By Paul Ejime
As an example of leadership for Africa, the AU is seriously wanting. Yet this is not just an intergovernmental organization. It is a rallying point for the actualization of the African people’s deepest aspirations for freedom, dignity, unity and shared prosperity. In a hegemonic globalizing world, the AU needs a revolutionary leader with global stature to uphold and protect the principles and vision of the Constitutive Act.
These are not good times for Africa and the African Union (AU). The flagship political organization which many expect to provide continental leadership has just launched a fresh process to fill the vacant positions of its Chairperson of the AU Commission, Deputy and eight Commissioners in January 2017 following the stalemated leadership election at its 27th Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, in July.
No doubt, the AU, which succeeded the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 2002, has chalked up some achievements beyond the name change, but concerned Pan-Africanists and observers are worried about the seeming lack of vision and creativity by the Addis Ababa-based Commission.
The majority of Africa’s estimated 800 million people are disillusioned and desperate. Their continent is not just on the bottom rung of human development indicators. It has become a metaphor for disease, poverty, unemployment, corruption and mismanagement, bad governance and faces the greatest human displacement among all the world regions, with more Africans forced from their homes by conflicts, hardships or oppression by governments. Compared to other regions, more African countries are either involved in raging conflicts or are experiencing post-conflict tensions, forcing hundreds if not thousands of its youths on daily dangerous journeys abroad in desperate attempts to escape hardships in their home countries.
The AU can not be an alternative to the governments in its member states, but a purposeful and dynamic AU leadership can inspire, mobilize and galvanize the governments and the populations around quick solutions to the myriad problems confronting the continent.
Consequently, and beyond the more acceptable calls for an urgent restructuring of the AU, some critics with more extreme views are advocating outright disbandment, Afrexit (after the British exit of the European Union) or the formation of an alternative organization by opposition political parties on the continent.
Among proponents of Afrexit or an alternative AU is Tendai Ruben Mbofana, a social justice activist and commentator. In a recent op-ed, he argued that the “AU is nothing more than a dictators’ club, which seeks to serve and protect the interests of those in power, at the expense of the suffering ordinary people.” While admitting that “not all opposition parties on the continent serve the interests of the people,” he insists that “discretion” could be exercised in determining the composition of a “Shadow AU,” citing the Union’s alleged failures in South Sudan, Burundi and Zimbabwe, his home country, to buttress his argument.
Equally strident is Ghana’s Prof George B.N. Ayittey, a research fellow at the Independent Institute, an American conservative policy think-tank, who in an article entitled “Disband the African Union,” published last July in the Foreign Policy Magazine, faulted African leaders for modelling the AU after an unravelling EU. To him, the AU “is famous for its annual summits, where unrepentant despots sip champagne and applaud their own longevity while issuing preposterous communiqués that nobody else in the world pays attention to.”
“Instead of a centralized but weak organization like the AU, Africa needs a looser style of confederacy that allows national actors to coordinate decisions with one another, rather than imposing choices on them,” the professor posits. “Such a confederacy should also have strict membership requirements, to ensure there is sufficient common ground for political and economic coordination and a common vision of the future. At a minimum each member state should be democratic and respect Africa’s heritage of free markets, free enterprise, and free trade.”
The AU has also come under the hammer for its inept handling of the dispute between NATO countries and the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed in October 2011. Gadhafi had his faults, but he was instrumental to the formation of the AU, and indeed one of its biggest financiers until his death, under-writing the debts many member states owed the organization. Under Gadhafi Libya had the highest standard of living in Africa, but the country is now virtually a failed state. Gadhafi’s alleged crime also pales into insignificance vis-a-vis what has been playing out for several years in Syria, while the AU maintains an undignified silence as the same world powers that deposed the Libyan leader conveniently feign incapacity in carrying out their controversial regime change policy as happened in Libya or Iraq.
But also compelling is the defence of the AU by many of its supporters, including Ambassador Ngovi Kitau, Kenya’s envoy to South Korea (2009-2014). According to him, multilateral partners are happy with the AU, and the fact that Morocco, which left the OAU in 1984 over the unresolved Western Sahara dispute, is staging a comeback, is testimony that the AU is not doing badly. Instead, he accuses those calling for Afrexit or AU disbandment, of engaging in a “recycled but failed strategy” of DISC “Demonize, Isolate, Sanction, and Collapse.”
As the debate rages, the hard truth is that the AU, at best, has underperformed, and at worst has been ineffective in delivering on its mandate under the Constitutive Act.
Drastic changes are therefore required, and urgently too, in the way the AU does its business. For instance, it was obvious that electing an AU Chairperson at the Kigali July Summit was doomed to failure. The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other well-meaning groups had called for a postponement of the polls, arguing that the short-listed candidates lacked the requisite quality. Why the AU leadership went ahead with the election remains debatable, but it was no surprise that ECOWAS members and at least 20 other AU member states out of the Union’s 54-nation membership abstained from the polls. After seven rounds of balloting none of the three candidates mustered the required two-thirds majority of votes.
Even the roller-coaster postponement is not excusable because African leaders had four years’ interval to elect an AU Commission chair. If those in charge of the organization in the past four years could not provide the required quality leadership with the full complement of office, the expectation from their six months extension as “lame-docks” is subject of conjecture.
Given that a group is only as strong as its weakest unit, part of the AU’s major problem, as with most African governments and institutions, can be traced to the flawed leadership recruitment process. The Union has yet to recover from the 2012 bruising and divisive election that produced its outgoing Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa, who ran against then incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon. The Gabonese was the candidate of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and had wanted a second four-year mandate, but the Southern African Development Community (SADC) fielded Dlamini-Zuma, in defiance of an unwritten agreement among the “Big Five” countries – Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa – not to vie for top leadership positions in continental institutions. The SADC had its way in 2012, but at the cost of further polarization of an already divided AU.
Dlamini-Zuma’s AU leadership can claim among its achievements the implementation of Agenda 2063, Women’s Empowerment programme as well as the Common Passport project to facilitate movement/integration on the continent and a 0.2% tax levy on member states to boost self-financing of the AU. But the E-passport and tax projects, which were approved by the Kigali Summit, are largely work in progress, with their implementation at the mercy or convenience of member states.
To a very large extent, the negative consequences of the 2012 election process, which also suffered a six-month delay, have overshadowed Dlamini-Zuma’s AU leadership. She equally did not help matters by delaying the announcement that she would not seek re-election in July, because of her interest in the leadership position at South Africa’s troubled African National Congress (ANC). How she juggles the demands of that ANC ambition with the task of overseeing affairs at AU is anybody’s guess.
But to avoid repeating the costly mistakes of the past, African leaders must get it right in January 2017. The panel charged with shortlisting candidates must spread its dragnet. Pan-Africanists, well-meaning Africans and ordinary citizens should as a matter of necessity join in the search for the best candidate for the AU Commission Chairperson. The task is too important to be left to the vagaries of partisan politics.
AU’s five criteria for the selection of its Commission Chairperson are education, experience, leadership; achievement, then vision and strategy. There is also the troublesome question of regional rotation of leadership positions. These standards are laudable, but in view of Africa’s emergency situation, none of these criteria must stand in the way of recruiting or even head-hunting a visionary, dynamic leader for the AU.
Africa is at the crossroads. It is the epicentre of global political, socio-economic and humanitarian crises, and the AU as the successor of the OAU is not just an intergovernmental organization, but a rallying point for the actualization of Africa’s aspiration, dignity, unity and integration. Since no African country can succeed alone in a conspiratorial globalizing world, the AU as a continental platform needs a leader with global stature, who must uphold and protect the principles and vision enunciated in the AU’s Constitutive Act. Such a leader must possess demonstrable capacity to take hard decisions to revolutionize and restructure the AU and ensure that it delivers dividends to Africans and without necessarily aping the EU or any other organization for that matter.
The AU Commission Chairperson must be presidential and possess the strong character to represent Africa effectively on the world stage. He or she must be a team-player able to assemble a dynamic team with hands-on experience and skills to tackle Africa’s development challenges. The AU leader must be a strong advocate of regional integration, and must be able to engage and insist on democratic constitutionalism.
The good news is that all the possible remedies for AU’s leadership malaise are in Africa. The founding fathers and mothers expect OAU/AU to synergize with Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as the engine/pillars of regional integration. That being the case, the AU should not have delayed in borrowing a leaf from, say, ECOWAS’ 1979 Free Movement Protocol for the planned E-Passport project. Or using ECOWAS’ Community Levy introduced in early 1990s as a template for the AU 0.2% tax, which is coming decades after.
Similarly, the Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos (both of 1980), as well as the African Economic Community documents prepared with visionary inputs from the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) under the leadership of Nigeria’s Prof Adebayo Adedeji, are timeless blueprints for Africa’s home-grown development and governance paradigms all at AU’s disposal.
As Nigeria’s post-civil war Economic Development Commissioner/Minister (1971-75) under General Yakubu Gowon’s Administration, Prof Adedeji along with his Togolese Finance counterpart Edem Kodjo under the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema, did much of the spade work for the formation of ECOWAS in 1975. Kodjo later served as OAU’s Secretary General (1978-83), while the UNECA under Adebayo also piloted the creation of two more RECs – the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in 1981 and 1983, respectively.
Indeed, Africa does not lack leadership models to guide the AU, beginning with South Africa’s iconic statesman Nelson Mandela, to Kofi Annan of Ghana, two-term Secretary General of the United Nations and Nigeria’s Emeka Anyaoku, Commonwealth Secretary General for 10 years, to name a but few. The AU can also draw inspiration from its former head, Ex-Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, who served a single four-year term in Addis-Ababa. Africans and the rest of the world are watching and waiting for African leaders to redeem themselves by giving the AU the right and deserving leadership.
Published Sept 8th, 2016 in Pambazuka News, the Pan Africanist online outreach, this piece is written by Paul Ejime which Pambazuka introduced as an international media and communications consultant – Editor