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MG.CO.za: The African Union must adapt to changing realities

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Tuesday, 01 August 2017

The African Union must adapt to changing realities

Addressing his first African Union (AU) summit as Chairperson of its secretariat, Moussa Faki Mahamat spoke some home truths about the state of the continent. 

After five months in office, he said he had arrived at five important conclusions:

  • Africa needs a new approach to peacekeeping based on dialogue, reconciliation and consensus rather than the use of force;
  • The AU “must act now” to address root causes of migration – poverty, exclusion, marginalisation and war – that lead to the “simply intolerable” numbers of African migrants dying in the Mediterranean;
  • The AU member states must be willing to implement adopted decisions as the organisation “cannot remain in its current form”;
  • The 55 member states need to speak with one voice. He noted that respect for the continent’s choices is only earned when AU unity is preserved;
  • Rapid change in the world means the AU has no choice but to “change [its] methods and styles of work and to reform quickly”.

Faki’s reflections resonated for all who attended the AU summit from 27 June to 4 July, amid fundamental global uncertainty and new levels of geopolitical unpredictability. Traditional partners in Europe and the US are narrowing the definition of some of their interests, and upcoming actors like the Gulf states, Turkey, China and Japan are seeking greater influence.

How the AU is able to adapt will determine its relevance as well as its potential. Though challenging, current global strategic evolution does present the opportunity to develop a stronger, fit-for-purpose multilateralism on the continent. To maintain credibility and relevance, the AU must both deal head on with the five realities Faki pointed out and also seek ways to adjust to external pressures. This will not be easy, since change depends on member states. But getting both right is vital.

African Realities

The continent’s most debilitating constraint is conflict. The AU set 2020 as the year to achieve its “Silencing the guns” agenda, which has two strands – early warning and action and conflict management. That means peace enforcement, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction and development.

The union’s early warning and action track record has been poor, despite prevention being at the heart of the AU founders’ work. The AU’s main challenge remains pushing its disparate members to pursue peace, consolidate democracy and abide by constitutionalism. Its early years’ efforts to create continental norms, promote transparency and a respect for process were promising, but the principle task of democratisation “remains unfinished business”, as a former AU Commissioner recently put it to Crisis Group – a fact that leaves the continent more vulnerable to all manner of insecurity..........................

191536-The African Union must adapt to changing realities.pdf

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