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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Columnist: Abdul-Salam, Nasirudeen Abdul-Shaheed

AU at 50 the turn for economic consolidation

By Nasirudeen Abdul-Shaheed Abdul-Salam

When Ghana gained independence on the 6th March, 1957, Dr Kwame Nkrumah made a very forceful foreign policy declaration to the effect that Ghana’s independent would only find meaning in the “total liberation of the African continent”-- this would be pursued very vigorously and clandestinely to the credit of him and to the continental body 50 years onwards.

Soon after that, the progressive Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, conveyed an august meeting on the 25th May 1963 in Addis Ababa in the midst of different continental policies that had welled up. Thus, three policy alternatives had dominated the geopolitical space of the continent before that meet: the Brazzaville, the Monrovia, and the Casablanca Groups. These competing policy alternatives (after early strong disagreements by their apologists) would later cross fertilized in that meeting in Addis Ababa to inform the thinking behind the formation of the (O) AU. Hindsight they say is vision 20/20, no doubt the AU has achieved its most pernicious targets—eradication of colonialism and apartheid. And deservedly we have to shower praises on the foundation presidents ( and especially, the Emperor of Ethiopia, the King of Morocco, and the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia then, Ato Ketema Yifru ), their successors, the good people of the continent and the African diaspora for our achieving these monumental feats towards protecting our commonwealth.

The current Challenges

However, getting to the beginning of the 21st Century--thus the twilight of the 50 years odyssey--it was becoming palpable that the AU had been bogged down by host of retardant issues. To the point, these were the: lost of intellectual movements; dwindling of resources to support its functions, lack of political support, neo-colonialism and a little more. This in effect, has now led to the loss of its political compass, self-definition and self-projection on the world stage.

On the first score, a former president of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki, last year in a lecture at the Makerere University, Uganda, attributed this decline in the progressive movements in the continent to the intimation and the underfunding of the universities, where the intelligentsia were nursed and produced, by post colonial governments. He argued that it happened because they were seen as centres of opposition and agitations. So quiet regrettably, it appears, some of this intelligentsia are found in western universities, international organisations, and international think tanks and media houses away from home and unable to directly influence policies as it used to be the case.

In her home her country during a party thrown in her honour for her ascension to the AU as its chairperson, Ms Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, reveals that donors (Western countries) fund about 97 percent of the organisation’s budget. She further explains that these contributions go into peace keeping, Health and education programmes, and some staff salaries. That said, it is discernible to appreciate how the piper’s tune has now become this discordant to our ears and soul. But in an op-ed on BBC News on AU in 2001, Ahmed Rajab revealed that it was the forceful and tactful acumen of then Secretary -General, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, which was instrumental in getting countries to pay their arrears. So i think the AU needs a lot of prodding to do in order that the funding gaps are well plugged. Lamentably, unlike the old days when the foundation presidents committed their resources, time, and intellect towards building the continent in a spirit of solidarity, this time it appears things are moving in the opposite direction as the present presidents are only self-involved. And in some instances, some have global ambitions and are seriously canvassing to be Africa’s sole candidate for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council without doing match for AU. Still for purposes of illustration when Sierra Leone was in democratic turmoil in the 90’s, it had to take the collective resolve of ECOWAS led by presidents Rawlings and Sani Abacha to restore democracy just like what France did in Mali(This intervention by France was also regretted by the president of Uganda in a BBC interview). To cap off, the commissioner finally exhorts on a philosophical note that: “no liberated mind can think their development agenda can be funded by donors”

In a related development, a panel (AU High-Level Panel for Alternative Sources of Funding) headed by a former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, proffered some solutions to arrest the situation namely that $10 be slap on air tickets to and out of the continent; that $2 dollars be levied on hotel accommodation; and that a levy be imposed on text messages. Unfortunately these attempts were immediately resisted by some presidents notably President Michael Sata, Zambia, insisting that his country was not indebted to AU and that the suggestions would price his country out of the competition for tourists. Granted, but is that the case for the rest to the extent that there is a contributory gap of about 97 percent for AU to be passing the hat around? At any rate something must give for something to happen-- we must bite the bullet.

No doubt there are still vestiges of colonialism still lingering in the continent. The Francophone is still in bed with France—in what they term France-Afrique. This policy has been widely accused for economic spillage, regime change, and diplomatic support in international bodies and institutions for France at the expense of continental unity. The Maghreb and Egypt are now being pulled strongly towards the Arab League and a new international relations arrangement called the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). So match so that NATO and sanctioned by the Security Council had to bypass the AU with her road map for resolving the Libyan conflict with Col. Muammar Gaddafi to the Arab League for action in Libya when to all intents and purposes he had been more of a factor and a financier in the AU than in Arab Leagues’ political equation.

The absence of transformation and drive in the current crop of leadership is also a missing ingredient in the mix. This dearth of personal touches in leadership in the continent means our commonwealth and its concomitant challenges have no advocates at that high level. But rather one that is diffused in pressure groups, celebrities, academics, think tanks and foundations and charities which are largely lacking in convening power to getting the needed political critical mass to push up and forward our common policy and values. At least we could count on the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, Gamel Nasser, Sekou Toure, Patrice Lumuba, and Emperor Selassie not only for leadership but inspiration as well and the latter-day ‘apostles’ of the that creed in Mr Rawlings, Sani Abacha, Muammar Gaddafi, Laurent Gbagbo, and Robert Mugabe (whose controversial land reform policy is yielding the desired results and dividends to the people and the economy as revealed by latest academic research and TV documentaries).

The Prospects

In his speech to the 50th Anniversary Summit, the president of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, called for accountability and the restructuring of the institutions of the organisation. Indeed, the new challenges facing the continent now --as it appears --are impunity, human rights abuses, xenophobia, resource looting, poverty, election disputes and so forth. So as hinted above, the AU have to re-strategise to develop sustainable institutions that can address these issues from the national to sub-regional through to the international level without compromising our collective integrity and sovereignty. On this breath, i think it is a huge sigh of relief to hear the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, in a recent interview with Aljazeera that plans were far advanced to try Hissene Habre, the former Chadian president, for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity after over 20 years of living in asylum in Senegal—rather than give him up to Belgium for trial under its “Universal Jurisdiction” request claim.

With the full force of globalisation hitting the continent, it is apt that global governance approach is adopted to fully engage the continent with its development partners in global economic terms. At this year’s G8 meeting, the African Development Bank (AfDB) president made a very good case for the continent. In summary Dr Donald Kaberuka outlined that Africa was growing below potential and was only doing about 20 percent of trade within the continent because according to him the full force of about one billion people on the continent was not being brought to bear on the process due to the fragmentation of the economies. This he attributed to “... a narrow range of growth drivers, inclusion issues and jobs for the young as well as pressure on natural capital”. And he surmised that this “...runs the risk of sustainability...”

On Africa during the Senate Foreign Relation confirmation hearing sometimes this January of veteran Senator John Kerry for the US Secretary of State Office (the chief implementer of the US foreign policy), it was variously reported by many US news outlets that he said “more than ever, foreign policy is economic policy” and that “China is all over Africa”. Although he has since received bashings from some pro-China thinkers and Afro-pessimists as well to the effect that he was trying to reenact the Scramble for Africa scenario, i think, however, that this is a fair comment by a diplomat not a celebrity making a case for his country. He further explains that the US needs to compete in Africa for “business contracts, jobs for Americans, and export opportunities”. This underscores in many respects the contours that the AfDB president outlined for the case of Africa in the G8 Summit in terms of the international political economic considerations for investment in the continent.

So this is how the broad picture of the continent’s political economy looks like; hence the continent needs to set the stage for a beneficial engagement with all development partners so that this time around we would not feel bested by others looking backwards in years to come.

From the politics that is unfolding now in the continent the AfDB rather than its parent body (AU) should be the one leading the charge for advancing the common policy of the continent. This is because the AU is too weak, too political and too presidential and lacks the resources and equipment to drive the agenda for the next 50 year.