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Lessons from the African Union reform agenda
Photo source: African Union

Professor Horace Campbell argues that Africa needs a new alliance of traders, workers, small farmers, progressive students, cultural artists and religious leaders to create a new movement for putting in place the mechanisms for the unification and freedom of Africa and not the current reformist leaders that the continent has. 

When the African Union (AU) met in Accra, Ghana in 2007, there was one item on the agenda: implementation of the plans for the full unification of Africa. Progressive Pan Africanists such as Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem had campaigned all over the continent and within the global African family for the acceleration of the process of setting up the mechanisms for unity. At that summit, those who were opposed to the full unification of Africa urged caution and proposed a gradualist approach to the questions of unity.

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem joined the ancestors in 2009.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) destroyed Libya in 2011. The European powers then seized the over US $200 billion, which Libya had pointed out would be the seed money for the creation of the common African currency.

The “reformist” wing of the AU had been dithering for the past 11 years about questions of “reforms” of the AU to be able to accelerate the goals of greater cooperation in Africa. When President Paul Kagame of Rwanda became the Chairperson of the AU he vowed to accelerate the reform process. Under his leadership, a commission was established to come up with recommendations on how the AU would be reformed and how the AU would finance its operations.

On 17 November 2018, the supreme organ of the AU, the Assembly, which comprises Heads of State and Government of all the 55 African countries, held its 11th Extraordinary Session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with the mandate to advance the institutional reform of the Union. It was with much fanfare that the media reported on the outcome of the summit. We learnt that the summit agreed with fanfare that inter alia,

1. The new AU Commission will be composed of eight members — the Chairperson, Deputy Chairperson and six Commissioners.

This will now see the portfolio of the Commission expanded to include Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment; Economic Development, Trade and Industry and Mining; Education, Science, Technology and Innovation; Infrastructure and Energy; Political Affairs, Peace and Security; Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development.

2. It was decided that the selection process of the senior leadership of the Commission shall be guided by equitable regional representation and gender parity; predictable inter and intra-regional rotation following the English alphabetical order to be applied to each senior leadership position; attracting and retaining Africa’s top talent; accountable and effective leadership and management; transparent and merit-based selection.

It was also agreed that the principle of rotational gender parity shall be applied to the posts of chairperson and deputy chairperson; ensuring that if the chairperson is male then the deputy chairperson shall be a female and vice versa. [[i]]

Since 2016, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been working with a reform team. The team made recommendations for the self-financing of the AU Commission, but the team as with President Paul Kagame has been tinkering with the so called “reforms” instead of working for a complete overhaul of the structures of domination. In reality, we know that the reform team cannot reconstruct Africa because the terms of reference of the reformers remain within the confines of the neo-liberal approach to economic relations in Africa.

Below is my take on the reform process. A journalist from Ethiopia reached out to me to ask my opinion on the just ended Reform Agenda.

He laid out four questions, which revolved around the question of reducing donor dependency, financing the reforms of the AU, accelerating the Regional Economic Communities (REC) and strengthening integration of Africa

The answers

The questions were as misplaced as the directions of the discussions on “reforms” being carried out by the AU. The “reforms” provide a diversion from the demands for reparative justice. In the first place, the “reforms” and the REC are the continuation of the minimalist positions adopted by the current leaders after they jettisoned the discussions for the full unification of Africa by 2015 at the 2007 AU summit in Accra, Ghana. NATO destroyed Libya to forestall the push to use the massive reserves of Libya to jumpstart the financial institutions of the African Union. See my book, Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya: Lessons for Africa in the Forging of African Unity.

Secondly, the idea of donor dependencearises because there is not a clear understanding of capital flight from Africa. The Thabo Mbeki/United Nations Economy Commission for Africa report on illicit capital flight from Africa outlined the fact that every year over US $50 billion is illicitly shipped out of Africa. If the AU concentrates on the return of the stolen assets from Africa, there will be no need for the so-called “donor” dependence. Africans must be at the forefront of enforcing the United Nations Stolen Assets Recovery Programme.

Thirdly, progressive and committed Africans will have to use the returned funds to invest in the reconstruction and transformation of Africa. The AU discussions on “reforms” are very similar to the Structural Adjustment “reforms” of the World Bank and the Washington Consensus. After all, leaders such as Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt), Ali Bongo (Gabon), Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa), Alassane Ouattara (Ivory Coast) and Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) – among others – are darlings of the Washington Consensus and will not reject the International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programmes. These programmes, which have been called economic reforms, have deepened the impoverishment of Africa. As long as the AU focuses on “reforms” and not on the Kwame Nkrumah programme of free movement of people, common currency, common monetary policy and an African common market, then the discussions will go nowhere.

Nkrumah and African unity

This is what Nkrumah stated in 1963 at the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, 55 years ago.

“Unite we must. Without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties, big or small, we can, here and now, forge a political union based on Defence, Foreign Affairs and Diplomacy, and a common Citizenship, an African currency, an African Monetary Zone and an African Central Bank. We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent. We need a common Defence system with an African HighCommand to ensure the stability and security of Africa.”

Thirty years after the victory of Africa over apartheid at Cuito Cuanavale, the current leaders of Africa are afraid to remind the youths of the ideas of Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere.

Fourthly, the idea of REC is misplaced.We have seen little or no evidence of movement toward the REC since 2007. The region that was the most advanced in this direction, the East African Community, is bogged down by war as a business in Somalia and imperial intrigue in the Horn of Africa. East Africa is a good example of why the impetus for a common currency cannot come from the current leaders or the present RECs as they are conceptualised. The region of East Africa needs peace and the integration of the six East African countries (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda), along with Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan to provide a firm base to start the African currency unit.

The leaders of this region are opposed to the common currency and some of these political bosses are compromised by the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia who want to ensure that the region of East Africa is destabilised so that they can loot gold and export violent extremism.

Lastly, the biggest obstacle to African unification remains France and the European Union. France works full time to oppose the coming into force of the African currency. The 15 countries in Africa that are held hostage by the franc de la Communauté financière africainecannot participate in meaningful discussions about “reforms” or a common currency. France continues to destabilise the Economic Community of West African States region, especially the Sahel to ensure that West Africa does not bring into being the common currency that has been under discussion for 40 years.

Finally, France remains one of the biggest obstacles to African integration.

There can be no reconstruction, freedom of movement, and common free trade area until France ends its destabilisation of Africa. Recently, the President of France apologised for the crimes against humanity committed by France in Algeria.

There is need for a committed push by the AU to establish the African Union Commission for Reparations and join with the Caribbean Reparations Commission.

Just recently, it was announced that the University of Glasgow in Scotland would pay 200 million pounds in reparations to the University of the West Indies.[[ii]]

Consider the possible impact if one country in Africa such as Nigeria or Ghana started to make claims for reparations and mobilised the AU to implement the outcomes of the World Conference Against Racism programme of action.

Women of Africa and global Africa

In the so called restructuring of the AU Commission, it was agreed that, “The assembly establishes a Panel of Eminent Africans, composed of five, one per region, to oversee the pre-selection of candidate for the senior leadership of the Commission.”

This detail exposes the extent to which the AU has paid lip service to the idea that there are six regions in the AU, the five plus the Global African Family outside of Africa.

The progressive women who pushed to expose sexual harassment and corruption in the AU will need to mobilise with the Pan African women from the United States of America, Caribbean and South America to lead the struggle for dignity and the unification of Africa.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission had instituted a High-Level Committee (HLC) on 24 May 2018 to fully investigate all allegations of sexual harassment in the AU. In November the HLC reported back and found disturbing evidence on seven aspects. Among the major findings of the HLC, the following elements were identified and are presented based on their level of incidences of cases of harassment, bullying and intimidation.

The HLC concluded that the main challenges pertaining to this matter could be categorised into the following four main allegations with their manifestations:

i) Human resources malpractices and irregularities, including backlog in staff recruitment, seconded staff disadvantaged, management of youth volunteers and interns, lack of consistency in the implementation of rules relating to acting appointments, continued extension of contracts of retirees whereas this should be done in a limited way, challenges in the short listing processes, instances of gender discrimination in recruitment, challenges in career development, promotion, transfers and field deployment;

ii) Corrupt/fraudulent practices, including alleged cases of nepotism and conflict of interest, missions in exchange of services, preferential selection of a service provider, payment for services not rendered, collusion of overcharge for goods and services;

iii) Governance issues, including abuse of authority, administrative unresponsiveness and partiality, deficiencies in working methods, unhealthy working relationships in some AU Organs and Representational Offices, cases of impunity.

iv) Harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying and harassment, intimidation. [[iii]]

New political realignment needed in Africa

The still-birth of the Continental Free Trade Area along with the tinkering around questions of “reforms” point to the reality that the present leaders of Africa cannot carry forward the tasks of the full integration of Africa and her peoples. Leaders such as Paul Kagame whose government has killed opposition members with impunity (even on foreign soil as in the case of Patrick Karegeya) are grandstanding about reforms.

The roadmap for full integration had been laid out by Kwame Nkrumah in 1963. Julius Nyerere in his 1997 speech on the need to unify Africa stated that, “Once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national passports, seats at the United Nations, individuals entitled to a 21-gun salute, not to speak of a host of ministers, prime ministers and envoys, you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in keeping Africa balkanised.”

These leaders were pushed by the momentum of the anti-apartheid struggles to come together in the AU. Once the Union was established there were pressures from below through the Economic, Social and Cultural Councilfor the full implementation of the plans of the Lagos Plan of Action. In 2007, these plans were updated, but the gradualists urged caution and the establishment of regional economic communities.

They opposed mechanisms for the full unity of Africa and some member states of the AU actually assisted the removal of President Gaddafi from Libya in 2011.

Despite the massive outflows of capital from Africa the “reformist” leaders will pontificate rather than call for the repatriation of stolen assets. This is because they are the corrupt forces draining Africa of the resources for economic transformation.

It will require a new alliance of traders, workers, small farmers, progressive students, progressive cultural artists and progressive religious leaders to create a new movement for putting in place the mechanisms for the unification and freedom of Africa.


*Professor Horace G. Campbell is Kwame Nkrumah Chair and Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University.