Could the African Union be the entity that could save the day in Sudan?


After hours of keeping the public waiting, the Sudan military made the long awaited announcement that the embattled long time President of the East African country has finally succumbed to the same pressure that catapulted him to power three decades earlier. Sudan has been under the grip of popular protests that began on 19 December in the norther town of Atbara. As the protests spread to many other parts of Sudan including notably the capital Khartoum, the centre of attention shifted from the opposition against spike in the price of bread, which triggered the protest, to broader demand for political change that aimed at the departure of Bashir from power.

Despite Beshir’s desperate efforts including a state of emergency declared on 22 January, it failed to deter the protesters. Instead, the protest movement continued to gain steam. Despite apparent mobilization of the security forces to disperse the protesters, leading to the death of some 60 people, the protest movement persisted, with the turning point happening when the protesters in Khartoum moved to stage their demonstrations outside of the Ministry of Defense. With the protesters camped outside the Ministry day and night and signs of junior officers backing the protesters emerging, it became a matter of when and not any more if Bashir would go.

Of course nobody could tell how Bashir’s rule would end. It was however clear that the key for moving him was with the military. Now that the military acted to remove Bashir and that the main demand of the protesters fulfilled, what are the ways for Sudan to navigate the turbulent waters of transition? Would the protesters and the wider public be forced or coopted to settle for the military led transition that the Defense Minister announced? Or would they manage to negotiate a deal with the army for a representative civilian led transition?

As these questions make it clear, the challenge for transitions like this is managing what happens next. Quite a number of similar transitions and indeed Sudan’s own previous two popular uprisings have amply illustrated that bringing the government down could be the easier challenge. Ushering in a democratic order has never been as easy. Examples in which end of a regime not leading to transition to democracy abound. The coming hours and days are the most decisive and critical to determine whether Sudan will achieve democratic change.

The first challenge for the protesters and indeed for Sudan’s transition is what to do with the announcement of the military suspending the Constitution and establishing a military council that will govern for a transitional period of two years.

Other than the promise of a new constitution and an election at the end of the two year period, there is nothing in a military transition that would be acceptable for popular movement. Already, the Professional Association of Sudan, a key actor behind the protest movement, announced that it rejects the military takeover and declared the plan to continue with the protests. As a result, there is an imminent danger of a show down between the protestors and the army that took over power, if protesters don’t settle just for the removal of Bashir and insist on an inclusive civilian led transition.

This issue of the military takeover is not however a matter for Sudanese actors only. It is of immediate concern for the African Union that has long established and almost consistently applied norm on unconstitutional change of government. As provided for under the Lome Declaration of 2000 and the Addis Ababa Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, a member state of the AU in which a military takeover of power happens would be deemed as having unconstitutional change and hence subject to suspension from the AU in accordance with Article 30 of the AU Constitutive Act. While confusion arise when the military plays the decisive role of removing an incumbent government in the context of popular protest demand the end of the regime, in this instance it appears that there is no popular support for the military takeover and hence there is little room for justifying the army led transition as an embodiment of the popular will. The unavoidable decision of the AU designating the military takeover as unconstitutional and suspending Sudan may in this instance be welcomed by the street, as a boost for those rejecting the announced army led transition.

But this is unlikely to change the course of events in Sudan. Indeed, as Alex de Waal in an article on the BBC pointed out, it is far from certain that the path facing Sudan is simply a choice between military rule and democratic transition. Unlike 30 years ago when the military was the dominant security establishment in Sudan, under Bashir quite a number of powerful security bodies have been established. These include the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) which itself is armed, Central Reserve Police and the Rapid Support Force (originally a Darfurian militia) and Islamist militia associated with the National Congress Party.

De Waal pointed out that ‘Bashir is the spider sitting at the centre of this web: only he has the means to keep the various groups in check.’ Indeed what people are afraid of is the risk of fragmentation of these web of security constellations in a struggle for power and the resultant danger of Sudan descending into violence. This risk of such fragmentation may materialize if protesters defy the military and a face off ensues. Some of the security institutions announced that they would protect the people and state institutions. Such is particularly the case where, in the face of a show down between the protesters and the military, any of the other security entities join the opposition to the army led transition that the defense minister announced.

If in the end it comes down to a choice between the descent of Sudan into a civil war and the military led transition, there is little doubt as to which one would be the choice.

If one adds to this already intricate mix the external dimension of actors with interest in Sudan, the scenario of smooth transition leading to a democratically elected government could prove more difficult. Indeed, there is risk of this transition becoming a theatre of a dangerous external rivalry. Such is a scenario that would not only wipe off any hope for democratic change but it could also push the country into the precipice.

The major issues for the Sudanese actors and countries of the region & the AU, who have the most immediate stake in the face of this crisis are how the worst scenario highlighted in this article can be avoided, how the region & AU can play the role of helping Sudanese actors avoid these dangers, how the various actors agree on & craft a kind of transition that delivers on expectations of the people. A major entry point for a coherent international action for delivering on these issues is the AU’s norm on unconstitutional changes of government.

Perhaps the most useful precedent in terms of the application of the AU’s norm on unconstitutional change of government that could be followed in this particular case of Sudan is the protests that forced Compaore out of power in Burkina Faso in November 2014. As in the case of Sudan, it was the pressure of popular protests that made Compaore pack and flee the country. On his departure, the army took over the reign of power. The AU through the statement of the Chairperson of the AU commission announced its rejection of unconstitutional changes and at its meeting on 3 November, the Peace and Security Council informed the army that the seizure by the army of power was contrary to AU norm on unconstitutional changes. But as opposed to the usual practice of suspending Burkina Faso immediately, the PSC, on the advise of the then Chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, used the threat of suspension as a leverage for quick transfer of power by the military to a transitional civilian authority. Accordingly, the PSC gave Burkina Faso’s army a period of two weeks for handing over power to such civilian authority.

Without a doubt this could be the best possible option available for pressuring the army into negotiating a transition under civilian leadership. It is possible that this approach may receive the support of the UN and the EU.

The best may not however be the most likely. This approach may as well face major opposition from other corners, particularly those from the Middle East. Concerns around the possibility of gaining of space by Muslim Brotherhood and fear of one of the two camps in the rivalry between the feuding camps in the Gulf Cooperation Council could prompt some of the countries like the UAE to throw their full weight behind the military. Whether and how any negotiation that may in the short term lead to a civilian led transition would cater for these external concerns would be a key factor to forestall a situation in which such external players becoming spoilers frustrating the calibrated use of the unique avenue that AU’s role avails.


Africa’s changing security landscape in 2019 and beyond

Africa is the continent that bears the trinity of burdens. The legacies of its past, including its late colonial history, continue to weigh on the people of the continent. The structural flaws of the African state owe their origin to the process of its colonial making.

Africa is also a continent that continues to endure the burden of the failures of its political leadership. There is a lot of blame to be put on African political elites for the socio-economic ills afflicting many parts of the continent, the conflicts killing and maiming hundreds of thousands and forcing millions others into displacement, migration and refugee status and for the dysfunctional, inequitable and undemocratic systems of governance prevalent on the continent.

Perhaps more than any other part of the glob, Africa is also a continent that continues to face and bear the burdens of most external interventions in the world. Indeed, in the imagination of many, Africa has been an object of the so-called white man’s burden or ‘mission civilisatrice’, humanitarian charity or a theatre for big power competition either for influence, or control, importantly access to its resources. Africa’s historical experience with external intervention has not been positive.

The major development in the peace and security landscape of Africa in 2019 and beyond is the shift in the nature of international intervention from ‘the new scramble for Africa’ to making Africa a theatre for major power rivalry.

Writing in the March 1983 edition of the New York Times under the intriguing title of Africa: From Cold War to Cold Shoulders John Holmes summed up aptly the treatment the continent endured in the hands of foreign interveners: ‘Having been carved up and colonized by European powers and turned into pawns, knights and rooks on a cold war chessboard by the superpowers, Africa now faces a devastating new problem: indifference.’

Indeed, there was a moment in the post-Cold War period, which was marked by America’s almost uncontested hegemony, during which Africa was left to its own means and devise. As the late former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan put it in his 1998 report, ‘Africa was left to fend for itself’.

Indeed, Africa rose to the challenge. It turned the misfortune of being what Holmes called ‘a devastating problem’ of being treated with ‘indifference’ into a useful policy space for exercising its self-determination by charting a socio-economic and political path it deemed fit. It was during that period and in the course of exercising its agency that Africa found its voice.

The outcome was the transformation of the OAU to the African Union, leading to the establishment of a higher level of integrationist pan-African organization with an ambitious but necessary peace and security order. This was also a period during which the ground for the economic boom of the continent was laid down.

But ‘the devastating new problem: indifference’ was short-lived. With changes in the pattern of global power relations, it lasted for not more than a decade. With emerging powers, led by China, expanding their international reach and engagement, the first decade of 21st century witnessed the next cycle in the intervention of global actors on the continent.

This is a period daubed by some as the new scramble for Africa. As in the first scramble, the dynamics of this new scramble lie outside Africa in the changing global power shifts. It coincided with the transition from the unipolar world system of the immediate post-cold war period to the multipolar system characterized by plurality of centres of power. As a 2010 article on Chinadaily observed, the rise of China marks ‘the start of multipolar century, in which, along with US, Japan, Russia, and EU, China will play an important role.’

While the first scramble for Africa, which took place between 1881 and 1914, arbitrarily carved up the continent into the colonies of the major European powers of the late 19th century and subjected its peoples and resources to foreign oppression and plundering, the new scramble aim at the oil, minerals and other strategic resources of the continent. Instead of military force (the means used in the first scramble), the main means used in the new scramble are financial and economic instruments of aid, trade, loans and investments supplemented by security relationships.

Fuelled by the rising demand of the economies of the emerging powers particularly China, the new scramble for Africa changed the political economy of the continent and its trade and economic relations. China has outpaced the US to become the continent’s largest trading partner in 2009. Its investment on the continent also more than doubled in five years time from $16 billion in 2011 to $40 billion in 2016.

With the shift from the use of fossil fuels to electric as sources of energy including for fuelling cars and the major technological advances that rely on strategic minerals such as Coltan, the engagement of external powers on the continent has continued to witness major expansion.

Within the framework of the AU as well, in the period between 2004-2008, a series of partnerships were initiated and launched. These included the Africa-South America, Africa-India and Africa-Turkey. At the same time, partnership forums that were already in existence between Africa and its traditional partners and which were being regulated by cooperation frameworks were re-defined, invigorated and strengthened. Apart from the Africa-China Forum (FOCAC), these newly redefined partnerships include Africa-Europe Partnership, Franco-African Summit, Africa-United States relationship under AGOA, the Africa-Japan (TICAD), and Africa-Asia Sub-regional Organizations Conference (AASROC).

Countries in the Middle East and Gulf have also joined the scramble for Africa. For example, the UAE invested an estimated $11 billion in capital in Africa in 2016, the second largest in the world after China. The trade and investment portfolio of other countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia has also witnessed major increment, particularly in the aftermath of the 2007/8 global financial crisis.

The new scramble for Africa is not confined to the economic sphere only. It also involves competing models of political systems and development. While China present an autocratic and technocratic forms of political and economic development models with heavy state role as viable option for developing countries, the continent’s traditional partners advocate for democracy and private capital based model of political governance and economic development.

Another form that the new scramble has taken involves the militarization of various parts of the continent. Although prompted by the war on terror, the US established the Africa Command and expanded its military presence on the continent with a constellation of bases including 34 sites scattered in many parts of the continent. China, an increasingly dominant actor on the continent, has added a growing security dimension to its rising presence on the continent. It established its first foreign military base in Djibouti in 2017. China has deployed troops including combat forces to UN peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and Mali. Beyond bases and blue helmets, China’s security engagement also involves growing defense and security relations with African countries. Russia has initiated security alliance in the Central African Republic and is in the process of securing logistics base in Eritrea and a military base in Sudan.

The scramble for the control of the sea-lane along the Horn of Africa coast has also increased. The UAE has established presence in Eritrea and Somaliland. Saudi also finalised a deal for establishing a military base in Djibouti. Qatar also signed a $4 billion deal to manage a Red Sea port with Sudan in March 2018.

As various experts pointed out, the scramble for Africa or the quest for taping into the resources and economic opportunities on the continent continues unabated. In August 2018, Judd Devermont wrote: The world is coming to sub-Saharan Africa: Where is the US. Early this month, Alex Obe of Chatham House similarly wrote that Global engagement with Africa continued to surge in 2018. The January 2019 issue of Africa Confidential similarly pointed out that ‘While China and the US compete for influence in Africa, rising powers such as India, Brazil, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Qatar and Turkey are strengthening ties on the continent.’

Entre big power competition: A new but more dangerous Cold War?

As the new scramble seems to be deepening, a major shift in the nature of international engagement has been introduced during 2017/2018. Before Africa has been able to develop effective strategies for coping with the new scramble, in the new year of 2019 and the years to come it is faced with the challenge of becoming a theatre for big power competition.

During the 19t Chinese Communist Party Congress in 2017, President Xi Jinping announced China should become a nation with pioneering global influence by 2050. Russia, another resurgent but not as powerful as China, has in recent years employed a strategy manifesting what the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace termed the return of global Russia. Indeed, its role in Eastern Europe and the Middle East shows that Russia is displaying a show of force to assert itself as a global power. But as the Carnegie Endowment pointed out, ‘Russia has engaged in a broad, sophisticated, well-resourced, and—to many observers—surprisingly effective campaign to expand its global reach.

In early 2018 while unveiling the National Defense Strategy of the US, the Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that great power competition – not terrorism – is now the primary focus of US national strategy.’ As reported, the National Defense Strategy states that ‘long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia’ are the ‘principle priorities’ for the Defense Department.

This proclaimed orientation and content of the new defense strategy herald the return of big power competition as the major feature of international relations. It inaugurates a new era marking the end of a period in which the different centres of power sought some form of, albeit ad hoc, accommodation and the beginning a period in which they are poised to pursue antagonistic rivalry for hegemonic dominance and supremacy.

As Dr Tekeda Alemu, a well-respected senior Ethiopian diplomat who recently retired after heading for a number of years Ethiopia’s mission to the UN in New York, wrote recently, ‘the empirical reality makes it abundantly clear that relations between the major powers have become more tense and potentially more dangerous than they have been since the end of the cold war.’ Quoting Secretary-General of the UN, he further argued that ‘the current situation is even more dangerous because it is less regulated and managed, thus becoming more susceptible to reaching the tipping point beyond which is the unthinkable.’

This is particularly troubling for Africa, more so because as in the past Africa is set to be a major site for rising big power competition. That Africa becomes one of the main theatres for such competition became evident when the ‘new Africa strategy’ of the US was launched in December 2018. While unveiling the strategy, John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, pointed out, following the logic of the US Defense Strategy, that the greatest threat for US interests came not from poverty or Islamist extremism but from China and Russia. ‘Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States,’ Mr Bolton argued.

Highlighting the centrality of big power competition in the US Africa strategy as explained by John Bolton, New York Times published an article titled Bolton outlines a strategy for Africa that’s really about countering China and the Editorial Board of the Financial Times daubed the strategy as America’s scrambled approach to Africa.

In this context, the risk that the continent faces is to have the same fate it had during the Cold War. To borrow from Holmes, this is the fate of being ‘ turned into pawns, knights and rooks on a cold war chessboard by the superpowers’. As the Financial Times pointed out, ‘[i]f his (Bolton’s) speech on Friday is the guide, Washington’s take on Africa is stuck somewhere between the 19th century scramble and the cold war’.

It is interesting to note that in announcing the strategy Mr Bolton was forthcoming in indicating what the US expects of African countries. Commenting on the matter, Dr Tekeda observed [a]s recent pronouncements have made clear, Africa is on the verge of being in the vortex of this rivalry.’ He warned African countries that ‘[t]he crude formulation of the demand made by the major powers in terms of being “either with us or against us,” which was witnessed occasionally in the past, might confront countries such as Ethiopia in a very challenging manner.’

At a time of rising and unregulated big power antagonism and rivalry, the willingness of and minimum consensus among major powers to defend and operate within the framework of multilateralism is also fading. In this context, troubling signs of regional tensions descending into major conflicts – in to which major powers are sapped leading to the breakdown of world order – have been witnessed as the cases of Syria, Yemen and Ukraine show.

It is clear that the challenge for Africa during 2019 and beyond is how to forestall the emergence of such a scenario in any of the existing or emerging hot spots. Indeed, the impact of this new context, if not guarded against, could be very dire for the continent. As Dr Tekeda pointed out ‘[w]hatever small hope might still be left for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, will be thrown out the window if Africa allows the region to be a platform for the rivalry between the major powers that morphs into military activities which are manifested in a variety of ways, including through proxies.’

It is evident from the foregoing that big power rivalry is becoming a major factor shaping international engagement on the continent in 2019 and beyond. As rightly pointed out, ‘Africa is entering a period when its ability, readiness and resolve to act in the interest of the people of the content is going to be tested.’ Indeed, there may not be more challenging time than this that puts to unprecedented test the leadership of African elites and the efficacy and value of the peace and security mechanisms developed under the African Union. The task for leading countries on the continent is ‘to ensure that developments in their region do not become a catalyst for great power rivalry leading to military confrontation.’

It is imperative that African actors notably the African Union and major countries on the continent identify those parts of the continent particularly vulnerable to the consequences of such rivalry (such as the Horn of Africa as specifically cited by Mr Bolton) and develop a common African approach and mitigating strategies to shield regional or country situations from becoming sites of major power rivalry that precipitate the destruction of societies and breakdown of world order witnessed in Syria and Yemen. Africa and the AU should also defend and rely on, as useful arsenal in shielding the continent, the regional multilateral framework anchored on the norms and processes of the African Peace and Security Architecture. Equally critical component of the strategy must be the commitment and mobilisation of countries of the Continent and the AU to use existing partnership frameworks for supporting and defending multilateralism.



   The below is excerpt from keynote address delivered at the national    conference on political reform held at the UNECA on 24/26 November

The topic that I have been assigned to cover in this conference is perhaps one of, if not, the most difficult one. Transitions, which are characterised by political and institutional fluidity and societal polarization, by their very nature, are complicated and challenging. They as such make justice and reconciliation unavoidably problematic. That is why the theme of my speech is a very delicate subject that should be handled with a great deal of principled care, wisdom and sense of responsibility.

At the same time, given my research and policy engagement on transitional justice particularly at the continental level, I also find this theme particularly fitting to try addressing.

As a point of departure and to enable us all have a common framework or vocabulary, it is important that I start off by clarifying the concept of transitional justice.

As aptly put in the AU Transitional Justice Policy, transitional justice refers to the various (state centric and community based) policy measures and institutional mechanisms that societies coming out of violent conflict or repression or patterns of systematically unjust power relationships adopt, through an inclusive consultative process, in order to overcome past violations, divisions and inequalities and to create conditions for both security and democratic and socio-economic transformation.

Justice thus defined in a context of transition thus goes far beyond judicial forms of accountability and covers wide range of political, institutional and socio-economic measures required for a transition destined to establish solid foundations for just and inclusive political and socio-economic order.

Before I delve further into the core of the theme, it is important to make an observation on the nature of Ethiopia’s unfolding transition. The current transition is not a negotiated transition like the transition in South Africa in the early 1990s. It is not either a transition that resulted from the overthrow of the old regime like the transitions this country witnessed in 1974 and in 1991. It is rather a hybrid transition.

It is a transition that resulted from the ad hoc alliance of members of society who mobilized in public protest against the prevailing regime of the EPRDF and a portion of the membership of the EPRDF. It is a transition that brought to the position of leadership, and is being led by, the major reformist members of the EPRDF coalition to a position of leadership. It is a hybrid transition, which relies on the old EPRDF based regime while trying to fundamentally reform it. The feature of the transition is not without its major ramifications for the trajectory of the transition and the pursuit of transitional justice and recondition in Ethiopia.

Having clarified the preliminaries, I wish to note that for a society in transition seeking to pursue transitional justice, it is imperative that it develops, as part of the transitional process, a well-thought out approach for planning, designing and implementing transitional justice and reconciliation. Experience from successful transitions in Africa and the world over shows that, the elaboration of such approach needs to be informed by key considerations for designing legitimate and rule based effective transitional justice and reconciliation process. I now turn my attention to these key considerations, which is the core of my address.

The first of these considerations or questions is our definition of the injustice to which transitional justice and reconciliation is to be applied as a response. One form of injustice is that which results from the non-recognition of certain ethno-cultural groups or of the equal worth of such groups and the oppression accompanying it. Charles Taylor’s famous work of ‘The politics of recognition’ is worth mentioning here for a great philosophical exploration of this theme. Another form of injustice is that which result from gender oppression. Another form of injustice involves the socio-economic marginalization and deprivation.

The injustice that often dominates the discourse on transitional justice results from the arbitrary use of state violence by state agents against human rights activists, political opposition actors, journalists and dissidents.

The second consideration relates to the question of the injustice/s of which period. This is a question about the temporal scope of transitional justice and reconciliation.

The next question is what approach of transitional justice and reconciliation to be used. In an opinion piece that he wrote on Al Jazeera earlier in this week using the on-going criminal investigation relating to grand corruption involving embezzlement of public funds and perpetration of human rights violations as a backdrop, Awol Allo argued that the path to reconciliation and justice should combine both criminal accountability and a peace and reconciliation process that allows for a comprehensive official investigation and a public acknowledgement of the abuses and harms done.

The issue that arises here is how a transitional society determines the balance and which factors matter for putting more or less emphasis on one aspect of the transitional justice approach (let’s say criminal prosecution) than on another (truth and reconciliation or institutional reform). The African Union Transitional Justice Policy, adopted last month, states that ‘emphasis on one element of transitional justice should be equitable and hence not result in either impunity (by failing to ensure accountability) or full-throated revenge of victor’s justice.’

In a line that eloquently captures the weight of the dilemmas involved, the late Chief Justice of South Africa Justice Mohamed writing for the South African Constitutional Court in AZAPO v. the President of the Republic of South Africa, put it thus, transitional justice involves a ‘difficult, sensitive, perhaps even agonizing, balancing act between the need for justice to victims and the need for reconciliation and rapid transition to a new future’. The key for success is the approach that the society adopts for addressing this dilemma that often arises during transitions. This relates to the next question or consideration.

The other question that needs to be addressed in our consideration of transitional justice in Ethiopia is how to organize and administer the chosen approach of transitional justice. Experience from across the continent and other parts of the world shows that for a transitional justice approach to be not only successful for delivering its objectives but also legitimate, the process of its deign and implementation has to be transparent, independent and compliant with the minimum requirements of due process.

Past experience is another consideration. As we all know transitional justice is not completely new to Ethiopia. An exercise at transitional justice has been undertaken following the fall of the Dergue regime. That exercise in transitional justice focused on the wrongs that happened during the Red Terror – the transitional justice mechanisms chosen involved principally criminal trials, although it also combined the use of lustration, some form of restorative justice involving the reinstating of possessions taken away unjustly and memorialization by erecting the Red Terror Museum at the heart of Addis Ababa.

The limitations from the transitional justice approach of the Red Terror including the lack of even-handedness of the process and the lessons from this experience should thus inform the design and implementation of any transitional justice and reconciliation process we may pursue in the context of the current transition.

The other question is the process that should be followed in initiating, designing and implementing transitional justice and reconciliation. When the transition is a result of negotiation, the parameters for pursuing transitional justice are set as part of the peace settlement. In Ethiopia’s hybrid transition, there is no agreed upon framework on how to formulate and implement transitional justice. Questions abound as to whether relevant stakeholders such as victim groups, civil society organizations and the legal community will be afforded the opportunity and platform to take part in the planning and formulation of the transitional justice process and in its monitoring.

Indeed, as experiences shows and appropriately underscored in the AU Transitional Justice Policy, such effective participation of the public is one of the most important success factors of transitional justice.

It has been hinted earlier and has by now become clear that the nature of the transition is the other consideration that informs the choice of the form that transitional justice takes. The current transition did not lead to major bloodshed in the country. It may not be completely off mark if one describes the current transition as a bloodless revolution as opposed to the enormous blood letting that the two previous revolutions involved. Yet, it is also a transition that combines both hope and uncertainty and change and continuity.

These features of the transition are not without consequences for the choice of the mechanism or the combination of mechanisms to be used for pursuing transitional justice and importantly how such mechanism or mechanisms are designed and pursued. As Awol rightly pointed out, ‘pursuing prosecutorial justice while at the same time promoting reconciliation of a highly divided society, particularly in a highly fragile (context) …requires a strategic and holistic integration of the process, as well as careful planning’.

The other consideration is the objective/s or purpose for which the transitional justice and reconciliation process is to be applied. Among others, this depends on whether the focus is primarily on how to deal with the past or how to achieve rule based democratic transformation that secures the interest of all sectors of society. This question also depends on the consideration of whether the focus of transitional justice is on perpetrators of violations, and hence punishment or on victims and hence recognition of the injustice they suffered and healing, or the political system and hence on building a system of governance based on constitutionalism, rule of law and respect of the rights of all.

The final consideration is the care that should be taken to avoid the perils that come with transitions, such as emergence of new grievances and deepening of polarisation. During transitions, the politics, the economy and the social structure of the state tend to be in flux. Despite the demand of transitional justice for a rule-based approach, much of the changes may involve ad hoc measures, popular but extralegal or extra-constitutional actions and purges lacking due process of the law. This is particularly the case where transitions unfold without a common framework or negotiated roadmap. Another peril that comes with transitions is the susceptibility of transitional societies to external influence in their choice of the form of transitional justice and reconciliation approaches.

By way of conclusion

From the foregoing exposition it is clear that transitional justice and reconciliation is not an easy endeavour.

This is not totally surprising.

For some of us it could be a topic, which provokes our memories of suffering, our experience of being wrongly violated and undeservedly subjected to physical and psychological violence.

It could also be a topic that summons our sense of vengeance, our innate disposition of taking the law into our own hands, our retributive desire of meting out on our tormentors and their real or perceived associates the pain and suffering we endured.

It is also a subject, which is not always amenable for an easy and neat identification of responsibility. After all, the failures that resulted in the wrongs of the past are not simply products of individual culpability. Rather, they are in the main outcomes of societal and institutional pathologies, including a tradition of intolerance to and violent repression of dissent and political opposition, patterns of authoritarianism and patriarchal chauvinism, etc

It is also a subject that necessitates all at once the act of cursing and exorcising the wrongs of the past, acknowledging the suffering that those wronged endured, while allowing room for showing magnanimity to those willing to own up their responsibility and culpability.

If pursued within legitimately established and internationally accepted parameters, transitional justice and reconciliation is also a subject that affords those who were wronged (victims, or to use a more empowering language, survivors) the platform and opportunity to tell their stories in public, to have their suffering get public acknowledgement and thereby enabling society to establish a record of the wrongs of the past through the voice of survivors and to learn lessons for avoiding the conditions that make the perpetration of such wrongs possible.

It is also a subject that offers society as a whole the occasion to see itself on the mirror, examine its various flaws, scars and violent divisions and apply the necessary corrective measures for removing the flaws, fully healing the scars and wounds and for mending the divisions among the members of society that the wrongs of the past sowed and nurtured.

As various sections of the public reflect on how to deal with the wrongs of the past and create the conditions for a better future that forestalls the recurrence of such wrongs, it is imperative that the foregoing considerations inform these reflections and the choices or decisions being made (or yet to be made) on the scope, form and implementation of transitional justice in Ethiopia. This is possibly a major issue that stands to shape the success of the current transition in charting a political and socio-economic order that is more enduring, stable and just than the previous transitions the country has experienced.

Ethiopia’s spring of hope and winter of despair

In one of the most famous opening lines in literature, Charles Dickens wrote, in his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities, 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

These are perhaps the lines that best capture the present conditions that Ethiopia finds itself in. All at once, we seem to be having the best of times and the worst of times, the season of light and that of darkness. It appears as though Ethiopia is pulled by ‘the winter of despair’ as it has embarked on a path of ‘the spring of hope’. It is as though hope and despair are in fierce and violent wrestling for outright victory or crushing defeat. As we march direct to heaven, the path seems to turn direct the other way.

Since coming to the helm of power in April 2018, Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has put Ethiopia on a path of a breathtaking and groundbreaking changes. These are changes that have shaken the political landscape and the power structure of the country. The air of euphoria and positive energy is such that it is almost impossible to recognise that this is the same country that was on the edges of precipice only a few months back.  It is not just the substance of changes he launched, Abiy’s style also marks a break from the past. As opposed to the dominant political vocabularies such as ‘democratic centralism’ ‘anti-peace or anti-democratic forces’, he  introduces a new discourse preaching love, inclusivity and unity,  widely applauded among the wider public, particularly the youth.

In His maiden speech that marked a fresh breath of air heralding unprecedented hope,  PM Abiy said

I ask a forgiveness from the bottom of my heart for the many advocates of freedom and justice and politicians and the many change-seeking youth whose lives were cut short before they were able to enjoy … the primes of their lives and for the many individuals and families who were exposed to both psychological and bodily trauma during the past many years.

In so doing, he not only recognised the responsibility of the government but also affirmed that the cause for which people paid the ultimate price was not wrong. This also marked a break from the past in acknowledging publicly the suffering that the government caused to those killed, maimed and tortured or otherwise traumatised by the death and violence their loved ones suffered.

In the months that followed, PM Abiy put Ethiopia on a transformative rollercoaster. As his first order of business, he ventured on a stabilisation tour of the country. He first went to the Somali region sending a clear signal on the imperative of mending fences between the Somali region and Oromia, that witnessed some of the most brutal violence along their common border that claimed the lives of many and displaced hundreds of thousands. He criss-crossed the country stoping in Ambo, heading north to Mekele, Gondor and Bahir Dar, then South to Hawassa and east to Afar allaying the fears of some, galvanising supporters and urging national cohesion and togetherness.

As part of the stabilisation effort, he proceeded to have the state of emergency that was in force lifted before the end of its expiry. He kick started the reform of the security sector with the closure of the notorious Maekelawi prison (known for the brutal treatment of those being held there), the retirement of the most powerful heads of the army and the intelligence services, Samora Yunis, and  Getachew Assefa. Subsequently, the chief of prison administration and four colleagues were dismissed for failing to stop violations perpetrated in prisons.

In the political front, the country has witnessed unprecedented levels of the opening of the political space. In a departure from the practice that criminalised political opposition and dissent, the PM declared that ‘we will look at political parties outside of EPRDF as competitors rather than enemies (opponents); their supporters as brothers and sisters who have alternative ideas and who love their country’. He hosted a dinner for opposition party leaders operating in the country at Minilek II Palace during which he reiterated his point that opposition parties are competitors not enemies. He went on to extend an open and unconditional invitation to all political groups not in the country for returning to the country.

Not only that he affirmed the imperative of multiparty politics but also initiated measures that would enable political parties to operate more freely. He lifted bans on political parties, website and various media outlets and political activists that were deemed terrorists and affiliates, and even invited them to operate locally.

Imprisoned opposition politicians, activists and journalists were released. Those released include Andargachew Tsege, Andualem Arage and Eskindir Nega. The Parliament removed the listing of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Gnbot 7 as ‘terrorist’ groups. Going further, the Parliament adopted an amnesty law that removed the designation of certain groups as terrorist organisations and the charges and convictions against, among others, journalists and activists. The PM also reached out to various sectors of society. Most notable in this regard is a meeting he convened with large number of youth at the Millennium Hall.

Beyond the political realm and in an effort to address social divisions, PM Abiy also initiated efforts for promoting social harmony. He facilitated the process to reconcile the differences between the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Council and the Committee for the Solution of Ethiopian Muslim Affairs. Similarly, as part of his visit to the US, he initiated a process that culminated in the reconciliation of the synod of the orthodox church in exile and the one operating in the country.

In a step that has dramatically changed the political landscape of the Horn of Africa, PM Abiy extended firm offer for peace with Eritrea. Promising to implement the Algiers agreement, not only that he repeatedly urged on Eritrea to positively return the call for peace but also on a televised address on Martyrs Day in Eritrea he addressed President Isaias Afeworki in Tigrigna. The initiative successfully ended the two decades of onerous stalemate between the two. The peace that was beyond the realm of the possible suddenly became a reality unleashing unprecedented expressions of joy on the street of Asmara, which according to one Eritrean quoted on the BBC was more than the one displayed upon assumption of independence. This historic event did not come from the application of politics as usual. Indeed, breaking this intractable deadlock could not have been possible without extraordinary political imagination and zealous determination of the PM.

The avalanche of the seismic changes that PM Abiy’s administration has initiated have been greeted with a great deal of enthusiasm on the part of large part of the public. A support rally that was staged in Addis Ababa attracted some hundreds of thousand people at the famous Meskel Square at the centre of Addis Ababa. Similar rallies in which thousands participated were held in various parts of the country including Bahir Dar, Jigjiga, Kombolcha, Semera, Alaba and Arba Minch.

Unfortunately and not atypical of transitions such as this, the environment is not one of only hope and elation. It has rather been accompanied by clouds of doom and gloom. Indeed, given the fluidity and volatility of the political context that propelled PM Abiy to power, the clouds of doom and gloom should not come as surprise.

It is in this context that this period also comes to be a winter of despair as well. When PM Abiy was sworn in on 2 April 2018, he lamented that it ‘is regrettable that over the last few years many members of our society have been uprooted from their places of residence. They were exposed to displacement and grave loss of life and property.’ He went on to pledge that ‘we will strive to stop these unbecoming practices and ensure that such actions are never repeated again.’

Around that same period, a violence that pitted communities along the border areas of Gedeo and West Guji zones erupted. By July 2018, the UN reported that this inter-communal violence forced into displacement as many as 800,000 people. In Hawassa, the Capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR), during the celebration of the Sidama new year in clashes with non-Sidama’s particularly Wolayita as many as 40 people reportedly injured and one person dead. Violence erupted in Sodo, Wolayita with local protesters reportedly setting on fire properties such as Oromia Bank.

Despite PM Abiy’s advocacy for love and inclusive politics, ethnically motivated attacks continue to poison inter-ethnic relations and claim the lives of innocent people. Earlier on reference was made to the violence meted out against Oromos in the Somali region and retaliatory attacks against Somalis in Oromia triggering the displacement of more than a million people. More than 530 households of people of Amhara origin have been attacked and forced into displacement in Benshangul. Similar incidents have been reported from various parts of the Oromia regional state. Addis Standard reported on 27 June that lives were lost and people hurt when Tigrayans living in Bati, Kemise and Rabit cities in Amhara regional state were attacked.

This has also become a period manifesting the resurgence of ethnonationalism and centrifugal forces with the establishment of new ethnic based movements or parties. While not completely new, the demand for a status of regional statehood (as the vote by the Sidama for such status illustrate) has acquired new momentum. With the execution of the South, which suffers from major rifts and infighting, regional governments have increasingly become inward looking and consolidating their power in their respective regions.

On the day Addis Ababans flocked to Meskel Square in their hundreds of thousands staging a rally in support of the changes that PM Abiy launched, a further manifestation of a winter of despair was witnessed when tragedy struck after a blast from a grenade attack resulted in the death of two people and the injury of several others. Such horrendous act of violence visited the rally in what was meant to be an extraordinary day of celebration of national cohesion and solidarity.

Merkel Square witnessed another tragic incident when Eng Simegnew Bekele, the lead engineer of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, was found shot dead in his car. In his inaugural speech, PM Abiy referred to the GERD as a national pride and urged the public so preserve the spirit of unity and coming together shown in building the dam past the completion of the dam and to achieve new heights in the prosperity of the country. The suspiciously sudden death of Eng Simegnew is perhaps the most serious blow to what the PM called a national pride, a blow on GERD not only as mega infrastructural project but also as an idea.

In an outrageously unfathomable development, former PM Hailemariam Desalegn paid a visit to the fugitive military ruler Col Mengistu Hailemariam in Harare, Zimbabwe. To the shock and outrage of many, the former PM even posted a Face Book note wishing that ‘the former heads of government and state …contributing their parts in different capacity after peaceful transition of political power’.

What is the wisdom of such normalisation of the evil that the former Colonel continues unrepentantly to defend in the face of the pleading of PM Abiy in his maiden speech for forgiveness for the tragic loss of lives and the suffering that resulted from the past many years? Such flirtation with amnesia that pretends to present the evil as the good that it has never been would only yield foolishness, incredulity, darkness and the opposite of heaven. Instead of togetherness, it would sow division, instead of peaceful coexistence, justice and rule of law, it would reinforce abusive authoritarian rule and violence.

The latest unfolding crisis is in the Somali regional state where the federal government, prompted by clashes and major security breaches, initiated military intervention that precipitated a face off with the regional forces under the command of Abdi Iley. This was accompanied by acts of violence including killings, looting and destruction of property including Churches, triggering another displacement and humanitarian crisis. Although a negotiated settlement seems to be in the making, serious questions have been raised on the legitimacy, wisdom and constitutionality of the deployment of federal security forces and the inadequacy of well thought of political strategy.

The scale of the suffering and the social damage these events are causing are nothing less than serious. In a note he posted on Face Book on July 14, Jawar Mohamed observed that conflict and destruction is happening all over the country. He further aded that ‘I have tallied over 350 death and 1.8 million displacement since the new PM came to office’.  Arguing that not enough time has been given in this regard, he warned that unless a way is found to stop this, ‘it will quickly escalate into full scale crisis.’ Indeed, in terms of measures for addressing the violence and sense of lawlessness that punctuated PM Abiy’s consequential premiership, nothing major has been initiated by the PM other than an announcement for establishing a commission that will examine clashes along the borders of various regions of the country.

Given the many positive changes under PM Abiy that have raised the hopes of many people in the country, why all these events of the winter of despair? Why the appearance of the loosening up of law and order in various parts of the country?

Much of the answer lies in the division and tension that has been allowed to fester within the ranks of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front (EPRDF). True that PM Abiy has garnered an unprecedented level of popularity. Indeed, since coming to power he seems to have gained much legitimacy from sources outside rather than from within the EPRDF. There is little indication that he won the support of those that did not support his election.

His engagements have focused more on establishing ties with the general public, the political opposition and other actors than the various elements of the EPRDF. In the changes that he has pursued at neck breaking speed, there is no indication of the contribution of the ruling coalition as a collective as before. If anything, members of the ruling coalition have been rendered nothing more than spectators. As some statements issued particularly by the TPLF illustrate, the newly alienated members of the coalition follow the changes with some apprehension.

PM Abby’s ascendancy to the pinnacle of power did not come easy. Unlike previous elections of the leadership of the EPRDF that were based on consensus, PM Abiy’s involved voting by the membership of the 180 members of the EPRDF Executive Council. While PM Abiy got the bulk of the support with 108 votes to his rival Shiferwa Shigute’s 59, the voting revealed the division within the ruling coalition. Abby’s election is for the most part attributed to support from his own party the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the two parties representing the two largest regions that experienced much of the protests during the previous years. In a clear sign of a major division in the EPRDF, PM Abiy reportedly got no vote from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), hitherto the most dominant of the four coalition members. In what seems to signify a further trouble to the coalition, the split vote in the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) has precipitated a division within the Southern party triggering contestations that at times escalated to incidents of violence.

The resultant ill health afflicting the ruling coalition has also become a factor in the troubles witnessed since PM Abiy came to power. The incidents of violence witnessed in the SNNP regional state and between the borders of Oromia and SNNP regional state are attributable to the division in the SEPDM and the rift that emerged between OPDO and factions in the SEPDM respectively. Similarly, the unfolding crisis in Somali region could not be dissociated from the insecurity that Abdi Iley and his group have come to experience due to the threat of loss of influence in Addis Ababa and significantly the unprecedented control that they have come to exercise in the Somali region. Despite the apparent calm, the relationship between ANDM and TPLF also remains strained, which is not without its adverse consequences for peaceful inter-ethnic relations.

Clearly EPRDF no longer has its older self. Of course this is not in itself to be mourned. What is troublesome is the fact that it is hurting; arguably it is hurting very badly. The fusion between EPRDF and the various regions means that when it hurts it does not hurt alone. Arresting the insecurity in the country should thus start with initiatives that nurse the coalition back to health.

It is difficult to expect that EPRDF would heal its divisions and achieve cohesion if it goes to its upcoming policy and elective congress without reconciliation measures ahead of the congress. If the divisions, suspicions and tensions in the EPRDF persist and the Congress concludes without addressing them, it would mean more rather than less trouble for the stability and security of the country. As the country gears up for the 2020 elections with parties and political forces of diverse orientations and persuasions expected to grace the occasion, a troubled EPRDF would under such conditions be no good news for Ethiopia.

The country desperately needs a peace plan, a plan whose starting point should be addressing the troubles in the EPRDF, which have been spilling over to trigger the insecurity affecting various parts of the country. It should establish a new inclusive consensus between the members of the ruling coalition. Such a plan should also involve stabilisation of regional and local governments that experienced insecurity and violence. Additionally, the country needs such a peace plan that creates a platform for inclusive national dialogue as vehicle for truth and reconciliation and for building a rule and values based national consensus.

Without proactive and concerted effort for such peace initiative, sustaining the momentous changes being pursued under the new PM, most of which promise to bring much needed goodness for the country, may prove to be very difficult, if not completely impossible. The manifestations of the winter of despair prevailing in the country would spell disaster that would turn the euphoria into a nightmare, the best of times into the worst of times, the light into darkness and the hope into despair.




In celebration of Madiba – Insights from Special Issue of NewAfrican

We seem to be living in time when faith in politics and even more accurately political leaders is at its low. This is not unique to Africa. Indeed, it is a phenomenon common in most parts of the world. After all, this is becoming an era of the big or strong men, an era of bigotry, of populist nationalism.

It is thus little surprise that we look back at the past, particularly the last half century and wonder why we don’t have the political leadership of that period. Needless to say, the political leader who stands out above all others in the post-independence period of Africa is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, known affectionately by many as Madiba or Tata Madiba.

In a tribute befitting the stature of Madiba, NewAfrican magazine dedicated its July 2018 edition to the centenary celebration of ‘the man, the icon and his legacy’. Within the 50 page special issue, one finds a diverse collection of reflections on this towering figure widely revered and celebrated across the world. While the commentaries and reflections are diverse, there are recurring issues that they all touch on – the question of his legacy and the present state of things particularly in South Africa. A question that almost all contributors touch on again and again is whether the bargain that Madiba led was the miracle that it is often proclaimed to be or one that sold out South Africa short.

Madiba and family life

Many among those who graced the special issue are the Mandelas. It comes across from their account of Mandela that he was more of the man of the public than of the family. While Ndileka Mandela spoke of how ‘we (the children) never had time with him’. His granddaughter Swati Mandela noted ‘the biggest misconception that people have is that we had so much time with our granddad…we actually had to make appointments …join the line like everybody else.’ She goes on that is how sad it was at times, sadder for mom and aunties’. Ndileka agrees and admits having resented him and he (Mandela) felt it – indeed as Tokyo Sexwale recalls Mandela publicly declared that he ‘failed as a parent’. Clear sign of Mandela regretting comes from Ndeleka Mandela’s account of what he said at the first contact visit she had. Commenting on her pregnancy at young age saying that ‘if I was out there, you would not be in this situation, you would not be pregnant and you could be in school’. But in explaining it she pointed out ‘[f]or Madiba there was greater purpose to his life and he expected us, as his family to understand that’. As Yvonne Chaka Chaka puts it, ‘[h]e was such a selfless human being’.

Madiba the common person, a fallible 

As a person, all those who contributed to the special issues universally agree that he was a very loving, down to earth and enchanting person. His grandson Ndaba Mandela said in describing his best memory of Madiba ‘[e]tched in my memory to this day is the love he gave to his personal cook Mam Xoli. He treated his cook or gardener the same way as he would treat the Pope, Mike Tyson or Barak Obama’. His personal cook agreed ‘[h]e always used to make sure you were comfortable around him’ and she added ‘I always remember his kindness and respect for all those around him. That is how warm and simple he was.’ In the words of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ‘he was loving, fond of children, a people person and very hard worker.’

Tokyo Sexwale, who served 13 years of prison term at Roben Island with Mandela and served in Mandela’s cabinet, put it, reminds readers that ‘we are dealing with someone who always described himself as commoner’. Even for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ‘[h]e (Mandela) was clear that, ultimately, no one is indispensable’. Ndaba remembers his grandfather for ‘his great and impeccable sense of humour’, while Xoli also appreciated his love of ‘cracking jokes’.

Also coming from the various contributors is that Madiba had the various traits of human beings. Winnie thus puts it ‘he was no angel, like most human beings. he never claimed to be a saint’. Sexwale reminds readers that ‘the man we often celebrate as emblematic or as a global icon, always and emphatically said “I am not perfect”; he continuously also reminded us that he was ‘not an angel’.


In terms of his ethos, Sexwale emphatically observed as the first starting point to set out that Madiba’s Pan-African stance to understand where the great man’s ethos partly come from’. He goes on to say that ‘it is within that context (pan-Africanism)that we should view the world before Madiba, the world during Madiba’s life and the world we have today as we celebrate his 100th birthday’. It is within this context that the recent AU treaty for the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) received full endorsement as a step in the right direction in pursuing the vision of Madiba not only in Sexwale’s reflections but also in Franie Leautier from Tanzania, who wrote on the role of Madiba’s ethos for driving economic transformation.

On the Ethiopianist symbolism of Ethiopian Airlines 

In her reflection, Chaka Chaka retells a story that Madiba told her one day. ‘He said he was going on a visit to Ethiopia and as he embarked onto Ethiopian Airline plane he saw these tall African men and he asked them ‘where is the pilot?’ and they said ‘we are the pilots, sir’. And he told me that he turned to one of his colleagues and whispered ‘they are black’.

Debating his legacy 

Two other aspects of the legacy of Madiba relate to his firm rejection of anger and how he presided over the transition from apartheid to democratic South Africa. As Sexwale observed one of Madiba’s magic and legacies has been he willingness for dialogue with anybody on any issue. He (Madiba) would still have engaged Trump in dialogue’. Yvonne recounts how she asked him ‘Are we now going take all the nice houses away from white people?’ and his exact answer was ‘Anger and hatred towards other people will never make you a better person’. When she protested because of what she went through, he said ‘I know and I understand, it will not be easy to forget such, but forgive you must’.

In terms of how he presided over the transition, the recurring sentiment coming from the born free generation was that Madiba sold out. For the critics, as a lecturer of Tshwane University quoted in an essay of the special issue by Tichaona Zindoga, ‘Mandela’s legacy’ is ‘that of an African elite leader who sacrificed the opportunity to restore the economic dignity of the black African people in exchange for political power’. Yvonne admitted that she was angry at how things were turning out after Madiba became President and could hear herself say then ‘let us take up arms’. She went on to say, ‘People talked of the rainbow nation’ and she found herself saying ‘but there is no black in the rainbow’. Despite her misgivings about the limits of forgiveness, she disagrees with Born frees assessment of the transition. As Kwame Amuah put it, Mandela’s quest was in the league of Kwame Nkrumah’s famous line of seek the political kingdom and everything else will be added. As he put it, in the negotiations ‘Mandela had to secure the nation, and create stability, otherwise we would have no country to speak of.’ Chaka Chaka agrees and will forever be grateful that ‘he selflessly brought us a South Africa we can all call home’.

What comes out clearly was that those who fought for democratic South Africa could not have secured all that they fought for all at once. The major issue in debating the legacy of Madiba and indeed any one else, whether his actions and choices could be understood outside of the prevailing political and security context in which they were made. Indeed as Amuah notes ‘one should recollect the vicious contestation and violence that wracked the country in the run up to the first democratic elections in April 1994’. Reflecting back on the days of the transition through the prism of her own experience with the apartheid system, Chaka Chaka firmly states ‘we were lucky to have had him as our first president because if we have had somebody else with different solutions to the political environment, I think the story of South Africa would have turned out differently’. Amuah agrees that the situation needed ‘a political genius like him to reconcile’ all the contesting forces and ‘to bring everybody to the table to buy into the idea of a united country’.

In all fairness, Madiba was not under the illusion about the challenges after transition as he made clear in his 16 December 1995 speech. Indeed he was clear that ‘healing the wounds of the past and freeing ourselves from its burden will be a long and demanding task’. Speaking on the occasion of final sitting of South Africa’s first democratically elected parliament, he pointed out that ‘Each historical generation defines the specific challenges for national progress and leadership …for me personally I belong to the generation of leaders for whom the achievement of democracy was the defining challenge’.

Is not economic freedom the challenge that the succeeding generation should define for itself not only in South African and indeed the rest of the continent?

The special issue is full of many other great writings including from the likes of fred Kumalo, Carlos Lopes and Jay Naido.




Update on the African Union reform

On 28 January 2018, President Paul Kagame and the African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat are expected to provide progress report to a close session of the Heads of State and Government of AU member States. These will provide update on the activities undertaken since the July 2017 summit and the steps taken at the level of member states and at the level of AU Commission for the implementation of the various areas of the proposal.

It is to be recalled that we dedicated the inaugural research report of Amani Africa to a review of the reform of the African Union. The report identified the various areas of reform proposed in President Paul Kagame’s Report and the AU Assembly decision endorsing the report. In its analysis of the various areas of reform, the report identified not only the various issues facing the implementation of the specific reform proposals but also the scale of difficulty for implementing the proposals. It also highlighted ways of addressing the various issues arising in pursuing the implementation of the reform process.

This update aims at highlighting the progress made in the implementation of the reform measures and emerging issues and adjustments in the effort for the implementation of the reform measures. First, it offers update on the operationalization of the entities that have been assigned responsibility for following up the implementation of the proposed reform measures. Second, the update highlights reform measures that are in the process of implementation and those reform measures requiring further decision from the AU Assembly.

It is interesting to note from the progress reports on the reform of the AU that much of the reform measures are not readily implementable and self-executing. As our first report pointed out, they invariably require further elaboration of their content and scope. And importantly, they need for their realization additional decisions by the Assembly on the specific modalities for their implementations. As presented in the table below, the report to be presented to the Jan 2018 Assembly not only elaborated the content and scope of the proposed reform measures but also additional Assembly decision on the specific modalities for their implementation.

Reading of the report on the reform process reveals that, the report does not cover all areas of the specific reform proposals. A case in point is the proposal for the revision of the oversight role of the Permanent Representatives Council (PRC) of the AU – one of the areas on which a number of member states expressed their reservation.


Proposed reform measures Our previous analysis Follow up activities undertaken Jan 2018 progress report on AU Reform Our analysis
Clarifying the division of labor between AU, RECs, member states and other continental organizations Delegation of AU’s areas of engagement other than those that are priorities to RECs and member states, agreement between the AU, RECs and member states on their respective roles and responsibilities and the mechanisms for coordination a) Two meetings between AUC Chairperson and Chiefs Executives of RECs


b) Reform implementation office met with RECs liaison officers

-Need for reduction, rationalization, & harmonization of RECs

-Consensus on AU’s role vis-à-vis its provision of strategic leadership to RECs, development of overall continental policies and priorities, continental norms and standards, supervision and coordination of implementation of continental priorities,

-Major difficulty in identifying agreed upon division of labour between AU and RECs

-Requires criteria and benchmarks and would ultimately entails major legal and institutional overhaul of RECs




– Reasons for lack of division of labour include

a) the independent legal basis of the AU and the various RECs

b) diversity in the legal mandate, organizational structure and scope of development and integration of the different RECs

-Way out is to focus on identifying effective mechanisms for coordination and for the AU to negotiate a formula that is specifically tailored to the legal, institutional and political realities of each REC rather than seek a uniform formula

Review and update of the mandate and structures of key AU organs and institutions Lack of consultation of the AU organs and institutions identified for review of their mandates and structures; the necessity of review of AU legal instruments including the Constitutive Act and the instruments establishing those organs and institutions; political will and buy-in of member states Initial recommendations have been developed in relation to NEPAD and a meeting was held with the PSC. Options on the governance architecture of NEPAD are put forward.


Proposals on other organs including APRM, judicial organs, PAP and PSC to be finalized in the first quarter of 2018

The necessity for analysis of the issues facing AU organs and consultation with the each of the organs on issues facing them and proposals for reform including review of institutional organization of organs as necessary with or without amendment of founding legal instruments of each organ
Review of AU partnership and the formula on participation of AU member States in partnership meetings   Review of the different partnerships, identification of options for change where applicable Given the diversity of partnerships, the report proposes various formats that fits each partnership -Questions around the role of the AU and the format of representation and participation of member states are duly clarified and a consensual formula is established
Conduct audit of the AU’s bureaucratic bottlenecks and inefficiencies Avoiding repetition of the comprehensive review of the AU done in the 2007 Adedeje AU Audit Report and the 2016 AU Comparative Study on the Working Methods of the African Union and Other Similar International and Multilateral Organizations; AU Report for the Jan 2018 summit notes ‘over the years a significant amount of diagnostic work has been undertaken’


Proposal is to implement institutional reform at the AUC level based on ‘An administrative action plan’ of the AUC Chair. There is a need to focus on the bottlenecks and inefficiencies identified in previous reports as summarized in the AUC Jan 2018 report and prioritizing and addressing them according to their importance for the proper functioning of the AUC including accountability for service delivery and financial responsibility; and aligning the audit with the proposed review of the structures of the AUC.
Implement Kigali financing decision Technical and legal challenges for implementing the 0.2 import levy; lack of buy-in of the financing scheme on the part of not-so-insignificant number of member states; slow pace of implementation with only 11 to 14 member states so far reported to be complying with paying the 2017 transitional year contributions; disagreement over the January 2017 Assembly decision on the use of the surplus from the 0.2 import levy; lack of consensus at the national level on compliance with the financing decision.  

-Visits undertaken to

Ghana, Rwanda, Chad, Mauritius, Malawi and Seychelles


-Task force on financing of the Union put in place in the AUC


– Status of implementation of the transitional year budget of $65 million for the Peace Fund member states contributed $29.5 million accounting for 45%.

-With five other countries initiating processes for implementing the 0.2 levy 1) Ghana 2) Mauritania

3) Benin.

4) Ethiopia

5) Senegal


-Committee of Finance Ministers to be enlarged from 10 to 15 countries


-Clarification that

the Kigali Decision was a directive which allowed for Member States to determine the form and the means of implementation while honouring the spirit of the Decision


-Use of surplus of the 0.2 levy to be left to member states


– the endorsed governance and management structure of the Peace Fund to be speedily institutionalized


-AUC Chair consulting on selection of the Board of Trustees of the Peace Fund



-Lack of clarity on the modalities for implementation


-the difference between the amount to be collected from the 0.2% and the actual amount of assessed contributions that member states are expected to pay


-Some major contributing countries notably South Africa and Egypt wrote to the AUC Chairperson that they will not be able to implement the Kigali Decision in its current form


-Only about one third of the membership of the Union are said to be at different stages of implementation


Entrusting the Committee of Ten Finance Ministers with oversight role Aligning and linking the work of the Committee of Ten with the PRC Sub-committee on Budget, Administrative and Finance Matters -Two meetings of the Committee of 10+ Finance Ministers (August 2017 and January 2018)


-Progress on implementation of the Kigali decisions have been presented


The oversight role of the F 10+ to be adopted with the format and scope of the mandate aligned with the role of the PRC on budget oversight


-draft golden rules


-Clarifying the nature and scope of the oversight role of the Committee of 10+ Finance Ministers

-Defining the modalities for the relationship between the F10+, PRC and the Specialized Technical Committee responsible for economic and finance matters


Strengthen and enforce the sanctions regime Identifying and adopting the sanctions to be attached to non-implementation of decisions and delay or failure of payment of assessed contributions; establishment of a sanctions committee to supervise and report on the same -AUC developed proposal on the revision of the sanction regime

-The Ministerial Committee as planned held meeting and considered the proposal from the AUC and

-Ministerial committee proposed that a simplified mechanism should be adopted and revisions done accordingly and

-a revised proposal on the sanction regime be finalized within the first quarter of 2018

-Enhanced monitoring and reporting capacity at the level of the AUC either through strengthening the office of the secretary general or a new monitoring and follow up structure in the office of the AUC Chair

– Achieving a consensual formula

– Establishment of a mechanism for enforcing the formula

Revision of current scale of assessment Risk of division on objectively assessing the principles identified for reviewing scale of assessment and resultant danger of derailing the implementation process -Ministerial Committee tasked the AU to fast track the hiring of the consultant that would prepare the draft scale of assessment -Proposal is to distribute the burden more broadly and equitably through the introduction of ‘caps’ and ‘minima’ while maintaining the principles of fairness, capacity to pay, solidarity and ownership.


-Appointment of a consultant that will prepare the revised draft scale of assessment

-Provision of timeline on the finalization of the draft, its consideration and adoption

Connect the African Union to citizens of Africa


Identifying the initiatives that make AU relevant to citizens; mobilizing the necessary funds and institutional mechanisms and coordination for implementing those infinitives; consistency of assigning the implementation of such initiatives to the AU with the proposal for delegation to RECs and member states; and political will and buy‐in of member states


Assembly at the July summit requested establishment of women and youth quota; participation of private sector and continent wide public goods and services Proposed draft decision to

Set a new gender parity target date; ensure these recommendations become a policy upon which the Staff Regulations and Rules are amended to concretize the targets, timelines and actions required to further women’s equal access to employment and create a gender sensitive work environment, and provide for regular monitoring and reporting.

35% youth quota by 2025; institutionalization of the AU Youth Volunteer Corps; elevation of the division on youth to a directorate; inventory of continental public goods and services to be finalized during the first quarter

Creating spaces in AU processes for the participation of various sections of the African public.
Efficient management of AU and review of the working methods of its Summit


Lack of consensus on the proposed changes on some of the working methods such as level of representation at meeting of AU Assembly; Achieving consensus and clarifying on the implication of the representation formula on representation of member states in partnership summits; Establishing the practice of selecting the incoming chairperson one year in advance



Decision for holding one ordinary Assembly session with the possibility of extraordinary session; the mid year summit as a coordination meeting with RECs and budget adoption meeting by the Executive Council subject to delegation of budget adoption by Assembly; a troika arrangement between the outgoing, current, and incoming African Union Chairpersons shall be established On venue of Jan summit three options are provided – headquarter, venue to be decided at each summit or summit to be held once every two years;


Decision to be adopted on the format, agenda and participation in the mid year summit with RECs/RMs


On the troika –

The nomination of the Incoming Chairperson should take place at the January 2018 Summit

-Delineate decision-making roles with Assembly focusing on policy and strategy oriented matters and Executive Council on operational and implementation

-Decisions taken are properly categorized according to Rule 33 of the Rule of Procedure


-Ensure that resource implication of decisions are adopted

The need for agreement and adoption of the troika formula at the Jan 2018 summit and the time from which the decision on the once in a year summit takes effect


-Finding agreeable formula on the venue of the annual summit of the AU

-Clarification of confusions on the ramifications of the troika formula particularly vis-à-vis representation of member states in partnership forums


– Revision of the relevant Rules of Procedure of the Executive Council and the AU Assembly

-Implementation of the decision making procedures and the proper categorization of decisions

As the above tabular analysis reveals, the various structures envisaged for following up the implementation of the reform agenda are in place. According, the Reform Implementation Unit in the Office of the Chairperson of the AUC has become operational. A Task force on financing of the Union has also been put in place. Similarly, the Committee of Ten Finance Ministers has been discharging its responsibilities.

It emerges from the process thus far that the AU reform implementation process in is still at the stage of clarifying the content, scope, implication and modalities of implementation of a significant portion of the reform proposals of the various reform areas. While there clearly is progress towards implementation, the level of implementation remains uneven.

In terms of the structural reform, major areas of reform that still require further elaboration and deliberation relate to those of the decision-making mechanism by the Assembly, the legal and institutional changes required for reforming of the various organs of the AU and proposals affecting the role of the various policy organs.

With respect to the financing of the AU and implementation of the application of the 0.2% levy, about one third of the membership of the AU are said to have taken steps of implementation. Of which the countries reportedly collected and deposited the 0.2 levy in an account dedicated to the AU are 1) Kenya 2) Gambia 3) Congo Brazzaville 4) Gabon 5) Rwanda 6) Cameroun 7) Chad 8) Sierra Leone 9) Djibouti 10) Cote d’Ivoire 11) Guinea and 12) Sudan.

In preparation for the meeting in which the two reports from President Kagame and Chairperson Mahamat would be considered, countries from East Africa region convened ministerial level meeting in which they discussed the AU reform. Similarly, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) also held ministerial level meeting. As in July 2017, it is anticipated that SADC countries would present common position raising various areas of concern on the reform process.

Next steps

The first step is the firming up of the reform measures implemented thus far. It is also important to take the necessary follow up measures for the areas of reform for which the specific mechanisms and modalities have to be elaborated.  This include, among others, putting in place the necessary financial management and accountability systems for the transparent and prudent use and implementation of the finances of the Union. In terms of fast tracking the reform process, there seems to be urgent need for opening up the deliberation on the reform process and its implementation beyond the level of Heads of State and Government.

As proposed in our July 2017 initial report, it is vital that efforts are mobilized at building a strong and representative group of champion countries from all regions of the continent. This may necessitate further negotiating and refining of some of the reform proposals enthusiastically adopted in January 2017 but are not actively followed up. These adjustments can be undertaken as part of the implementation process through some degree of flexibility and wider consultation that accommodates a critical mass of member states that can carry the reform forward. In this regard, the the AU can build on the clarification given and the adjustment made in respect to the 0.2 percent levy. Notably, the AU explained that the Kigali Decision was a directive which allowed for Member States to determine the form and the means of implementation while honouring the spirit of the Decision. Additionally, it is now proposed that the surplus from the 0.2 percent is an amount that member states are free to use for their own ends.

Appeal to the AU, EU and the international community for declaring the sell of African migrants as crimes against humanity

African migrants including children and women held in various detention centres in Libya are subjected to various kinds of abuses. The abuses that these migrants suffer in the hands of their captors include, among others, torture, rape, and forced labour. As reported in the past week, striped off all the attributes of being human, these African migrants are sold like commodities in thriving salve markets where men are auctioned.

The sell of African migrants and the various abuses to which they are subjected in Libya are nothing less than crimes against humanity. The first step in addressing these abuses is therefore to recognize them as crimes against humanity. All of us who share the suffering of these migrants should call for the recognition of these acts as crimes against humanity.

The response by African and EU states should accordingly go beyond and above proposing to improve conditions of detention in Libya. Such proposals amount to both denying the gravity of these crimes and condoning the crimes against humanity being inflicted on African migrants.

African and EU states including the AU and the EU should accordingly assume their full responsibility. In this regard, they should initiate the following actions:

  1. Declare the abuses and the sell of African migrants in Libya as crimes against humanity;
  2. End the arrangement between European states and Libyan actors for the detention of African migrants in Libya;
  3. Launch full international investigation into these acts;
  4. Initiate a process for a planned closure of the detention centres; and
  5. Put in place a plan for the rehabilitation and repatriation of the migrants subjected to these abuses to their place of origin or voluntary third countries willing to treat them with dignity.

Spotlight on the 29th AU Summit

A ‘low energy summit’ 

Early last week leaders of member states of the African Union (AU) descended into Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa for the 29th summit of the AU. Despite the disruption of the flow of traffic and the media coverage it attracted, this has in many ways been a ‘low energy’ summit.

Many leaders including Presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Macky Sall of Senegal, Muhamedu Buhari of Nigeria, John Magufuli of Tanzania, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan, Mohamed Abdulahi Mohamed of Somalia, Uhuru Kenyata of Kenya, Al Sisi of Egypt were absent.

The summit has clearly displayed that Africa today is in very short supply of leaders with strong pan-African conviction and clarity of continental vision. We are talking about, to quote from President Paul Kagame’s interview with the April 2017 edition of New African Magazine, ‘ the likes of Abdoulaye Wade, Obasanjo, Mbeki, Meles Zenawi, Bouteflika of Algeria, all of whom were driving matters of the continent in a positive direction’.

How else can one understand the lack of deliberation on the state of peace and security at the Summit? How about the nature of the debate on the reform of the Union?

An organisation Africa should have created if it did not exist 

President Kagame indicated in his interview with New African that leadership on continental affairs has now turned to the AU Commission. Despite the fact that his report ‘The Imperative to Strengthen our Union: Proposed Recommendations for the Institutional Reform of the African Union’ described the AU as ‘a dysfunctional organisation in which member states see limited value, global partners find little credibility, and our citizens have no trust’, President Kagame’s view that Africa seeks leadership from the AU is not completely off the mark. If the proceedings of the summit are anything to go by, indeed the star of the summit was the new AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamt, who, as outlined below, repeatedly provided insight and guidance even on some of the major areas of contention.

Indeed, as I told the Al Jazeera show Inside Story recently, the AU is an institution that Africa would have needed to create if it did not exist. With all its flaws the AU remains to be the only entity that serves as the big church that brings all African states under one platform. The question at any given point has never been whether Africa should have the AU. It has been and it still is about what kind of AU it should have.

Back to the 29th AU Summit 

So, even though the 29th summit has been underwhelming in many respects, it is still worth to note what transpired in the course of this summit and what the highlights of the major decisions of the summit were. This is the subject to which we immediately turn our attention.

On the theme of the summit – ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth’

 The AU Assembly adopted, without much debate, two decisions and a declaration. While the decision on the implementation of the theme of the year decided to institutionalize the African Youth Forum, the second decision endorsed the establishment of the African Youth Fund for which the AU allocated an amount at least equal to 1% of the Programme Budget of the AU Commission. The declaration highlighted the need for national level programs and international support and partnership on the subject including through advocating for a special session of the UN General Assembly.

It is difficult to see what these outcomes mean and whether they matter at all in addressing the demographic issues facing the continent. The best that can be expected is that they highlight demography as a major issue for the continent and may in the process leverage existing national level efforts or processes.

There were a few reports that attracted the most debate during the summit. One of them, unsurprisingly, was the report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This report often highlights human rights concerns relating to individual countries. This time around the language ‘occupied territory’ that has commonly been used in AU documents in reference to Western Sahara was another item that stirred debate. This was resolved only after Nigeria facilitated a negotiated formulation that sought to cater for concerns of Morocco and Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.

On peace and security

The Assembly received the report of the Peace and Security Council on its activities and the state of peace and security in Africa. Despite the lack of debate on the draft decision, there were some issues that attracted major interest and some debate. While the Assembly decision covered all the conflict situations, this review focuses only on those that received new attention.

One such item was the conflict between AU’s newest member, Morocco, and the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic. AU Commission Chair Faki saved the difficult and divisive debate on the subject by proposing a new initiative involving the resuscitating the OAU ad hoc committee of heads of state for facilitating peace process. A declaration that the AU Commission proposed was adopted endorsing Chairperson’s proposal.

The summit has shown that AU member states are deeply divided between those supporting Morocco’s position and those holding to previous O/AU positions on the dispute.

Another item that received new attention was the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea. Not surprisingly the two countries disagreed on what actually transpired. Eritrea insisted that all issues can be addressed within the framework of the 2010 agreement that Qatar facilitated and would not accept any parallel process. On the issue of whether Qatar communicated with the parties, AU Commission Chairperson Faki confirmed that he received a letter confirming that Qatar withdrew not only its troops from the Djibouti-Eritrea border but also from the mediation process itself. He also affirmed that a team was sent to the border areas of both Eritrea and Djibouti noting that while the team sent to Djibouti went to the ground, the team sent to Eritrea was unable to go to the ground.

As part of AU’s effort to calm the situation, the Chairperson informed the assembly that he would dispatch the Commissioner for Peace and Security Amb Smail Chergui to Asmara. Although this visit was planned to take place soon after the summit, on 9 July the AU issued a statement announcing that the planned visit was postponed to a time to be agreed.

With respect to Mali, the Assembly welcomed the G5 Sahel joint force involving Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. On the role of the AU in this respect, the Assembly requested the AU Commission ‘to organise, as soon as possible, a meeting of the member countries of the Nouakchott Process to discuss their support for the G5 Sahel initiative, within the framework of the AU Strategy for the Sahel Region’.

On South Sudan, the Assembly endorsed the decisions of the 31 IGAD Extraordinary Summit held on 12 June 2017, in particular the urgent convening of the High-Level Revitalization Forum of the Peace Agreement. In its statement during the Summit, South Sudan indicated that going back to negotiation would be opening of a Pandora’s box.

With respect to the AU Peace Fund, the Assembly endorsed ‘the communiqué of the 689th meeting of the PSC, in particular the governance structures and eligibility criteria of the Peace Fund, as well as the scope of operations to be submitted, on a case by case basis, for authorization by the UN Security Council and subsequent financing through un assessed contributions’. Significantly, the Assembly requested the AU Commission Chairperson ‘to take forward the political engagement to secure, in the course of 2017, a substantive UN Security Council Resolution on the use of assessed contributions to support AU mandated or authorized missions in 2017.’

It can thus be anticipated that this would be one of the items that would feature in the annual consultative meeting between the members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the Peace and Security Council (UNSC). This 10th year meeting is set to take place in Addis Ababa in early September 2017 during the Ethiopia’s presidency of the UNSC and Botswana’s chairpersonship of the PSC.

The AU also adopted a declaration on the Gulf crisis pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar. Expressing concern over the crisis, the Assembly urged for a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the crisis. The declaration also contained condemnation of all acts of terrorism and the funding of terrorism by any one.

On the reform of the African Union

The summit held a ‘closed-closed’ meeting on President Kagame’s report on the progress on the AU reform. The report gave update on the various steps taken for implementing the reform agenda including the structures put in place and the measures taken at the level of member states and the AU and the AU Commission. It acknowledged that a number of countries have raised various issues relating to various dimensions of the reform areas. The report also provided implementation matrix and schedule of implementation deliverables from the 29th until the 31st AU summits.

It has emerged from the ensuing discussion that Botswana presented a statement on behalf of Southern Africa region raising major concerns. Namibia and South Africa also spoke supporting Botswana’s statement and indicating that a number of countries are not yet on board the reform process.

When draft decisions of the Assembly were considered, the draft on the report of President Kagame was changed. Ghana supported by Egypt indicated that the decision should include a language that ensures that concerns of member states are accommodated in pursuing the reform process. The two countries negotiated with Rwanda on a formulation acceptable to them all.

Despite the fact that as part of the reform there was a draft decision on the dissolution of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (HSGOC), it faced major opposition on the floor. Senegal pointed out that such a decision has to be taken after due consultation and should be deferred to another time. Its position received support from Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa. All indications are that this item is now put on hold.

On Multilateral cooperation

An item that raised some contention during the PRC and the Executive Council meetings was the proposed change of the nomenclature of the partnership with the European Union (EU). With the partnership framed as EU-Africa, the EU had selectively left out from invitation to EU-Africa summits certain African States. AU member states were opposed to the format of this partnership and the exclusion of certain member states. Morocco fought hard to keep the current format of the partnership with the EU. It was however finally decided that the nomenclature for the partnership with the European Union to be: “African Union (AU) – European Union (EU) Partnership” instead of “Africa – EU partnership”. Under this format one can anticipate that all members of the AU including SADR to participate in the AU-EU summit. The next summit is scheduled to take place in September 2017. 

Statute for Emperor Haile Sellassie and PM Meles Zenawi

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo delivered a statement noting that it was high time that the AU shows in concrete its appreciation for the role Ethiopia played including in hosting the continental body for over half a century. To this end he proposed that Ethiopia’s leading pan-African figures namely Emperor Haile Selassie I and former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi are given recognition in the same way the contribution of Ghana’s founding father Kwame Nkrumah was given recognition by erecting a statute on the AU grounds. This statement was accepted with acclamation and a statement of appreciation from Ethiopia’s prime minister Hailemariam Desalegne.

 Next summits

While the 30th AU summit is as usual scheduled to take place in January 2015 in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, the 31st summit is planned to take place in Mauritania in on 1-2 July 2018. Interestingly enough, in President Kagame’s report on implementation of the AU reform the 31st AU summit was envisaged to take place in January 2019. This is not surprising given that enhanced integration within the framework of Agenda 2063 and the AU reform would mean that there is a need for a more, and not less, hands on engagement of member states. Experience from the EU also suggests that one would anticipate more summit level meeting and not less.


In Niamey, Niger

One of the things that I like about my work is the opportunity it avails for traveling on the African continent and beyond. I am particularly excited about my visits in the continent. I get to see and experience first hand the culture, politics and socio-economic conditions of fellow Africans.

I am delighted that I have arrived in Niamey, Niger. It took five hours of direct flight from Addis Ababa on board ET 937.

As we were descending to Niamey, we were informed that temperature on ground was a high of 38 degrees – such a hot reception was what I felt. Coming from rainy and cold Addis Ababa, it was a testimony to the contrast and diversity that is characteristic of our continent, which is true even beyond whether.

I sat more than an hour to have my luggage collected. I protested (despite my linguistic incapacity, speaking English is not certainly enabler here) about the length of time I was made to wait; the plane with which I arrived was moving to take off.

Then a ride to the Hotel. My colleague Reginald, who picked me up from the airport asked me if I ever visited any country in the Sahel-Sahara region. I told him this was my first experience to a country in the Sahara. That I was landing in the Sahara was apparent from my view from the window of the plane – brownish dry land, absence of vegetation, sparse settlement, plain dusty surface with no hills.

As we drove to the Hotel where I will stay for three weeks, perhaps due to my latest consciousness about rail lines (curtesy of the Addis City light rail system) my attention was drawn to a rail line crossing the middle of the city. It is not run down, it actually looked rather very recent. When I inquired about it, i was told it is not yet operational. As I suspected, I found from wikipedia that the line was in fact inaugurated in 2014, although not operational. I was pleased to learn that it is part of the AfricaRail project that connects Niamey to Cotonou in Benin – a physical evidence of African infrastructural development projects.

When we arrived at the Hotel, named Soluxe Hotel, I was informed that it is the only five start Hotel in town. Although there is another Hotel with better architecture and located on a direct view of river Niger, this is apparently the best quality Hotel for Niamey’s population of 1.3 million.

Once inside, it was apparent that it is a Chinese built and chinese run/owned establishment. Chinese characters are used alongside French. Chinese paintings are hung on the walls. The team that came to fix the air-conditioning in my room was led by a Chinese.

Late in the afternoon, I ventured out to check out the city and get a bite. Passed through the area through which the River Niger passes, what a beautiful sight. My eyes caught the imposing sight of a curvy building. I successfully read what was posted on the front wall of the building – it is the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Despite the fact that its benefits are not visible on the streets of Niamey, Niger is a resource rich country. Among others it has uranium. The Uranium from this country  fuels the Nuclear energy in France. Indeed, uranium is the primary source of energy for Niger’s former colonial ruler.

On departing from the Hotel, I asked Abdoul, the driver (with whatever little French I can think of —not speaking any French in this French is really debilitatingly limiting –I have made a decision to start French class on my return and I suggest you too do the same if you don’t speak French) to take me to a cafe named Le Cafe. Instead of Le Cafe, Abdoul first took me to an Italian Restaurant Le Pilier, the first restaurant that appears on He asked a couple of gentlemen standing outside for Le Cafe. We continued the ride, passed through the market area and when we arrived, it was another restaurant, La Cabane, a restaurant with Lebanese and European dishes.

I perused the Menue and went for a simple meal. I ordered chicken burger. I also drank expresso late. Despite the fact that Niger’s uranium fuels France’s energy, my internet connectivity at the restaurant failed so many times due to recurrent power interruption.

When I asked for the bill, I was provided with a receipt of 6000 CFA, and instead of the 1800 CFA that I saw on the menu, the price for the burger indicated in the receipt was 4000. After a frustrating exchange  and explaining the discrepancy as convincingly under the circumstances- I lament my French disability again – , I paid the full price while protesting.

Heading back to the Hotel, we passed a number of toyota picks ups on which armed soldiers and the gendarmerie are loaded, indication of a country facing a security challenge. Although Niger successfully withered the spillover of the disintegration of Libya, it is one of the countries in the Sahel affected by terrorist attacks including from Boko Haram and various groups in the Sahel and North Africa.

In a clear testimony that we are in a desert territory, we also passed at the centre of the city a camel carrying hey and walking with a camel’s long and awesome movements. It is not also difficult to notice that in Niamey, as in many other African cities, motorcycles are very common and serve as major means of transport.

My first day over. I am looking forward to more of Niamey. I hope to learn even a great deal more on the state of human rights in Africa – at Africa’s major gathering on human rights at the 60th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Au revoir, Bonne Soiree, A plus tard, Salut!

Decisions of consequence from the 28th AU summit: Part I AUC Chair Elections

The outgoing Chairperson of the AU Commission (AUC) told the packed audience at Mandela Hall that Ethiopia is not a sovereign country like other, all of us (Africans) have a stake in the city of Addis Ababa. At no other time is this true than at the time of the AU summit. The citizens of the city take a back seat; their roads are blocked or otherwise chocked and access to some places made beyond their reach.

With the 28th AU summit having ended and Addis resuming its routine, the time comes for reflecting on whether the inconvenience to which Addis Ababan’s were subjected was worth the trouble. The AU Assembly took 18 decisions, two declarations and two resolutions. Going to the summit, the major issues on the agenda of the summit were three: the consideration of the report of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda on the reform of the AUC, the election of the members of the AU Commission and the consideration of Morocco’s request for admission to the AU.

Although they are not of the same weight, the debates and the decision on these three major issues are of consequence to the AU.

Election of the AU Commission leadership

The elections for the position of the chairperson and the deputy chairperson of the AU was held on 30 January 2017. The process started at 4:30 with distribution of the voting keypads and reminder by the Office of the Legal Counsel of the AU on the procedures to be followed in the conduct of the elections.

The AU assembly first conducted the election of the Chairperson. There were five candidates vying for this position. Two of them, Foreign Minister of Botswana Moitoiun Pelonomi Venson and  Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy, run in the unsuccessful elections held in Kigali Rwanda during the 27th AU summit. The three new candidates were Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, and Kenya’s Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed.

The two frontrunners for the election were Mohamed of Kenya and Mahamat of Chad. While the candidates that run during the Kigali summit lost from the support they had in Kigali, Bathily, despite his qualities and credentials, had the disadvantage of the unfavourable perception towards his country.

Although Mohamed led the first round with 16 votes followed by Mahamat’s 14 votes, Mahamat sustained the lead he received during the second round when he received 21 votes to Mohamed’s 15 votes. At this stage, while Bethily and Venson received 8 votes each, Equatorial Guinea’s Mokuy had only two votes.

In the third round, Bathily lost five votes from the earlier round to both Mahamat and Mohamed. While Mahamat added three more votes from the second round, Mohamed added two. Mokuy’s position did not change.

With none of the candidates receiving the required 2/3rd majority, after the third round the rules require that the candidates with the least votes were eliminated, leaving for the next round only Mahamat and Mohamed.

In the fourth round, Mohamed took the lead from Mahamat when they received 26 and 25 votes respectively. There were three abstentions in this round. During the fifth round both Mohamed and Mahamat received one additional vote each from those who abstained during the fourth round.

The election reached another elimination stage during the six round. In what proves to be a decisive phase of the election, Mahamat once again took the lead from Mohamed when two countries switched their votes from Mohamed leading to her elimination from the race.

The question of the countries who switched their votes has since become a matter of some debate in the East Africa region with some countries, particularly Uganda forced to issue statement denying reports that they did not back Mohamed. Unless they indicate how they voted, it is however difficult to tell the identity of the countries who switched their votes away from Mohamed.

In the final round, Mahamat won the election with 39 votes and becoming the next Chairperson of the AUC. Following his swearing in, Mahamat assured his competitors that he would call on their support and active participation in the work of the AU.

The elections for the position of the Deputy Chairperson had three candidates. This election run only for two rounds. The election would have ended in the first round if  Ghana’s candidate former deputy foreign Minister and career diplomat Ambassador Quartey Thomas Kwesi had the additional two votes to meet the 2/3rd majority requirement. During the second round, he won the election with 44 votes and receiving the most confidence from the AU membership.

The two top positions of the AUC are now held by men. Although it remains to be seen how this affects the outgoing Chair’s derive for bringing women to leadership of the AU at various levels, women representation in the leadership of the AUC remains high. Four of the six commissioners elected by the Executive Council of the AU are women.