The AU must get its act together

THE African Union (AU) is once again under a new leadership, headed by the recently elected Moussa Faki of Chad as Chairperson of the AU Commission. But the problems of the pan-African organisation persist. An in-depth study of the workings of the body undertaken by an eminent team put together by Rwandan President Paul Kagame shows that it is all at sea when it comes to implementing resolutions approved by the continent’s leaders.

"The Assembly has adopted more than 1,500 resolutions. Yet there is no easy way to determine how many of those have actually been implemented.” Kagame told the AU’s summit in Addis Ababa at the end of January. What’s new? This problem of whether or not resolutions have been implemented has bedevilled not only the AU, but also its predecessor – the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Many thought that things would change when the AU came into existence in 2002. That, though, does not appear to have been the case. And the failure of the bureaucrats in Addis Ababa to translate resolutions into action has not done much to lift the AU’s poor standing among ordinary Africans.  Most of them know more about the UN than the AU.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that Kagame was critical of the AUC?  “By not following up to ensure that our decisions are implemented, we are effectively saying that they don't matter. As a result, we have a dysfunctional organisation with limited credibility among member states, global partners and citizens alike," Kagame told his colleagues.

Take, for example, the vexed issue of young Africans risking death in the Mediterranean to cross into Europe as asylum seekers and so-called economic migrants. In 2009, the AU adopted a Social Policy Framework for Africa to empower citizens and promote development. At the core of this policy are young people, who have had a raw deal because of poor political leadership in their various countries.

Going by the wave of young people trying to enter Europe illegally, it is clear that the policy is not working. In 2013 the AU came up with its Agenda 2063, a grand plan to make all-round improvements to the wellbeing of citizens and their countries. Well, if the young ones who are supposed to help drive this process forward are abandoning the continent, what hope for Agenda 2063?

And what about the new Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) that aims to help African countries monitor and respond to health threats?  It’s another commendable idea – more so for a continent where three million children under the age of five die each year from preventable diseases; for a continent where Ebola caused so much havoc on the West Coast quite recently.

But what about the small matter of storing vaccines in cold storage? Don’t forget that over 600 million Africans do not have access to electricity and that the continent is the only one where this figure is expected to rise. So how will the millions of vaccines to tackle measles, yellow fever, polio, tuberculosis and such like be cold-stored?

All this boils down to funding. Are African governments spending enough on healthcare? They are not even funding the AU. "Our programmes are 97 per cent funded by external donors and as of December 2016, less than half of member states had paid their assessment in full," according to the Kagame report. A model for funding the organisation has been suggested: levies on certain imports. The argument now is about which imports to tax. Will we get an answer? Don’t forget that a while back the suggestion was to tax airline tickets. But the countries that are dependent on tourism cried this down.

There has to be a way to move the AU forward, but it has to get its act together first. Will Faki, who was once chairman of the AU’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council, bring about the change that is needed to reform the organisation and bring it to the standard that the Kagame report would like to see?

The West African revolution continues unabated

THE recent departure from power by Yahya Jammeh in The Gambia and John Mahama in Ghana is a continuation of the revolutionary trend begun in West Africa by young people who chased Blaise Compaore from power in Burkina Faso in 2014 when he attempted to extend his stay in power beyond his mandatory term of office. He is a very lucky man – given the role that Ouagadougou played in the illicit movement of diamonds from Sierra Leone to the international market during that country’s bloody civil war. Added to this, there was some evidence of Burkinabe soldiers supporting rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). But many human rights organisations chose to ignore this while concentrating on Charles Taylor in Liberia.

Maybe we should revisit the meeting members of the Liberian opposition had with Compaore just before Taylor left power in 2003. Compaore, clearly, was a major supporter of Taylor during the civil war in Liberia. So what deal was struck that allowed Compaore to escape the same fate as Taylor? However, the young people in his country eventually put paid to his leadership ambitions and sent him into exile in Cote d’Ivoire where, it was also claimed, he was backing the New Forces rebel movement that ousted President Laurent Gbagbo, who is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on four counts of crimes against humanity.

Jammeh’s defeat came as a surprise, having been in power for 22 years. But the opposition parties finally got it right last December when they fielded just one candidate against the incumbent in the election. Whenever I have been in The Gambia over the years, I had always suggested to the opposition politicians that putting up more than one candidate against Jammeh did not make sense. But in Africa, everyone thinks he or she can become president no matter how unrealistic this might seem.

Jammeh was combative to the end; refusing to relinquish power after he had conceded defeat. But when the inexperienced advisers of the winner, Adama Barrow, let it be known that Jammeh would face trial for human rights abuse, it was obvious that he would change his mind and try to hang on to power – or at least use delaying tactics to get himself out of a tricky situation. This he did, as he made his way into exile in Equatorial Guinea.

There was no such scenario in Ghana where Mahama lost to Nana Akufo-Addo. It was third time lucky for Akufo-Addo. Although Mahama was going for a second term – having served a few months of the late President John Atta-Mills’ second term in 2012 – Ghanaian voters had other ideas. Yes, Mahama was going for a constitutionally accepted second term but his first full term was the second term of the National Democratic Congress (NDC). So the electorate voted the party out of power. That, actually, has been the trend since democratic politics returned to Ghana in 1992. The New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the NDC have been playing musical chairs since then, with each serving two terms before being voted out of power.

Coming up are elections in Liberia in October this year and in Sierra Leone in March 2018. These are going to be controversial, given the history of politics in both countries. But will the West African political revolution continue and change things? Watch this space.      

Desmond Davies

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