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The Long Road To Reform African Union (AU), Beyond Reach


When African leaders established the African Union Institutional Reform Program in 2016 and charged the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, with leading the reform efforts, there were great expectations that the continental body, which has been taking on more than it can handle, would be somewhat reformed.

However, as time passes, the arduous goal is not just making Kagame lose interest, but also demonstrating that reforming the AU is to put it mildly, complex and necessitates the backing of all member countries.

The goal was to improve the AU’s efficacy in carrying out the organization’s flagship Agenda 2063 by realigning its objectives. However, the Union is still at a crossroads, and the reform goals are overdue.

Africa continues to have paradoxical advantages and curses. The Union, which was once thought of as an organization to aid in the renaissance of Africa, now seems to be aggravating the issue.

Despite establishing Agenda 2063, the continental institution is unable to meet even the most basic objectives and cannot achieve its own goals. One of AU’s lofty goals was to silence the gun by 2020. Two years after the deadline, a few are at peace. The number of coups, terrorist attacks, and political unrest increased last year.

Another aspect of the AU’s poor track record is its continued silence with regard to the civil conflict raging in northern Ethiopia for more than a year. Even after the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the TPLF opened the door to peace talks, the TPLF refused to negotiate under AU auspices, blaming the organization for its lack of objectivity and efficacy.

Except for considering moving its headquarters, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) did nothing to effectively end the war in Ethiopia. Insiders claim that this is largely because of effective lobbying.

In a string of coups in Mali, Guinea, and Chad, regional bloc leaders have shown themselves to be more responsive than the AU. As a result of persistent pressure on the AU’s PSC, it apparently disregarded the coups in West Africa and the Tigray conflict.

Powerful member nations frequently arm-twist the AUPSC, the AU’s most powerful organ. The AU’s Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) department, which is now run by Nigerians, also makes the final decision over which member states the organization would be tough on or apathetic towards. Olusegun Obasanjo was given the task by the department of mediating peace in Ethiopia, which is still ongoing.

The Union has little to show for its efforts in terms of advancement on other fronts, such as economic integration or the free trade agreement.

Though operationalized by January 2021, no nation has begun trading as of yet, according to Chiza Charles Chiumya, acting director of the Industry, Minerals, Entrepreneurship, and Tourism Directorate at the department of Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry, and Minerals in the African Union Commission (AUC).

“The agreement’s domestication has been the only significant activity to date. Therefore, no significant transactions have been documented thus far. The accord is still being domesticated by other nations. In other words, they are attempting to make sure that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and all the documentation necessary to move products and services across the border are in place,”  Chiumya told The Reporter.

A comprehensive AU reform agenda, unveiled in 2016 in an effort to modernize the union, was deemed essential for the AU’s ability to put Agenda 2063 into action and make it “fit for purpose.”

As a result, the AU Reform Implementation Unit was established to research and carry out the Union’s institutional reform. The two main reform initiatives essentially consisted of pruning its numerous institutional tentacles and gaining financial autonomy from donor support.

The Commission, organs, agencies, committees, and a complex web of broad, occasionally ill-defined, and in reality fragmented organizational structures make up AU institutions, according to the Reform Unit’s assessment. Along with 11 African Union organs, 31 Specialized Technical Agencies (STAs), and 20 high-level committees, there are eight Commission directorates, 31 departments, and offices.

In an institution that is perpetually plagued by a shortage of qualified employees, the fragmented character of these institutions has led to duplication of efforts, resource waste, and limited staff capacity optimization.

Six AU Commissions now exist as a result of the Reform Unit’s recommendations.

Along with generating a web of institutional complications, the Union’s involvement in many areas without establishing priority has reduced its funding requirements. Instead of engaging with residents and taking action locally, it is occupied with paperwork and internal processes among those institutions’ many layers.

Aside from the poor level of vaccination on the continent, the AU has failed to put an end to six coups and attempted coups in the last two years.

Another unmet objective was for the AU to achieve institutional independence and self-financing by 2020, which required it to cut ties with donors and aid. Instead, its reliance on donations is growing.

The Achilles heel of AU’s Reform

The three main obstacles to the Union’s reform initiatives are the excessive number of institutions, irrelevant goals, incapacity to self-finance, and member countries’ reluctance to fully participate in the reform process.

In truth, member nations are afraid of the Union’s strength and do not want it to be powerful and effective, particularly when it comes to human rights, democracy, and justice.

The fact that member nations do not want the Union to look into their governments’ internal affairs is one of the reasons the AU Courts of Justice is still inactive.

Three categories—operational, program, and peace funds—are used to classify the AU budget.

For instance, the AU executive council adopted a USD 655 million budget for 2023 in Lusaka last month, with donor partners footing 67 percent of the bill. Foreign partners often pay for the operational budget for peace support, which includes costs associated with Obsanjo’s shuttle peace negotiations.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was astounded to see that approximately two-thirds of the African Union Commission’s budget donated when she took office as chairwoman in 2012.

Member nations agreed to lessen financial dependency by 2020 in June 2015. The target has vanished from view seven years later, and its dependence has actually grown.

The Union asked that member nations provide 100 percent of its operational budget, 75 percent of its program budget, and 25 percent of its budget for peace support operations at a summit in Kigali in July 2016. This was supposed to happen gradually over a five-year period beginning in January 2016.

In order to fund the continent’s operational, program, and peace operations budgets, the Kigali Decision also established and implemented a 0.2 percent fee on all qualified commodities imported into the continent beginning in 2017.

It was decided to endow the Peace Fund with USD 325 million from the levy in 2017, raised in equal amounts from each of the five AU regions (USD 65 million each), increasing to USD 400 million in 2020.

The 0.2 percent fee, if completely implemented, could bring in USD 1.2 billion yearly, almost double the average annual total budget of the AU. But by June 2020, the levy had only brought in USD 176 million, well short of the USD 400 million peace operation fund set for 2021.

South Sudan and other nations were expelled for failing to contribute.

17 member countries—Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Congo Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Togo—were collecting the tax as of November 2020. Large economies like South Africa, Algeria, and Egypt continue to be hesitant.

Ethiopia, whose economy is heavily dependent on imports, could provide about USD 3.2 million yearly. However, Ethiopia is one of six nations (the others being Nigeria, the Comoros, Senegal, Libya, and Mauritania) that, as of August 2022, have not even domesticated the requirement to contribute 0.2 percent of their import bill to the AU budget.

After the plan was shown to be ineffective, the Union’s assembly unveiled a new plan for its members for the 2020, 2021, and 2022 budget years that was based on the concepts of financial capability, solidarity, and equitable burden-sharing to prevent risk concentration.

The new scale requires that no member nation contributes more than USD 35 million and not less than USD 350,000. Countries are expected to contribute according to the size and performance of their GDP under the new assessment system. Six nations—Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa—cover 7.5 percent of the AU’s budget, or 45 percent, according to the new contribution estimate for 2020–2022.

In the second group, which accounts for about 3.7 percent of the AU’s annual budget, are Ethiopia, Kenya, and Libya. The top six pay about USD 3.5 million yearly, according to the new estimate, while Ethiopia pays USD 1.2 million.

Once more, this plan has not been effective. As was seen at the 35th AU meeting in Addis Ababa in February 2022, the six nations with the greatest contributions are calling for a more prominent place within the organization. These nations’ leaders could be seen vying for the commissioner’s post. These three members each hold a position on one of the AU’s commissions.

The percentage of partners in the AU budget has decreased from 73 percent in 2017 to 61 percent in 2020 since the Kigali Summit in 2016, when the AU decided to achieve financial self-sufficiency by 2020.

In fact, AU’s overall budget decreased by 17 percent between 2017 and 2020, which made it necessary for it to concentrate only on its priorities.

Only 56 percent of the 1,165 intended roles at the AU were filled in 2017, with the other positions remaining unfilled due to a lack of funding. As a result, employees have been hired on temporary contracts.

Nearly 15,000 individuals are employed by AU at the moment. However, the AU still depends heavily on outside donors for funding.

Between 97 and 100 percent of the budget for the peace fund comes from donors.

The EU, followed by China, is the major donor to AU peacekeeping operations. The European Union provides all funding for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which was later reorganized and changed its name to the African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) in March 2022.

The mission in Somalia is expected to conclude in 2024 when the five east African nations that have contributed soldiers to ATMIS remove their troops. Donor interest has dwindled as a result of funding AMISOM for 20 years without defeating al-Shabab.

The AU continues to be a target for nations looking to use it as a springboard to advance their interests at the UN while the organization fails in its attempt to become self-sufficient. Numerous foreign nations undertake projects in Africa, deepen their ties with the continent, and offer financial support whenever they want Africa to have a voice in UN decisions.

The eastern and western flanks both do this and keep doing it. Even lately, Ukraine encouraged the Union to speak out against Russia, which is ultimately dividing Africa, in order to punish it. Achieving the necessary number of UN votes requires the support of 55 African nations.

The AU still acts as a vote broker and receives project financing from even tiny nations. For instance, there is disagreement among African nations on the Union’s recent approval of Israel’s request for Observer Status in the AU. This not only makes the organization’s financial independence worse, but it also shows that it is not properly positioned in the world of evolving international relations.

Kagame runs out of steam

Paul Kagame was tasked with leading the reform unit and carrying out the reform agenda. High-profile figures like Carlos Lopes, the former head of the ECA, and Donald Kaberuka, former president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), among others, were on his advisory board.

The AU has adopted 1,500 resolutions since its founding in 2002, according to Kagame’s 2017 report. “It is difficult to ascertain how many of those have actually been put into practice. At every level of the AU, performance and accountability are lacking,” read the report.

Therefore, Kagame suggested limiting the AU to a small number of goals, examining the organization’s bodies and operations to improve performance, improving ties with African citizens, enhancing the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness, identifying sustainable finance, and decreasing dependence on development partners in an effort to achieve the reform.

These crucial concerns are still unresolved, though. Without first achieving financial independence, Kagame contends, institutional independence and effectiveness cannot be attained.

According to a number of reports, the US, EU, and other donors are currently hand-twisting the Union and demanding various give-backs in exchange for their funding. Kagame and his reform team don’t seem to have much more energy left, even if the reforms are still being implemented. According to a senior official working for the AU who asked to remain anonymous, the team eventually realized that revamping the AU required the backing of member nations.

The Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS) and the AU’s communication division did not reply to The Reporter’s email requests for comment.

Kagame is actually attempting to move the AU’s administrative center from Addis Ababa to Kigali under the guise of the reform, according to some sources. Insiders claim that Monique Nsanzabaganwa, who served as Kagame’s finance minister and is currently Musa Faki Mahamat’s deputy, is handling this.

She was given responsibility for the everyday administrative concerns in the Union, including recruiting, and is, for example, allegedly insisting that no Ethiopians hold important posts inside the AU.

Kagame came close to realizing his aim during the conflict in northern Ethiopia. He has been successful in getting several significant summits to Kigali, including the ITU summit in 2022, even if moving the organization’s headquarters is improbable.

Kagame no longer enjoys the favor of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed despite his standing in the west and in the AU. Kagame, referred to as “a new breed of African leaders” by former President Clinton and was knowledgeable of the developmental state concept, purposefully skipped a number of opportunities to meet with Abiy.

“Moving the AU’s main office is not an easy task. First of all, Rwanda is a small nation with a modest economy. Second, the area around the Great Lakes is quite unstable. After all, the AU’s member nations would not concur,” said Constantinos Berhutesfa (PhD), former chair of the AU Anti-Corruption Board.

The way forward

It is not easy to repurpose the AU to fit into its eventual targets. Simply put, the organization started too many projects, making it difficult to organize and connect them.

The AU can keep to two measurements in an effort to achieve the self-financing aim, which is fundamental for other targets. As an incentive, it must offer important jobs and responsibilities to top contributors. Second, it needs to start penalizing people who don’t make donations on time.

The reform, according to experts, cannot be accomplished by just one individual like Kagame.

“Instead, a select group of devoted member state leaders must implement the reform. The OAU was founded in 1963 as a result of the efforts of a select group of outstanding leaders from nations like Ghana and Ethiopia. In 2002, it became the AU as a result of the leadership of individuals like Libya’s Gaddafi,” a senior analyst remarked.

With the same mentality that led to the issue, the AU can’t repair itself. In addition to establishing itself as a global power, it must be vociferous in defending its members against any outside pressure. For instance, Gaddafi was paying for a sizable percentage of the AU’s budget, as well as filling in for members who had defaulted. But the AU lost its patron when the US destroyed Libya, according to the analyst.

If member nations can’t pay their bills, there can be no robust union. They cannot also have faith in a donor-supported union. Members must, however, be prepared to accept any decisions made by the Union.

The non-interference principle in member states, one of the AU’s founding act provisions, must be revised for it to take effect. Many academics ponder how the Union can foster democracy and prosperity in Africa while being powerless to address its own internal problems, including injustice, military coups, and state corruption in its member nations.

Constantinos believes that for the AU to flourish, it must narrow its focus. “The AU must prune several of its present branches and concentrate solely on politics, security, and peace. Key continental and independent institutions must handle other goals including economic integration, infrastructure, and culture.”

Another suggestion is for the AU to separate from the models of western continental organization.

The AU’s organizational structure is modeled after that of the EU and UN, but lacks the crucial components, such as full funding and involvement from member nations on those continents.

More AU fault lines have been revealed as a result of the reform initiative that was previously unknown. The tentative agreement between the AU and member states, however, could deteriorate if the current reform process fails, possibly resulting in the dissolution of the Union.

Africa is the world’s largest continent, making it impossible to create institutions that are appropriate for it in all fields and sectors. There is a need for numerous continental institutions to operate independently in key industries. Therefore, the AU needs to reorder its priorities and concentrate solely on the political, peace, and security problems facing the continent.

A new autonomous continental institution should be created and reorganize other sectors. It must separate itself from outside influences, as any nation can win votes from 55 other nations by contributing to a single AU project.

Only when the AU is trusted by its member nations can sanctions against non-contributing nations, accountability for internal problems in African governments, and protection of the continent from outside influences be implemented.

A union cannot accomplish a shared goal if it is not answerable to its member nations and vice versa.

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