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ISS Seminar Report: A New Era for the African Union Commission
Date: 10 October 2012
Venue: , Conference Room, ISS Addis Ababa, 6th Floor Get House Building, Bole Road, Bole, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A New Era for the African Union Commission: What are the Realistic Expectations?

This seminar was chaired by Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya, Regional Director of the Institute for Security Studies, Addis Ababa Office. He gave a preamble in which he highlighted the timeliness and significance of this event. Subsequently, he introduced the expert presenters and the scope of their respective presentations.

The first presentation, entitled ‘The realistic expectations of the new AUC Chairperson: exaggerated optimism or deflated pessimism?`, was made by Dr Jide Martyns Okeke, a senior researcher at the ISS Addis Ababa Office. He argued that the election of Dr Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma as the new AUC chairperson has generated high expectations, indifference and sometimes pessimism among various commentators. He stated that the powers, functions and limitations of the role will provide some insight into the possibilities or ‘realistic` expectations of the new AUC leadership. In addition, other factors such as the official reasons provided by SADC and South Africa; the personal profile of Dlamini-Zuma and Africa`s international relations were other indicators that could allow for some determination to be made about the prospects of the AUC Chairperson. According to Dr Okeke, there is no single document that encapsulates the job description of the Chairperson. Instead, there are several documents from which one can tease out the different rules governing the position. In a nutshell, the Chairperson is the chief executive officer, the legal representative and the accounting officer of the commission. In these roles she will be encumbered by three main limitations:

  • The Chairperson does not have enforcement powers. This curbs her ability to transform key decisions in PSC declarations made by member states into reality.

  • The Chairperson does not have discretionary power. In fact, the chairperson is not allowed to exercise her discretion in responding to unexpected crises not anticipated by instruments and policies of the AU.

  • The Chairperson lacks significant control over the rest of the Commission. The Chairperson does not play a role in the election and appointment of the Deputy Chairperson and the Commissioners. A proposition to separate the elections of the Chairperson, the Deputy Chairperson and the commissioners was rejected by member states.

 Another challenge Dr Dlamini-Zuma will face is the fact that decisions of the AUC are usually deferred. This is primarily because many member states still do not demonstrate political commitment to AU decisions. In conclusion, the impact of the chairperson on decision-making is limited because the main decision-making organ of the AU is the Assembly of Member States. There is, however, much room for her to make an impact on rationalising and improving the administrative and financial structures of the AUC. Ultimately, the main priority area for the AUC Chairperson will be to enhance the internal governance structure of the commission. Perhaps such far-reaching reform will bring new impetus to the cause of Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.

Dr Admore Kambudzi, Head of the AU Peace and Security Secretariat, made the second presentation on ‘The recent trends in Peace and Security in Africa`. He identified the general trends of peace and security in Africa, which are:  

  • The overall/increasing pacification of Africa. Even though there are still challenges related to peace in the continent, such as in Somalia, Mali, and the uprising in North Africa, there is more space for peace in Africa today.

  • The rising demand for post-conflict reconstruction and development. A number of countries, like Sierra Leone, Liberia, the two Sudans, etc., are now experiencing demand for post-conflict reconstruction and development.

  • The demand for socio-economic development/integration and transformation.

  • The push for democracy, good governance and human rights.

In conclusion, he insisted that it was time for Africans to shift their minds towards peace and security. Perhaps this will form part of the priority areas of the AUC leadership. Besides, the population of Africa is increasing dramatically and is expected to double in the coming two decades. Therefore, it is necessary to invest in development, particularly in science and technology, for economic transformation, human resources and strengthening the idea of shared values. In doing so, African leaders will at the same time provide opportunities for the youth.

Dr Mehari Taddelle Maru, an independent consultant and former ISS programme manager, presented on ‘The African Union Commission (AUC) new leadership and its implications: a legal perspective`. He first elaborated on the election of the AUC chairperson itself and old challenges related to these elections and then looked at suggestions on new frontiers for reform, especially in the AUC and the implementation of its decisions. He observed that the procedures and outcomes of the elections left serious challenges that might be symptomatic of the institutional arrangement of the AU and AUC itself and could also be due to the voting behaviour of member states. He said that norm implementation of AU treaties by member states should be a principal commitment of the new Chairperson. Thus, the AU should move to the member states to foster the execution of norms and principles. Finally, he highlighted the necessity for the AUC to become a ‘change driver`, starting an internal radical reform in order to achieve better levels of internal governance and implementation of mandates. Dr Mehari said this was not a question of funding but of delivering.

The last presentation was from Ms Janah Ncube, executive director CCP-AU, on ‘The AU that we want: civil society vision for the new AUC leadership`. She talked about the perception that civil society had of the AU. Firstly, she explained the general impression among citizens of the AU`s failure to deliver on expectations. Secondly, she emphasised African citizens` lack of familiarity with and awareness of AU structures, procedures and norms. AU organs and institutions were perceived as weak and irrelevant, and were not taken seriously by member states. Thirdly, she mentioned the distance between citizens and the AU with regard to the concerns and priorities that both have. In fact, the AU was generally perceived as the ‘club of head of states`, very distant from social reality. Moreover, the AU was seen as an organisation that does not enable civil society to express its claims in its institutional arrangements. Fourthly, she stated the necessity for the AU to bring dignity to citizens. In conclusion, she proposed a more inspiring AU, with a deep reform of its institutions,  an enhanced presence from civil society able to influence the African agenda, more professionalism within the AU structures, a more transparent, accountable and accessible AUC and a bottom-up approach where citizens could notice the benefits from the process.

The concluding section of this seminar featured final remarks by Dr Okeke, who summed up the presentations and reiterated the importance of this seminar as a process as opposed to an event that would assist in the generation of knowledge for various stakeholders in order to position themselves in ways that would support and enhance the new AUC leadership. Ambassador Akinsanya also made some remarks about the work of the ISS, including the newly established African Centre for Peace and Security Training (ACPST).



Conference Room
ISS Addis Ababa
6th Floor Get House Building
Bole Road
Addis Ababa

Beakal Bisrat
Tel: +251-11 5156320/24/67/98
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