African Union summit has tough programme


11 June 2015

From today, the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria is expected to be busier than ever. More than 50 African heads of state and government will be touching down at the highly guarded airport as the final count down to the 25th African Union Summit, in Johannesburg, begins.

For the 2015 Summit, Zimbabwe is sitting in the chairperson’s seat and President Robert Mugabe is expected to preside over a very tough programme. So what can we expect?

We can be sure that the crisis in Burundi is set to dominate the summit. The biggest question that has been on everyone’s lips at the Sandton Convention Centre this week is will African leaders solve the political turmoil facing Burundi and how will they convince President Pierre Nkurunzinza to reconsider his intention to stand for a third term, despite the fact that the constitution limits him to two.

Boko Haram and al-Shabaab

But Burundi will not be the only headache for the AU leaders as they prepare to sit for their ordinary assembly scheduled for 14 and 15 June. The AU is expected to emerge with a strong campaign against terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Kenyan based al-Shabaab. The terrorist groups have killed hundreds of people, displaced thousands and destroyed many families.

In Nigeria, Boko Haram took credit for the disappearance of hundreds of school girls, who it is feared are to be used as suicide bombers. Perhaps the intensity of these militant groups will finally push the AU to speed up the operationalisation of the African Standby Force, a continental force which should have been in place many years ago.

There will also be lighter issues on the agenda, like the finalisation of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) which the AU wants in place by 2017. The 2012 summit in Addis Ababa under the theme, “Boosting intra-African trade”, endorsed a plan to set up the structure by 2017. The proposed CFTA is reportedly a key component of the AU’s strategy to boost trade within the region by at least 25% to 30% in the next decade.

Agenda 2063

Then there is the issue of Agenda 2063. AU leaders want the summit in South Africa to come up with a plan for the first 10 years of the implementation of Agenda 2063. According to the AU summit of 2013, when the plan was adopted, Agenda 2063 is an approach to how the continent should learn from the lessons of the past and take advantage of the opportunities available in the short, medium and long term to achieve a prosperous Africa by 2063. That year will mark 100 years since the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor of the AU.

We can also expect some serious discussion on the empowerment of women and how women on the continent should take more active leadership in the economy.

A 10-member committee appointed by the AU to push for the reform of United Nations Security Council is expected to report back to the summit on its work. The AU wants to have permanent representation on the council, and argues that the UN structure can no longer debate issues affecting Africa without Africa’s involvement.

And then there is the issue of funding for the union. Many have asked whether the AU has the financial resources to do all the things it wants to do. Over the years, the continental body has been heavily reliant on international donors to survive. Some want this to change.

AU Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma wants the AU to be self-sufficient financially and she believes the body’s 54-member states should provide the much- needed financing. But with many of these countries poor and dependent on donors themselves, it’s a tough call.