Picture: A model of the new AU headquarters to be inaugurated on 28 January
The AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government - the supreme decision making body of the African Union - is expected to make much awaited and important decisions in the next three days. Chief amongst them are: the elections of the rotating African Union Chair; the AU Commission members, including its Chairperson and Deputy Chair, (refer to AU Information Brief 1) and the approval of the budget of the African Union.
The chairmanship of the Union
The chairmanship of the Union is a non-renewable one year term, rotating among the five regions of African Union. The turn for 2012 is that of West Africa. For the past few months the Gambia, Benin, and Guinea Bissau have been vying to succeed Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the President of Equatorial Guinea. After much diplomatic lobbying and campaigning, Boni Yayi, President of Benin, looked set to take the chairmanship, though speculation is rife that Nigeria, West Africa`s powerhouse might take the position to counter South Africa`s bid for the chair of the Commission chair. This would have profound implications for the AU and for the relations between South Africa and Nigeria – Africa`s two powerhouses.
A Vote-of-Confidence for the Deputy Chairperson
Apart from the tough battle for Chairperson of the AU Commission between incumbent Jean Ping and former South African minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,, the post of Deputy Chairperson, which has huge management implications for the AU Commission, is near forgotten. Without a contender, the Deputy Chairperson, Mr Erastus Mwencha, faces practically a vote-of-confidence. In order to stay in his post, he needs the support of two-thirds of the members of the Assembly. If not, another call for nominations will be necessary. If re-elected, it is not due to deliberate endorsement of the current Deputy Chairperson, but by default due to minimum attention the African governments bestowed to the post. The Deputy Chairperson is the chief financial and administrative officer of the AU Commission. Seen from the dire managerial and performance problems the AU Commission is facing, the election of the Deputy Chairperson should have been equally competitive. With 324 (48 %) posts that are still vacant, the AU functions only with 691 staff members - only 52 % of its approved staff complement. The average budget utilization by departments is 37% and until recently the Department of Social Affairs utilizes less than 10 % of its budget and with only 25 % of its approved staff complement. An efficient AU is impossible without an efficient leadership at the office of the Deputy Chairperson, which has been lacking for the past eight years. A revision of the entire electoral process within the AU is necessary to enhance the competitive nature of the election for the future.
274,094 million USD Budget
The budget of the AU is another important decision point. The proposed budget for 2012 is 274,094 million USD which an increase by 18 million USD from 2011. Of this the Operating budget, which constitutes, 49 % of the total budget is expected to be collected from Member States` contributions while the remaining, the Programme Budget, will be from development partners. Altogether 30 million USD are allocated for the peace and security department and the remaining for the other pillars, as well as various organs of the AU.
The 100 meter-tall New AU Building
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the summit, the new building of the AU will be inaugurated on 28 January 2012. The 100 meter-tall, building has 28 stories, a main conference room of 2500 seats, and many medium and small halls with close to 1000 office facilities. The Chinese government built it at a total cost of 200 million USD. Hu Jintao, the Chinese president was expected to participate in the inauguration, but he has been replaced by Jia Qinglin, one of the leading politburo members of the Chinese ruling party, who has arrived in Addis Ababa for the event.
With the eventful 2011, the 2012 January Summit is perhaps one the most exciting summits of the AU in many years.