Ruto asks peers to ‘donate’ powers to African Union

Thursday June 08 2023

Kenyan President William Ruto. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG


Kenya’s President William Ruto is asking member states of the African Union (AU) to surrender certain powers to the continental bloc as part of reforms needed to make the body work.

President Ruto made the radical suggestion on Thursday at a summit of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa) in the Zambian capital Lusaka.

He asked the audience to consider reforms at the AU as ‘priority’, warning that without such sacrifices, the vision of the continental bloc, including Agenda 2063 and mantra’s such as ‘African Solutions for African Problems’ will never be realised.

“Member states must consider donating power to AU on matters trade, regional and global security as well as other areas that Africa can benefit from engaging together rather than individually,” he said in his speech.

The regional trading bloc is holding its 22nd summit of the 14-member countries mainly in the East, Central and Southern regions of Africa but also includes Egypt and Tunisia in the north.

“We should merge the position of chair of the AU Summit and that of the AU Commission into one so as to give it sufficient leverage to engage on behalf of Africa,” he added.


Read: EDITORIAL: African leaders must narrow the talk-action gap

There were no immediate indications this proposal could gain traction yet, even though other African leaders have often admitted the bloc needs a rejig.

The proposal to donate these powers, if it goes through, could mimic the European Union, which traditionally negotiates trade and global security policies jointly. For example, the EU has been negotiating trade pacts with the East African Community, which Europe wants it to sign as a bloc too.

The EU also has a head for foreign policy and security issues. And even though individual countries have their respective foreign ministers, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy generally speaks for the bloc as its top diplomat. The EU has generally been opposed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The AU, on the other hand, has been unable to rally a common position for members.

Dr Ruto’s proposal to merge the AU Summit chair with that of the Commission’s means one of the two may end. The summit chair is a rotational, ceremonial role, shared annually among heads of state and government. The Commission chairperson, currently held by Chadian diplomat Moussa Faki Mahamat, is an electable position every four years and the winner runs the Secretariat of the AU.

AU reforms

The Commission chair acts as the official spokesperson of the continental bloc, but is often dragged by slow decision making by the summit.

Dr Ruto also spoke generally on trade and other development issues, which the AU should be leading but lacks capacity, something he had recently suggested at a speech to the Pan African Parliament in Pretoria.

“To ensure that the African Union performs at the level of its aspirations, it will be necessary to make sure that it empowers itself with sufficient capacity. Otherwise, African solutions, Agenda 2063, the Africa Continental Free Trade Area and the Young, Clean Green Continent of the Future will never be a reality," he said.

“The AU Reform Agenda must, therefore, be a priority and we must interrogate and conduct the process to ensure that structurally, the roles of the Bureau, Summits, Committees, Regional Caucuses, Secretariat and Commission are duly rationalised to give Africa a fit-for-purpose continental governance body with the capacity to engage globally,” he further added.

Read: Ruto pushes for East African political federation

Talk of reforms for the AU began in 2016 when Rwandan President Paul Kagame was chosen to champion reforms. After a team of nine other experts he led looked into the AU’s processes, they identified 19 areas of improvement including narrowing priorities, with a clear division of roles between its structures, making the AU Commission more efficient and effective, strengthening the current sanctions regime of the AU, improving decision-making and having sustainable financing.

Read: Kagame rallies Africa to face challenges of the next 60 years

“The reforms advisory team concluded that in order to realise the ambitions of Agenda 2063 and to ensure an impactful and effective manner in delivering on its mandate, the AU needs to reposition itself and ensure it has the requisite institutional capacity and capabilities given the evolving economic, political, and social needs of the continent,” their report stated.

There have been some movement since, including giving the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa-CDC) more autonomy, merging departments and making the election of office holders more linked to candidates’ qualifications. However, member states monetary contributions remains problematic.

Also read: Non-ratification of AU treaties delays Africa flagship projects