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‘African countries need to be financially independent to be truly sovereign’

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Professor Abdoulaye Bathily

Professor Abdoulaye Bathily

Professor Abdoulaye Bathily of Senegal is aspiring to the office of the chairman of African Union Commission. During his recent visit to Nigeria, he shared his ideas with BRIDGET ONOCHIE on the challenges of insecurity on the continent, the need for regional collaboration for peace and economic development. He also spoke on some of the innovations he hoped to bring on board if selected as chairman of the commission. Excerpts:

Security challenge in Africa
When we talk about peace and security, it is the main area of challenge in Africa. Out of 16 peacekeeping operations in the world, nine are in Africa and most of these conflicts are in Central Africa and partly in West Africa. Of course, we know that the major course of these conflicts stem from governance issues. It also has to do with our attitude as Africans to manage our diversities in our countries after independence. We would have thought that with our national anthem and the national flag, respective nations would stay together for a common goal and toe the path of development. Development means for me, the second liberation, because the first liberation was about our flag and national anthem.

But for the last 50 years or so, we have seen this development but it is not enough; we need more economic development, social development and justice. We need peace but unfortunately, it is not attained in most countries because of governance issues and management of our national affairs; issues of ethnic tolerance and democracy. This could be seen from the recent event in The Gambia, where the acceptance of free and fair elections could be echoes of conflict and the cause of chaos in the country. I think one of the main issues for African Union is to help provide a platform where peace and security issues are dealt with properly.

Insurgency in Nigeria and regional collaboration
As I said, prevention is very important. In most African countries, most conflicts have gone beyond national boundaries because groups, which are involved in the conflicts, are also in neighbouring countries. I have been dealing with Boko Haram issue right from when I was the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for the Central African Region. I saw how from Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad, the Boko Haram issue became not only a national issue for Nigeria but also a sub-regional issue within the Lake Chad Basin area. The same social, ethnic and cultural groups stemmed from it.

Therefore, it is important to have collaboration among countries and social groups. If you look at the Niger Delta Avengers issue, it was similar to the maritime crises we were dealing with in the crisis in the Gulf of Guinea. There were different groups from the countries around the Gulf of Guinea who are linked to the international drug networks from South America to the Sahel through the Elshabab. So, there is need today for countries to come together to tackle the issues, to share experiences and knowledge of the scourges.

Way out of the insecurity challenge
It is something that I have been involved in; as a student union leader, trade union leader, as a parliamentarian both in Senegal as well as in ECOWAS Parliament. I was a member of ECOWAS Parliament between 2001 and 2006 and I participated in a number of peace missions in the region during the wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and also during the crises in Guinea, Mali and other countries. Preventive measures are important so that before crises erupt, they are diffused. Nevertheless, when the crises erupt, how to manage them nationally and regionally without waiting for outsiders are very important and that is an area I am very experienced. I have the experience, knowledge that I will put at the Commission’s disposal and if it is based on merit, my chances are better.
Legal framework to tackle the issues

Democracy is enshrined through human beings and societies. It is not something theoretical. It stems out of the aspirations of the people. African societies are ripe for democracy. If you look at the young people who are the majority of the population in terms of demography, they are educated in millions. They know what is happening in the world and in their countries. They go through Internet everyday. They know how they are governed and how resources of their countries are managed. They no longer sit idle. They have their own aspirations for a better management of the affairs of their continent. You cannot just tell these young people not to consider what you are doing. So, the democratic aspiration is about how people want to be governed, how they want to be part of the management of the affairs of their country. So, democracy is not all about ballot box or position in government but also about the day to day issues, how to eat, sleep well and educate the people. So, Africa wants democracy, it needs democracy because majority of the people want it to be entrenched so that their aspirations would be taken into account. If they are not happy with a government, it would be thrown out through the ballot box. So, we cannot say that Africa is not ripe for democracy, it is.

I also want to state that AU Commission is empowered to handle the issue because the ECOWAS, African Union and a number of regional organisations have adopted protocols on good governance, elections and democracy. The issue is the political will to implement it. It is important for the Commission to be proactive in that regard. We will get, not only the government to abide by what they signed but also, other stakeholders to work towards that. When we take the issue of The Gambia today, there is a resolution that ECOWAS passed on The Gambia based on the protocol the government of the country has signed. President Yahya Jammeh has to abide by it because his government signed it. The Commission has the steering power to influence other decision-making processes at the Commission level through the stakeholders and the mechanisms that are put in place.

President Jammeh’s decision not to step down
I am sure it will not happen again because democratization is a process. He has been President for 22 years; elections were conducted and he won but this time, The Gambians, through different stakeholders, political parties, civil society organisations, individuals, mobilized decisively not to allow rigging. They decided to defend their votes and it was such a massive wave that he had no choice than concede defeat. But he turned around after 10 days to reject result of the polls. From my experience, it depends on the level of commitment of those who want democracy; sacrifices have to be made.

Poor internal trade among African nations
Development is about economic integration. No nation can do it alone no matter the size. Africa needs to integrate in trade. We need to develop energy and mining and to avoid what I call the Berlin syndrome. From November 1884 to February 1885, Europeans met in Berlin and shared African continent among them. Colonialism stepped in, Africa was split into pieces and colonists set in. The system has economic logic; that this country will produce this and the other country will produce another according to the interest of the colonial masters. This is very much the same today.

So, we have to transform raw materials and modernize agriculture in a sustainable basis. We have to create the social basis for it. We may have this entire infrastructure but without the social instrument for it, you will not go anywhere. I am thinking of getting all the Elumelus and Dangotes together and telling them that we need to build companies to employ numerous unemployed people.

Expected innovations from you
This is important considering that there is a leadership crisis in the continent today. We need reformation at the Commission to make it work better in terms of structure. I have concrete proposals for this. Also, it has been said that this Commission depends much on foreign donors for it to function. To set up any function, we go first to discuss with the West. Can we continue to do that? Can we talk about sovereignty and independence when we count on others for what we eat and stand for? Many times, I have been involved in AU activities and proposals have been made to improve these situations in terms of financing and others but there was no enough political will to implement the resolutions. Even former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was tasked to come up with alternative source of funding for the Commission. He put up a team and came up with proposals; those proposals have also been shelved.

Another committee had also come up with a proposal that 0.2 per cent of imports from outside Africa would be dedicated to fund the AU so as to make it autonomous of external donors. If this is implemented, it can go a long way to finance the organisation not only for its own functioning but also for other programmes and activities. So, the issue is about convincing Heads of States that we cannot have our dignity when we are not free from external donors.



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