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The African Union reform: much still to be decided
24 July 2018

According to the draft decisions of the 31st African Union (AU) summit in Nouakchott, an extraordinary AU summit will be held in November 2018 to decide on outstanding reform proposals.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame intends to use this last opportunity during his tenure as AU chairperson to argue for binding decisions on the reforms. While some progress has been made, there are still divisions among African states over the substantive reforms required to make the AU more effective.

Following criticisms of inadequate consultation during the initial development of the reform proposals in 2016, Kagame and the Reform Implementation Unit have initiated wide-ranging consultations with key AU organs and regional economic communities (RECs).

The issues to be debated prior to the extraordinary summit in November 2018 include the selection process of the senior leadership of the AU Commission (AUC), ways of enhancing the performance of AU organs, the division of labour between the AU and RECs, and sanctions for members that fail to pay their dues on time.

Kagame and the Reform Implementation Unit have initiated wide-ranging consultations
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Selection of senior AU officials

Reforming the current process of selecting senior AUC leaders is critical if the reforms are to address the inefficiencies within the AUC. The proposal calls for a shift from politically driven appointments to a merit-based appointment process. Ideally, according to the reform team, the AUC chairperson should be elected every four years through a merit-based process. The chairperson, serving as the chief executive officer, would then play a critical role in recruiting the deputy chairperson and commissioners.

Based on the proposals seen by the PSC Report, two options are on the table: 

  • The deputy chairperson and commissioners are selected and nominated by the chairperson of the AUC and appointed by the AU Assembly. This proposal would mean these posts are advertised in the six months prior to the election of the new AUC chairperson in January. Two issues, however, remain unclear:
    • The proposal does not clarify whether the selection and nomination will be done by the outgoing chairperson or the new chairperson elected in January.
    • According to the proposal, the shortlisted candidates would be ‘presented to the chairperson of the commission in February and s/he would proceed to appoint commissioners and assign their portfolios in March’, but it does not spell out the exact role of the assembly.
  • The second option requires a competency-based assessment and shortlisting of candidates for election by the ‘Executive Council and appointment by the Assembly’ in January. The chairperson would then assign portfolios to the elected officials as either deputy chairperson or commissioner in March.

In both options, the candidates are expected to be accountable to the chairperson, who assigns portfolios to them and retains the right to redeploy them and terminate their employment.

Some critics of the reforms argue that this would require an amendment to the AU Constitutive Act. However, given that the AU Assembly reserves the power to delegate its rights to other organs, in line with Article 9(2) of the Constitutive Act (as it did recently by delegating the adoption of the AUC budget to the Executive Council), the Constitutive Act would not need to be amended. Only the Rules and Procedures and Statutes of the AUC would require amendment.

Some critics argue that this would require an amendment to the AU Constitutive Act
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It is also necessary to develop an appraisal process for candidates seeking re-election, to ensure efficiency. In the previous selection processes, politics and regional considerations were the driving force behind the re-election of candidates, rather than performance.

What is the added value of other AU-affiliated organs?

As part of the initiative to foster integration and avoid duplication, the AU reform has initiated an audit of its organs. There is growing criticism of the perceived lack of efficiency of organs such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), the PSC, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

During the Nouakchott Summit, the AU Assembly approved the gradual integration of NEPAD into the AU as the AU Developmental Agency. It also gave the green light to the integration of the APRM into the AUC. Hence, rather than duplicating some of the work done by the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the APRM will instead support the DPA in tracking implementation and providing monitoring and evaluation in key governance areas.

The AU Assembly approved the gradual integration of NEPAD into the AU as the AU Developmental Agency
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Meanwhile, there are still significant misgivings about the PAP. It became functional in 2003 but has only yielded limited results in terms of providing advisory support and developing some model laws.

Although the revised PAP Protocol of 2014 accords the body legislative powers, it has not come into force because only six countries have ratified it out of the 28 required. The PAP’s duties of providing oversight, checks and balances within the AU are, to a large extent, currently being undertaken by the AU Permanent Representatives Council of ambassadors in Addis Ababa.

To compound the situation, there is an ongoing investigation of corruption allegations against the PAP Secretariat. This emphasises the need to ensure the efficiency of the body, which is the second most financed organ of the AU – after the AUC – with a total budget of US$20 million in 2018.

On the other hand, the progress of organs such as the African Court and Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has been impacted by the reluctance of member states to accept judgements made by the court and the commission.

Division of labour between the AU and RECs

The AU currently recognises eight regional organisations, besides several other regional mechanisms and commissions. This has spurred discussions on reducing the number of RECs to five – in line with the five regions of Africa – to avoid duplication.

This presents enormous challenges, as some member states have overlapping memberships and different interests beyond a particular regional set-up. RECs also do not derive their legitimacy from the AU and there is often little coordination between the RECs and the AUC.

Ongoing discussions highlight the overall need for the AU to coordinate, harmonise and provide strategic direction, while RECs are responsible for the actual implementation and enforcement of decisions. This is the main idea behind the AUC’s call for it to lead negotiations with the European Union around the future of a post-Cotonou deal, rather than the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries representing the original Cotonou agreement. This will enable the AU to harmonise Africa’s integration agenda at all levels.

A clear division of labour between the AU and RECs is crucial for the functioning of the African Peace and Security Architecture
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A clear division of labour between the AU and RECs is also crucial for the functioning of the African Peace and Security Architecture, where the AU and RECs hold overlapping mandates for peace and security. The PSC is often reluctant to proactively address security threats, as it increasingly relies on RECs to take the lead. In South Sudan, for instance, some opposition parties and civil society organisations are calling on the AU to play a greater role in resolving the crisis, in the face of alleged bias on the part of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) member states. It is important to address this situation and provide appropriate checks and balances, especially when RECs become part of the problem in crisis areas.

The AU intends to develop a roadmap on the division of labour by August 2018, but it is uncertain whether member states will reach a decision during the Extraordinary Summit in November 2018.

The annual AU/RECs coordination meeting that is expected to be held every mid-year from 2019 will play a crucial role in shaping the future of this relationship and the division of responsibilities between the AU and RECs.

Financing the AU

Thanks to the AU reforms, the budget was for the first time reviewed and adopted by the Executive Council and the Committee of Ministers of Finance (also known as the F15). This saw the reduction of the AU’s budget for 2019 by 12% compared to the 2018 budget. During the Nouakchott Summit five members were added to the F15, making it the F20.

The implementation of the 0.2% levy on imports to finance the AU continues to face obstructions. While 23 member states said they had begun implementing the 0.2% levy decision, only 13 member states have actually started collecting the funds.

Despite the flexibility required for member states to implement the decision, some are unsure how to implement the decision, owing to national and international trade commitments.

During the November summit the AU will decide on the scale regulating members’ contributions and the sanctions for member states that fail to pay their dues on time.

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