Business as usual at AU–regional bodies coordination meeting

The African Union (AU) and regional economic communities and regional mechanisms (RECs/RMs) held their fifth mid-year coordination meeting and 43rd Ordinary Session of the Executive Council in Nairobi, Kenya, from 13 to 16 July. African leaders reflected on fast-tracking integration, enhancing AU-RECs and inter-REC collaboration and renewing commitment to exercising African agency in multilateral processes.

The meeting also discussed alignment between the AU and RECs/RMs, Agenda 2063’s second 10-year implementation plan and AU reforms. However, implementing some outcomes from previous meetings is still pending, and it remains to be seen if the pattern of endorsing recommendations without follow-through will persist.

Slow-paced progress on integration

The African Integration Report 2023 and interventions by RECs reflect positive developments in Africa’s integration but highlight gaps needing urgent attention. Member states have made significant progress in the free movement of persons, facilitating visa-free travel and simplifying procedures through e-visa application portals.

Achievements registered in accelerating implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) reinforced integration progress, with the Adjustment Fund already capitalised at US$1 billion. The Guided Trade Initiative, launched in October 2022, has allowed significant trade among eight countries, and the Pan-African payments and settlements system has been formalised, facilitating intra-African trade in African national currencies and reducing currency transfer costs.

The gathering urged the AfCFTA secretariat to scale these achievements across the continent as they demonstrate the effectiveness of the legal framework and its potential for socioeconomic integration and transformation. Despite progress, funding gaps and a deteriorating peace and security outlook continue to hinder the implementation of crucial continental infrastructure.

Progress made in the free movement of persons includes visa-free travel and e-visa application portals

Some member states have not ratified AfCFTA, and lack of enthusiasm in ratifying the protocol on the free movement of persons and goods also slows progress. Connecting African financial markets through better integration has equally lagged behind.

Addressing these constraints is crucial for consolidating gains and achieving an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. The meeting recommended the establishment of a pan-African stock exchange and African monetary institute to accelerate integration. African leaders also championed ratification of the protocol and encouraged e-visa facilitation for connectivity and tourism.

Additionally, they urged the AU Commission (AUC) to collaborate with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), RECs and AU institutions to develop a comprehensive index for assessing integration. This would leverage the strengths of the AUC’s African Multidimensional Regional Integration Index and UNECA’s African Regional Integration Index. Accordingly, the Africa Integration Report will now be produced every two years to ensure data accuracy and quality assurance.

AU reform agenda held hostage?

The executive council meeting discussed the implementation of the AU reforms agenda, which had been given six months to complete by the AU Assembly of February 2023. Achieving the reform priorities will lead to a more efficient AU that can respond to Africa’s Agenda 2063 aspirations. But long delays in finalising reform priorities raise questions about its effectiveness.

The Kagame Report led to the implementation of an AU-wide merits-based recruitment system, a recruitment and selection committee and a skills audit and competency assessment (SACA). However, the quota system has caused a loss of qualified candidates and labour disputes. Besides, despite consensus to finalise the assessment by December 2022, member states continue to hold the reform process hostage by suspending recommendations from the AUC, according to the AUC deputy chairperson.

In her address to the executive council, she also observed that although the AU Peace Fund is operational at US$350 million, progress towards financial ownership has been slow. The AU’s operational budget is 100% covered by member states, but it relies on external partners for 60% of its programme budget.

Only 12% of this budget is covered by member states, despite the 2015 goal of 75% by 2020. This sustains concerns that the AU lacks full ownership of its programmes, with implications for its ability to deliver on various initiatives.

A clear division of labour is needed to accelerate coordination and avoid duplication

The division of labour among AU, RECs/RMs and member states has been a standing agenda item of the mid-year meeting. While this is necessary to advance Africa’s political and economic integration, there is still no clear division among AU institutions nor the AU, RECs/RMs and member states. The potential dividends of inter-REC and AU-REC collaboration have manifested in maritime security cooperation between the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Economic Community of West African States.

It is also evident in AU-Intergovernmental Authority on Development efforts in Sudan and the East African Community, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, ECCAS and Southern African Development Community quadripartite summit. The summit held in Luanda on 27 July aimed to resolve the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes. Yet, coordination continues to be hindered by AU and REC/RM competition. Additionally, many nascent and often-parallel initiatives continue to lead to overlaps and duplication of efforts.

A clear division of labour is needed to accelerate coordination and avoid duplication. The AUC Chairperson announced that the memorandum of understanding between the AU and RECs should be finalised in October. A budget line will be created in the regular AU budget for sustainable funding of the revised protocol on relations between the AU and RECs.

A stronger Africa in the world

The meeting was held amid a changing global economic and geopolitical context, characterised by the Covid-19 pandemic, Ukraine war, debt and energy crises and a global climate crisis. It also followed the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact in Paris, where African leaders expressed discontent with the continent’s exclusion from international political and financial governance processes. Thus, it presented an opportunity for leaders to discuss strengthening Africa’s position as an international and respected player on the global stage.

The gathering endorsed recommendations from the Ramaphosa-led peace mission to Kyiv and Moscow, legitimising Africa’s role in crisis diplomacy beyond its borders. African leaders also endorsed reports by presidents El-Sisi, Assoumani and Ruto emphasising the importance of developing and defending common African positions on climate change.

With Africa suffering the most extreme consequences of this crisis, endorsement of these reports buttresses the readiness of Africa’s leaders for a more robust position on the global approach to the issue. This is significant given the upcoming COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nairobi’s Africa Climate Summit from 4 to 6 September will allow African leaders to promote a common position and advocate global alignment on a green growth agenda with transformative global climate finance.

Summits should be hosted on the continent given their economic and geopolitical implications

During the executive council meeting, adviser to the Saudi royal court, Ahmed Abdelaziz Qattan, confirmed that the first African-Saudi summit and fifth Arab-Africa summit will be held in Riyadh in November 2023. Other important summits are scheduled, including just-concluded Russia-Africa, G20, UN General Assembly, Sustainable Development Goals, climate action and the World Bank/International Monetary Fund fall meetings on reform. That African leaders exercise agency in these multilateral spaces is timely and crucial.

These summits signal the continent’s growing geopolitical significance and provide an opportunity to press for reform of global institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, G20 and financial architecture. The mid-year meeting emphasised Africa’s ability to shape its own peace, security and development trajectory and contribute to effective solutions to global issues. African leaders should consider hosting summits on the continent. The economic and geopolitical implications of this cannot be overstated.

Implementing outcomes

Implementation of meeting outcomes will determine African leaders’ commitment to achieving an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. Capitalising on AU institutional reforms to achieve self-reliance and a fit-for-purpose continental body is not inconsistent with this aspiration. Implementing the Kigali Decision and scaling up engagements with African Development Bank are essential steps.

Additionally, finalising the division of labour among the AU, RECs/RMs and member states by the October deadline but no later than the end of 2023 is crucial to harmonise overlapping efforts. The AU may consider convening a summit to address constraints to AU-REC relations.

To take Africa closer to its goal of ‘an integrated and well-connected Africa’, member states should galvanise efforts to silence the guns, accelerate AfCFTA implementation and ratify the protocol on free movement. Strengthening Africa’s position as an international and respected player on the global stage requires a stronger AUC, supported by member states. In the long-term, the AU may have to be granted the powers of a supranational body to strengthen its ability to act and Africa’s agency in global processes on important issues.

feature-5icon-printerlogo-chlogo-frPSC REPORT