October 11, 2012

The mountain to climb: The key challenges ahead for the new AU leadership

Posted: 13:02 PM CEST

by Faten Aggad

in Governance

The new African Union Commission (AUC) College will assume office on Monday 15 October. The election of the Chairperson of the Commission raised hope that there is renewed interest in the organisation, especially from its 54 African member states. Never has an election of the continental leadership been this tightly contested leading observers to suggest that they are a turning point in the history of the Union: from now on ,meritocracy will take precedence over diplomacy and unwritten rules, such as regional quota for the allocation of posts, or that the chairmanship cannot be assumed by a member of a ‘large’ country. As a result there are high expectations from the new leadership under its Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. But the new Commission has a mammoth task at hand. It inherits a number of challenges which resolution will require innovative and strategic thinking. Furthermore, the AUC will need to reposition itself as an actor that cannot be circumvented by international actors on issues related to the continent, especially on peace and security.

 1. Getting the internal kitchen in order

The African Union Commission is a relatively new institution in view of the fact that the transformation from the Organisation of African Unity to the AU in 2002 has brought about a fundamental shift in principles and gave the new body a more important role, notably in peace and security. This equipped the Commission with a new basis to operate. It is therefore no wonder that it,  a bit more than ten years old, is still finding its feet. Looking forward, it is clear that the AUC will still need an adjustment period, as the issues it will need to deal with are not quick to solve.

Reengaging African leaders
The changes, which the AU underwent in the early 2000s, were largely driven by a visionary leadership in the name of Thabo Mbeki, Olusegum Obasanjo and others. Since they left office, the levels of engagement with the continental project was lower, perhaps with the exception of the late Ethiopian prime minister Melis Zenawi. Reengaging the leadership of key African countries in order to rally support for a joint vision and provide it with the necessary political backing is crucial to the functioning of the new Commission especially considering the divide between member states during the elections of Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma.

Making the AU more African
One of the key challenges of the new commission is to find innovative ways to secure African resources to finance the Union and notably of the AUC. The Union’s overall budget for 2013  indicates how serious this challenge is: out of a total of around US$278 million, African member states’ contributions are almost US$123 million, while the contributions of international partners total a bit more than US$155 million. The gap applies to the AUC itself with a total budget of US$216.5 million, of which US$121 million are funded by international partners.

The situation seems to have worsened if figures from four years ago are compared with current ones. In February 2009, the Assembly approved a budget of a bit more that US$164 million, which was largely funded from African resources; US$93.8 million from member states contributions against US$ 57.4 from international partners.[1] Last year’s crisis in North Africa, which saw a dramatic reduction of funding from countries like Libya, and increasing contribution of international partners such as Japan, China and Australia can explain the trend.

However there is no doubt that the AU will need to act urgently in order to safeguard the African nature of African institutions. And the leadership is very well aware of this. In July 2011 a High Level Panel on Alternative Sources of Financing the African Union was established. The consultations led by the Panel were to be conducted with member states as funding from them has been on a steady decrease. But there is clearly the need to broaden those consultations to other segments including the private sector, regional banks and to look at experiences from other regions and sub-regions.

Consolidating institutional reforms
As noted above, the AUC is a young institution. Teething issues are part of its institutional development process. The Institutional Transformation Programme has been slow in delivering results despite some progress. But many of its components continue to be relevant today as the AUC is yet to improve on its internal management, human resources procedures, etc. Whether it is in the form of the Institutional Transformation Programme or in another one, the new Commission will have to face the challenge of introducing difficult internal reforms. Future institutional reforms will require a dose of realism, based on lessons learnt from past successes and a solid joint political vision of what is being sought by the AU and its member states in terms of African integration and the role of the Union and the Commission especially. Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma has solid experience in driving institutional reform given her recent successful transformation of a dysfunctional Home Affairs Department in South Africa into one of the best-run government departments. But at the AUC, she will need to rely on more than her reform talents and tap into her diplomatic and mediation skills in order to gather support from member states.

 2. Reaffirming the position of the AUC as a key player

The crisis that hit North Africa in 2011, notably Libya, has left a significant dent on the credibility of the AUC as a key actor in peace and security on the continent. The Commission especially was criticized for not acting ‘decisively’ enough to support the rebellion in different countries. Such criticism, from within and outside the continent, is not necessarily fair but its impact on the image of the AUC will need to be reversed. The new leadership will need to restore confidence in its ability to apply the principles of the Union regardless of the country - the current AU instruments are not clear on how the Union should react in the event that a seating leader’s authority is challenged - but also address some inconsistencies, which emanate from its new mandate and relatively new governance instruments.

Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma and her commissioners will have a difficult task ahead. They will need some time and especially political space and support to be able to deliver on the program they will propose, notably in the new Strategic Plan of the Commission, which is currently being prepared. As to when they will reach the summit of the mountain they need to climb…? We will probably need to wait for the end of their first mandate before some initial results can be seen.


 Faten Aggad is Programme Manager of ECDPM’s Africa’s Change Dynamics Programme.





This blog post features the author’s personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Jean Marie AGBOTON October 12, 2012 at 8:48 pm

As the former Head Of the AUC Institutional Transformation Program I Can confirm That the expectations are huge but reachable. We fight and commit for a New leadership within the AUC and We get a part Of our objectives. Now let´s believe on what has been done during this election as democratic policy and, Let´s believe that those who have been maintained and their complices Will not plot against the reforms. Tank you for you analisis.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: