William Ruto inherits Paul Kagame headache to strengthen African Union amid varied interests

Sunday February 25 2024

The dream is to create an EU-like body, but AU struggles to even present common position on issues.



Kenya’s President William Ruto’s desires to bring his reform ideas to the African Union (AU) may have matured last week after he was endorsed by peers to inherit the role played by Rwandan President Paul Kagame since 2016.

But it may also be a new headache for a man who has attempted to bulldoze his economic ideas back home, earning criticism and legal landmines in the wake.

After the 37th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly last week, President Paul Kagame presented his final report on AU reforms, and proposed Ruto take over the mantle. Peers agreed with the suggestion.

Kagame’s reforms had seen creation of the Africa Peace Fund which has since mobilised some $400 million and influenced the United Nations Security Council to approve UN financing of three-quarters of AU peace operations for the first time.

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

And Ruto had been speaking on AU reforms from the first month he took office in 2022, including giving some controversial suggestions.

For example, he argued that African heads of state and government should cede some powers to the AU, empowering the continental bloc to negotiate some pacts on behalf of member states.

Global security

“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 in June last year in Zambia, during a meeting of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa), a regional trading bloc of 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.


Reforms proposed by President Paul Kagame had, in fact, also targeted merging some of the departments to make it “fit for purpose.”

AU has since merged departments of political affairs and those of peace and security, for example. Health and social issues were also merged.

But Ruto’s proposal to donate these powers to the AU Commission could be game-changing as it 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 and also has a head for foreign policy and security issues.

Read: Ruto asks peers to ‘donate’ powers to AU

Individual countries still have their respective foreign ministers, even though the EU often rallies its members to a common position. The AU? It has struggled to even present a universal position on issues.

Kagame, in his final report, said there is a need to “clarify the role of the Chairperson of the AU in relation to the Chairperson of the Commission. This has become more important as we work out how Africa will be represented at the G20 and similar gatherings.”

The final ‘Decisions’ of the Summit are expected several weeks from now but the bloc may need to address the issue of who represents the continent at the G20 meetings, with the AU having been admitted to the group last year.

The Rwandan leader did admit there are varied interests among member states, saying “Africa is not a monolith”.

“Member states will always have differing views. We should not pretend these differences do not exist but should focus on finding a middle ground.”


Yet even he was frustrated at times. For example, AU has had an enduring tradition where decisions take ages to come, and meetings have lengthy items that do not form an immediate concern.

Read: ‘Pan-African’ Ruto still in the clutches of the IMF

Last week at the Assembly, the AU focused on education, science, innovation, technology even though the immediate problem was security and peace and stability, including ongoing wars in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Decisions taken at the level of Heads of State continue to be revisited and revised, or even resisted, by some members of the Permanent Representatives Committee, which should really be unacceptable,” Kagame said.

“We even see parallel structures created, whose main purpose seems to be to frustrate and delay the reforms which the Heads of State have suggested and put in place.”

Going forward, the AU must complete the reforms, including clarifying areas of cooperation between regional blocs and the continental body, clarify duties of the Pan-African parliament and the African Court of Justice and prevent a relapse in the old ways including corruption and overlapping roles.

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