AU Summit: Money, Mali and Madame Zuma

By Linnéa Gelot

The 20th AU summit was led by a woman for the first time in the organisation’s history – South African diplomat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the AU Commission’s chief and her management skills and political astuteness may have inspired many a girl child to now say, I want to lead the AU when I grow up!

There is no denying that peace and conflict issues have dominated the proceedings. The rapidly deteriorating situation in Mali drew attention away from the strengthening of regional integration, reform of AU institutions and development issues. On the upside, the AU summit served as an opportunity to drum up unity among international actors on the Mali crisis. Heads of state and senior diplomats welcomed the French intervention and this military action has not (until now, anyway) provoked nearly as much controversy and disagreement as the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. Outgoing AU chairperson Thomas Boni Yayi, the president of Benin, told fellow leaders their response to conflict in Mali had been too slow, and thanked France, the country's former colonial ruler, for taking the lead (Mail&Guardian,   28 January 2013). The AU and ECOWAS are hoping the UN and donors will pay for the deployment of an African regional mission (‘AFISMA’), totaling 7,700 troops, alongside the French forces and the Malian army. The AU organised a donor conference on 29 January, which raised $455 million. African states have pledged $50 million from the AU budget to AFISMA (a first in the organisation’s history), but critics still point out that the African response and deployment of troops to the country has been slow and inadequate.

The summit and its focus on peace and security indicates an important trend: the AU speaks with confidence of its achievements in conflicts of the last few years, emphasising especially the stabilising role that AMISOM has played in Somalia, where today a frail government is again operating from Mogadishu. Additionally, the AU stresses that active diplomacy and constant dialogue with Sudan and South Sudan has prevented full-scale war in the disputed border areas. The AU summit attempted to reinvigorate the mediation process and sharpened its tone towards the two parties: it requested Salva Kiir and Omar al-Bashir to implement without delay all outstanding accords and agreements. The AU also speaks candidly of the challenges ahead in, for instance, the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau. An attempted peace deal for the eastern DRC brokered by central African states, South Africa and the UN has collapsed, because a UN-proposed framework document had not been sufficiently coordinated with the African states, especially South Africa, which, according to what its defence minister told Al Jazeera, will send troops to bolster the UN peacekeeping mission in the country.

Unfortunately, peace and security issues have crowded out the strategic and long-term economic and political developments the summit also dealt with. It is difficult to glean what results emerged from the summit regarding integration, AU Commission reform and achieving economic independent for the AU (or at least lessening its near-total dependence on donor money). This will change if Ms Dlamini-Zuma gets her way. She wants to spend her time in office on bread-and-butter issues in the AU, especially improving the functioning of its various institutions and overseeing implementation of frameworks and resolutions agreed to over the years. She has also said she wants to see progress on education, youth employment and maternal health issues. How she will involve and engage African member states in all her proposed changes remains to be seen.

Strengthening and improving the AU is important, because African states need to speak in unison on issues important to the continent: climate change, the global development agenda, trade and investment, to mention but a few.

In a show of approval for the leading role Ethiopia has played in regional affairs over the last few years, Ethiopian Prime Minister Desalegn was appointed the new chairperson of the AU. He has said he will seek to shift the focus to economic transformation in Africa.


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