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.