The African Union held its 31st ordinary Summit of heads of state and governments in Nouakchott, Mauritania from June 25 to July 2.
The theme of the Summit, which is this year's AU theme, was “Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.”
However, the Summit was overshadowed by peace and security issues following deadly attacks in the Sahel region after onslaughts in Mali and Niger during the period of the Summit.
The state of peace and security in the continent was largely discussed by the Assembly including the situation in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi, Libya, the Sahel, and the Horn of Africa. The AU Peace and Security Council also met at the level of heads of state to discuss the situation in South Sudan.
Decisions of the Summit are not yet publicly available but I will share here the unofficial summary of the key outcomes.
The Summit meetings were held as follows:
- Permanent Representative Committee (Ambassadors): June 25th – 26th
- Executive Council (Ministers of Foreign Affairs): June 28th – 29th
- Assembly (Heads of State and Government): July 1st – 2nd
Below are the ten key outcomes of the Summit.
1. African Union reform
There was no substantial progress in Nouakchott on the institutional reform of the African Union. Some disagreements among member states on Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s proposal remain.
For example, there is still no consensus among all member states on the application of 0.2 per cent levy on eligible importations in order to fund the AU, the mode of designation/appointment of commissioners, power dynamics within the institution, the scope of intervention of the AU and the division of labour between the continental body and the regional economic communities (RECs).
It seems that not all member states have the same vision on how to get a strong and autonomous and effective African Union.
An extraordinary Summit will be held on November 17 and 18 this year to focus on the reform agenda.
2. The Continental Free Trade Area
Significant progress recorded included the adoption of the five services priority sectors -- transport, communication, financial, tourism and business.
Five more countries joined the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) including one of the biggest economies of the continent, South Africa. The other new signatories to the agreement are Burundi, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, and Namibia.
In total, there are now 49 countries that have signed the AfCFTA and six who have ratified it. Sixteen more ratifications are needed for the treaty to enter into force.
If all 55 AU member countries join the treaty, it will create a bloc with a cumulative GDP of $2.5 trillion and a market of 1.2 billion people.
In terms of numbers of participating countries, AfCFTA will be the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organisation.
3. Western Sahara conflict
AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki presented a comprehensive report and proposed a mechanism to move ahead on the issue.
While calling for the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara independence movement, and Morocco to resume negotiations, without preconditions and in good faith, the Summit adopted the mechanism and set up a troika of three heads of state consisting of currently AU head President Kagame, the 2017 AU chair Guinea's President Alpha Conde and incoming chairperson Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, supported by Mr Faki.
The mission of the troika will be to provide efficient support to the United Nations-led process (not to replace it) to resolve the conflict.
The objective is the resumption of negotiations between the stakeholders to reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution, which allows the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
In addition, Mr Faki is to reactivate the AU Office to the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara in Laayoune.
4. Future of ACP/EU Cotonou Agreement post-2020
The Summit appointed Professor Carlos Lopes, former executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) as the African Union High Representative to support member states in the negotiation of the new agreement with the European Union post-2020.
Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Planning will meet by September to consolidate the African Common Position (ACP).
5. 2019 Budget of the AU
There is important progress made towards ownership and budgetary processes but the Union’s programmes will still be largely funded by external donors in 2019. The total budget is $681,485,337, about 12 per cent less than the 2018 budget.
The operating budget is $416,329,505 including Amisom's operational budget of $243,430,467. The programme budget is $265,155,832.
The 2019 budget will be financed as follow: $280,045,761 by AU member states and $401,439,575 by external partners.
Both Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Assembly of Heads of State endorsed the candidacy of Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo to the post of Secretary General of the Organisation of French Speaking countries (OIF).
Proposed by the Kingdom of Morocco, the Summit decided to create an African Observatory for Migration and Development (OAMD) to be based in the Moroccan capital Rabat.
Several delegations and personalities including the AUC chair Mr Faki spoke publicly against the recent proposal of the European Union to create regional disembarkation platforms to be located outside of Europe for migrants rescued in international waters.
In addition, the AU Peace and Security Council met to discuss the migration situation in the continent.
The United Nations launched a revitalised strategic plan at the sidelines of the Summit entitled “Sahel, Land of Opportunities”.
The plan targets 10 countries and six key areas including empowerment of women and youth, cross-border security and sustaining peace.
The targeted countries, namely Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Cameroon, will have continued support for ongoing efforts by governmental, non-governmental, national and regional bodies.
With 65 per cent of the region’s population below 25 years, the plan urges specific investments in education and vocational training to achieve higher demographic dividend.
9. Fighting corruption
Recognising that Africa’s development plans including the Agenda 2063 would be seriously impeded without rigorous measures against corruption, the African leaders agreed to establish a monitoring mechanism to fight against domestic and cross-border corruption through cooperation.
In a solemn declaration, the heads of state decided to combat illicit financial flows through various practical measures including the establishment of ownership registers, country-by-country reporting of financial information, exchange of tax information agreements, mutual support in reinforcing tax authorities, among others.
Several leaders spoke strongly against corruption and proposed courageous reforms of legal and regulatory regimes, tax administration and procurement systems in order to combat graft in the public and private sectors.
For example, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, the AU leader on the fight against corruption said: “We must all collectively work to place high on the agenda the need for open and participatory government, as well as the repatriation of stolen assets without procedural technicalities and legal obstacles.”
The Gambian President Adama Barrow said: “Our successes in the fight against corruption will ensure that resources are retained and used to support structural transformations and expansion of our economies... we cannot afford resource wastages through corruption thereby depriving our citizens the opportunities to improve their living standards.”
The Summit was been poorly attended at high level. Only about half of the 55 African heads of state made it to Nouakchott.
Absentee presidents included Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Patrice Talon of Benin, João Lourenço of Angola, José Mario Vaz of Guinea Bissau, Alassane Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire, and King Mohammed VI of Morocco.
It was the first participation of an AU Summit by President Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone since he came into power earlier this year.
French President Emmanuel Macron was also present on the final day of the Summit and held discussions with African leaders on the G5 Sahel initiative and other peace and security issues.
Prospects for the year 2019
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will take over the chairmanship of the African Union.
The theme of the year will be "Refugees, Returnees and IDPs in Africa: Towards durable solutions to forced displacement."
2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (OAU Convention) as well as the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the 2009 AU Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention).
The Assembly decision at its 29th Assembly in July 2017 mandates the AU Commission to work with UNHCR and other partners to organise a series of commemorative events aimed at raising the visibility and provide thoughts for solutions of forced displacement in Africa.
A series of events aimed at increasing ratification and domestication of the two key documents are being planned under the Project 2019, a joint AU-UNHCR initiative.
In line with the ongoing reform of the African Union, the just-finished Summit was expected to be the last mid-year Summit. From 2019 onwards, there will only be one ordinary summit annually. The Union will rather host a mid-year coordination session. The session will be held in Niamey, Niger in June 2019.
The 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly will be held on February 10-11, 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Désiré Assogbavi is a jurist, advocate and policy analyst. Email:[email protected]