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Dismayed by the AU’s willingness to host its summit at a luxury complex in Equatorial Guinea despite the government’s violation of human rights, Eyob Balcha says the summit will not improve the lives of ordinary Africans. What’s more, given the ongoing crises across the continent, the summit’s theme of youth empowerment will be the last thing on the mind of delegates.

The coming two weeks (23 June – 2 July 2011) are busy weeks for African Union (AU). It is organising the 17th ordinary Heads of States and Governments Summit, which is taking place in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The highly echoed topic of the summit is ‘Accelerating youth empowerment for sustainable development’. The topic is very fancy on its own and very easy to be manipulated by the African political economic elite to paint their image in a good manner – but only for those who do not know them or resist to know them deep. Given what has happened within the AU framework with regard to the topic of youth, I wonder what we (I) can expect from the activities around the 17th session. Could there be any significance to come out from the summit for the African youth? What are the existing material conditions both enabling and disenabling for the realisation of the so called ‘youth empowerment’? A lot can be said with this regard but this is not my focus for now.

Last week I read a news item on the preparation of hosting the summit by Equatorial Guinea’s government. It is reported in the newspaper that young people and especially students are made to finish their schooling ahead of the original schedule and to leave a ‘peaceful’ space for the ‘guests’ coming to discuss issues on their behalf. The inauguration of a multi-million dollar luxury complex to host the ‘presidents’ and their cliques is may be one of its kind with 52 presidential villas, artificial beach and 18-hole golf course. Though it is not mentioned how much this huge investment costs, you don’t need to be very smart to guess. Actually, if we relate the extravagancy of the Equatorial Guinea’s government with some factual issues we may not be surprised that much. A president who’s been in office since 1979 (more than 3 decades), winning ideally fake elections with more than 95 per cent, accused for outrageous violence of peoples’ rights and dignity and exploiting the natural resource revenue of the country for his own benefits, is more than qualified to be in such position. In a country where more than 70 per cent of the population lives under poverty, deprivation and socio-economic malaises, investing millions of dollars for two weeks event is a cruel action.

The AU has a principle in its constitutive act where it showed its commitment to curtail outrageous violence against human dignity and crimes against humanity with the mandate of interfering into a member state’s internal affairs when such things are happening. By electing the current chairperson of the African Union, Equatorial Guinea’s president, the Union has explicitly violated its own principles. A person who has a huge record of rights violation and displays the ideal characters of a dictator is given the mandate to chair. And he is showing them his sincere respect by building a luxury villa for each one of them by taking the money from the people that could have been used for a wide range of social services for citizens. Should one necessarily get shot by a bullet and bleed to death for a crime against humanity to be recognised? What about the preventable deaths out of poverty and inequality? How many lives could have been saved if the money was used to build hospitals or health facilities? How genuinely would young people in Equatorial Guinea benefit from the conference or from the social services that could be financed by the money wasted to build presidential villas and artificial beach?

The delegates will attend the summit and pass some declarations, which will never be implemented simply echoed like slogans. And the usual life of Africans will continue and without any thing changed. Most African governments are disjointed from their citizens and so is the African Union. How much does it show its moral sentiment to the miseries of people in its member states? What about the horrendous situation in which African citizens are living in under the yoke of dictatorship and authoritarianism? Should we wait for situations till they go out of our control and be an excuse for imperialists to wage war on our continent, as in Libya?

I honestly think that it is almost a general knowledge that extreme inequality will eventually give birth to conflict and crisis. The inequality in power, access to resources, access to state institutions, access to decision making etc, have always been the core factors for most social strife we witnessed in our continent. Yet still no one is taking the lead in addressing the issue and so far every call and effort is falling on deaf ears. I think the case that we are having at Equatorial Guinea should be a valid entry point to keep on addressing the issues of responsible, accountable and responsive governance system in our respective countries once again.

And the AU should consider living up to its principles in a comprehensive and responsible manner. I still have an optimist’s view towards the institutional make-up and presence of the AU. But the fact that the General Assembly constituted by the heads of states and governments is the highest body in decision-making makes it always less efficient, more hypocritical and untrustworthy. How shall we differentiate the former OAU, ‘Trade Union of Dictators’ (Taju,☺) from the new AU, in which almost the same people sit on top and make decisions (Mugabe, Obiang, Gaddafi, Museveni, Bia, to mention some). The AU is rewarding these people for their deeds by being ignorant of the unjust system they are leading.

Finally, as I mentioned it above, the summit topic is very appealing. But let’s not forget that this summit is happening in the middle of lots of other hot issues; the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the conflict in Libya and bombing of NATO, the just ended crisis of Ivory Cost, the emergence of new member state South Sudan, the gloomy relationship with North Sudan, and the ongoing crises in Somalia, Darfur and Northern Uganda. At the same time, external players like China and the US and European Union will also take this opportunity to pass on their influence both implicitly and explicitly to maintain their power in the global scene and win more camaraderie. Hence, for me, the youth topic will be on the margins of most delegates’ agendas. I assume that youth is a ‘sacrificed agenda’.


* Eyob Balcha blogs at Reflect, Share and Re-reflect!!.
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.