AU’s bid to self-finance a litmus test on spirit of pan-Africanism

Sunday February 4 2018

Africa is once again enjoying a renewed sense

Africa is once again enjoying a renewed sense of optimism about reclaiming its dignity and rightful seat with its peers. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

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As periodically happens, Africa is once again enjoying a renewed sense of optimism about reclaiming its dignity and rightful seat with its peers.

The optimism is a result of the reforms being undertaken and spearheaded by President Paul Kagame — who is also its current chairperson.

Central to this reform are four critical elements: The first is a call to the continental body to focus only on “key areas with continental scope;” to “realign AU institutions to deliver on its priorities;” managing the body’s affairs, “effectively at both the political and operational levels” and finally self-financing.

And while Pan-Africanists were still celebrating this “pan-African” reform, the just concluded 30th extraordinary session of African heads of state presented three more mouth-watering items to the agenda.

They are signing a protocol to realise “a Single African Air Transport Market,” which 23 states have already committed to immediately implement; agreeing to sign a protocol in March 2018 establishing a “continental Free Trade Area” and adopting a a protocol establishing an “African Economic Community” with free movements of people and goods.

Clearly, these are noble ideas. But, as is the nature of these things, pessimists aren’t impressed. They point out the continental body has in the past excelled at putting good ideas on paper but poor at implementing them.

Further, they wonder how anyone can trust a body that has several members who default on paying their own contributions and revel in aid dependency. How can they be trusted to pay their bills in full this time?

Reform initiative

In hindsight, one could say pessimists have a reason to be cynical. For me, however, four features in this new reform initiative give cause for optimism despite obvious challenges and past failures.

The first is the honesty with which the reform team informed heads of state why past initiatives achieve little and under which conditions the present initiative would succeed.

The team did not only inform leaders that over 1,500 resolutions have thus far been taken without tracking and ensuring their implementation, but also pointed out that without political will, the new initiative will not be successful.

Secondly, unlike past initiatives that focused on what I would call the “hard-political end” of integration, the new one focuses on the “soft-end” with emphasis on development and interactive integration.

For instance, the first initiative under the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) focused on liberation and fighting imperialists while the second reform that saw OAU become AU in 2002 focused on, among other things, political governance, with some, like Muammar Gaddafi calling for political federation. This time, the political side of integration, which is “divisive” and harder is excluded.

The third element is the decision by AU to choose President Kagame, who is the reform leader, as the chairperson of the union.

Known to be a hands-on and result-oriented leader with little respect for dependency, Kagame is the right man to oversee the implementation of the reform at this nascent stage.

Finally, the decision by the AU to agree to fully pay for its own bills is the real deal. And that the reform team calculated how much is needed and how it can be raised without adding a bigger burden on members gives me hope that, with goodwill, financial self-reliance is possible.

For instance, while AU’s budget in 2016 was about $416 million, the new funding model will raise about $1.2 billion if each member state levied 0.2 per cent on ‘eligible’ imports from outside the continent. If implemented, this model of financing is sustainable.

And the great thing about this self-financing model is that, if media and pan-Africanists tracked it, we would know who is paying and who isn’t paying. The media must regularly report on African affairs.

This kind of reporting would not only make Africans more interested in their own affairs, but would also impose a certain cost on non-compliant leaders since, currently, there is no known political price to pay by leaders who derail implementation of the reform except deferring Africa’s complete liberation.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba