAMBI KIAI

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The 14th session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union convened in Addis Ababa from January 31 to February 2 made some significant decisions that will help Africa realise its vision of a united continent. But certain impediments cannot go unnoticed.

The theme of the assembly was Information and Communication Technologies in Africa: Challenges and Prospects for Development; but other key issues that cut across the continent such as peace, security and related matters — international justice, governance and human rights — were also discussed.

Indeed, these were big-ticket items at the 2009 AU summit in Tripoli, Libya which declared 2010 the Year for Peace and Security in Africa.

However, discussions on unconstitutional changes in government and the possibility of giving criminal jurisdiction to the African Court of Human Rights and Justice — in the context of the up coming review conference of the Rome Treaty from May 31-June 11 in Kampala and the recent indictment of Sudan’s President Omar Bashir — were pushed to the June 2010 Summit

Among the positive changes that took place in Addis was the election of Kenya as one of five members to serve three-year terms at the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) — the standing decision-making organ of the African Union for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict — commencing March this year. The other countries are Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

Ironically, three of these countries — Kenya, Zimbabwe and Mauritania — have recently been accused of effecting unconstitutional changes in government.

Historically, such changes are known to invariably catalyse conflict and endanger peace and security.

So how is it that these countries will now be decision-makers of these same issues?

Then there was bad news for Kenya at the 22nd meeting of the Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee — the highest decision-making authority of the African Peer Review Mechanism — which was happening concurrently.

Popularly called the APR Forum, the committee is currently presided over by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

APR session on January 30 witnessed the selection of the Africa Peer Review Panel of Eminent Persons with representatives from Nigeria, Algeria, Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville, Liberia, Cameroon and Rwanda admitted.

Graca Machel-Mandela, who was the lead APR panellist for Kenya, was removed.

Ms Machel-Mandela doubled up as a member of the Panel of Eminent Africans mediating the 2008 post-election crisis in Kenya.

This removal did not bode well for many Kenyans who viewed her as a firm, steady and sober voice around the country’s psychosis.

The APR Panel oversees the review process to ensure integrity, considers reports and makes recommendations to the APR Forum.

At the APR Forum, Uganda, as one of seven countries that completed the Africa Peer Review process last year alongside Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, Mozambique, Lesotho, presented its APRM report.

It earned praise for its handling of electoral petitions and its decentralisation process was touted as increasing opportunity for public participation.

We cannot also ignore the drama that ensued at the opening ceremony of the Summit on January 31, when Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi made a bid to get a one-year extension to his term as the AU chair.

President Gaddafi also asked a representative of the Forum of Traditional Kings, Sultans, Chiefs and Princes — an organisation he created from scratch — to deliver an unscheduled speech.

According to a press report, “The representative, whose name was not given, decked out in gold necklaces and carrying a sceptre, provoked some laughter and an equal amount of embarrassment as he went up onto the podium.

Comparing President Gaddafi to the prophets of the Bible and the Koran, he openly exhorted the heads of state to ‘follow the guide who is showing us the way,’ saying that he had the backing of all the peoples of Africa.”

This little piece of melodrama was unsuccessful, however, and Gaddafi went on to hand over the AU chairmanship to Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika.

His parting shot? “The AU chairperson doesn’t have any prerogative actually,” he said, vowing nevertheless to work for the continent and the institution and continue pushing for his dream of achieving the “United States of Africa”.

While President Gaddafi’s exit marked the departure of the most strident advocate for the immediate integration of Africa, this particular debate predates even his own ascension to power in Libya in 1969.

The two competing schools of thought on how African integration should proceed — immediately and speedily as proposed by Kwame Nkrumah, for which he wanted the OAU’s 1965 Accra Summit to discuss a Union Government for Africa — or step-by-step as suggested by Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, have sharply divided pan-African politics.

This debate may slow down with Gaddafi’s departure but will certainly not die.

With global geo-politics constantly and cyclically experiencing tentative integrations and treacherous disintegrations, the dream of a United Africa remains fully embedded.

Mugambi Kiai is programme manager in Kenya for the Open Society Initiative for East Africa and also for the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project

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