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Columnists

AU must begin connecting to its citizens

It is often stated that the 21st Century is Africa’s chance to arise and prosper.
It is often stated that the 21st Century is Africa’s chance to arise and prosper. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

It is often stated that the 21st Century is Africa’s chance to arise and prosper. An opportunity to put behind the paradox of poverty amidst plenty, continued conflicts, inequalities and life’s challenges.

It is against this context that Heads of States and Government of the African Union adopted the 2063 blueprint, a vision of Africa that the people of the continent wanted.

That vision focused on prosperity, peace, unity and integration. They committed to enhance the voice of Africa in the world community of nations and to promote the ideals of pan-Africanism.

The agenda is both ambitious and forward looking, committing to end poverty, just like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and to ensure that by 2063, the continent would be prosperous and with the resources and means to drive its developmental agenda.

Realising this target requires that the continent, its leaders and citizens work concertedly and consistently.

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This past week, I attended a meeting of several African thinkers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The discussions revolved around the challenges facing the continent, the efforts under way to deal with them and an assessment of their efficacy. As part of the political economy discussions, we had sessions with officials from the African Union Commission. One of the topics was the state of reforms at the African Union (AU).

The genesis of the reforms was the decision by a meeting of AU Heads of States and Government in 2016 in Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame was tasked with the responsibility of proposing reforms to the workings and structure of the AU so as to address past challenges, including inaction, inefficiency, overlapping mandates and financing deficits.

Following a year of studies, Mr Kagame presented to his colleagues a report that detailed measures to fix the problems within the AU. The recommendations sought to make the institution spearheading the continent’s development agenda to be both mean and lean.

Thus, suggestions were made for streamlining the structures of the AU and on the institution taking on fewer causes and pursuing them to the end. The culture of making resolutions without any follow up action was to be eradicated.

Once the recommendations from the report were adopted, Mr Kagame was subsequently elected as thechairperson of the African Union. One would expect that a year later the reforms would be proceeding full throttle and their impacts already felt.

It was disheartening to be sitting in a meeting a short distance from the AU headquarters and debating whether the reforms were the cure for what ails Africa. One of the questions raised at the meeting was what constituted the African Union, is it the Heads of States and Government? Is it the African Union Commission or is it the people of the continent? Whatever answer one gives, the next level of question would be who was in charge of the reforms envisaged?

When one reads agenda 2063, it is clear that citizens are at the center of the envisaged changes and progress in the continent. However, in discussions with a few citizens in Ethiopia, it was clear that the AU and its activities was nowhere near their list of priorities.

The situation above is true for many citizens across the continent. The institutional structures of the Union are not engaging the people in what they are doing.

The reforms are being done in the people’s names, yet the people are neither aware nor involved in the process.

Take for example the Pan-African Parliament. While States send representatives to this body, if one were to take a survey to determine how many people know their country’s representatives to the body and what they have deliberated on this past year, it would not be a surprise that nobody would answer the questions correctly.

The continent needs a body that is engaged, which is representative, and which provides avenues for feedback from citizens of the continent.

It is only such a body that can help project the continent onto the world map and make it a leading voice in international affairs while spearheading sustained and inclusive development in the continent.

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