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Challenges for the African Union

SYMPOSIUM ON THE AFRICAN UNION Organised by InterAfrica Group and Justice Africa Keynote Presentation
by Abdul Mohammed, Addis Ababa, 03 March 2002 We are meeting here today to discuss one of the greatest challenges to Africa in our time, the formation of the African Union. The creation of political and economic unity across the African continent has been a dream of Africans for many decades, and realising this dream is a great responsibility that falls upon African leaders today. For ordinary Africans, unity is a powerful impulse. I hope that this Symposium today, organised by InterAfrica Group and Justice Africa, can play a role in identifying how we can move forward on the realisation of the African Union. Let me start by thanking the ECA, its Executive Secretary K.Y. Amoako, and its Deputy Executive Secretary, Lala Ben Barka, for the opportunity of convening this Symposium on the African Union. I would like to congratulate them for their enthusiasm and their exceptional commitment to ensuring that the substantive issues are discussed in a comprehensive, frank and constructive manner. This Symposium is possible only because of the African Development Forum which begins tomorrow. The ADF is a remarkable event, which has greatly enriched the level of debate and the quality of consensus-making in Africa today, and we are pleased that this Symposium is so closely connected with it. This process has also been facilitated and is greatly enriched by the support and participation of the OAU, symbolised by the presence of the Secretary General who is here today, alongside the active participation of Assistant Secretaries General, who are making presentations in their respective fields. We acknowledge this most genuine commitment, and their activism gives us the confidence that it will be sustained. The quest for unity in Africa is what brings us here. Unity in Africa has a deep historical resonance: it was the goal of the fathers of independence and has remained the basic aspiration of African citizens across the continent. Political and economic unity in Africa is not an alien idea, or a programme imposed from outside. On the contrary, it springs from the very roots of African identity, which has long resisted being arbitrarily divided into national citizenships. Today, at the dawn of the 21st century, Africa is once again at a crossroads. The current environment is auspicious for change. Within Africa, we are recognising the imperative of concerted, serious change, if we are to achieve the most basic of our common goals. Internationally, we now have international partners who have come to recognise that they need a new way of doing business if Africa is to begin to achieve its potential. At a continental level, the African Union is the clear manifestation of our collective demand for standing together and addressing our problems in concert. Meanwhile, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, NEPAD, holds out the promise of a dramatically improved relationship with aid and trade partners, on the basis of a clear and sustained commitment to good governance. Africa has seen many false starts in the last few decades. How do we know that this is not just another focus for misplaced enthusiasm? Will the current initiatives fall by the wayside? Will the world continue to mock Africa as the land of broken promises, of criminalised and failed states that inevitably subvert the best intentions of their peoples and their development partners? There are some good reasons to hope that things may be different this time around. The decisions for greater

unity, for better governance, for improved economic management, for greater democracy, are made because of inescapable pressures, both internal and external, that really force us to come to terms with the collective realities that we are facing. The root of our recovery at the national and subregional and continental level is recognising what has gone wrong, and accepting these realities. Societies that have solved their basic problems of conflict and misgovernment have done so, first and foremost, by allowing free debate and open exchange of ideas. Where there is secrecy and censorship, there we see that corruption, conflict and complacency thrive. Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. Our reality today is that just about everything that could go wrong is going wrong with us. Let us begin by facing the difficult realities of our continent: the fact that our economies are crippled by corruption and mismanagement, that organised crime has penetrated the highest levels of many governments, that many states are adopting the language of democracy and human rights only with the greatest reluctance, and that African institutions are weak and incapable of delivering on their mandates. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a survival issue not just for tens of millions of Africans, but also for some of our nations themselves. If we do not recognise these realities in meetings such as this one, then we are making ourselves irrelevant. Sadly, in the past, Africa’s regional organisations have tiptoed around reality, and have thereby made themselves stagnant backwaters. Thank goodness there are reasons to believe that things are changing. If we don’t move forward we are already left behind. Across Africa, there is genuine commitment to solving the most pressing problems facing us. Africans are supremely skilled at surviving. Our people have managed to not only survive, but even to build businesses and preserve vibrant communities, in countries whose states have collapsed such as Somalia, or where the formal economy has disintegrated, such as much of Congo. If we look at the economic statistics for this continent, most of us should have starved to death long ago. But we are resourceful and resilient: we have a habit of confounding the worst predictions. The HIV/AIDS pandemic will test those survival skills to the limit, but I have no doubt that Africa will overcome this pandemic, hopefully sooner rather than later. But how are we to transform this expertise at coping into the economic and governance capacity necessary to put Africa on the road to conquering poverty and achieving democracy and human rights, as well as integration and unity? There are high-level initiatives, including the African Union and the idea of NEPAD. We also see a steady accretion of best practices in the fields of governance and development. For example, the OAU decision to refuse to recognise governments that take power by unconstitutional means is highly welcome. In the area of economic development, the idea that donors should reduce conditionalities and make monitorable long-term commitments to assisting countries on the basis of democratic governance is now becoming accepted as best practice. The real challenge we face is the practical application of these principles. How can these be scaled up to bring effective, sustainable change to the whole continent? This requires institutional capacities and effective coalitions. We know all-too-well that statements of intent are not enough on their own. The history of modern Africa is littered with failed institutions and initiatives that have not been followed through to completion, of promises that have been broken. Building an effective African Union will have a tremendous impact in breaking this cycle of raised hopes and then disappointment. In contrast to the past, governments should be mindful of the value of civil society, which is an asset to the governance and development of the continent. The history of Pan Africanism is rooted in civil society and popular struggle, and the legitimacy of the project of the African Union will depend on the extent to which it can tap into this tradition of grassroots mobilisation. Partnerships with civil society organisations should be an integral part of the pan-African unification strategy, and not an afterthought.

In June last year, the OAU held its first-ever joint meeting with civil society organisations: we must build upon this with a systematic programme of engagement between the African Union—across all its institutions—and civil society organisations. One of our priorities here in this Symposium and in the ADF that follows will be to specify the modalities of this engagement. Much the same holds for NEPAD, which is an initiative based on the principle of good governance. We all agree with and support the principles of NEPAD. But we also recognise that we can best ensure success in meeting those commitments if there is civil society engagement in setting the goals and strategies, and monitoring the achievements of NEPAD. To date, the process of setting up the African Union has caused some discomfort among African CSOs. The Union is an arrangement between states, and as such it is inevitably a sovereign process. But at the same time it cannot be regarded simply as ‘business as usual’. The rush to formalise the Union and set up its basic institutions, and the exclusion (for the most part) of processes of wider consultation makes many suspicious about the quality and sustainability of the process. This does not make us any less enthusiastic about unity: instead it makes us more determined that it should succeed. We have a number of concerns. One set relates to the ownership and legitimacy of the process of establishing the Union. This should be as open and inclusive as possible. Therefore we regard the African Parliament, and the AU’s Economic and Social Council, as the key institutions that will set the Union apart from its predecessor, the OAU. Setting up these institutions should be a priority. As the recent East African experience indicates, elections to a parliament are critical to the legitimacy of an international union. A second concern is rational and workable institutions. The African Union agenda is ambitious and we have no illusions that it can be achieved quickly. Prioritisation and a focus on ensuring that each task is delegated to the institution that can do it best should be our watchwords. Thus, there are core functions of the AU that can be done best at the level of national governments. Our priority should be to ensure that these governments perform. But that doesn’t just mean leaving responsibility where it lies now: part of the agenda of the African Union means that we are all our brothers’ keepers. The AU itself, plus its institutions and member states, supplemented by CSOs, will have a key role in monitoring governments’ performance, ensuring that best practices are followed, and making sure that standards are continually upgraded. Related to this is the question of leadership. Building the African Union demands visionary and capable leadership at national level, and leadership of the regional institutions themselves. There are other functions that are important inputs in terms of the institutionalisation of the Union that are best done by others. Civil society organisations, research centres and the private sector all have their roles. So do sub-regional organisations, or regional economic communities (RECs), which in many respects have led the agenda of African unification over the last two decades. Let us not dismantle anything that works or set up rival institutions alongside it, let us instead support what is serving our needs best. One of the challenges that we must address today is how to make our regional and subregional organisations and initiatives, many of them with overlapping mandates and competencies, work effectively together. One compelling reason for this incremental approach is its affordability. The OAU is struggling financially because many of its members are deep in arrears. How is the AU with its much more ambitious structures to be financed? Is it likely that African governments will dip into their meagre budgets for constructing a new bureaucracy? Or do some of the governments with high disposal income think that they can buy political loyalty by funding the institutions?

Regional peace and security is an essential foundation for the Union. Without it, our energies are wasted. Africa is still seeking what works in terms of making peace and making peace sustainable. The issue of peace and security has to go back to the basics, and has to work at many different levels. One of the basics is trying to get countries to define what they mean by national security, so that there is the possibility of regional and international engagement with security policies. Another demand is building structures at the subregional and regional level. In both instances, we will quickly see that security is too important an issue to be left to the security services. Real security is achieved when there is a deep national consensus on a country’s needs, and security matters are not entrusted to a small coterie of individuals around the head of state and chief of the army. Civil society should be engaged in defining national security. And the best guarantee of regional peace and security is a regional consensus on shared core values of democracy and neighbourliness, values that are best achieved by the widest possible stakeholder engagement. Africans, more than at any other time, are yearning for the deliverables, on democracy, development and institution-building. African leaders have got away with too much because the expectations of their citizens have been low. Most citizens no longer take their governments’ promises seriously. It is through a process of ongoing, active engagement with civil society, including the setting of goals and targets and the monitoring of progress, that some of that cynicism can be overcome and some of the energy redirected into the common causes of democracy and development. That same process of engagement will also help civil society understand the constraints under which governments are acting, and perhaps refocus demands onto more modest but more deliverable outcomes. It is fortunate that the process of building the African Union is still in its early stages. The early processes of adopting the Union and ratifying the Act by national parliaments were perfunctory and uninspiring, and were not even covered by the media. This reflects the deep disillusion and cynicism of Africans towards their leaders. But this can change. The process of setting up the Union, if it is wider and more inclusive, can confer credibility on African political processes. African sovereignty, which is now so debased in some countries so as to be worthless coin, can be reconstructed and re-infused with value by the process of building the Union. We must ask how African governments can best grapple with the dilution of sovereignty that the Union entails. Let me turn to an important positive aspect of the African Union. Some of the integration imperatives are real, simply because the global situation demands them. Regional integration is an essential stepping stone towards more effective and more equal participation in the global economy. Let me finish by underlining the importance of this one-day symposium. It is the first time that we are having a meaningful discussion on the challenges of the African Union. It is an opportunity for a wide range of stakeholders to have an input into debates on a range of key issues for the African Union and Africa’s regional integration and development prospects. The Symposium is organised in the following manner. We will begin the substantive part of the day’s work with plenary presentations by senior officials. We ask for them to be candid in treating the shortcomings of the past and the problems of the present. For the afternoon, we will then break into three breakout sessions for more detailed discussion and input. These are, one, the economics of regional integration, two, regional peace and security, and three, the architecture of the African Union. The outcome will be a statement for consideration at the ADF, which will also deal with some of these issues, and which will have enduring relevance. One area in which I am confident the declaration will be particularly strong concerns linkages between the AU and civil society, and the challenge of finding mechanisms to institutionalise and deepen this engagement. We challenge those who are here not to despair because they have been marginalised up to now, but instead to enter the fray with constructive criticism. We should see this exercise as the beginning of a consultation that will continue over the coming months and years. Concrete

recommendations will come out of today’s deliberations, which will be fed into the ADF over the coming days, and then into the OAU Council of Ministers and the AU Summit in July. This is not a one-shot affair: we intend to follow up with another consultation concerned specifically with NEPAD, and another in advance of the Pretoria summit. The African Union is too important to be an exclusive purview of governments. This is not infringement of the sovereign exercise, it is the solemn duty of African citizens and organisations to make it their business to be engaged in building the African Union. It is incumbent on governments to make the African Union a truly inclusive and democratic project.