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Scorecard for AU is mixed, but there’s hope for brighter future

Friday February 14 2020
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A general view of a plenary session at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 17, 2018. PHOTO | MICHAEL TEWELDE | AFP

By MAGESHA NGWIRI

By the time the 33rd ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union member States opened in Addis Ababa, we were well into the fifth day of mourning former President Daniel arap Moi, and we should be forgiven for giving the event a veritable blackout. Very few people could have been interested in news about the rather humdrum continental event then, but that should not indicate the AU summit was not important; it just meant that our attention was elsewhere.

It should not be forgotten that Moi is the only Head of State to have chaired the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) for two successive terms between June 24, 1981 and June 3, 1983, and it was fitting that during this year’s session, he should be recognised by the African Union as a regional peacekeeper and champion of integration. But the question is whether the organisation he chaired 19 years ago is any different from the one that honoured him in death. Sadly, the answer is No.

The theme for this year’s meeting was ‘Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development’, but this same theme in its many iterations has been constant since the inception of the AU in 2002 after the demise of the OAU. Indeed, when it was formed in 1963, the OAU’s major concern, besides defeating colonialism in the few countries that were still enslaved, and fighting Apartheid in South Africa and Namibia, had at its core the mandate to ensure peaceful co-existence among communities in individual countries and between all countries in the continent, but this was hampered by the non-interference clause in its charter.

As a result, although it had been expected that the guns would be effectively silenced, nothing of the sort happened. Africa is still the leading continent in the number and intensity of conflicts and insurrections against established authority, as well as in the ferocity of terror groups wreaking havoc across West African states where they have even become an existential threat to some governments.

A good example of the AU’s failure is what has been happening in Libya since the brutal ouster of Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 by Nato-backed insurgents, the protracted power struggles in South Sudan, and the quest for minerals in many African countries. All these lead to the inevitable conclusion that very little has changed. Indeed, there have been many intra-state conflicts fuelled by disputed election outcomes, ethnic rivalries and alienation of some communities from the affairs of their own countries.

However, in some areas, especially the efforts to contain disease outbreaks, promote good governance and ensure food security, the organisation has not fared too badly. A more encouraging development was the adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in 2018 when the continent’s leaders recognised the need to boost free movement of goods and services between African countries instead of trading solely with developed countries that are only interested in the continent’s raw materials under exploitative arrangements that have always conspired to make Africa forever poor.

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The AfCFTA is expected to become operational in July when African countries are supposed to drop tariffs on a substantial number of products, thus boosting intra-Africa trade. Coupled with the free movement of people through the waiver of visa requirements (the African Union Passport project) this should lead to the awakening of the sleeping continent, which has been pillaged for eons by the economic giants of the north.

For this to happen, of course, visionary leadership that hearkens back to the original pan-African ideals will be required. It will be a tall order though. Since the matter of free movement of people across the continent was mooted, only eight African countries have waived visas for Kenyans. In return, Kenya does not demand visas from visitors from 17 African countries. This is the way forward, and one would wish the visa waiver was fully implemented by all African countries as a tentative first step to borderless trade.

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I am not superstitious. I don’t believe in witchcraft or black magic, and although some of my acquaintances do, I have no problem with them so long as they don’t try to scare me with tall tales about black cats turning into beautiful women. However, I am baffled by something I saw last week – huge numbers of butterflies flitting all over the place. Even more disconcerting was the explanation by three observers – that this was a harbinger of a major famine ahead.

Now, butterflies are said to symbolise life, beauty, renewal and hope. In some cultures, they are associated with good luck and reincarnation. On the whole, there have been fears the species was on the brink of extinction due to excessive use of pesticides and deforestation, but this does not seem to be the case in some areas of central Kenya. I wish botanists would give a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, otherwise it could mean widespread starvation. Over to you guys.

Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor. [email protected]

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