AU summit 29: New partners court the African Union


The African Union (AU) will discuss crucial reforms at its 29th summit in Addis Ababa this week, as global power shifts continue to affect the organisation’s partnerships with the international community.

Because the AU is still largely funded by outside institutions such as the European Union (EU), these global partnerships are crucial. But money is tight. The EU has, for example, cut back on its financial support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and could withdraw its funding altogether from 2018.

The impact of Brexit on EU-AU relations is still largely unknown, even if there is some optimism in EU circles that collaboration between the EU and the United Kingdom on peace and security – including in Africa – will continue.

There is also great uncertainty in Africa over what United States (US) policy under President Donald Trump means for the continent. Recent statements by the US representative in the United Nations (UN) about making peacekeeping operations ‘more effective’ – code for cutting down on the number of peacekeepers – has been cause for concern. The US is the largest funder of peacekeeping operations.

Because AU funding is still largely external, global partnerships are crucial

Diplomats insist that the US is still supporting initiatives like transitional justice in South Sudan, for example – and that ‘America first doesn’t come at the expense of others’; but going forward, relations with the Trump administration are largely uncertain.

In this unsure global environment, with shifting allegiances where, for example, Western nations are no longer systematically supporting one another in multilateral forums like the UN Security Council, other actors are stepping up to the plate.

Germany, which played only a marginal role during the colonial era, is spearheading a new Compact with Africa, which it says will stimulate growth on the continent. It hopes this will also discourage Africans to embark on perilous migrations to Europe.

With France, Germany has over the past few years been one of the main funders of the European Development Fund – the main financier of the AU. It has also long supported development through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

Germany’s new plans for Africa are part of its presidency of the G20 this year. German chancellor Angela Merkel has met with some African leaders, including Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Guinea’s President Alpha Condé, current AU chairperson, at meetings in the run-up to next month’s G20 summit.

The German plans, however, have been criticised for being too narrowly focused on stemming migration and not coming up with new ideas. In a policy paper the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German think-tank, says the Compact with Africa focuses too much on macro-economic policies that are not adapted to African countries, especially the least developed ones.

There is great uncertainty over what US policy under Trump means for Africa

Some critics even say the compact is a similar move to carving up the continent at the Berlin Conference in 1885, since it focuses on infrastructure to ensure extraction of natural resources to benefit outsiders and because of the lack of consultation.

Also, how sustainable are these initiatives that are so clearly linked to specific countries or world leaders? More than a decade ago former British prime minister Tony Blair launched his ambitious Commission for Africa, which was destined to ‘make poverty history’. This initiative was too strongly linked to Blair – not a popular figure in many circles.

The AU must also look at how these many meetings and summits with outside partners are structured. After Turkey, Brazil, Japan and others have come with invitations for summit meetings with AU leaders, Israel has now also jumped on the bandwagon and is holding an Israel-Africa summit in Togo later this year.

Israel has applied for observer status at the AU and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Liberia last month to attend the summit of the Economic Community of West African States. Israel is no stranger to African countries. Israeli military expertise is sought after by heads of state, especially when it comes to their personal protection.

Israel also considers itself a ‘neighbour’ to Africa and has strong links with many African countries, notably on helping with agricultural projects and knowledge transfer, an Israeli diplomat tells ISS Today. African countries are ‘reaching out to us for development models,’ he says.

Germany says the new Compact with Africa will stimulate growth on the continent

Some African heads of state resent this multiplicity of actors and initiatives. Kagame, for example, has emphasised the need to close AU summits to outsiders and for AU partners to be invited to attend only when there are agenda items that directly concern them.

Some outside organisations and partners have suggested setting aside a regular session at every AU summit for interaction between their own high-level delegations and African heads of state, but this hasn’t been agreed to.

The latest draft of the AU’s reform plans, adopted at the January AU summit, calls for a review of partnership meetings.

The plan is that when a given state wants to invite Africa as a whole, the continent will be represented by the AU Commission chairperson, the current rotating AU chairperson, his or her immediate predecessor and successor and those leaders heading up the five Regional Economic Communities at the time.

The AU delegation should also include the chairperson of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the plan suggests. Clearly this is not yet being implemented.

Relations between the AU and the rest of the international community will always be tricky while the organisation remains so dependent on outside aid for its functioning, programmes and peace operations. It will have to find a way, meanwhile, to better structure partnerships and to focus on financial self-reliance – now more than ever.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS Consultant

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Picture: AMISOM

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