Ruto: This is my vision and mission for the African Union

Kenya’s President William Ruto wants the African Union to do better. And this week, he, for the fifth time, called for a “revolution” in the set-up of the continental body to make it work efficiently. Only that his speech also touched off a series of other revelations that exposed the rot of the African Union. Dr Ruto was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank, whose theme was ‘Africa’s Transformation’ and the reform of the global financial architecture.

Here, the Kenyan leader departed from the official speech, adding four focal areas he thinks the African Union must change. “We will be proposing that the AU Commission executive be given sufficient power to prosecute Africa’s economic diplomacy so that we can unlock the potential of our continent, so that we can showcase the assets that we have…. and create a better Africa for all of us,” he said. The AU, he argued, must be fit enough to expand trade by targeting the market of Africans first, secure the continent through own funded security tools, fill the infrastructure gap by adjusting its view from a liberation movement to a development organ and provide justice to its people through its own court.

“The African Union must take charge of our peace, security and stability of this continent. The AU must make us solve the problem of conflict and war in our continent. We cannot progress as a continent if there is war in Sudan, conflict in Somalia, problems in DRC. We need nothing short of a revolution to have a good organisation.” It wasn’t the first time he railed at the continental body. Only that this time it matters more because he is the new Champion of Institutional Reforms at the African Union, a role he inherited from President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

Kagame had been there since 2016 when he established a committee of eminent persons to look into the rot of the bureaucracy at the African Union. It returned a series of recommendations, including that some of the AU’s functions overlapped and decisions took too long to be made. In fact, it suggested that the funding for the AU meant it relied on donors, making its independence problematic. When Kagame retired from the position in February, he admitted that some AU organs had developed such a sense of impunity that they could defy Heads of State.

“Decisions taken at the level of Heads of State continue to be revisited and revised, or even resisted, by some members of the Permanent Representatives Committee, which should really be unacceptable,” Kagame said in a final report in February. “We even see parallel structures created, whose main purpose seems to be to frustrate and delay the reforms which the Heads of State have suggested and put in place.”

For Ruto, however, nearly the entire AU needs a touch-up. He proposed to reduce the size of the Pan-African Parliament from 275 members to 100. He further proposed to adjust powers of the African Union Commission, enabling it to perform more functions. In Nairobi, he didn’t clarify. But he has elaborated on it before. Last year, he suggested that the positions of the African Union Chairperson and that of the AU Commission Chairperson be merged.

That could mean the rotational seat of the AU Chairperson may go, and the African Union may mimic the European Union, which usually has an enhanced Commission that can negotiate trade pacts that are binding on members, and has powers to address peace and security. In addition, the European Commission manages the foreign policy of the bloc, making it an effective representative of its members at key geopolitical issues. But there is the question of money, which Kagame had talked of many times as well.

“Today, the budget of the African Union is approved by people who are not people’s representatives. We want the people of Africa to take charge of this continent,” Dr Ruto said. In May last year, Ruto had told the Pan-African Parliament the AU must enable it to draw up legislative, representative and oversight mandates for Africa. It is currently a part-time bloc, short of money and cannot even approve AU’s budget.

Its members have in the past fought in public. Ruto’s reform agenda targets the AU Bureau, Assembly, committees, regional, ad-hoc bodies and the Commission. He wants them ‘duly rationalised to give Africa a fit-for-purpose continental governance body worth its name’. “To do so, this honourable assembly will urgently review the funding arrangements to ensure that AU budgets are financed primarily by members and secondarily by external partners.

In turn, this will require a mechanism where AU member States are upto-date with their contributions with regard to all their commitments,” he told the Pan-African Parliament legislators sitting in Pretoria last year. At another function in Zambia, Ruto asked member States to donate power to AU on matters trade, regional and global security as well as other areas that Africa can benefit from engaging together rather than individually,” he said.

“We should merge the position of chair of the AU Summit and that of the AU Commission into one so as to give it sufficient leverage to engage on behalf of Africa,” he added. Ruto’s plan, if it goes ahead, will find a new team of commissioners due to be elected in February next year. A panel of eminent persons gave up to August 6 for applicants to submit their CVs before they are vetted and subjected to a vote.

Yet the outgoing AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki says the secretariat is only a portion of the problem. In Nairobi, he told the audience at the AfDB event that reforms for the AU are just as needed as those in international governance in general. A few days earlier, however, he had lampooned the African Union Peace and Security Council for sitting on its hands, delaying continental action by the Commission.

The Council, composed of 15 members elected rotationally, is supposed to make decisions on peace and security, including suspending errant members who try to change governments illegally, through coups. But sometimes it doesn’t. Or, at other times, members of the Council look the other way as regional blocs they belong to violate the AU’s stance. “Let us be frank. If we are unable to do anything, why don’t we revisit our legal arsenal and be harmonious with ourselves?

This is more credible than continuing to decide and communicate while we know that no one among the authors of the violation and their partners in crime will listen to us,” he said in Zanzibar on May 25, during High-Level 20th Anniversary Colloquium discussions to mark 20 years since the Council was established. There are many good deeds the Council has done, including helping create South Sudan through a peaceful deal, after years of war. It also helped set up the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. But there are other things it ignored.

One recent incident involved its decision on Chad where it passed a resolution to forbid members of the military transition council from competing in elections but looked the other way when Chadian junta leader Mahamat Deby contested and won elections. Faki refused to endorse the election results of his country but argued he couldn’t do it because the Council did not change its stance. In fact, the Council had not suspended Chad when the junta took over, making it only one of the six countries in the ‘coup belt’ region that was spared suspension.

Chad did not invite the African Union to observe the polls though. “Perhaps its inclusion in the list of Organs to be reformed, within the framework of the Institutional Reform, could help cure the wrong. I sincerely think that we must go beyond what could be suggested within this framework to engage in a bolder and more meaningful overhaul,” he said. “Any delay, any hesitation, any procrastination in outlining and resolute application of the chosen therapy could contribute to the withering away, perhaps even to the definitive dormancy of the prestigious and precious tool that is the PSC.”

This article was first published on the East African

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