EDITORIAL: State of African Union – The Kagame year

Saturday November 17 2018

African Union chairman Paul Kagame and AUC chair Moussa Faki.

African Union chairman Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right) with AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki during the closing ceremony of the AU Summit in Mauritanian capital Nouakchott on July 2, 2018. PHOTO | URUGWIRO 

By The EastAfrican
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Over the past two years, African Union incumbent chair Paul Kagame has been trying to push through reforms he was selected to champion at the continental body back in 2016.

It is an assignment he launched into with gusto, first appointing a committee of experts to conduct a 360-degree audit of the organisation.

That committee zeroed in on two key areas – turning the lethargic organisation into an agile body that was self-sustaining and reducing wastage and redundancy at the Secretariat.

There was a sense of urgency to self-financing at the time because the political conflict that destabilised most of North Africa and the Sahel at the turn of the decade, had disrupted contributions from members such as Libya, which alongside four other members and donors, shouldered more than 80 per cent of the AU’s annual budget.

With pan-African projects that were conceived nearly half a century ago stuck where they first started – ambitions on paper – the AU also needed to shake off the image of being a talking shop.

Now, with barely two months left till the end of his tenure as chair of the continental body, African leaders are expected in Addis this weekend to attend a last-bend summit to review just how much change they have been able to create over the past 24 months. The key question will be how not to lose the momentum generated over that short window.

Being unforgiving even of himself, President Kagame is unlikely to gloat over what many observers see as major achievements by his leadership.

Though it remains far from becoming completely lean and mean, the AU has somehow managed to reduce expenditure by 12 per cent even before it embarks on radical surgery.

President Kagame managed to persuade his peers to cut back on grand meetings and devote more effort to driving change.

More than half of the 55 member states have signed on to the 0.2 per cent import levy to fund the AU while at the last count, 44 had signed to the Continental Free Trade Area that when actualised will free the latent potential of intra-African trade.

Ordinarily, such achievements should be cause for hope. Yet in this case, there is a apprehension over whether the reform process can continue with a Secretariat whose agenda may be at odds with the political results of the summit.

President Kagame’s major intangible achievements are that he has been able to reawaken Africa’s long dormant dreams and demonstrate that they are feasible. His tenure has also given Africa positive visibility and re-energised global goodwill for a continent that even residents struggled not to see as a lost cause.

Whatever the differences of opinion that arise, therefore, all that whoever takes the baton from Kagame needs to do is to build on what has been started.

For starters, resolving the conflict over sovereignty between the Secretariat in Addis and member states could be the next critical building block.

This could be achieved by reforming and empowering the African parliament so that it becomes more representative of the national agendas of member states and giving it more clout over the AU Commission.

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