27th Ordinary Session of the African Union in Rwanda: The Critical Matters Arising

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Vie Internationale  with Bola A. Akinterinwa,
Telephone : 0807-688-2846   e-mail: bolyttag@yahoo.com

The African Union (AU) held its 27th Ordinary Session on Sunday, 10th to Monday, 18th July, 17-19, 2016, in Kigali, Rwanda, following a hosting agreement done in Addis Ababa on May 2, 2016 and signed by Ms. Djeneba Diarra on behalf of the African Union Commission and by Mrs. Hope Tumukunde Gasatura, Rwanda’s Plenipotentiary to Addis Ababa and to the AU. Every summit of the AU begins with meetings of all the Permanent Representatives accredited to the AU. The meetings are followed by those of the Council of Ministers which normally take a further review of what the representatives had done. The last two or three days are generally reserved for the meetings of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments which constitute the summit proper.

The summit is believed to be quite successful. Paul Kagame, President of the host country, Rwanda, described the summit as ‘very productive.’ The Chairperson of the African Union Commission and former Foreign Minister of South Africa, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said the Kigali summit was ‘the best summit we’ve had. We must maintain it while striving to get better and better.’

True, why should the AU not make progress when the reggae maestro, Jimi Cliff has it that ‘the more you live is the more you learn.’ This means that everyday learning ought to lead to the acquisition of new experience. With new experience, there should be new progress. If progress was made in Kigali, then the future of the AU Agenda 2063 appears to be bright, especially that the Summit not only showed readiness to elect new judges for the African Court of Justice but also charged President Paul Kagame with the responsibility of overseeing the restructuring of the African Union Commission (AUC).

More interestingly, the Summit agreed to contribute $1.2 billion on yearly basis to sustain the AU through levying of 0.2% tax on all eligible import duties. This is particularly aimed at ensuring the financial independence of the organisation, and by so doing, prevent undesired external influences. And most significantly, the Summit has shown readiness to also finance AU’s missions and the development agenda. It is useful here to recall that Africa’s development partners currently account for more than 75% of Africa’s development funding.

If African leaders now want to wake up from their slumber of insolvency, the better of all peoples of Africa.
And perhaps most significantly, the epicentral determinant of the very productive summit is the adoption of a more business-like attitude by the AU leaders.

AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, President Idris Derby noted in his statement at the opening closed-door session that ‘il est grand temps de faire désormais de nos rencontres au sommet de véritables séances de travail, en phase avec nos besoins et les priorités du moment.’ In other words, ‘it is high time to make our meetings at the summit level truly working sessions, in line with our needs and priorities of the moment.’ And true enough, most of the meetings were conducted in business-like manner.

However, one major feature of the summit was the manifestation of greater interest in integration in Africa. Efforts at continental integration was given a fillip in 1991 with the signing of the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community in Abuja. The Treaty, for the purposes of accelerated integration, redefined Africa which the United Nations considers as a region. The OAU divided the whole of Africa into five regions: West, North, East, Central and Southern. As provided in Articles 1(d) and 1(e), ‘
Besides, Morocco, the Maghrebin country which adopted what was then described as ‘la politique de la chaise vide’ (Open Chair Policy) before withdrawing its membership from the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) 32 years ago now wants to come back. Morocco decided to withdraw its membership of the OAU mainly because of the organisation’s support for the then Western Sahara, Saharawi Arab Republic, over which Morocco is claiming sovereignty. The OAU recognised the Saharawi Arab Republic as an independent state and therefore allowed it to participate in its activities and Morocco did not take kindly to this.

In the message sent by King Mohammed VI of Morocco to the AU Summit in Kigali, ‘for a long time our friends have been asking us to return to them so that Morocco can take up its natural place within its institutional family. The moment has now come.’ With the renewed interest of Morocco to come back, will this help full integration of the continent?

There is also the making of an AU passport, which is an important instrument of regional integration. It was publicly introduced at the opening session of last Kigali summit. To what extent will the AU be able to take advantage of the passport to enhance regional integration in Africa, especially with the many and increasing political contradictions in the continent?

AU Passport and Future Challenges
At the January 2016 mid-term summit of the AU, a decision was taken to ensure that the African passport be launched in 2016. It was a case of ‘let there be an African passport and there is one now’. The introduction of an AU passport is a welcome development for many reasons. First, its cardinal objective is to facilitate the movement of persons, goods and services in the continent.

Secondly, the passport is a modern passport, that is, it is an electronic passport with chips. Unlike a classical passport which was an ordinary letter of request for safe passage for the holder, and unlike the booklet passports introduced under King Louis XIV of France the further development of which led to Machine Readable Passports, all of which were easily tampered with, the AU passport has taken advantage of the problems associated with previous passports, especially the 1920 International Passport Conference in Canada which recommended the adoption of a booklet-type passport and the printing in two languages, including French, and a validity period of not less than two years.

The AU passport is biometric and of two categories: one for the AU functionaries and frequent business travellers which will be issued by the AU. It is official/diplomatic passport which entitles the holder to enjoy some official and diplomatic privileges. The other is the standard one to be issued by individual Member States to everyone else. The passport is to have the names of the issuing authority and the AU on the cover. It is to be made available to everyone as from 2018 with the hope of total coverage in 2020 under normal circumstances. It will be identical to the ECOWAS passport. Thus, it is good a development.

Thus, it is good a development. However, the development is faced with monumental challenges
First, inauguration of the first passports given to the current AU Chairman, President Idris Derby of Chad and the host of the summit, President Paul Kagame, came on the heels of two main developments: Ghana has just adopted a new visa-on-arrival for all AU citizens. AU citizens are citizens of all the Member States of the continental organisation. Besides, the African Development Bank has shown in its report on Visa Openness that only 13 out of the 55 countries allow all Africans to enter either without visa or to secure one at the port of entry. This means that there is going to be a conflict of regulations. It also raises the question of whether Africa needs a passport or an agreement facilitating intra-African ovement of goods and persons beginning at the sub-regional and then at the regional, before coming to the continental levels.

Second, the AU Chairman, Idris Derby, cannot be more correct when he said that ‘we still have a long way to go for Africa to be more unified, stronger, sable, prosperous, and most importantly, sovereign.’ And true, the first and most critical challenge is the rivalry between sovereign authority and supranational authority within the AU. The example of the AU-South Sudan approach to the crisis in South Sudan provides a good illustration. In August 2015, President Salva Kiir and his Vice President, Riek Machar signed a peace agreement which has been turned into a rough sheet of paper after the deal.

Of recent and within few hours, more than 300 people were killed while thousands of people were internally displaced. In light of this, the AU decided to send a robust peacekeeping mission to the country but the South Sudan has made it clear that no peacekeepers would be acceptable without the approval of the legitimate government of the country.

As explained by the supporters of President Kiir during a public protest against AU’s plan to send peacekeepers to South Sudan, ‘if the international community continues to bring in all their alleged military in South Sudan, we will fight them whether they come by air or by road. We will be malicious. South Sudan will become an even worse place than Afghanistan. Let the peace come from us. Don’t impose things on us. It will be regrettable.’ This warning is an expression of one of the environmental conditionings of the continental integration in the making.

In this regard, is the usefulness and relevance of the AU not to the extent that its Member States would want to have it? To what extent can African sovereignty be evolved within the framework of Agenda 2063? To a great extent, the OAU Charter and the Constitutive Act of the African Union, are inspired by those of the European Economic Community, European Community and the European Union.

With the experience of Brexit and effects in other Member States, is there any good future for continental integration?
Third, there is also the issue of competing sovereignty between the AU and the International Criminal Court which has tried to directly lay claim to supranational authority over African states. Without any shadow of doubt, for any country to subscribe to the jurisdictional competence of the ICC simply means the acceptance of the supranational character of the court. However, the AU is not looking at the issue from the angle of individual accession to the statutes of the court but collectively.

In fact, at the Kigali summit, the AU not only unanimously rejected what it called the targeting of African leaders by the ICC, but also the allegations levied against the Vice President of Kenya and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. More interestingly, a ministerial panel was empanelled to contact the UN Security Council and clarify the positions of African countries, as well as submit to the next Summit in January 2017.

In the event the UN Security Council does not respond to the will of Africa on this matter, a collective plan to get out of the ICC may not be ruled out. In this regard, has the AU the necessary muscle to engage the UN Security Council in a dog-fight? Can a beggar soliciting funding for development dictate to its creditor? African states can always withdraw from the ICC, but has the AU put in place conjectural scenarios of the likely implications in other areas of cooperation?

If the AU withdraws from the ICC, will it withdraw from the UN General Assembly or the UN Security? The ideal approach is not to contemplate withdrawal but to make the attainment of prosecution of any sitting African leader difficult and impossible through non-cooperation, as it is being done to the case of President al-Bashir. The AU should also ensure that other suspected guilty leaders in the world are brought to the same court for trial. Modern political governance is not done by running away from challenges. Challenges must be faced frontally. The world does not belong to any group of countries. It is a world of both the rich and the poor, the good and the wicked. It is a world of common patrimony.

Fourth, there is the intra-African challenge of how to foster integration in an environment of deepening insecurity. Burundi is under fire. So is Somalia under political turmoil. The Lake Chad region is playing host to the Boko Haram terror. The Sahel region is also another den of terrorists and political unrest. One main objective of regional integration is to fast track growth and development in order to relegate to the background violence as a way of life.

Can a troubled state have any listening integration ears?
Fifth, there is also the challenge of incapacity to control international migration, especially in light of the fact that the great powers are themselves seriously challenged by this problem. International migration is one the main dynamics of Brexit. Put differently, how will the AU ensure that non-Africans or terrorists do not have access to an AU passport or to a stolen passport? For instance, it should not be forgotten that James Earl Ray, who killed Martin Luther King Junior, used a fraudulently-acquired Canadian passport to gain access to where he took life out of Martin Luther King.

Additionally, how will the AU control the influx of migrants fleeing war zones in the Middle East? This question also raises another security issue. It is very likely that Africa will be next region of serious terrorist activities the aims of which the AU may not be the direct targets. The United States and its allies are currently the main targets of global wickedness perpetrated by Islamic extremists and the US and other victims are decisively dealing with them. With the emerging gradual defeat of terrorists and their displacement, it is very likely that the terrorists will seek to attack the interests of Europe and America for obvious reasons: poor or lack of security consciousness, porous borders, several internal crises and conflicts, insolvency and lack of means, etc.

Concluding Remarks
The grant of a visa is more important than the possession of a passport. The possession of an AU passport will remain at best meaningless without an entry visa on it. Consequently, greater emphasis should be placed on AU’s quest for all deserving Africans to stay visa-free for 30 days across the continent with immediate effect in order to show seriousness of the AU leaders, if it is true that they really believe in it. In this context, an agreement on a visa-free travel should be the first step. It will save costs to begin with.

As Africa currently lacks good infrastructure, let the money to be set aside for production of passports be expended on other social amenities that are lacking. Africa must stop always copying Europe. If there is need to copy, value must be added. Let African leaders be original for once. after all, many of those who pledged to contribute 0.2% of their import duties are still far behind in the settlement of their assessed dues. Besides, AU partners are still responsible for the funding of development projects to the tune of more than 90% in Africa.