The calls for African solutions have not been matched by actions. Scores of African governments are in arrears on their AU membership fees. Many continue to contribute the bare minimum required. In truth, without the European Union’s (and other donors’) funding, the AU would collapse. Inability to finance our own institutions diminishes our ability to set an agenda that would upset the West we seek to ‘shun’. This played a significant role during the Libyan crisis, when the EU – in favour of US and allies bombings – frustrated the AU’s intervention efforts. The EU simply exercised its financial muscle over the AU.
It is this inaction on funding that has delayed the full functionality of the Early Warning System, the establishment of the African Standby Force and expansion of understaffed AU departments amongst many other deficiencies. It is not that African leaders are not aware of these deficiencies; they effectively create and maintain them. These leaders can be characterised as parasites. They enjoy feeding in the wealth trough of the EU, but when they are amongst us – supposedly we are simpletons – they speak boldly as though they have ability to ostracise the West, in particular Europe.
A cursory look at some of the interventions led by European countries, especially France in recent years tells you just how outsourced solutions to African problems are. Whether in Ivory Coast, Mali or Central African Republic, African leaders took too long to even hold consultative summits on the crisis in those countries. When the West as outsiders to the conflicts intervened, with vested interests in those countries, African leaders were even grateful in most cases. The idea of ‘African solutions to African problems’ remains mythmaking, in the absence of demonstrable efforts to fund our own institutions, determine their agenda and ensure speedy responses to conflict ridden countries.
The new building that houses the African Union’s main business especially the Commission was funded as ‘a gift’ by the Chinese government at a staggering $200-million. The building is majestic; standing on its top floor is even more marvellous. I would have been more enthralled had it been all Africa funded. These African leaders who celebrate Julius Nyerere must have missed his counsel in the Arusha Declaration that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tunes’ when it comes to foreign aid. Today AU officials are learning Mandarin before Swahili. The new Peace and Security Council building, which was under construction in 2013 when I was in the AU compound, is funded by the Germans; estimated at € 27-million initially.
Nyerere had warned then that “It is equally stupid; indeed it is even more stupid, for us to imagine that we shall rid ourselves of our poverty through foreign financial assistance rather than our own financial resources.” This is a point gaining traction almost 50-years on with Uhuru Kenyatta, the Kenyan President, calling for the denouncement of foreign aid by African leaders.
Towards a new funding model
Since taking over as the AU Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed her concern over the AU overly depending on donors to fund the business of the Union. In the recent AU Summit, a bold move to have 60% of the AU budget covered by the so-called ‘better off’ countries was announced. Amongst these are Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa, Egypt and Libya. The latter two are countries in chaos, one has little faith they will measure up to the commitments.
This mooted move could see South Africa contributing R 800-million to the African Union annually. Given how deadbeat this institution has been over the years, I think South Africans may rule this as fruitless expenditure. The AU has not had an agenda for peace and security in the continent. If it did, it would give a deadline to all member states to achieve peace in their countries within the next five years. Failing which non-compliant countries would be placed under AU administration. Of course, many will whi’ne about sovereignty to refuse such intervention. Peace is the precondition of successful development.
Caution must also be placed on creating a club of a few African states that financially prop up the AU. What has partly rendered the United Nations dysfunctional at times is the dominance of a few countries, led by the United States, as funders of the organisation. There has to be a more equitable funding model to ensure that no voices are deemed illegitimate simply because they contribute far less than other countries. Some of the funding models being currently suggested such as ‘a $2 hotel levy, a $10 airfare levy on each international flight entering or leaving Africa and a $0.005 an SMS levy’ are not new. They have been made many years before, without any show of enthusiasm from member states for their enforcement.
We do need African solutions to our African problems, but we must not pretend as though we currently have capacity and political will to implement such solutions. No country or continent can afford to outsource its problems. There is a need for African citizens across the continent to pressure their governments to do the right thing. They must play less politics and more progressive development agendas with the AU. A weak African Union affects the viability of the very Vision 2063 of the organisation as well as some of the NEPAD commitments and dreams, especially on infrastructure development, integration of trading blocks and increasing intra-African trade.
Solutions must be viewed in this context and not merely as those solutions needed to be implemented during times of conflict and civil strife within countries. Solutions broadly encompass a developmental agenda for Africa, to provide jobs, lift people out of poverty and improve the quality of life for the majority in the continent.