Africa: Stepping Up the Commitment to the AU

Addis Ababa — As the two-day 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) kicks of today in Addis Ababa, the Summit provides an opportunity for African leaders to make inroads into the multitude of challenges confronting the continent and decide the best way to go about enhancing the AU’s capacity to intervene effectively in these crises.Foremost among the challenges is the sad state of governance and political instability across its length and breadth. Several African countries struggle with corruption, weak institutions, and electoral irregularities, which undermine good governance and the rule of law. Moreover, peace and security remain pressing challenges in various regions across the continent. From ongoing conflicts to the threat of terrorism and other forms of violence, it is grappling with significant security concerns. These challenges have not only resulted in shocking levels of humanitarian toll, but are also hindering economic growth and social stability.

Economic development and poverty alleviation are also significant challenges besetting Africa. A significant portion of the African population is grappling with high levels of poverty, income inequality, and inadequate access to basic services such as education and healthcare. Limited infrastructure, lack of job opportunities, and economic vulnerabilities further impede sustainable development, dealing a debilitating blow to the livelihoods of millions of people.The absence of conditions that lend themselves to environmental sustainability coupled with the rapid pace of climate change further present a crucial challenge for the continent. It is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including droughts, floods, and other extreme weather events. The resulting environmental degradation, resource scarcity, wide-spread displacement, and food insecurity pose significant threats to the well-being and livelihoods of vast swathes of African populations.

Tackling these fundamental challenges, whichhave critical implications for the entire continent, requires a comprehensive and integrated approach that is informed by global dynamics and encompasses, among others, good governance, inclusive economic growth, peacebuilding, improving healthcare systems, and sustainable environmental practices. The AU should build on the strategies it has already adopted with the aim of addressing the root causes of the challenges. There are a host of measures it needs to take in this regard. Promoting good governance, transparency, and accountability at both the national and continental levels is one such initiative. This involves supporting democratic institutions, strengthening the rule of law, fostering inclusive political participation and developing new methods for promoting democratic governance in an era of backsliding. It must also ramp up its efforts to end the conflicts afflicting the continent through a robust diplomatic engagement and, where necessary, peacekeeping operations. If these efforts are to yield the desired outcome it’s of the essence to strengthen the capacity of the AU’s peace and security architecture as well as forging partnerships with regional organizations and international actors.

Aside from the strategies geared towards assuring peace and political stability, it is incumbent on the AU to deepen the different programs underway that focus on sustainable development, job creation, and investment in key sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure, and technology. Towards this end it is incumbent on it to play a vital role in accelerating economic integration and boosting intra-African trade by promoting initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) so as to spur economic growth and reduce poverty. Furthermore, it needs to work more on strengthening healthcare and education systems by way of facilitating greater investment in these sectors. Additionally, the Union must elevate its advocacy for climate action, promotion of sustainable resource management, and support for adaptation and resilience-building efforts at the local, national, and regional levels.

The AU and its precursor–the Organization of African Unity–have for long been pilloried by detractors as being nothing but a talking shop that has failed to fulfill the lofty ideals envisioned for it. True, it has been beset by many of the institutional difficulties that have affected other multilateral organizationsCaught up in geopolitical tensions that undermine cooperative efforts member states are more invested in protecting their sovereignty, scaling back their engagement in collective security. The perennial budgetary constraint it operates under has proven to be a major handicapthat hamstrings its effectiveness. Nevertheless,everything has not been doom and gloom for the organization.Its recent admission to the G20 forum of the world’s largest economies as a permanent member, which enables it to participate directly in discussions on such issues of monumental importance for Africaas reform of the international financial institutions, is a feather in its cap. Even though the AU may not have lived up to their expectations, African states should never give up on it. However, if they genuinely want to see the organization succeed, their leaders should step up their commitment to it.