AU faces old problems, missed targets in bid to raise Africa's profile

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ADDIS ABABA - The African Union may be facing old problems even with a new structure that officials say could make it more effective.

Last week, African leaders re-elected Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad as chairperson of the African Union Commission, granting him a higher approval rating of 96 percent. He was re-elected unopposed.

The election conducted virtually also meant that from now on, by law, the chairperson and the deputy must be of opposite genders. Mr Faki will be deputised by Rwanda’s Monique Nsanzabaganwa in a commission that reduced its commissioners from eight to six.

The new structure is the brainchild of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has proposed reducing the number of departments to deal with overlapping roles.

For example, there were different commissioners for Economic Affairs and Trade, and Political Affairs and Security. This time, the AU renamed the two as Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining; and Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security
The changes are focused on “equitable regional representation, gender parity, predictable rotation, attracting and retaining Africa’s top talent, accountable and effective leadership and management, and transparent and merit-based selection,” according to a bulletin by the continental body.

Bankole Adeoye of Nigeria was elected Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, while Ms Josefa Sacko (Angola) was chosen again to head Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment.

Others included Zambia’s Albert Muchanga for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining, and Amani Abou-Zeid (Egypt) was chosen again to lead the Infrastructure and Energy docket. Commissioners for Health and Education will be elected in the next meeting.

Unifying projects

Faki and his team say the launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCTA), the Open Skies Initiative and continual collaboration on health emergencies like Ebola and Covid-19 could help improve the continent.

On Monday, the African Union launched the Programme on Infrastructure, Development in Africa (PIDA), a 10-year vision meant to improve connectivity in Africa.

Targeting joint implementation and financing, the programme lists 69 key projects for land, water and air transport as well as energy production and ICT. They could cost about $161 billion to complete, the document says.

“The projects will contribute to integration across regions and the African Union projects, and Agenda 2063, especially those facilitating the implementation of the African Free Trade Area and the Free Movement of Goods and People,” Dr Zeid said on Friday.

“Upon implementation, the outcomes will include a shift switch from road to rail transport and fluvial navigation in more competitive transport systems, which will contribute to the establishment of power pool interconnection as a first step to the AfSEM (Africa Single Electricity Market),” she added, referring to AU’s vision to integrate electricity grids to a common ‘pool’, as part of a programme to improve integration.

That project will cost plenty of money. Transport projects alone may need at least $50 million a year, for example.

Persistent challenges

But the continental body could still have to deal with old problems and missed targets. The AU has cited resumption of peace in Sudan, South Sudan and the rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia as some of the successes realised in the last four years under the collaboration between the AU and regional blocs.

However, in 2020, when the African Union was supposed to have ‘silenced guns,’ a reference to ending conflicts, new fighting flared up. Conflict in the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya still going on.

In his end-term report, Mr Faki said the continent faces the old problem of financial shortfalls, which have conspired to weaken its alarm systems that may help nip violence at the bud.

“Not to fund our peace efforts in a more substantial way would be tantamount to entrusting others with the essential levers of continental sovereignty,” the report indicated.

With reference to the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia, he said a stronger early warning system could have forestalled the current situation where civilians have fled their homes while others have been killed.

The report, 'Taking Stock, Charting the Future', says: “The recent conflict in Ethiopia brings to the fore the need for member states and the union to invest in early warning and early response as well as conflict prevention efforts to avert humanitarian disasters."

“The union should work to prevent, mitigate and resolve conflicts through dialogue, mediation and respect for the rule of law and human rights," added the report launched ahead of AU elections next week said..

This week, Ethiopia admitted civilians have also been raped, confirming months-long allegations raised by aid agencies.

“We have received the report from our taskforce in the Tigray region. It has, unfortunately, established that rape has taken place, conclusively and without a doubt,” Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, Ethiopia’s minister for Women, Children and Youth, told reporters on Thursday.

“The task force included a team from the Attorney-General’s office, which is currently processing the data. We await the investigation of these horrible crimes and will hopefully see the perpetrators brought to justice,” she said.

Since November 3, Ethiopia has pursued the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a one-time ruling party in Ethiopia, but which Addis Ababa now accuses of being a “criminal clique.” In November 2020, Abiy ordered a military response against the TPLF after it reportedly attacked a northern command of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces.

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