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February 20, 2019

It's time to reform the African Union

President Uhuru Kenyatta during the African Union, Peace and Security Council meeting at the KICC./HEZRON NJOROGE
President Uhuru Kenyatta during the African Union, Peace and Security Council meeting at the KICC./HEZRON NJOROGE

The 30th Ordinary Assembly Session of the Assembly of African Union heads of state and government just ended in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yesterday. To many Africans, this is just another annual ritual because it’s not clear what difference it makes in their lives.

But this Summit of the AU had something curious going on. The AU heads of state and government launched the African Anti-Corruption Year themed ‘Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation’.

This is especially interesting because Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame also started his tenure as the chairperson of the AU Assembly, the apex decision-making organ of the AU.

It is instructive that Kagame was asked to lead the AU’s institutional and financial reform process. Two of the six reform areas are particularly interesting. In the proposed reforms, the AU will focus on key priorities with continental scope, which include political affairs, peace and security, economic integration and Africa’s global representation and voice.

The second reform proposal that I think is critical is how to finance the AU sustainably. The Kigali Decision proposed a 0.2 per cent import levy be paid to the AU Commission by every member state. This would generate about $1.2 billion (Sh122 billion), which would cover 75 per cent of the AU Commission programmes. External donors such as the European Union and China currently fund more than 70 per cent of the AU’s budget.

This year, with Kagame as the AU Assembly chairman, will be interesting watch. Kagame, aware that walking the path of reform will be difficult, urged the AU Assembly not to “allow political or technical dilemmas to override our strategic imperative, but rather to address them as they arise.”

I am optimistic that the reform agenda will gain traction and buy-in from African leaders. The AU Commission under Moussa Faki Mahamat must move toward more efficiency and sustainability. Yes, by all means the AU Commission must work with partners, but to have more than 70 per cent of its programmes funded by external donors is unacceptable.

And yes, Africans must resolve to win the war on corruption and put all Africans on a sustainable path to prosperity. This we must do.

Corruption kills millions of African children and their mothers. Corruption keeps too many children out of school and fails millions who have the courage to attend under-resourced public schools.

The AU must be about Africans. If it is to be relevant in the 21st century and beyond, the AU cannot be a club of presidents and heads of government, who care only about power and wealth but not about the material condition of their people.

In many ways, some African leaders have given reason for the unspeakable expletives used by President Donald Trump to be mildly offensive.



Alex O Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at Aga Khan University

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