Washington, 21 September 2017
I am very pleased to be with you this afternoon and I would like to begin by thanking the Brookings Institution for the invitation. When Strobe Talbott proposed a conversation about the African Union reforms, I immediately accepted.
A more effective African Union is not only good for Africa but for everybody else as well. That’s why this discussion comes at the right moment.
Let me share a bit of background with you. You may know that the African Union is mostly financed by external partners. In fact, our programmes are in the range of 97 per cent donor-funded. This reality makes no sense for anyone involved. Africa’s interests, including ownership, get lost; and I doubt that the interests of donors are being adequately addressed either.
It is also unsustainable. The rapid changes taking place in the global economic and political environment make plain the recklessness of relying so heavily on sources of funding that are likely to dry up sooner rather than later. Even when they still exist, they are tied.
Meanwhile, Africa has the means to pay for programmes that we value and we should do so.
Two years ago, in this context, African Heads of State appointed Donald Kaberuka, who is here, assisted by Acha Leke, who I have also seen around, Carlos Lopes, and others, to identify alternative sources of funding for the African Union, as well as its new Peace Fund.
Their proposal, which was adopted at the Kigali Summit in July 2016, was to institute a 0.2 per cent levy on eligible imports to finance African Union activities.
This decision immediately brought the African Union’s effectiveness and capability into sharp focus. We simply had to make it work. After all, when it’s your own money, you naturally want to be sure it’s being well-spent.
As a result, I was tasked by the Heads of State to supervise the completion of the stalled institutional reform process and submit a plan of action at the next Summit.
My first response was to ask for help from a team of distinguished experts from around our continent, including the others I mentioned earlier. Our method was not particularly novel: We built on the work of others and consulted widely with stakeholders all over Africa.
We found that the African Union’s problems had already been analysed in meticulous detail over the years, and good solutions identified.
The report made to the Assembly of Heads of State in January 2017 presented the most relevant and urgent recommendations, grouped into five reform areas, which are, in brief, as follows:
• First, focus on fewer priorities that are continental in scope.
• Second, make sure the various African Union institutions are able to deliver against those priorities.
• Third, connect the African Union to its citizens.
• Fourth, manage African Union business more efficiently, both politically and operationally.
• Fifth, finance the African Union sustainably.
The recommendations were adopted, more or less in full, and now serve as the basis of the reform agenda being implemented by the new Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and his team.
From the outset, we were conscious that the risk of failure was real. Reforms had been adopted before, then fallen into oblivion. The complexity of the politics cannot be underestimated. Change is required not only in the African Union Commission, but also in each of the more than 50 Member States.
That’s why the politics is being taken seriously.
First, a Reform Implementation Unit has been established in the Office of the Chairperson of the African Union to drive implementation over the next year and a half.
Second, it was decided to institute a mechanism to ensure that legally binding African Union decisions are respected by Member States.
Finally, the Assembly took the unusual step of mandating me, assisted by current Chairperson of the African Union, President Conde of Guinea, and the previous Chairperson, President Deby of Chad, to work together to supervise the implementation process.
Our role is to ensure that the Chairperson of the African Union Commission has the support he needs, and very importantly to maintain regular consultation with Heads of State and other key stakeholders along the way.
In closing, I would like to draw your attention to one critically important aspect of the reform agenda, and that is ensuring that Africa speaks with one voice on the global stage.
This will require some accommodation and adjustment in terms of how we do business with each other, but it should be seen as a positive evolution, not a challenge to the existing order.
A more unified and assertive Africa will, for example, mean improved coordination on common security challenges, where Africa already shoulders a significant share of the burden.
Africa will also become more focused when it comes to international trade and economic growth. An integrated common market, serving the world’s most youthful and fastest-growing population, will create decades of growth opportunities for all of us.
Partners, such as the United States, would do well to take the long view, as Africa itself is doing. Efforts that we have seen to stall or even derail the reform process are counterproductive and should be reviewed. One concrete example is the attempt, through official channels, to characterise the 0.2 per cent levy on eligible imports as a violation of World Trade Organisation commitments, which is not true.
However, we are confident that any issues that arise can be addressed through dialogue based on mutual respect and our shared interests.
What should never get lost is that we are working together in good faith, for the benefit of everyone, and with renewed determination, to build a more stable and prosperous world.
Once again, I wish to thank you all for finding the time for this conversation, which I am very much looking forward to. Thank yo