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Eritrea for mobile viewing The African Union Summit and after?

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Friday, 02 February 2018

The African Union Summit and after?
Written by Ahmedou Ould - Abdallah, President,   
Friday, 2 February 2018 16:24

Regularly disappointed, frequently frustrated and always enthusiastic, interested African public opinion expects again miracles from its continental Organization. Playing the game, the Continent's external partners are showing the same enthusiasm. That association of fatalism and high expectations as well as the fatigue in the face of many unmet ambitions, have ultimately disconnected African problems from the reality surrounding them.



The same questions and a few others.


As on the eve of each the African Union Summit, this year too, the issues on the Agenda are many and recurrent. Naturally, the priorities and solutions belong to an entirely whole other field.


Somalia, or rather the presence and funding of international troops on the ground, the issue of the Nile waters between Egypt and Ethiopia, the continental free trade zone, a customs tax to finance the African Union budget, etc., are on the Summit Agenda. But how not to address migration issues, or more precisely their causes, and the combats against armed groups, terrorist and other movements and also the cases of various trafficking that are so powerful and so many?


It will probably be for another later Summit. However, and basically, why would there be something new with this January 2018 Summit? The routine is stubborn and without popular control there is no accountability.


If the legitimacy of the Organization of African Unity and that of its successor, African Unity, are hardly contested, today, the continent public opinion expects another debate. A debate that is more modern and more in tune with current problems and the emerging ones. How to fight the difficulties that assail and weaken many countries and threaten their relations with the rest of the world and particularly Europe?


If discussed in depth, three major topics should help the Summit to convince Africans of the seriousness of their leaders' ambitions for the region. These topics are:  corruption that has become, in reality, public extortion; then the drift of governance and finally the ongoing "retribalisation" of many states.


Great corruption and great moral misery.


Of course there is corruption, always and again. The great expectation of African citizen, and of the continent friends, remains finding an answer to the cancer of corruption. Aware of the continent public opinion high expectations on this subject, the president of the Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, had the merit of putting it on the Agenda of the Summit. This approach gives rise to many hopes as corruption is seen, and lived through, and rightly so, as the continent great evil. Essentially, because of the impunity and arrogance linked to its perpetrators, it is that broad daylight corruption, that plagues the economies and discredits the standing of public authorities. In some countries, where corruption has been established as an economic and governance system, it participates to the disintegration of administrative institutions by transforming them into informal entities. Precisely, these public institutions become similar to the economies of their countries.


The persistent discredit endured by a number of leaders and their countries’ economies is related to extortion practices and to the personalization of the management of governments’ budgets. The non-condemnation of blatant corruption has contributed to the aggravation of its impact on business activities and the populations living conditions. That has become unbearably painful in the Sahel. In countries where the national economies base is narrow, this confusion between the Executive offices activities and those of the private and commercial sectors is most destabilizing. It should be denounced.

Hope may come from the Presidential Decree signed on December 21, 2017 in Washington. It intends, through the powerful American (Treasury, Justice and State) Departments to combat simultaneously and linking them both the violations of Human Rights and Corruption practices.


The village tyrant.


In 1977, Dennis Hill, a British professor in Kampala, Uganda, was sentenced to death for writing that the then president of the country, General Idi Amin Dada, was more of a village tyrant than a modern head of state. He saved his life thanks to the government of her Majesty who sent her Minister of Foreign Affairs to save the honest university professor. Many Ugandans owe him their life.


The issue of governance remains crucial, and central, when addressing public management in Africa and especially in the Sahel region where foreign troops are battling an invisible enemy. Invisible, though present everywhere, amongst the ‘’small people’’. Islamists are more and more like a fish in the water if that is appropriate when talking about the desert!


It was with the end of the cold war, and the end of the communist threat, that the issue of governance came to the fore in North-South relations. The Europe Union at Six (and perhaps that of the Twelve), historically attached to freedoms and democracy, has supported the expansion of freedoms in Africa and Latin America. The break-up of the Soviet Union, and the opening up of more public spaces in Russia and China, have helped democratic progress around the world. However, the fear of a new enemy, radical Islamic, seems to have had the same effects as with communism: to encourage the "search for order". Unfortunately, the "new Europe", (both Eastern and Central), seems to have kept the reflexes of past empires and totalitarianism (Habsburg and Soviet Empires). With little interest for freedoms outside its own borders.


The current decline in freedoms is a triple disaster: for Africans, for their partners in particular Western democracies and finally for the universal values of freedom and dignity.


Today, to help understand European democracies hesitations in face of a "desire for order" in Africa, the issue on their political agenda, is based on an incomplete, and especially dangerous, approach for the future of the two regions. A strong regime is, essentially, the source of disorders and cannot prepare stability or provide peace. It is like a casino player. He can win, and does win sometimes. But a country is not a casino with its baccarat and pokers tables.


Democracies relentless efforts of to protect the African continent from communism during the Cold War have produced some of the worst current African political situations. Freedom and prosperity went for mature democracies, little more freedoms and much misery and internal divisions for Africa. With, across oceans, threats to European democracies: uncontrolled migrations and terrorist violence. Contrary to what is often said, strong regimes lead to the unexpected or even to worse.


The retribalisation of the Sahel.


Fears of disorder and of massive influx of refugees are pushing democracies to be '' realistic '' by '' supporting stability ''. Stability, similar to the one that allowed Marshal Mobutu to lead the Congo for decades, is pushing the same democracies, twenty years later, to complain about the "anarchic" situation in that large country that was primarily victim of an international neglect, or fear of disorder, during the cold war.


The more they it turns their back to the fundamental freedoms and peoples aspirations, the more the Europe of the Six, or that of the Twelve, (the New Europe is elsewhere) exposes itself to the rejection of its core values. And the more it exposes itself to waves of migrants ever more numerous and to a terrorism that is more radical than Islamist, coming from an Africa that is left to itself. An Africa whose elites too often prefer to blame a more and more distant colonial past (58 years of independence almost as long as the duration of colonization)) to face the gradual and, it seems, irreversible disintegration of our countries.


At present, bad governance, by political choice or worse, by incompetence, pushes the youngest and most ambitious citizens to armed violence and mass migrations.

To retain power, the village tyrant first seeks the loyalty within the inner circles of his power. It is the family, the tribe and then the ‘’evening visitors’’ who provide the groups of advisors that most reassure the head of the State, unceasingly worried about his lack of legitimacy.


The gradual deconstruction of several states – from unitary in the 1960’s, they now are more and more ethnic - must alarm the continent elites and its external friends. The case of Somalia, torn apart by a 30 years old civil, war is telling. That is a country composed largely of the same ethnic group, speaking the same language and practicing the same religion but destroyed by tribal governance. Its case should serve as a lesson for many of the presidents and to the continent democratic and other partners. States disintegration and implosion are not unrealistic assumptions.


The African Union Summit will take place and commitments will be announced. The A U future president is a man who knows what he wants for his country. It's his responsibility. But others must look into the future of their nations. Europe can and should help.


Because Europe can hardly overlook the future of Africa. With its American and Japanese democratic partners, it must reinvigorate its power of influence. The only one that is long-lasting and appropriate. The economy is indeed essential but it needs that power of influence with the prestige associated to it and its assets which are sustainable.

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