Rwandan President Paul Kagame and African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat travelled to Windhoek, Namibia recently to address the 38th summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This was seen as a positive sign of improved cooperation between the AU and SADC. Several issues concerning the institutional reform of the AU and the configuration of the post-Cotonou negotiations with the European Union (EU) remain sticking points between the AU and SADC.
Delegates attending the 38th SADC summit on 17 and 18 August 2018 said the presence of Kagame and Mahamat was a sign that calls for greater engagement between the commission in Addis Ababa and SADC were bearing fruit.
SADC has over the past two years expressed its opposition to several aspects of the proposed AU reforms driven by Kagame. The regional organisation was particularly unhappy about the way decisions were taken on the reforms.
According to SADC, decisions taken by the AU Assembly (heads of state) at so-called retreats, without prior discussions by the AU Executive Council (ministers) and the Permanent Representatives Committee (ambassadors), are not in line with the AU Constitutive Act. Others, however, argue that the AU Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the organisation and that it can make decisions without consulting lower-level institutions such as the AU Executive Council.
Kagame, the current AU chairperson, is clearly keen to get buy-in from SADC leaders for the reforms and thanked the heads of state at their 38th summit for their ‘growing support and engagement given to the institutional and financial reform of the AU’. Issues raised by member states continued to be addressed in a ‘flexible and consultative’ manner, he said.
While this engagement was welcomed, the final communiqué of the SADC summit merely noted progress in addressing SADC’s proposals on the ongoing reforms, and called upon the new chairperson of SADC, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob, to fast-track these discussions with the AU.
Delegates said the upcoming November 2018 extraordinary summit of the AU in Addis Ababa to discuss the reforms would be an opportunity for SADC to get finality on issues such as its concerns around respecting the Constitutive Act when it comes to decision-making; the appointment of an AU ‘troika’ in some instances, which is also not in line with the Constitutive Act; and changing the way the AU Commission is appointed to ensure greater efficiency.
In the period since the launch of the reforms in July 2016, several proposals by Kagame’s reform team have been watered down by AU member states. Even when there is general agreement on the need to make the AU more effective and efficient, there is still disagreement over the details of implementing the reform decisions.
On the issue of a 0.2% levy on imports to finance the AU, a key component of the reforms, the Kagame team seems to have accepted that not all member states are going to come to the party. Most SADC states, led by South Africa, have been firmly opposed to the levy. They believe states should have the freedom to decide on financing mechanisms that suit their needs, rather than being dictated to by the AU. This point of view seems to have been accepted by the reform team.
At the last AU summit – in Mauritania in July this year – the AU conceded that it would be ‘flexible’ on the mechanisms that states used to finance the AU, as long as they paid their dues. States such as South Africa have a good track record of paying their share of assessed contributions to the AU budget. Funding is paid to the AU directly from state coffers and not through an import levy, which could be contrary to some of the country’s external trade obligations.
Disagreement on post-Cotonou negotiations
Apart from the reform of the AU, the future institutional relationship between the EU and Africa is also creating friction between SADC and the AU leadership. The AU is in favour of an entirely new relationship with Europe, negotiated through the AU Commission, in the run-up to the expiration of the Cotonou agreement between the EU and Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP). This agreement comes to an end in 2020. SADC, on the other hand, wants to maintain the ACP negotiating team.
For the AU Commission, a lot is at stake. If it can convince all of Africa that Addis Ababa is the only true voice of the continent in relationships with outside powers such as the EU, it will be a major victory for the Kagame reforms and for Mahamat.
At the July 2018 AU summit in Nouakchott both Kagame and Mahamat were adamant that the ACP should be dropped. Kagame said at the summit that although the ACP block had a long history of working together on issues such as relations with Europe, a lot had changed since the Cotonou agreement came into being in 1975. Kagame said it was important for Africa to ‘set aside sentiments and emotions’ towards ‘our brothers’ in other parts of the world, and if Africa wanted to stand together as one block, particularly in the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, a new relationship with Europe had to be negotiated.
The argument made by Kagame and the AU Commission is that new negotiations should include all AU member states and only them. Several ACP members, including Namibia and South Africa, are, however, in favour of maintaining the ACP as an institutional network. SADC thus at its 38th summit decided not to budge from its position that ‘the current ACP negotiations and decision-making governance structure be maintained’.
Europe is eager to get these negotiations off the ground and has already appointed its negotiators. Meanwhile, the AU Assembly in Nouakchott decided to convene an Executive Council meeting in September to discuss this. Intense lobbying is to be expected behind the scenes in the next few weeks on this issue.
Hands off SADC when it comes to peacekeeping
The relationship between the AU and regional economic communities (RECs) is complex and often strained when it comes to peace and security issues. Clarifying this relationship is one of the outstanding reform issues. The question is whether RECs should in all cases be the go-to organisations when there are crises on the continent, or whether the AU should be mandated to step in under certain conditions. The role of the AU in coordinating and ensuring sustainable solutions to crises should also be set out by the reforms.
In the past, the AU and its Peace and Security Council (PSC) had been closely involved in trying to solve crises such as those in Somalia, South Sudan, Burundi and Guinea-Bissau – often in conjunction with the concerned REC, but not always.
When it comes to Southern Africa, so far the AU has largely maintained a hands-off approach. Throughout the many years of crisis and contested elections in Zimbabwe, up to the ousting of former president Robert Mugabe in November last year, the AU and the PSC hardly ever put Zimbabwe on the agenda. The same can be said of the situation in Lesotho, which has only very recently made it on to the agenda in Addis Ababa.
The only notable exceptions are the situations in Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the AU has sent its own special envoys. The AU has also intervened in the Comoros, SADC’s newest member. It was opposed to the 30 July constitutional referendum in the Comoros. SADC is now, however, expected to take this intervention further.