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 tripadvisor.com 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.



AU’s Shakespearean Morocco dilemma: To admit or not to admit?

There is a rich menu of issues on the agenda of the 28th African Union (AU) summit. It is sure to be a historic summit. Its historic importance is arguably in the league of the May 1963 Addis Ababa conference founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), predecessor to the AU and the July 2002 Durban summit inaugurating the AU.

What makes it historic is not the election of the new chairperson of the AU Commission expected to take place on 30 January 2017. It is not either the much-anticipated report of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on the restructuring of the Union.

What makes the 28th summit of the AU historic is the AU’s Shakespearean dilemma of admitting or not admitting the Kingdom of Morocco.

Since its withdrawal from the OAU in 1984, the northern Africa Kingdom has been the only African country remaining outside of the pan-African body, the AU. The O/AU has since grown from strength to strength with expanding political muscle and assuming increasing role on continental affairs. As it becomes alive to the reality of AU’s continental and global profile, Morocco sought to end its self-imposed diplomatic exile. 32 years after its departure, the Kingdom is now seeking to be part of the continental political fold.

After its very publicized announcement on its desire to have a seat on the AU table at the 27th AU summit held in Kigali Rwanda, Morocco formally submitted its request for admission to the AU in September 2016. Most recently, it signed and ratified the Constitutive Act of the AU, the founding treaty establishing the regional body.

Morocco’s charm offensive: Laying the groundwork for AU membership

As part of his visit to Kigali during the 27th AU summit, King Mohammed VI stated that although his country has left the organization, ‘it never quit Africa’. Indeed, despite severing its institutional ties, Morocco has over the years built strong economic and political ties in francophone Africa, where it enjoys its strongest backing.

In recent years, the Kingdom sought to extend its reach by deploying African wide diplomatic outreach. The Kingdom has opened embassies in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. In a diplomatic offensive that combined high level visits and wide-ranging economic cooperation agreements, Morocco sent some 20 high level missions to some 15 African countries during the past three years.

The King and senior officials also paid a visit to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda during the last six months of 2016. Morocco has signed 19 economic agreements with Rwanda and 22 with Tanzania, the later one a firm traditional advocate for decolonization and natural supporter of Western Sahara. Following his visit to Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the AU, King Mohammed VI announced the signing of a deal for building a $3.7 billion fertilizer company in Ethiopia, the largest single investment made outside of Morocco.

Reaping the fruits of its campaign

Morocco’s diplomatic overtures to obtain support from the wider membership of the AU did not go unrewarded. Although its attempts to get a hearing for its cause during the 27th AU summit was dead on arrival, in a display of strong support for Morocco 28 member states were reported to have signed a motion for the suspension of Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) from the AU.

Following the communication by the AU Commission Chair Dr Dlamini-Zuma to AU member States on Morocco’s official request for membership in the AU, more than half of the members of the AU responded assenting to Morocco’s request. It was following the receipt of support from majority of AU member states that the Chairperson of the Commission put the issue on the agenda of the 28th summit of the AU.

 A dilemma like no other

 Given the ambition of the continental body for the unification of Africa, one of the founding ideals pan-African institutionalism, Morocco’s absence in the AU is an anomaly. At the same time, its return to the AU could mark one step to a more perfect union.

Yet, unlike South Sudan’s accession to the AU, Morocco’s raises a dilemma like no other. Morocco left the continental body in protest of OAU’s admission of the SADR as a member of the OAU. While Morocco was the founding member of the OAU, with the transition of the OAU to the AU, the SADR has become one of the founding members of the AU whose name is inscribed into the Constitutive Act, the founding treaty of the AU.

Other than the various geo-strategic changes that happened in Africa and the Middle East, as far as the reason for Morocco’s withdrawal is concerned nothing has changed. SADR remains a part of the AU.

Although no one disputes the pan-African roots and the African membership of Morocco, understandably, its move for joining the AU is not seen as a manifestation of the Kingdom’s affection for the continental body. There is legitimate concern that Morocco’s return carries serious peril for the Union. It threatens to create unprecedented split within the membership of the Union, exacerbating existing fault lines continuing to impede continental unity.

Apart from Algeria, the staunch backer of the Western Sahara cause, other major regional powers on the continent also firmly support Western Sahara. Western Sahara has its strong regional support in Southern Africa. In an opinion piece published recently, South Africa’s Foreign Affairs Minister Maite Nkoana- Mashabane expressed South Africa’s unequivocal support for SADR affirming that South Africa remains ‘committed to continue to walk with the people of Western Sahara until they are free to live in their own land and able to determine their own future.’ SADR can also count of no less a firm support from such countries as Zimbabwe. It also enjoys support in East Africa from countries such as Uganda. Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Minister, who is also one of the frontrunners of the candidates for replacing AUC Chair Dr Dlamini-Zuma, announced her plan to push for holding of the referendum on the right to self-determination of Western Sahara.

The applicable legal processes  

The legal process to be followed in determining Morocco’s request for readmission to the AU has been outlined in a briefing that the Legal Counsel of the AU, Prof Vincent O. Nmehielle, gave to the Peace and Security Council of the AU on 12 August 2016. According to the Legal Council, there is a three-stage process for approving a request for AU membership under the AU Constitutive Act.

The first stage of this process is stipulated in Article 29 of the Constitutive Act. This involves the formal submission of a request for membership in the AUC Chairperson, the communication by the Chairperson to member states indicating the request. The second phase depends on whether simple majority of member states approve of the request for member ship. The second phase envisaged under Article 7 of the Constitutive Act involves the presentation by the Chairperson of the AUC to the AU Assembly of the request and the number of support from AU member states for the request.

The final stage of the process involves the consideration and deliberation by the AU Assembly of the request. In a communiqué it issued following the Prof Nmehielle’s briefing, the PSC stressed the need for the state requesting admission to the AU ‘to commit itself fully to upholding and respecting the principles of the Union as outlined in Article 4 of the Constitutive Act’. The PSC communiqué further urged member states to comply with the provisions of the AU Constitutive Act as the only legal framework that should guide the accession of any state to the AU.

Impending showdown

AU is clearly poised to have one of the most unprecedented showdowns between states supporting Morocco and those upholding the 1984 decision admitting SADR, currently the last African territory falling under the 1960 UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples as the International Court of Justice held in its Western Sahara, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1975. While there are those calling for Morocco’s admission without any conditions, for others Morocco’s admission without accepting the right of Western Sahara for self-determination is an abomination to the liberation ideals of the continental body. There are also those who, short of insisting Morocco’s acceptance of SADR’s self-determination, demand that Morocco gives guarantee that it does not dispute SADR’s membership in the AU.

As the recent walkout of Morocco from the Africa-Arab summit held in Malabo in protest of the presence of SADR shows, the indication is that Morocco, if admitted, is unlikely to coexist within the AU on an equal status with SADR.

AU  Shakespearean Morocco dilemma of admitting or not admitting Morocco is unlike any similar dilemma before. Nothing less than the very fate of the Union is on the line. As one diplomat from an East African country put it to me, the AU is corned into ‘dropping its policy position on SADR or Morocco will return to break it from within.’ It is no wonder that Dr Dlamini-Zuma, in one of her tweets on 25 January 2017, cautioned that ‘Whatever we do at this (28th) Summit, we must ensure that we preserve the precious and principled unity of this continent and our Union’.


Gambia’s recipe for Africa in resolving a crisis of transition with no drop of blood

The troubled transition in The Gambia was resolved peacefully. No gunfire was shot, no drop of blood spilt.

Surely, no single factor or line of story fully accounts for this remarkable development. It represented an exemplary triumph of the work of African led diplomacy. As such, it is now sure to become Gambia’s recipe for peaceful resolution of crises of transition elsewhere on the continent.

The descent to a preventable crisis of exit

The political turmoil in the Gambia that forced some 50,000 Gambians into neighboring countries, as I argued previously, was a crisis of exit arising from what I call ‘the curse of electoral defeat of an authoritarian’ – involving questions of clarifying the fate of the outgoing president (terms of exit) when and after handing over power and the handling of the politics of transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.

The crisis ensued when on 9 December 2016 Jammeh, rescinding his earlier concession of defeat, announced his rejection of the election results. Although Jammeh blamed problems relating to the election process, it was trends of politics of anger, not uncharacteristic of post-authoritarian transitions, which put his future into question that pushed him to make a face about on his acceptance of the election results.

Indications were that, Jammeh was resigning into retirement. In preparation for soft landing and following on acceptance of his electoral defeat, on 5 December Jammeh’s government released 19 political prisoners, including Ousainou Darboe, the leader of Barrow’s United Democratic Party (UDP), followed by 12 others on 7 December.

Instead of seizing Jammeh’s acceptance of the outcome of the election to negotiate an exit strategy ensuring peaceful transfer of power, as Rwanda’s newspaper New Times’ commentator Lonzen Rugira summed it, the message coming from some in the opposition involved ‘there would be no immunity; they’d return to the ICC; they’d seize Jammeh’s assets and prevent him from traveling abroad; and they’d prosecute him in less than a year and possibly within the next three months because they wanted to “move fast.”’

Enter the ECOWAS led coercive diplomatic efforts

Despite his wishes to the contrary, Jammeh’s act attracted swift regional response that culminated in the peaceful resolution of the crisis. Central to the success of the diplomatic efforts were its three important features.

The first was regional leadership. ECOWAS took the lead both in setting the agenda and launching the diplomatic process. Rather than mediating between Jammeh and the president elect, the initiative of ECOWAS focused on the agenda of enforcing the outcome of the 1 December election. The subject of the diplomatic effort was thus rightly about negotiating an exit framework that ensures Jammeh’s departure and the ascent of the president elect to power.

The other feature of the ECOWAS led diplomatic process was the formation of a united front between regional and international actors. The agenda of ECOWAS on Jammeh’s departure received firm support from the continental body the African Union (AU), which expressing full support to ECOWAS warned Jammeh of ‘serious consequences’ and the UN as well as other international actors including the European Union and major powers like the US.

Third, the diplomatic effort around the agenda of Jammeh’s departure was backed by a credible threat of use of force. Apart from its 17 December summit decision to ‘undertake all necessary action’, a euphemism for use of force, ECOWAS member states mobilized their troops into The Gambia upon the expiry of a 19 January deadline they set for jammeh to leave power.

Collapsing of Jammeh’s regime from inside

As much as the caution that ECOWAS exercised (for exhausting diplomatic efforts that involved five rounds of presidential missions to Banjul mobilizing a total number of six African presidents), while showing firm posture, the crumbling of Jammeh’s regime and his alienation by his own army was a catalyst in bringing Jammeh into accepting the terms of his departure.

The string of cabinet resignations followed by the departure of longtime vice president Isatou Njie-Saidy forced Jammeh to dissolve his cabinet entirely. Despite declaration of state of emergency and parliamentary extension of his term of office for three months, the military chief announced that he had no plan to fight the ECOWAS troops marching into the Gambia.

Pulling the rug of power from Jammeh’s feet

Instead of its initial threat of ensuring the inauguration of Mr Barrow in the Gambia, ECOWAS opted for an extraordinary choice for the swearing in of the president elect Adama Barrow in the Embassy of the Gambia in Senegal’s capital, Dakar. Despite Jammeh’s claim to power with a parliamentary decision extending his power for a further period of three months, in an act that pulled the rug of power from Jammeh’s feet the president elect was sworn in as Gambia’s new president on 19 January.

This act sealed Jammeh’s political demise, paving the way for the AU and others to withdraw their recognition of Jammeh and welcom Mr Barrow as the legitimate president of The Gambia.

The most critical political act

No doubt the combination of all of the foregoing factors contributed in ending the crisis. Yet, the most critical political act for the crisis to be resolved peacefully was the eventual successful negotiation of Jammeh’s exit. Following the last rounds of diplomatic efforts involving Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and Guinea’s Alpha Conde, Aziz aptly summed the essence of the agreement on the exit of Jammeh saying ‘We have reached an agreement that saves the Gambia, guarantees peace, and assures security, dignity and honor for the outgoing president’.

The clear lesson from the crisis in The Gambia is that for a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy to be successful a free and fair election should be accompanied by a negotiated agreement on exit that encourages the authoritarian ruler into retirement and allows the country to move forward with an inclusive transition.

Lessons for diplomatic response for crises of transitions of power

From the perspective of diplomatic engagement, the successful resolution of the crisis shows the importance of various factors including a) regional agreement around a single agenda of the diplomatic effort, b) unity of regional actors and cohesive regional leadership that sticks around the same agenda c) willingness of the region to enforce such agenda and d) mobilizing and securing firm continental and international support and engagement based on and around the agenda set.

Obviously, it would be difficult to replicate the model of diplomacy employed in the Gambia in another situation. The fact that Gambia is a small country with one of the smallest and weakest military force has arguably made an easy case to handle with a threat of credible military action.

Although the model may not be and should not be replicated as is for other cases, it still offers a useful template that can be adapted as appropriate and used for other cases. Accordingly, in cases where a regime is backed by a relatively strong army and its components remain firmly together, this model needs to be complemented by such other measures as applied in Cote d’Ivoire after the November 2010 elections including suspension of membership, economic sanctions etc before using the threat of force.

Is there another side to the single story on the crisis in The Gambia?

The current crisis in The Gambia has a simple story, or so it seems. Here is how it goes.

On 1 December 2016 presidential elections were held in the country with the incumbent Yahya Jammeh and the opposition leader Mr Adama Barrow as frontrunners. The following day, the Independent Electoral Commission of the Gambia announced a surprising result, Jammeh lost the election by 39.6 % to Barrow’s 43.3 % of the votes cast.

Rescinding his concession of defeat made in a televised telephonic call to the winner of the Election on the same day, Jammeh announced his rejection of the election results, pushing the country into a political turmoil unprecedented in his 22 year authoritarian rule.

Typical’ of an African election, election was held, the opposition won, the incumbent refused to accept the results and a crisis ensued. Well, the only deviation is that for a ‘typical’ African authoritarian leader, it is not ‘typical’ to convene free and fair election, let alone to concede defeat.

As the story goes, it is no one but Jammeh to blame for this crisis. As in all stories of good versus evil, you have to take out the villain to safeguard the good. In the context of The Gambia, this means that the result of the election should be upheld and Jammeh should be forced out as declared by ECOWAS, AU and the UN.

Check any major news outlet covering the crisis including those in Africa, this is the line that is consistently narrated without exception.

In her now famous 2009 TED Talk Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie eloquently argued against a “The Danger of a Single Story.” Her point was that the complexity of a human experience cannot be reduced to a single narrative and when reduced to such narrative it is sure to lead to dangerous outcomes.

So could there be another side to the single story on The Gambia? Is this yet another single story with a danger?

Another side of the story?

In an opinion piece published on Rwanda’s newspaper New Times, commentator Lonzen Rugira took issue with the single narrative. He argued that there is more to the situation in The Gambia than meets the eye. His point as captured in the tile of his commentary is that ‘the international media and human rights organizations’ are to blame for the ‘unforced’ errors of the opposition that triggered the crisis.

For sure, this is a kind of analysis that one may push aside as counter intuitive, if not down right apologist for giving an excuse to what all agree to be a defeated authoritarian ruler. Well, even if one disagrees with him on blaming externals for the current woes of The Gambia, the truth is that Rugira is not without a point.

True that #Gambiahasdecided that Jammeh should go. As is the case with elections, this decision left the question of Jammeh’s exit, namely what happens to him and his camp when and after leaving power, unanswered.

Curse of loss of election by an authoritarian leader

The descent of The Gambia into this crisis is a result of what I call the curse of loss of election by an authoritarian ruler. While the electoral defeat of Jammeh the authoritarian ruler is a welcome development, it also presents the country with major issues. These include the questions of clarifying the fate of the outgoing president (terms of exit) after handing over power and the handling of the politics of transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.

In a context like that of the Gambia, these issues affect whether there would be smooth transfer of power leading to inclusive politics and deepening democratization or to a period of political instability and uncertainty.

Lost opportunity

More than the electoral victory of Mr Barrow, Jammeh’s acceptance of the result was crucial for peaceful transition. In a sign of good will, going beyond conceding defeat, on 5 December Jammeh’s government released 19 political prisoners, including Ousainou Darboe, the leader of Barrow’s United Democratic Party (UDP), followed by 12 others on 7 December.

This presented the Gambia a unique opportunity for a mutually agreed transition in which both smooth transfer of power to the winner of the election and secure exit for the outgoing president would have been assured.

As it turned out, this did not happen.

Instead of seizing the opportunity for an agreed transition, trends characteristic of post-authoritarian politics of vengeance started to emerge. Long suppressed members of the public did not take long before venting their understandable anger towards Jammeh including in desecrating images of him. Perhaps in a move that pushed him to make a face about, talk of the uncertain future fate of a president who conceded defeat crept into the post-election political discourse.

As Rugira observed, the message coming from some in the opposition camp was ‘there would be no immunity; they’d return to the ICC; they’d seize Jammeh’s assets and prevent him from traveling abroad; and they’d prosecute him in less than a year and possibly within the next three months because they wanted to “move fast,” a senior official was quoted saying.’

A preventable crisis

Without a doubt there is a lot of blame to be attributed to Jammeh. Yet, it shouldn’t have been allowed to wreck havoc on the transitional process. After all Jammeh was not expected to act in any way differently from what he did. In terms of steering the transition to success, at the very least the opposition camp should have avoided any missteps.

The Gambia’s was a preventable crisis. An exit strategy could have been negotiated leading to peaceful transition.

The lesson from the crisis in The Gambia is clearly that for a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, free and fair election by itself alone is not enough. In such context, peaceful transfer of power and successful transition to democracy depends on an agreed political roadmap on how to manage the curse of loss of election by an authoritarian leader.

Could other African countries with similar situation be spared from similar trouble?

The Gambia is not unique in having an authoritarian ruler. There are many other African countries under the grip of Jammeh’s kith, some of whom with a record worse than Jammeh.

If these other rulers are not to take the wrong lesson and be encouraged into convening free and fair elections, the question that opposition parties, the citizenry and African regional and continental organizations should ask is whether they are willing to have an exit strategy that encourages these rulers into retirement and help the country move forward with peaceful transfer of power and inclusive transition. This is sure to determine whether other countries will have the same troubled transition as The Gambia.

African lessons for transitional justice from Colombia’s peace deal

The peace deal that the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Groups of Colombia (FARC) struck has relevance far beyond Colombia. First, it brings an end to one of the world’s long running conflicts. Surely, this on its own is a cause for celebration in a world awash with violence. Second and perhaps importantly, what makes it particularly relevant for other parts of the world, notably Africa, is the example it sets for navigating the vexing terrain of peace versus justice.

In Africa’s evolving peace and security architecture, no other issue has emerged to be more challenging than how the demands of peace and justice are addressed in African societies transitioning from conflict to peace. It is only logical that those engaged in the process of pursuing peace and justice in Africa follow Colombia’s peace process with interest.

As recent experiences on the continent show, the dilemma is how to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable without compromising the possibility of negotiated settlement. Sequencing is viewed as one way achieving this balance but remains problematic.

Although many point to the example of South Africa as another option, legal developments internationally with the emergence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and within the African Union (AU) generally mean that the use of amnesty even on South Africa’s model is frowned upon, if not rejected as a license for impunity. The result is that the question of peace and justice is often framed in the stark ‘either or’, black and white terms. As the recent spate of African withdrawals from the Rome Statute show, such antagonistic formulation of peace versus justice has become the hallmark of the controversy over the International Criminal Court in Africa.

Part of the problem has been no good model of peace settlement that successful struck the right balance and compromise between peace and justice has been found.

Now with Colombia’s peace deal one can find a useful model. The negotiated peace deal has offered Colombia the opportunity to end more than half a century conflict that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. The peace serves the interest of justice by preventing the violations and victimization that the continuation of the war would unavoidably have created.

In terms of Africa’s experience with transitional justice, Colombia’s peace deal has many parallels to South Africa’s negotiated transition. As in South Africa, Colombia’s peace deal crafts a common political future for all sides to the protracted conflict. FARC undertook to lay down arms, eradicate the illegal drug economy, remove landmines, admit responsibility for violations of humanitarian law and human rights and offer reparations for victims. In return, the deal obliges the Colombian government to provide the FARC security guarantees conditions and facilitate its integration into mainstream politics as a political party with 10 seats in Congress for the next two terms. As in South Africa, despite the referendum setback the peace deal is subject to democratic approval, in its revised form, at least by congress.

In accord with the international and African legal developments, Colombia’s peace deal corrected aspects of the limitations in South Africa’s transitional justice. In a breath of fresh air to the discourse on transitional justice, Colombia’s peace deal laid to rest the issue of the use of amnesties. Thus unlike in South Africa, Colombia’s peace deal rejected the use of amnesty in exchange for truth. Accountability is framed to go beyond and above truthful confession of violations. Yet, Colombia’s peace deal shows that for countries that seek to achieve a negotiated end to armed conflict the alternative for amnesty is not retributive justice.

In addition to truth telling, accountability entailed sanctions and obligations to redress victims. As one of the elements of the peace deal, the truth and reconciliation process entails that perpetrators of human rights and humanitarian law violations from both FARC and government security forces who confess their crimes would be eligible for a reduced sentence of up to 8 years of restricted liberty and community labor to repair damages to victims. Those who do not comply with these conditions will face a special court and prison sentences up to 20 years.

Additionally, unlike criminal prosecution, which puts its focus on punishing the perpetrator, Colombia’s peace deal has put victims at the center of the peace process by including them in the peace process, emphasizing restorative justice and according them major role in the transitional justice process. It is no coincidence that the peace deal received the most support from parts of the country most affected by the conflict.

As Virginia M. Bouvier rightly noted, rather than throw criminals in jail (generally at a high cost without many positive results), the transitional justice system under the peace deal seeks to establish a dialogue between victims and victimizers that satisfies the rights of the victim to truth, justice, reparation and non-repetition of the wrongs committed. It addresses the structural conditions for the armed conflict.

For conflict affected societies, the challenge they face is crafting a settlement which at ones guarantees security of the present through a negotiated end of armed conflict, confronts the wrongs of the past through restoring victims and holding perpetrators accountable as well as rectifying the root causes and engineers a common future through rehabilitated integration of warring parties to mainstream politics. With Colombia’s peace deal, which received the support of the UN, EU, US and Amnesty International, it is now possible to negotiate a peace that meets the demands of the past, present and future of African societies in transition within the bounds of relevant international and AU norms.

ICC withdrawals: Too good a crisis to waste!?

The Fifteenth Session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute Scheduled to take place on 16 to 24 November comes after the month of October brought the International Criminal Court’s Africa problem to yet another crescendo. It was in October 2013 that the tension between ICC and Africa ‘reached a new height’ when the African Union (AU) in an unprecedented move convened an extraordinary summit dedicated to addressing ICC’s role in Africa.

While at the time the proposal on the withdrawal of African state parties from the Rome Statute did not sound more than an empty barking, my observation was that ‘the extraordinary summit on withdrawal from ICC challenges not only the legitimacy but also (and importantly) the very future of the ICC’. I similarly wrote elsewhere that despite the fact that no decision was taken on withdrawal during that summit ‘the worst (in ICC’s troubles in Africa) may still be to come.’

Spates of withdrawals

This last October marks the beginning of the arrival of the worst that was feared of in previous years. Now the barking of October 2013 is accompanied by a biting. African State Parties to the Rome statute have started the process of withdrawal.

On 19 October South Africa’s foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane signed an “Instrument of Withdrawal”. Earlier in the same week Burundi’s parliament adopted with an overwhelming vote a law on the withdrawal of the country from the Rome Statute. The Gambia, from where the current ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda hail, joined the bandwagon by declaring its decision to withdraw on 26 October.

The false choice between justice and impunity

Unsurprisingly, this latest development has sent shockwaves unleashing fierce debate in its wake. As in past developments that attracted heated controversy over ICC’s role in Africa, this time as well the debate is largely cast in stark black and white terms as a struggle that pits the good against evil, constituents of justice against those of impunity.

Some decried South Africa’s announcement of its withdrawal from ICC as ‘a blow for victims of international crimes’. Reacting to the announcements of Burundi, South Africa and the Gambia, Secretary-General Ban ki Moon reported to have said that withdrawal from ICC raises doubts about ‘commitment to justice’. To the extent that one agrees with these sentiments, one should hold non-membership in ICC of major powers (China, Russia and the US) and other notable countries like India as a show of lack of commitment on the part of these countries. These reactions and similar others seem to suggest that the withdrawals manifest an indictment on international justice.

Beyond the binary choice

While the concern that these reactions raise is not without merit, the narrow and stark formulation renders the issue into a zero-sum debate. The issue that arises from the withdrawals is however much more nuanced and less straight forward than a simple choice between justice and impunity.

The withdrawals are not an indictment on ICC in its entirety per se, even less on the ideals of international justice. Instead they represent an indictment on the structural flaws underlying the international legal order. As it stands, the international legal order is more a mirror image of George Orwell’s animal farm than a society bound by the rule of law that applies equally to all countries, big or small. Such is a legal order characterized by ‘the absence of a moral equivalence’ in the implementation of legal principles across all countries regardless of size and political and economic endowment’ and hence with features that tend to allow might to be right.

Not only that the ICC is part and parcel of this international legal order but by its design it has been made to reinforce and entrench the Orwellian animal farm character of the system by vesting the veto holding members of the UN Security Council with the power to refer situations in some countries while shielding themselves (or close allies) from scrutiny by the ICC. As one observer put it the resultant ‘prevalence of Northern hegemony, and an implicit hierarchical … order … makes it acceptable for African leaders to be prosecuted but makes the indictment of American or British leaders inconceivable.’

Seen in this light, the withdrawals accompanying several years of discontent express Africa’s challenge to the enormous influence that the hegemonic dominance of countries of the traditional power center of the international legal order exert in shaping the conduct of the international legal order including that of ICC.

As far as ICC itself is concerned, the withdrawals relate to concerns raised over the years on how ICC has gone about implementing its mandate in Africa. The first concern was about the launching of prosecutions with respect to ongoing armed conflicts for whose resolution mediation efforts are underway. The AU seems to hold the view that in a situation of an ongoing war at the very least peace and justice must be sequenced in such a way that priority is accorded to ending violence of armed conflict and creating the conditions for peace. In its instrument of withdrawal South Africa, South Africa stated that it ‘has found that its obligations with respect to the peaceful resolution of conflicts at times are incompatible with the interpretation given by the International Criminal Court of obligations contained in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court’.

Related to this is also the concern around the prosecution of seating heads of state and governments, which, in the context of Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire, is seen as a euphemism for regime change in the name of pursuing ICC’s agenda of prosecutorial justice or as a breach of the sovereign electoral choice of citizens in the case of Kenya. It is to be recalled that it was against the background of the democratic election that brought Kenyata and Ruto to power that the extraordinary summit of 2013 took the decision of the summit that ‘no charges shall be commenced or continued before any International Court or Tribunal against any serving AU Head of State or Government or anybody acting or entitled to act in such capacity during their term of office’.

The issue of temporal official immunity for the duration of the term of office of heads of state and government was particularly prominent in South Africa’s withdrawal. Explaining South Africa’s decision the Minister of Justice Michael Masutha argued the ‘implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, 2002, is in conflict and inconsistent with the provisions of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act, 2001.’

No mass withdrawal but more withdrawals to come

There is going to be no mass withdrawals. This much has become clear from the debate on mass withdrawals, which featured prominently on the extraordinary summit of the AU in October 2013 and the July 2016 Summit in Rwanda. Yet, the three countries are unlikely to be the last of African states parties to withdraw from ICC.

It is expected that more African countries are expected to announce their withdrawal, with Chad, Kenya and Namibia all likely suspects. Kenya has gone far towards withdrawal with the parliamentary resolution awaiting Cabinet’s decision, as the president’s spokesperson recently reported. Similarly, Namibia’s minister of information announced in November 2015 that his government had decided to withdraw from the ICC. Uganda, which has also been vocal against the ICC, is another state party that may jump on the withdrawal bandwagon.

Where to from here?

ICC’s battered relationship with Africa is on the verge of a breaking point or so it seems. As they meet later in the month, one hopes that Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute would heed the adage that a crisis is too good an opportunity to be wasted. As Max du Plessis pointed out, at the level of the ASP there is a possibility for ‘a political solution to the question of whether serving heads of state should have immunity’. There is already a South African led working group at the ASP on the same subject that offers an avenue for seizing the opportunity that this crisis presented for reforming the issues bedeviling ICC. These reforms would include not only ICC’s target of prosecution (particularly as they relate to seating heads of state and governments until end of their term of office) and the exercise of the Prosecutor’s discretion with respect to both when and who to prosecute having regard to considerations of peace and security but also a conception of justice that embraces and supports measures for addressing the structural conditions that make atrocities possible. Such reforms would remove the steam from the apparently persistent opposition to ICC, enable the court to reduce the challenges of hegemonic influence to the minimum level possible and allow flexibility for pursuing the court’s mandate in a way that supports rather than stifles the transformative justice befitting societies coming out of armed conflicts and/or authoritarian violence.