5 takeaways from the 31st AU summit
he 31st African Union summit concluded on Monday, 2 July 2018, in Mauritania’s desert capital of Nouakchott. While security dominated discussions, there was some good news about the budget too. Carien du Plessis attended the summit and filed this report.
1. Tackling corruption
In keeping with this year’s theme, a debate on fighting corruption took place during an open session at the summit. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, who has championed the theme, said from his experience in his country, fighting corruption was tough because “corruption will fight back”.
Mauritius became the 40th member state to sign the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting corruption, with Buhari urging all 55 states to get on board.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa made his first speech in an open session during this debate, emphasising that corruption hinders development.
The AU has been wrestling with allegations of corruption within its own ranks. Former chair of its Advisory Board on Corruption, Daniel Batidam, resigned in June, citing "bad governance", "abuse of entrusted power" and "lack of transparency" within the AU. Other senior officials, however, claim Batidam was forced to resign because he himself was corrupt, irregularly awarding a $47 000 bursary to a staff member. The Executive Council, consisting of foreign ministers, decided at its meeting during the summit that the board’s controlling officer should be held accountable for this irregularity.
2. A focus on security, as always
From L: Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Mauritania President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Chad's President Idriss Deby, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou and Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore before a meeting of the G5 Sahel states. – LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
French president Emmanuel Macron, who was on a state visit to Mauritania, met with heads of the G5 Sahel states at a high-level lunch at the Summit. Discussions focused on peacekeeping and funding of the French-backed G5 Sahel anti-terrorism force. The two deadly bomb attacks last week in neighbouring Mali, which hosts the force’s base, highlighted the need for urgent action and better regional co-operation on security and anti-terrorism. Macron denounced the attacks as “psychological war”. One of his concerns around the G5 is the lack of trust between the countries, with Mauritania and Chad often criticising Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger for having weaker armies.
The AU's Ad Hoc Committee on South Sudan convened to discuss the peace process, hours after a newly-negotiated ceasefire in that country was violated. The committee called for punitive measures for violations of the ceasefire and obstruction of the peace process.
The longstanding territorial dispute between Morocco, readmitted to the AU only last year, and Western Sahara, which shares a border with Mauritania to the north and which wants independence from Morocco, was also discussed at length. There were calls for the AU to take over the United Nations process to end the decades-long conflict, but eventually a compromise was reached that the AU should facilitate the work being done by the United Nations in this regard.
3. Gender equality talks
Some heads of state and a number of women’s rights campaigners met at a side event headlined “women in power”. It was a joint high-level meeting hosted by the African Union and the European Union – the first of its kind at an AU summit with a hint that there will be more – on how women could drive political, economic and social development. Rwandan president and AU chairperson Paul Kagame said gender equality was “a top priority” for both Africa and Europe, while EU Commissioner Neven Mimica said: “As men, we must spread the word that women’s empowerment is also our business.”
4. A streamlined budget
Greater transparency in the AU budgeting process meant next year’s budget was for the first time debated by the assembly of heads of state during the summit. Kagame said the 2019 budget, at $681.5 million, was reduced by 12 percent compared to the previous year. Streamlining the budget involved a process of scrutiny by the Permanent Representatives Council (AU member state ambassadors to the AU based in Addis Ababa), 15 finance ministers and the Executive Council (consisting of foreign ministers). $280 million will come from member states, a contribution that the AU is hoping to increase through its reform process which could see some countries impose a 0.2% levy on imports to raise funds. Kagame also said contributions from member states to the AU Peace Fund has grown.
5. AU reforms push on
Recent consultations about the AU’s reforms have “enriched the implemention process, deepened the consensus, and allowed misunderstandings to be clarified”, Kagame said. The 0.2% levy on all imports outside the continent to fund the AU was one of the more controversial issues, but diplomats involved in the negotiating process said some flexibility was allowed. South Africa, for instance, already has rigid import and tax regulations and would be allowed to pay an estimated contribution straight from its fiscus.
Sticking points included the future role of the development agency Nepad, the role of the AU Commission and the selection of commissioners.
There was also progress in establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), with five more countries including South Africa signing the agreement, bringing the total to 49. Only six countries have so far ratified the agreement; 22 are needed for it to come into effect. Kagame was optimistic that this will be achieved before long, saying: "An African Union capable of delivering a functional free trade area is actually the end point of reform."
An extraordinary summit about the reforms is set to take place in November.
Six weeks before the summit, the brand new Al-Mourabitoune Conference Centre was mostly foundation and the AU had a back-up plan in place to move the venue to its Addis Ababa headquarters. Mauritania, however, pulled off the event against expectations. As part of the AU reforms, these mid-year summits will be more streamlined in future, with only foreign and finance ministers and a small number of heads of state invited. However, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou is planning a grand gathering of all AU heads of state for the 2019 mid-year summit in Niamey, saying it will be an occasion to celebrate the coming into force of the AfCFTA.
(Main image: Flickr/Paul Kagame)