UN trumpets ‘wind of hope’
Publish date: 11 February 2019
Issue Number: 810
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
While multiple crises across the continent were on the agenda at the AU Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa which ends today, it also focused on institutional reforms and the establishment of a continent-wide free trade zone. At the same time, notes Legalbrief, the organisation faces growing scrutiny over whether it is fulfilling its mandate. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who led an active, reformist tenure as AU chair, yesterday passed the baton to Egypt which is seen as more likely to focus on security issues than expanding the powers of the body. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi officially took over as ceremonial head of the AU which rotates between the five regions of the continent. And SA's President Cyril Ramaphosa was announced as AU chair for 2020. Kagame, who has been leading institutional reforms since 2016, pushed for a continent-wide import tax to fund the AU and reduce its dependence on external donors, who still pay for more than half the institution’s annual budget. However, a Mail & Guardian Online report notes that member states have resisted this along with reform of the AU Commission, its executive organ. In November 2018, most states rejected a proposal to give the head of the AU Commission the power to name deputies and commissioners. The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) was agreed by 44 nations in March 2018, but only 19 countries have ratified the agreement, with 22 needed for it to come into effect. The single market is a flagship of the AU’s ‘Agenda 2063’ programme, conceived as a strategic framework for socioeconomic transformation. Cairo is backing the initiative, but analysts say it will be less likely to focus on the financial and administrative reforms pushed by Kagame. The Herald reports that the summit also deliberated a new co-operation agreement among the African‚ Caribbean and Pacific developing countries and the EU after 2020.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday said peaceful elections in the DRC, Mali and Madagascar, as well as peace deals in South Sudan and the CAR, and the truce between Ethiopia and Eritrea, were signs of a ‘wind of hope’ on the continent. A report on the Middle East Monitor site notes that the chairman of the AU Commission called for an international conference on Libya to chart the way forward for the troubled country. Despite African efforts over the past several years, the conflict in Libya still lingers, Moussa Faki Mahamat told delegates. Speaking later, Arab League Secretary General Abu Ghait corroborated the call for international solidarity on Libya. ‘The Arab League sees the situation in Libya as a grave concern for Africa and the Arab world. We are committed to bringing peace and stability by supporting peaceful dialogue between all factions,’ he said. As achievements in 2018, the chairman cited decisions by African leaders for an African passport, single African air transport, and free movement of people. Also on Sunday, Fifa President Gianni Infantino addressed the importance of football giving back to Africa and helping the continent with ‘economic growth, education, gender mainstreaming, integration and football governance’. Speaking about the first pillar, economic growth, he referred to the importance of infrastructural development, and how Fifa is also developing infrastructure with the revenues from the World Cup which have seen annual investments of $110m in new pitches, competitions and football facilities in Africa.
Not everyone shared Guterres’ rosy assessment of the continent’s progress. After all, notes Netsanet Belay in an al Jazeera analysis, Sudan is deep in its second month of protests sparked by a steep rise in the cost of living, Zimbabwe is also experiencing widespread protests, and the DRC poll was characterised by palpable tension and pockets of deadly violence, resulting in more than 20 000 people fleeing the country into neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville and Uganda. ‘In the face of these gross human rights violations, the response from regional bodies, including the AU and SADC, has been marked by discordance, delayed reaction or deafening silence. There has not been a single reaction condemning or calling for an end to the ongoing gross and widespread human rights violations in Zimbabwe, neither from the AU nor from SADC. It is not much different on Sudan. The last and only statement of concern issued by the AU Commission Chairperson (on 30 December 2018) was soft and lacklustre.’ Belay argues that even when the AU has shown concern for human rights abuses, it has repeatedly failed to tackle the issues head-on, lacking the courage and political will to drive change.
In other developments related to the organisation, the deputy chairperson of the AU Commission has launched an unprecedented attack on his boss, chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. In a letter to Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, Thomas Kwesi-Quartey has revealed deep divisions within the senior leadership of the AU and has addressed previous reports of nepotism and sexual harassment. In the 6 November letter which the Mail & Guardian has seen, Kwesi-Quartey accused the chairperson of appointing an 'old crony' as the AU Ambassador to Brussels. Ahmat Awad Sakine, a Chadian diplomat, was appointed as the AU’s permanent representative to the EU in September 2017. Kwesi-Quartey also criticised Faki for failing to outline any 'central organising idea' for his term as AU commission chair, saying that efforts to study and debate proposals to reform the commission were 'considered an intolerable affront'.