The 11th extraordinary session of the African Union Summit concluded 18 November in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the AU’s secretariat, attended by many African leaders.
The summit’s agenda focused on administrative and institutional reform of the AU, with attendees agreeing on equal distribution of posts among all regions of the continent, as well as men and women.
The two-day summit issued several resolutions, most notably that the composition of the AU’s High Commission will include a chairperson, one deputy and six commissioners.
The six commissions are agriculture and rural developments; trade, mining, and industry; education, innovation and technology; infrastructure and energy; health, humanitarian affairs and social development; and politics, peace and security.
The resolution will be implemented at the end of the current commission’s tenure in 2021.
The AU’s General Assembly decided to choose senior officials in the commission based on equality between the regions of the continent (north, west, central, east and south), and fair post distribution between men and women.
Rotation will be based on the English alphabetical order of country names in each commission.
The High Commission’s chairperson and deputy will be a male and female from different regions. Commission leaders will be evenly distributed among men and women and chosen from the three other regions that are not those of the chairperson or deputy.
Representatives from the regions of the chairperson and deputy cannot choose the six commissioners.
The commission also created a senior committee composed of five African figures representing the five regions that will oversee nominations for senior positions.
The chairperson and deputy will be chosen by secret ballot by one third of AU members that are eligible to vote. The decision, which amended Article 38 of the AU Statute, stipulates they must have a qualifying track record in government, parliament, civil society or the private sector.
The chairperson and deputy must also have integrity and impartiality.
The Supreme Committee will be in charge of evaluating the credentials of candidates to the eight positions, assisted by an independent African firm.
The General Assembly assigned the AU to draft a plan to attract and retain African talent that is lured to work outside the continent.
The resolution placed accountability and transparency as principle characteristics of leaders, who will be chosen based on competence and qualifications.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the chairman of the AU for 2018, said the goals of the extraordinary session were “to move forward on the institutional reform of the AU”. “The goal is to simply empower Africa and grant our people the future they deserve,” Kagame said.
The AU’s Commission Chairman Moussa Mohamed Faki (former Chad foreign minister), said at the inaugural session: “The Commission needs to show more flexibility in management so it can continue to respond more quickly and effectively to events it faces.”
These decisions were part of an overhaul that began in the previous round in 2017 which chose Kagame as chairman.
He made great progress in opening the door for women and youth, and streamlining AU operations, but was unsuccessful in achieving financial independence for the AU. Most African countries refused to add import tariffs to fund the AU and its activities.
“There is a perpetual problem in Africa, with the AU and before that with the Organisation of African Unity,” explained Mahmoud Hamdi, professor at the Institute of African Studies at Cairo University.
“Everyone is worried about their independence.” He continued: “Africans sacrificed a lot to win their independence, and refuse to lose that in favour of an international organisation that would have greater power over them.” Meanwhile, “in many countries, Africans lived, and continue to live, in the shadow of strongmen who control the fate of their people, and in turn do not want to lose their political power.”
There are 15 African countries ruled by presidents who have been in power for more than 15 years each. The longest presidential tenure is seven years which can be renewed once.
However, over the last few years several presidents amended their constitutions to remove two-term limits, which brought the continent back to “patriarchal” rule, according to some observers.
“Imposing export tariffs would bring huge losses in revenue for African countries, which are already limited,” said Hamdi.
“The Chinese presence hinders the empowerment of the AU,” he added, because Beijing is wealthy and its companies can complete projects at very competitive prices compared to any Western investor.
“This advantage gave African countries independence from their former colonisers who cannot accomplish what China is doing because of cost differences,” said Hamdi.
Over the past two decades, China has given more than $100 billion in infrastructure projects, along with low interest soft loans, and many African countries paid their dues by allowing China to invest in their natural resources such as mining, agriculture and energy.
Hamdi noted that widespread corruption in several African countries will delay the creation of an AU that is based on transparency and competence.
“That is why we cannot envision building a strong AU, but this does not mean that Africans have not taken a giant leap in that direction,” he added.
Several African countries have successfully combatted corruption, including Senegal and Botswana, among others.
What is more prevalent, however, is the trend of the rule of strongmen which – in the African experience – is accompanied by corruption and can even end in civil war or famine.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: AU edges towards reform