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Opinions of Thursday, 7 February 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: JAK at the AU

Unlike many Ghanaians, I wasn’t very impressed when President Kufuor was elected to the chairmanship of the African Union. It was at an AU summit in Addis Ababa and Ghana was asked to step in because the other leaders felt (and rightly so) that Sudan, which was next in line for the rotating presidency, didn’t deserve the ‘honour’. And since Ghana was celebrating 50 years of independence, why not give her the position, to spice up the commemoration and recognise the country’s contribution to the AU’s ‘how far’?

So the president didn’t actually do anything special to become AU chairman. But, as is very typical of us, people went about celebrating his remarkable feat. There was a lot of jubilation all over the place and people just couldn’t stop singing the president’s praises. Billboards were erected, congratulating the president for becoming AU president. Apparently, he had brought honour to the country.

That’s what they wanted us to believe and a lot of people swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Not me. I remember saying on my radio programme on JOY FM that being AU president is a “useless position”. I felt that being AU chair is largely symbolic and often the person who occupies that position tends to be a ‘Simpa Panyin’ (or a lame duck). One year on, I am even more convinced that president Kufuor’s chairmanship of the AU was a waste of his time and our resources. Thank God it’s all over and now he can concentrate fully on being the Ghanaian president, instead of pretending to be the father of the whole of Africa.

President Kufuor started his chairmanship of the AU on quite a good note, promising at the summit that elected him to contribute troops to an AU peacekeeping force in Somalia. Twelve months later, there are AU peace keepers in Somalia alright... but there are no Ghanaians amongst them. Talk of leadership by example. In fact, only Uganda has troops in that war-ravaged nation. Will Ghana fulfil its promise of troops to the AU and the people of Somalia? I’m not so sure but the president is in no hurry to fulfil his promise.

Just after he returned home from his election, the president and his team set about preparing to host other AU leaders to a summit as part of the Ghana@50 celebrations. A lot of money was spent building lodges, buying luxury cars and taking care of all the logistical demands for hosting the AU summit, which took place in July last year. The main agenda on the table was the drive for another USA. For three days in July, 2007 our leaders from all over the continent just talked about how to create one big United States of Africa. And this, for many, is one of President Kufuor’s major achievements as AU chairman.

A few days ago, the president’s spokesman, Andy Awuni was at pains to defend his boss’ record, citing the fact that the president gave a new impetus to the drive to build one united country called Africa. “As President Kufuor hands the gavel to a new chairman, we are satisfied the tenure has re-ignited the unity dream and clear directions are outlined to bring it alive after decades of conception,” Mr. Awuni told the Castle Press Corps. Fine words. But in reality, all they mean is that African leaders have only succeeded in doing one of the things they do best – compiling bulky documents with fancy declarations of intent but without any clear plan of action.

I am tempted to say, rather pessimistically, that this whole idea of a United States of Africa will not happen in my lifetime. And that’s assuming I’d live to be part of the Ghana@90 celebrations. But if I die much earlier (anything is possible) I wouldn’t miss much. Did you realise that at the just-ended summit, where President Kufuor handed over the AU chairmanship to his counterpart from Tanzania, all the talk about a new USA was relegated to the background? They didn’t talk much about it because they wanted to talk about something else – industrialisation. Most of our farmers still use cutlasses and hoes so we need to think about how to move up the technological ladder. But wouldn’t it be better if the AU focused on one mission and completed it before moving on to another. This year, much of the talk was on industrialisation but next year, who knows, our leaders might be talking about something completely different – like how to bring the Gulf of Guinea to the Sahara Desert.

It’s interesting that as an African, I don’t feel the impact of the AU as much as the European Union. The EU is in our continent providing money for running our governments, building infrastructure and helping educate our people. And what does the AU do? Absolutely nothing! And I’m sad that even under the chairmanship of my president, nothing – absolutely nothing – was done to make the AU more relevant in my life and in the lives of my African compatriots. Somalia is as messy as it has ever been and Darfur is still worse than hell on earth. Amongst its main objectives, the AU is supposed to be promoting democracy but day in, day out they prop up despots like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Idris Derby (who, by the way, is currently facing a major revolt in Chad). Ivory Coast is picking up, but the AU didn’t contribute much. And now suddenly, Kenya is being ripped apart. As our leaders met last week, the most pressing issue was the Kenyan crisis. But they wouldn’t talk much about it.

President Mwai Kibaki, who I strongly believe rigged the Kenyan elections last December, wined and dined and talked with our president and several others. No one had the courage to tell him to the face that he was a thief and that he was leading his country down a dangerous road. Instead, the African leaders said they would rather wait for Kofi Annan’s mediation report. Fine. But Mr. Annan has said that the most fundamental issues surrounding the Kenyan crisis will be addressed in a matter of weeks. It could be 60 weeks. No one knows. I would have felt very honoured, if our president, as AU chairman had suggested that the summit be moved to Kenya where the 50 or so African leaders will express solidarity with the people and send a strong message to them that they cannot afford to let the country descend into chaos. Or perhaps, the whole summit agenda should have been changed to focus on Kenya.

But that’s just me. Who am I to tell African leaders what to do?

So the President Kufuor’s tenure at the AU has come to an end and there is very little (if anything at all) he can point to as a record of his success. But can you blame him? There was very little he could have done and so one cannot even think of blaming him. The problem is with the AU and I wish someone will do something to make the AU more useful and relevant. Can the Tanzanian president be the one? Probably not.

For now, I’m not happy that my position that the AU presidency is “useless” has been vindicated. I’m glad, though, that our president is no longer carrying this excess diplomatic baggage called the AU chairmanship.