The 25th African Union Summit and the Challenge of Uniting to Disunite
The 25th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government was held in Johannesburg, South Africa on 14th-15th June 2015. The theme of debate of the 2015 AU Summit was “Women’s Empowerment for the Realisation of Agenda 2063.” Two reasons might have influenced the African Union Commission (AUC) in the choice of this theme. The first is that, in the actualization of the AU Agenda 2063, women are considered indispensable. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the Chairperson of the AUC, noted in her statement to the AU Assembly of Heads of state and Government on June 14 that ‘women and youth form the majority of the voters’ in Africa.’ Secondly, there is the factor of Nelson Mandela’s saying according to which ‘the legacy of oppression weighs heavily on women. As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the continent refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.’ Dr. Zuma strongly believes in the empowerment of women for the purposes of development in Africa.
In spite of the importance of women, several other issues were raised by African leaders in their statements and which appear to be more serious than the question of empowerment of African women. Her Excellency, Dr. Zuma, in her own statement, raised some critical issues. First is democracy. There were Presidents and Heads of Government who attended the AU Summit for the first time. They were President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) of Nigeria, President Hage Geingob of Namibia, President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi of Mozambique, and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisilli of the Kingdom of Lesotho. Presidents who were re-elected were also there: Prime Minister Hailemiriam Desalegn of Ethiopia, President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. With the joy of new elections and re-elections, what is the situation of women in Africa, and particularly in countries where there have been newly elected leaders? Are the foundations for enduring democracy laid beyond electoral politics?
AUC Chairperson and Development Issues
On the issue of Ebola Virus Disease, Dr. Zuma congratulated President Sirleaf Johnson for an EVD-free Liberia but noted that in Sierra Leone and Guinea, numbers of EVD victims have only been significantly reduced. Consequently, there is the need ‘to stay the course until the other two countries are also declared Ebola-free.’ If we agree with the AUC Chairperson that ‘with African solidarity and resolve, we can find our own solutions to our challenges,’ and that the EVD has also ‘exposed the weaknesses of our health systems, especially public health,’ and therefore we must train more health workers and build and strengthen our health systems and infrastructure,’ what really is the state of readiness of the AU Member States, especially the women in such countries?
Dr. Zuma rightly recalled that Africa is ‘faced by the incidents of xenophobia and the tragedy of many people dying in the Mediterranean Sea, leaving their countries out of desperation, to make living elsewhere.’ This is true, but how does women empowerment prevent people from dying in the Mediterranean Sea when the problem of underdevelopment is not engendered by women? Can there be unity in Africa, not to mention integration with incidents of xenophobia in South Africa?
Without doubt, strenuous efforts have been made since 1991 to push forward the integration agenda. The 1991 Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, in its Article 1(d) and 1 (e), divided Africa into five regions as a catalytic means to fast track integration in Africa. In 2002, the Organisation of African Unity was restructured into an African Union in order to provide greater efficiency and commitment to a more united and integrated Africa. African leaders wanted to speak with one voice. They want their peoples to move freely and to also have the right of establishment in any country of their choice. Apart from continental integration through regionalization, AU Agenda 2063 was set and the First 10-year of its implementation plan has been adopted. In the past fifteen years, Dr. Zuma said Africa’s agenda has focused on ‘primary education, it’s now time we urgently paid attention to vocational and higher education. We cannot drive our economic development only through primary education.’
The essence of the foregoing is to suggest that African leaders would need to sit back and reflect more than ever before. Africa’s problems go beyond empowerment of men or women. African leaders are more nationalists than integrationists. Even though a trade agreement was done last week by 26 countries making up the Tripartite of COMESA, EAC and SADC in Shamal Sheik, every African leader has his or her own special preoccupation which he/she would want the AU to deal with.
Besides, Africa’s too much dependence on Euro-American partners for the execution of development projects in Africa will need to be put in context. There is no disputing the fact that for over 90%, Euro-American partners have been funding development projects in Africa. Why is Africa not able to fund its own projects? In a message of solidarity from the Chinese president, HE Xi Jinping, delivered to the AU on June 15 by the Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Zhang Ming, China said ‘Africa’s strength lies in its unity. Africa’s unity needs a strong AU. China cannot be more correct, especially that, earlier in January 2015, a Memorandum of Understanding by which the Chinese are to construct a high-speed train that would connect Africa’s capital cities. This type of technical assistance is a welcome development. However, when will the people of Africa be able to do it by themselves? When will meaning be given to ‘African solutions to African problems?’
Robert Mugabe’s Quarrels with Nigeria and South Africa
Robert Mugabe is not only the President of Zimbabwe but also the current Chairman of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Governments. In his closing statement at the AU Summit, he reportedly indirectly blasted Nigeria and South Africa for voting in favour of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in 2011. The resolution was to authorize military action against Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. In the eyes of President Mugabe, both Nigeria and South Africa had betrayed the whole of Africa and therefore could never be trusted again. Although the names of Nigeria and South Africa were not specifically mentioned in the statement, the mere fact that he referred to African governments that had been on the UN Security Council when Resolution 1973 on Libya was adopted in 2011 and both Nigeria and South Africa were both on the Council at that material time, clearly shows an intention to indict both countries.
As shown above, the theme of the summit was about women empowerment but what appears to be the main preoccupation of the Chairman of the AU is the demise of the Libyan leader, prompted by the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1973. Whatever might have prompted South Africa to vote for the resolution may not be clear. However, the rationale for Nigeria’s support for the resolution cannot be far-fetched. For instance, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, as at the time of the voting, was a major threat to Nigeria’s political stability. It should be simply recalled here that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had recommended to Nigerians that the only viable solution to Nigeria’s problems of insecurity is to divide Nigeria into Muslim North and Christian South. Put differently, Libya simply wanted the disintegration of Nigeria. In this regard, why would any responsible government condone the enemy-threats from Muammar Gaddafi? Terrorists were coming from Libya to Nigeria. Nigeria’s vote for Resolution 1973 was in Nigeria’s self-enlightened interest and there should not be any apology for that. This cannot be rightly interpreted to mean a betrayal. In fact, no Member State can support any AU programme if it is not stable and secure back home.
To a great extent, President Mugabe is right to quarrel with xenophobic attacks in South Africa. He considered that ‘human migration is as old as the human race itself’ and that ‘we have an obligation to facilitate and create conditions that are conducive and promote that movement.’ Consequently, he submitted that African countries must work together in order to eradicate xenophobic attacks.’ In fact, as he further put it, ‘while condemning the recent spate of barbaric violence targeted at foreign nationals… let us be cognizant of the fact that this is a problem that falls upon all of us and we should work together to find a solution. United we will not fail.’ Agreed, with unity, there is no room for failure. But why has the sermon of unity become a new song of praise? Why is the sermon not translated into meaningful action? Has the coming together of Member States of the OAU/AU not more of a reflection of disunity, in other words, uniting to disunite? Have the lingua franca barriers been really removed?
There is another controversial issue, that of Ezulwini Consensus on Africa’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council. In 2005, Nigeria provided leadership of the AU. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was Chairman of the Assembly of Heads of States while Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON, chaired the meetings of the Council. A Committee of Ten (two countries from each region of Africa) was set up. Its main mandate was to look at the exigencies of UN reform, and particularly at the level of the UN Security Council. The Committee of Ten was to work on the basis of the Ezulwini Consensus which demanded at least two permanent and five non-permanent seats on the Council. In this regard, it was expected that each non-permanent member would come from the five regions of Africa (West, North, Central, East, and Southern, Africa).
What should be noted here is that some countries insisted on the granting of the right of veto. Nigeria was not against. In fact, Ambassador Adeniji led an official delegation to Japan to share views with the G-4 Group (Germany, Japan, India and Brazil) which was also seeking permanent membership of the Security Council. The important point here is that, when Nigeria suggested in her report to the AU that the condition of veto be removed to allow first for permanent representation of Africa on the Council, it was Egypt that first accused Nigeria and gave her a bad name that she was using the Committee of Ten to promote her national interest and not that of the African Union. Now, South Africa wanted at the last summit in Johannesburg to hold a special meeting on the need to revisit the conditionality of veto. President Mugabe is reported to be opposed to the idea. Can Africa ever speak with one voice?
AU Summit and South African Court’s Warrant of Arrest on al-Bashir of Sudan
President Al- Bashir of Sudan has been a wanted man as a result of the warrant of arrest placed on him by the International Criminal Court. He was accused of having committed war crimes, genocidal acts and crimes against humanity during the Darfurian conflict. The placement of the warrant of arrest is in spite of the fact that Sudan never subscribed to the Rome Statutes by which obligations were created for all the signatories to the ICC statutes.
President al-Bashir has been much conscious of the threats to his life and therefore has always tried as much as possible to avoid travelling out of his country. As an incumbent Heads of State, he enjoys diplomatic immunity. Besides, he seeks understanding on his safety with any country to which he intends to pay visit. In fact, South Africa, on June 5, assured all intending leaders coming to Johannesburg for the 25th AU Summit of diplomatic inviolability and safety. However, a South African court issued a warrant of arrest on President al-Bashir during the AU summit in compliance with the ICC statutes. In this regard, there were conflicts of law and interests to address here.
On the one hand, there is the obligation from the ICC on the basis of sanctity of agreements freely consented to. There is also the AU’s agreement according to which no sitting African President should be arrested or tried by the ICC, especially that the AU had lodged several complaints before the ICC but the ICC has not shown any interest in addressing them. This led to the perception of the ICC as having only one objective of seeking to subject African leaders to unnecessary ridicule. In other words, is it in the interest of South Africa to give priority to the ICC obligation or to the AU obligation? In any case, the South African court partly fulfilled the ICC obligation by issuing a warrant of arrest and also partly fulfilled the AU obligation by aiding and abetting the escape of al-Bashir. Thus, South Africa ended up not being the enemy of one and friend of the other.
The question now is: for how long will this hide-and-seek game continue? Shouldn’t African leaders be considering the establishment of an African Criminal Court of their own? If an African criminal court is established in Africa, to what extent will the criminal suspects be ready to accept trial by the court? More interestingly, why should any African leader engage in war crimes or crimes against his people not to mention crimes against humanity?
Towards a Functional Unity and Better AU Summit
African Union Summits need reorganization in design and focus. For over fifty years, the approach has been that of ‘regular matters arising from previous minutes.’ Too much time is wasted on protocol. If, for whatever reasons there is need for ‘matters arising,’ there should be a special session on the theme of the summit. In this regard, all debates should focus on the theme. The debates should not be simple comments but analyses that will provide suggestions on how to deal with challenges identified by all the interlocutors.
For instance, as the 2015 Summit has empowerment of women as the theme, all contributions should be tailored towards the challenges of empowerment, how the debater intends to address the problems at the national level. And true, the debates should further warrant special review by the technocrats in collaboration with the AUC. It is by so doing that the implementation plan of the AU Agenda 2063 can be meaningful and feasible. It has become necessary to stop noise making about uniting when consciously and unconsciously African leaders actually are disuniting the people of Africa.