Alchemists of AU Reform

Adekeye Adebajo
Business Day, 4 September 2017

The Kagame report on reforming the African Union (AU) – named after its chair, Rwandan president, Paul Kagame – was accepted by African leaders at its summit in July. The report’s eminent members – including former South African Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni – however, appear to represent African alchemists: marabouts uttering mysterious but undecipherable incantations in the hope that the AU will somehow be magically revived.

This is the most disappointing report of a blue-ribbon commission in living memory. It seems rushed, lacks substance, and its fluffy recommendations are on a level of vacuity as to be of no real utility. These are physicians who are proposing half-baked cures to ills that have not been properly diagnosed. The result could clearly be fatal to the comatose AU patient. It is important to note some of the discrepancies of the AU commission from the outset. It has a staff of only around 700, compared to the European Union’s (EU) 33,000 staff. The AU’s 55 members are also largely responsible for implementing resolutions, as the commission lacks both the capacity and mandate to do so.

All the report’s nine “key findings” – chronic failure to implement AU decisions; limited relevance to African citizens; fragmented focus areas; overdependence on funders; under-performance of organs; limited management capacity; lack of performance accountability; unclear division of labour between the AU and sub-regional bodies; and inefficient working methods – are all more coherently outlined in Nigerian technocrat, Adebayo Adedeji’s 2007 panel report on reforming the AU.

The Kagame report scathingly describes the AU as “dysfunctional”, but there are no concrete solutions proposed for reforming it. The committee’s four suggestions for strengthening the organisation – prioritise key tasks with continental scope; realign AU institutions to deliver these priorities; manage the AU efficiently, politically and operationally; and self-finance the AU sustainably – are nebulous and trite. The report’s main recommendations constitute a laundry list of unoriginal ideas. Saying that the continental body should focus on fewer areas such as political affairs, peace and security, economic integration, and Africa’s global representation, is grossly unhelpful since these are, in fact, all huge areas. Merely recommending a clear division of labour between the AU and Africa’s sub-regional bodies is equally unhelpful.

The document then calls on the AU Commission to “re-evaluate its structures” to ensure that it has the “right size” and “capabilities,” but no figures are ever mentioned. The recommendation that the “senior leadership team should be lean and performance oriented” is equally vacuous. The panel then astonishingly calls for “an audit of bureaucratic bottlenecks and inefficiencies,” an audit which Adedeji had undertaken a decade ago.

The report notes that the 15-member AU Peace and Security Council’s (PSC) decision-making and engagement “do not meet the ambition envisaged in the PSC Protocol,” but how exactly the PSC has fallen short is left to our imagination. The panel then advocates a review of the AU PSC’s – one of the few effective and useful bodies of the organisation – membership and working methods, as well as giving it an enhanced role in prevention and crisis management. But, should the 15 members be reduced, or should more powerful countries have permanent seats on the Council? In strengthening the PSC’s prevention and crisis management role, recommendations from key AU reports and recent UN reports on conflict prevention and peacebuilding have not been thoroughly engaged.

The panel suggests that the AU hold one summit at heads-of-state level a year (instead of the current two), and that the other summit focus on coordinating Africa’s sub-regional bodies. But if one of the key problems is that AU decisions are not followed up, would waiting a year to review them rather than six months, be really helpful? The panel notes that 74% of the AU’s $439 million budget for 2017 is to be financed by external donors, before incomprehensibly calling for the AU’s “Kigali Financing Decision” in which members fund 100% of the organisation’s operating budget, 75% of the programme budget, and 25% of peacekeeping operations, to be implemented.

The panel’s final coup de grâce suggests establishing a high-level panel of heads of state to supervise the implementation of its report. So, the very same leaders who have been responsible for not implementing scores of continental resolutions over 54 years are now being charged with supervising implementation of a report on many of the very same resolutions that they have spectacularly failed to implement! This is surely pure alchemy.