The African Union (AU) is holding its 35th ordinary summit in Addis Ababa this weekend, amid renewed challenges to the political and economic stability of the continent.
The 35th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU comes at the end of the AU 40th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council, under the theme: Building resilience in nutrition on the African continent: Accelerate the human capital, social and economic development.
However, topics for discussion range from peace and security to nutrition, human rights, child marriages, infrastructure and economic recovery, with several reports to be made by different departments and some heads of state who were given specific assignments.
This session also comes as the AU, a group of 55 African countries, prepares to mark its 20th anniversary in July this year.
The AU was born out of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which had been formed in 1963 mainly to push for a pan-African agenda, for an Africa united, free and in control of its own destiny and resources.
The founders of the OAU who were led by Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie recognised that freedom, equality, justice and dignity were essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples.
In 2001, the countries sought to take this further and make it more formal, with a vision of a “United States of Africa”, and came up with the African Union (AU), with 14 objectives.
The objectives touched on greater unity and cohesion, independence and sovereignty, political and social integration, peace and stability on the continents, and democratic principles.
Others are protection of human rights, participation in global trade, cooperation in human activities to promote standards of living, harmonizing regional communities advancing science and technology and working with the international communities to eradicate preventable diseases.
During the OAU era, the main task for the leaders was ensuring the independence of the remaining countries under foreign powers, as well as the fight against apartheid, which was defeated in the 1980s.
As the AU embarked on the road to deeper integration, the continent experienced what was arguably the worst attack on the process, when western powers directly intervened in the Libyan crisis, which ended with the ouster and killing of leader Muammar Gaddafi.
In his last days, Gaddafi, was pushing for the political integration of Africa faster than economic integration.
As the crisis in his country grew, African leaders were increasingly worry of the threats by the west to send in troupes to help the rebel forces, and they intensified efforts aimed at resolving the crisis as soon as possible. However, the NATO forces acted faster than the African leaders.
Ten years later the AU, UN and other organisations are still looking for solutions to restore peace there. But the AU has been accused of not doing enough to contain or prevent such happenings like uprisings and military coups, and more bloody ones like the Rwanda Genocide and the South Sudan wars.
The AU has largely stopped at suspending countries from the organisation when elected or ‘supported’ governments are overthrown. Currently, several countries including Guinea Conakry, Mali and Burkina Faso are under suspension.
The AU is facing criticism over failure to do the same for Chad where the military installed Gen Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno as president, after his farther, President Idriss Déby was reportedly killed at a battle front.
Those who want sanctions against the country, say this was an ‘institutional’ or ‘dynastic’ overthrow, which the AU refuses to categorise it as a coup. There also arguments that sanctions by the AU usually have no consequences on the targeted states or leaders, especially because of the limited political and economic cooperation among countries.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has always blamed this lack of close cooperation or unity as a constantly opportunity for ‘external forces’ to attack Africa.
Currently, the AU is being accused of ‘looking on’ as the political crises in Sudan and Ethiopia persist, while in Mozambique, it is Rwanda the Southern African Development Community that have sent in forces to contain ‘Islamist rebels’ there, many of whom are from Tanzania and Somalia.
Experts and technocrats at the AU think Africa could have done better and this is the task ahead as the continent starts another decade of the road to integration, amidst these challenges.
With this level of conflict, the continent adds the new challenge of pandemics and non-communicable diseases, which usually require cross-border efforts to be easily contained. Vera Songwe, the UN Under-Secretary-General says Africa today, like the rest of the world needs to build resilience against a number of threats that include climate, cyber security, pandemic and infectious diseases, weak governance and conflict.
To her, the coming of the pandemic found fertile ground in a disorganized Africa, with countries conflicting with each other, and others battling internal strife.
Despite fewer infections and deaths, the effect of the pandemic will have far-reaching socioeconomic effects Songwe, who is also the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, says this will call for concerted efforts by all African leaders or the continent risks disastrous effects from these challenges.
Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the AU Commission says is concerned about the slow progress towards economic integration and the persistently high cost of travel.
Intra-African travel, especially air travel, has always been rated as the most expensive, affecting trade within the region, which in turn affects growth and development.
Abou-Zeid, told a media briefing in Addis Ababa that this has been made worse by the costs of covid-19 testing, which the traveler has to bear.
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