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Focus on the 31st AU summit: Staying the course to reform the AU
20 June 2018

The institutional reform of the African Union (AU) will once again be a major item on the agenda of its 31st summit, from 25 June to 2 July 2018. This summit, in fact, symbolises one of the outcomes of the reform process, since it is supposed be the last July summit to be held at the level of heads of state and government. Other issues to be discussed include a possible roadmap to define the relationship between the AU and regional economic communities (RECs) and a review of staffing at the AU Commission.

The implementation matrix of the AU reforms, led by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, states that the second bi-annual AU summit will be dedicated to coordination between the AU and RECs. The upcoming summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania will thus be the last full mid-year AU summit, if these reforms are implemented.

The upcoming summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania will be the last full mid-year AU summit
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Apart from the issue of reducing the number of Assembly summits – intended to streamline decision making – a number of other proposed reforms were adopted at the 30th AU summit in January: 

  • The establishment of goal quotas for women (50%) and youth (35%) in the AU staff by 2025.
  • The delegation of the power to adopt the budget to the Executive Council, composed of ministers of foreign affairs and finance. This is a result of the move to hold only one summit at the level of heads of state starting 2019.
  • A new statutory budget line for the Committee of Ministers of Finance – now composed of 15 ministers, three per region – to play a budgetary oversight role. (It remains unclear what added value the addition of this supplementary layer of ministers of finance brings to the budget process, as the Executive Council will include all of them, as well as foreign ministers.)
  • On the 0.2% levy, the heads of state and government decided that for the moment, member states would retain the surplus from the levy when the amount exceeded their annual assessed contribution. The Assembly also adopted an instrument on the enhanced governance and management of the Peace Fund.
  • A mechanism to ensure that legally binding decisions are implemented. The final draft  strongly differed from the one presented in the initial package of the reforms.  The decision focuses on ensuring the proper categorisation of decisions (regulations, directives, recommendations); taking into account all financial implications; and strengthening the capacity of the Office of the Legal Counsel and the Bureau of the Chairperson. The mechanism moved from ensuring that member states implement and comply with AU decisions to assessing the status of implementation of decisions and policies by the Permanent Representatives Committee, the Executive Council and the Assembly. The inclusion of an external actor such as the African Court of Justice and Human Rights to assess compliance by AU member states was not retained.

Mechanisms for greater consultation

A critical decision was also taken in January to address criticisms by various member states regarding Kagame’s lack of outreach. The Assembly requested further consultations to be undertaken to deepen consensus on the reforms. As a result, the reform troika (Guinea, Rwanda and Chad) was expanded to include the Bureau of the Assembly (currently Libya, South Africa, Republic of Congo and Guinea). Fifteen foreign ministers are to play an advisory role to the implementation process.

The Assembly requested further consultations to be undertaken to deepen consensus on the reforms
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While these steps were taken to ensure greater buy-in to the reforms from all regions and member states,it is unclear whether they have gone far enough.

In Southern Africa, indications are that there is a new, more cooperative approach mainly due to the impetus from the new South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa. This new approach consists of making constructive propositions to enhance the reform process rather than just opposing it in its current form. Such a shift is yet to be seen among regional powers in North Africa, where reservations remain about the whole process’s legal compliance with the AU Constitutive Act.

Extraordinary executive council meeting to look at reforms?

During a consultative meeting in May 2018, some member states argued that the reforms should be discussed at lower levels – ambassadorial or ministerial – before the heads of state endorsed the outcomes.

This means that an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Council could be organised in this regard. Article 10 of the Constitutive Act provides that such an extraordinary meeting can be requested by any member state, upon approval by two-thirds of the AU membership. In addition, it is left to the discretion of the Assembly to refer a matter back to be discussed at the technical, ambassador and ministerial levels.

However, this possibility has been opposed by supporters of the reforms, stating that in terms of protocol, a decision taken by heads of state cannot be discussed by foreign ministers or ambassadors.

In terms of protocol, a decision taken by heads of state cannot be discussed by foreign ministers or ambassadors
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While this argument might hold, as Kagame happens to be leading the reform while chairing the AU for 2018, it is unclear what will happen if a subsequent AU chair decides to convene such an extraordinary executive council on the reforms.

Which deliverables can be expected?

According to the implementation matrix of the reforms, two final outputs are supposed to be discussed at the summit.

Firstly, the division of labour among the AU and RECs should be clarified. Rather than a definitive decision, it is expected that member states will draft a roadmap in order to clarify this division of labour over the short and mid term. It is unclear whether the issue of overlapping membership will be addressed in this roadmap.

The second final output is a complete review of the AU’s staffing needs and conditions of service, which will address options to improve the commission’s performance. This review will be over and above the audit of the commission, whose conclusions were due at the last summit. The presentation of these conclusions was postponed, and will likely be considered in Nouakchott.

The second final output is a complete review of the AU’s staffing needs and conditions of service
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In addition to these two items, three outputs are supposed to be considered before their full implementation in January 2019: 

  • The state of implementation of the Kigali financing decision.
  • Complementary measures to reinforce previous decisions on funding.  
  • The evaluation of the size and capabilities of AUC structures. It seems that a reflection could be launched on the optimal structure of the commission rather than a clear proposal to overhaul the current setting. Any proposition to overhaul the current structure may have far-reaching political implications, such as on elections for the commission. Because of the requirement of regional representation, any reduction of the number of departments or commissioners will increase competition among member states.