AU Summit: Where peace, conflict, funding dominate talks

Friday February 14 2020

African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat (Front, left), Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 9, 2020. PHOTO | MICHAEL TEWELDE | AFP


Ordinary sessions of the African Union can sometimes become dull. On other occasions, it can really be on fireworks, especially when the topic is the International Criminal Court or colonialism.

This week on Monday, the 33rd Session ended, bringing to a close an annual ritual where African heads of state and government converge in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to discuss African problems, without necessarily allocating money to them.

This year, the leaders were discussing ‘silencing guns’, part of a wider agenda to have a prosperous, peaceful and integrated continent in 50 years, also known as Agenda 2063.

But how did it go?

Leaders failed to crack one of the most enduring conflicts -- South Sudan. Its President Salva Kiir was told to go “consult” his people and report back on February 15, on how leaders will form a government of national unity by February 22.

But it was all not gloom. Botswana’s President Eric Masisi was in Addis Ababa, breaking the notorious tradition of his predecessor Ian Khama, who almost never attended any Summits.


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa became chairman of African Union. Thabo Mbeki was the inaugural African Union Chairman sot it may excite Ramaphosa that he will be holding the ceremonial seat for the next one year, guiding the policy direction of the AU.

This may also be a good escape from home troubles as his public begins to feel a sense of disillusionment for a man who came to office by profiting from Jacob Zuma’s corruption scandals. Now the public thinks the economy is eluding their president.

In the Summit, leaders were discussing how to end violence. When the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) morphed into the AU 18 years ago, Africa was battling 30 conflicts, mostly civil wars. Today there are countable ones in Somalia, South Sudan and Libya.

Leaders at the Summit agreed the entire continent now faces violent extremism, which suggests some policy commonality was needed.

So, among issues discussed were the role that international financial institutions and youth job creation can play in Africa in averting extremism and conflict; and the AU leadership in peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.   

Then the money issue arose. Kenya’s Foreign Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo called for global financial back-up for regional peacekeeping forces like the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), mandated by the UN to fight al-Shabaab.

Though endorsed by the UN, Amisom are combat forces which are currently ineligible for UN funding. A European Union (EU) support was cut in 2017, forcing the 22,000 forces to fend for self in additional funding.

AU’s Special Envoy on Silencing Guns, Ramtane Lamamra, said Africa has now become more collectively concerned about conflict in the past, even as it respects sovereignty. He called for “innovative solutions” especially since conflicts keep changing.

“Convention-centric approaches combined with inclusive local processes is more likely to contribute positively to silencing the guns in the continent,” he told an audience. “This is obvious in cases of conflicts of traditional social entities such as extended families, lineages, clans, tribes, religious brotherhoods and ethno-linguistic groups.”

In South Sudan though, their conflict has stuck out like a sore thumb. An Extra-Ordinary Summit of the regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) issued a frustrating admission: “[The meeting] noted that mediation efforts of the Special Envoys hit a deadlock…further extension is neither desirable nor feasible at this stage of the peace process.”

South Sudan’s leaders Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar signed a peace agreement in September 2018 to form a transitional government of national unity. It was the second such agreement in three years, the previous having collapsed six months after signing, leading to deadly violence.

In 2018, the deal roped in various other rebel groups and it was called ‘revitalised’ for clarifying positions and names. The initial deadline of May 2019 passed without the government being formed so leaders extended by six months to help sort out issues.

By November 2019, parties had not agreed on number of states to have in South Sudan. They also hadn’t agreed on security arrangements, so Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni convened a meeting in Entebbe and the two South Sudanese leaders agreed to extend this deadline to February 22, 2020. With just over week to go, there is still no agreement on the number of states.

South Sudan’s mediation effort is routinely funded by donor – US, UK, Norway and sometimes China. On Wednesday, they called for compromise among leaders.

On the Agenda 2063, leaders said there had been progress on the economic front. An inaugural report on the Agenda indicated, however, that AU may need partners to boost its financial needs.

President Alassane Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire noted that while remarkable progress had been made, the continent still had a long way to hit its development targets.

“In five years, we have come a long way in implementing Agenda 2063. To go further, Agenda 2063 must be the responsibility of all the member states of the AU,” said Ouattara, who is also an Agenda 2063 champion.

The African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina admitted Africa needs more infrastructure to integrate, but the source of money may be local.

“Sovereign funds of Africa are invested elsewhere. We need to take a decision that sovereign wealth funds, pension funds need to be invested in Africa, not elsewhere,” Adesina said. “Africa also needs to do more to stop illicit capital flows.”

Africa, however, needs to solve other issues.

A UN plan seeks to eradicate malnutrition by 2025.

“We can conquer hunger in Africa,” said Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina, one of five African Leaders for Nutrition (ALN) champions.

Speakers at a meeting of the African Leaders for Nutrition, a sideline meeting of the AU Summit, included heads of state of Madagascar, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, national ministers of health as well as the African Development Bank.

In Africa, stunting has declined by 8 percent since 2000. African countries have also shown strong progress toward achieving the target of 50 per cent of the world’s children being exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. The other targets are: halting the epidemic of obesity; reducing anaemia in women of reproductive age; reducing low birth weight and reducing wasting.

But Africa, leaders argue, has to grow its own food, which means there has to be peace.

“We have 65 percent of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land. We have an abundance of freshwater and about 300 days of sunshine a year. There’s no reason for anyone to go hungry,” Adesina, the AfDB boss said.

With a global interest in Africa, the Summit actually became a conference hall for global powers. The US, China, India, United Arab Emirates, the UK and other countries sent senior government officials to Addis Ababa. The European Union sent President of the European Council, Charles Michel to represent the bloc. UN’s Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was here too.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled over too.