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Challenge before the African Union Commission


Moussa Faki Mahamat

In deference to the long-standing tradition of having smaller and less influential states as head of the executive body of the continental body, the heads of state of the 54-member Africa Union (AU) cast their votes in a secret ballot on January 30 to elect the Chadian Foreign Minister, Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat as the chair person of the African Union Commission.

After seven rounds of voting, the Chadian foreign minister defeated front runners, Amina Mohammed, foreign minister of Kenya and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily. Two other contenders for the top regional job were Botswana’s foreign minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and Mba Mokuy of Equatorial Guinea. South Africa’s former Home Affairs minister, Nkosazana Zuma, who has held the job previously did not contest.

Her election, four years ago, broke from tradition, where both AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, (OAU) has had its administrative leader, coming from small states in the region. First OAU Secretary General, Mr. Edem Kodjo came from tiny Republic of Togo. The understanding is that small and less influential states could never muster sufficient diplomatic or political muscle to use the regional platform to advance their own specific national interest but rather mostly likely to find the regional platform a more compelling mechanism with which its own interest could be coalesced on a broader framework to be effectively deployed to obtain concrete results. The bigger and influential states, often more in rivalries than they are willing to accept, are more disposed to their smaller counterparts taking the top secretariat’s job than having their rivals. That is why Ms Zuma’s election to the job was seen by many as Pretoria’s inordinate ambition to dominate the region. 

In spite of Ms Zuma’s creditable discharge of the duty, animosity still lingers in key regional capitals, of Abuja, Cairo and Nairobi and even others. With Mr. Faki’s election, the African Union has returned to her illustrious tradition, of keeping the mutual suspicion among the big players in the region at bay, and is most likely that consultations and consensus-building, the early attributes of the regional body would return to the fore. At a point of critical challenges of enhancing the economies of scale of the region through plugging the enormous hole of infrastructure deficit and confronting security problems, the job of the leader of the executive of the African Union is more demanding than is ordinarily supposed to be. Interpreting Africa’s realities from the routines of conventional wisdom, means fresh thinking, requiring a more scientific interrogation, of the facts and issues as they are.

In more than half a century of political independence for most of the African states, the received political wisdom, from the West which has shaped institutions and processes of the countries in the region, has refused to fuse with the fabrics of the respective indigenous political lives of the African states. The challenges of re-inventing political life, to correlate with the existential realities of the continent cannot be merely purchased in the open ideological market of Western Liberalism. After-all, all the supposed ingredients of the ideal soup of Western liberalism is present in the political pot of Africa. From multi-party competitive elections to private sector-led economic reforms with guarantees of constitutional liberalism but, yet Africa’s social landscape is dotted with youth restiveness, deepening poverty and decadent infrastructure, only currently mitigated by China’s decisive intervention.

For the executive secretariat of the African Union, it cannot be business as usual and Mr. Faki, a typical African politician, with no history of rocking the boat, must find the unusual courage to shake up things, if Africa is to break from asphyxiating routines, which has hobbled the continent from engaging the world with the full weight of her capabilities. The Africa Union must not be only a collaborative platform to coordinate viewpoints and policies as important as that might seem, but should generate ideas, which would induce fresh thinking in the 54 capitals of its member states, and by that it would cease to be a mere trade union platform of African leaders as the defunct OAU was serially deplored. 

The strand of Africa’s global relations and co-operation that has the highest possibility to bring practical value to the region’s renaissance must be cultivated with relevant policy engagements to drive it. China, a country which shared common trench of anti-colonial struggles with Africa and has identified with the core concerns of sustainable and inclusive development with Africa, has laid her road map not only to strategically partner with Africa but to develop a comprehensively co-operative arrangement with her.

The AU commission’s executive arm must demonstrate profound understanding of this important partnership and design enabling policy framework to nudge the process and keep it running. China’s boldest framework of international co-operation, the “Belt and Road initiative” is a strategic platform to build connectivity among nations through overland and maritime networks of infrastructure. Africa must fully understand this process and tap into its generous infrastructure facilities, which according to the Chinese are available to any country, willing to join the train of global connectivity and mutual cooperation among peoples.

Having earlier indicated its willingness to support Africa in building three networks of connectivity, land, air and maritime infrastructure, Beijing’s overly and unequivocal commitment to the “Belt and Road” process, bring Africa’s most strategic needs to the international priorities of China. Such an uncommon alignment of visions and priorities should be seized upon by the AU commission leadership to drive Africa’s renaissance and rejuvenation. The just elected AU Commission’s job is not a tea party. It must be new ideas and hard all the way to ensure the continent’s fulfillment of its manifest destiny. 
• Onunaiju is a director, Center for China Studies (CCS), Abuja.

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Moussa Faki Mahamat

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