Africa’s opportunity and reasons for a reset
At a time of great uncertainty in world affairs, Africa serves its interests best by putting its house in order. That process begins by identifying and addressing the region’s major challenges as well as setting clear, limited and actionable policy priorities. Africa has never been short of plans or programmes of actions. From the Lagos Plan of Action (1980) to the African Priority Programme for Economic Recovery (1985), the Cairo Agenda for Action (1995), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (2001) and now Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want and its First Ten-Year Implementation Plan (2014-2023), Africa has shown a willingness address its myriad of problems.
Three major weaknesses have historically seriously impeded the implementation of Africa’s plans of actions and cast a long shadow over Agenda 2063. The Plans have been too ambitious; marred by weak political commitment; and, quite often, ignored the political contexts of the member States. The scope of the various plans has been so wide-ranging that they would tax the managerial capacity of the best resourced organisation.
Weak political commitment has been reflected in the fact that the Member States consistently fall behind in paying their assessed contributions to the African Union (AU), deepening the organisation’s dependence on donors. An important but less remarked factor, in the high unpaid assessed contributions, is that most of the countries mired in or emerging from conflict are unable to meet their financial obligations to the AU. Although African leaders pledged in 2015 to contribute 100 percent of AU’s operating budget, 75 percent of programme budget, and 25 percent of its peace and security budget; it is not certain whether and when these commitments will be met.
In the past ten years, African leaders have commissioned two major reviews on the functioning and effectiveness of the African Union: Audit of the African Union (The Adedeji Report, 2007); and The Imperative to Strengthen Our Union (The Kagame Report, 2017). The report of the Third Ministerial Retreat of the Executive Council (The Mekele Report,2016) offered ideas on domestication of Agenda 2063 and its flagship projects. Reviewing the scope and feasibility of NEPAD or Agenda 2063 did not occupy centre stage in those reports. But two of them offered comments on AU’s scope of work. The Adedeji Report, for example, remarked that AU’s “activities spread too widely for it to be effective in playing the role envisaged for it.” The Kagame Report spoke of “a fragmented organisation with a multitude of focus areas.”
Africa now has an opportunity and several reasons to reset its priorities. The opportunity for a reset is offered by the election or appointment of new heads of the three major regional institutions. The President of AfDB assumed office in November 2015; The Chairperson of AU in March 2017; and the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa was appointed in April, 2017. There are several compelling reasons for a reset and re-alignment of priorities. The first reason is the observation in The Kagame report that donors are expected to contribute 74 percent of the AU’s 2017 operating budget of US$439 million. Donor contribution to the AU peace and security budget is about 90 percent. This excludes UN financial allocations for peacekeeping and peacebuilding in Africa which respectively was 76.4 percent (US$ 6.3billion out of US$8.3 billion) in 2015-2016 and 82.2 percent (US$512 million out of US$623 million) in 2007-2015. The second reason is the bleak prognosis for increased international financial support for Africa. Official Development Assistance is less likely to increase, given the rising nationalist orientation in several donor countries. Third, although the prices of commodities, on which most African countries depend for foreign exchange earnings, have climbed from their lows, they are far from the levels that will close the huge fiscal deficits that many countries are experiencing. Three actions are required in pursuit of a reset of regional priorities. The first step is to re-conceptualise the nature of the region’s challenges. As I argue in my forthcoming book, Africa in Transition: A New Way of Looking at Progress in Region, due for release in May, “the future prospects of individual African countries will critically depend on their ability to manage the three deficits that have cast a long dark shadow over their development experience. These are stability deficits, organisational deficits, and scientific and technological deficits. How to address these deficits is the critical challenge for Africa’s development.” This analytical insight has huge practical implications for the roles that the three major regional institutions should play in Africa’s development.
The second step is to assign the task for tackling each of the three deficits to the three major regional institutions, taking into account their existing mandates. Under the leadership of its new President, the AfDB has shown how this can be done: it has articulated a new orientation focused on five priorities (The High Fives): Light Up and Power Africa; Feed Africa; Industralise Africa; Integrate Africa; and Improve the quality of Life in Africa. The common thread that runs through these five priorities is science and technology(S &T). Of the three major regional institutions, none is better placed than the AfDB to tackle Africa’s science and technology deficits by funding the relevant programmes for S & T capacity development and by networking with the private sector to offer S &T training and job creation. Equally, the African Union is well-placed to focus on tackling the region’s huge stability deficits. Indeed, The Kagame report advocates such an orientation for the AU when it recommends that “ the African Union should focus on a fewer number of priority areas, which are by nature continental in scope, such as political affairs, peace and security, economic integration and Africa’s global representation and voice.” Similarly, the ECA is well suited to grapple the challenge of the region’s organisational deficits. The new Head of ECA has an opportunity to align its institutional priorities with the evolving possible division of responsibilities among the three major regional institutions.
The third action step is to re-organise the AU Commission to be fit for the new orientation. The new Chairperson of the Commission will need to take or propose actions quickly on five issues: review the Agenda 2063 and its Ten-year Implementation plan and identify the tasks that AU Commission will focus to better align with the recommendations of the Kagame Report; clarify the specific issues in which AU will play the role of a policy-making, programme implementation or funder, and, in doing so, devolve the functions of programme implementation and funding of regional infrastructure projects to AfDB and the regional economic communities; align its budgeting process with the new orientation; re-organise the Commission with a view to reducing the number of commissioners to five and merging the economic-oriented portfolios into one portfolio, while devolving all programme implementation responsibilities in economic and social development to NEPAD agency; and convene a special meeting of heads of AU, AfDB and ECA to agree on how to better work closely together to advance Africa’s development, based on a sharper delineation of tasks.
Overcoming Africa’s huge stability deficits is fundamental to making progress on the two other deficits and to laying a strong foundation for its economic growth and sustainable development. The African Union Commission bears a special responsibility for achieving these strategic objectives but also has to make the most adjustments because it has taken on too many responsibilities than it can possibly manage or finance. African countries cannot depend on the generosity and goodwill of partners forever to deliver on their aspirations.
Otobo is a non-resident senior expert in peacebuilding and global economic policy at the Global Governance Institute in Brussels, Belgium.