Somalilandsun – Despite the major distraction of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s visit, African Union (AU) leaders took important decisions at their summit which ended on Monday, including a big one towards financial independence.
They also adopted the first ten-year plan to implement the ambitious Agenda 2063 initiative to uplift the continent, and launched negotiations for a Continental Free Trade Agreement, which would liberate trade across all of Africa.
And they took steps to try to bring peace to various persistent conflicts on the continent and to combat growing terrorism, from Boko Haram in West Africa, through Al Qaeda in the Sahel via Islamic State in Libya to Al-Shabaab in the east.
South African officials have hailed in particular the agreement to scale up financial contributions from member states, so that the AU can fund 100% of its operations, 75% of its programmes and 25% of its peace and security activities.
The aim is to make the AU more independent of foreign donors who still provide about 60% of the overall budget.
To help them meet their greater obligations, the AU has proposed a basket of alternative sources of funding to its members, including levies and taxes on air fares, smses, oil and other natural resources. But however they pay, the members will have to pay more, also because of the added costs of big AU initiatives like Agenda 2063.
Their contributions will be based roughly on the size of their economies. So South Africa will be in the top tier of five countries which will each have to pay 12% of the AU budget. That could increase South Africa’s annual dues from about $17 million to $60 million.
The leaders agreed that the top-tier countries – which also include Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria and Angola – would contribute equally, despite a large discrepancy in the size of their economies. Angola’s economy, for instance is nearly three times smaller than South Africa’s. The reason for this discrepancy is to prevent the larger economies – especially South Africa and Nigeria – from dominating the AU.
But Angola had objected strongly to having to pay so much more than it is now paying. This issue was not resolved at the summit and will be discussed later.
A major theme of the summit was economic integration of the continent. Just before the summit, the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) was launched in Egypt, combining the free trade areas of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) , the Community of Eastern and Southern African States (Comesa) and the East African Community (EAC) into one market of 26 countries and over 600 million people with a GDP of about one trillion dollars.
Officials said that Ghana’s President John Mahama, current chair of Ecowas – the Economic Community of West African States – had said at the summit that the creation of the TFTA had greatly accelerated the moment towards the Continental Free Trade Area as Ecowas could now negotiate directly with the TFTA. That would embrace all but ten of the AU’s 54 member states into one market.
The leaders also adopted a series of plans to tackle conflicts and terrorism – which AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smail Chergui called “the threat of the century”.
He told journalists these included a plan of action to deal with terrorism, tackling the violent extremist Islamist groups, Al Qaeda in northern Mali, Islamic State in Libya and elsewhere, Boko Haram in West Africa and Al-Shabaab in Somalia and elsewhere in east Africa.
He noted that the AU also had a task force combining various state forces fighting the Lord Resistance Army group in central Africa.
Chergui said new peace initiatives had been launched in Burundi, South Sudan and Libya. A crisis erupted in Burundi, with violent street protests and an aborted coup after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April he would run for a third term, despite the constitution limiting him to two.
Nkurunziza postponed the presidential election date from June 26 to July 15 under pressure from the AU and the EAC, to give time for negotiations to resolve the crisis.
But the AU summit leaders in effect overrode his election date by deciding that the date – and the terms for free and fair elections – should be decided in negotiations between the government, opposition and civil society, to be launched in a week.
The summit also reinforced the stalled peace process run by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to try to end the bloody civil war in South Sudan which has been raging since December 2013. The AU leaders added five new countries to the mediation team, South Africa, Nigeria, Chad, Algeria and Rwanda, representing the AU’s five regions.
And the leaders decided a new peace plan would be put to the warring parties in Libya which has been plunged into total chaos since the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country has two governments and the one recognized by the AU has been driven out of the capital by the other, and is now based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
To tackle conflicts, the leaders also adopted a plan to fully operationalise the African Standby Force (ASF) – which has been on the drawing board for over a decade – by December this year. That would include the integration of President Jacob Zuma’s brainchild, the voluntary rapid response force known as Acirc ( the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises) into the ASF as its envisaged Rapid Deployment Capability.
ASF and Acirc will hold a joint military exercise, Amani 2, in South Africa during November this year.
Acirc which comprises troops volunteered by individual member states, was created as a stopgap measure two years ago because the ASF was taking so long to be established.
But it has never been deployed, partly because of political resistance from some countries like Nigeria which are suspicious of it. Now it looks as though it will disappear into the ASF without ever seeing action.
South African officials did not seem unduly perturbed by the row over the government’s failure to arrest Bashir as it was supposed to do, as a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has issued a warrant for his arrest for genocide and other crimes against the people of Sudan’s Darfur region.
Human rights group have accused Pretoria of also breaking national law as the ICC Rome Statute has been domesticated into South Africa’s ICC Implementation Act. They say the government should also be held in contempt of court for allowing Bashir to leave South Africa on Monday despite an order from the Pretoria High Court that he should remain in the country, until the court had decided if he should be arrested.
Just before the court ordered him to be arrested, Bashir flew out of Waterkloof Airforce Base.
South African officials said the saga had added impetus to moves within the ruling African National Congress for South Africa to withdraw from the ICC.
One said that South Africa’s handling of the incident had demonstrated that “our African obligations supercede all others. Africa is the centrepiece of our foreign policy.”