Africa’s target of ending violent conflict by 2020 may be a pipedream if member countries do not finance the organisation.
Candidates seeking to become the next chairperson for the African Union Commission argued in their first ever pre-election debate that financial constraints facing the continental bloc makes some of its targets unfeasible.
“We must address root causes of conflict on our continent and they are a few: inequality, despair and lack of good governance,” Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, argued.
“We must finance and resource our institutions. I think it is useless to talk about 2020 if we cannot walk the talk.”
Ms Mohamed was among the five contestants who participated in a public debate in Addis Ababa meant to offer them an opportunity to air their action plan.
She is competing against Equatorial Guinean Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily (currently the UN representative in Central Africa Republic), and Botswana’s Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi.
But as the debate went on, the issue of incessant conflict in places like Somalia, South Sudan, Mali, South Sudan and Central Africa Republic became a topic, with candidates asked to explain how to stop them.
In 2013, the AU set itself a target to “silence guns” by 2020, as part of its Agenda 2063 vision meant to make the continent prosperous and stable.
Prof Bathily, who called himself a citizen of Africa, cautioned that the target may not be met if leaders across the continent do not make it a priority.
“This is an ambitious target considering what is happening today. We can’t tell what is going to happen tomorrow if our political leaders do not manage the situation,” he argued, insisting that leaders must improve democratic spaces, address inequalities and strengthen institutions.
“We need to play our role…and this is a matter, once again, where political will is needed.”
The candidates generally conceded that AU must first work on its financial situation, if at all it seeks to meet its targets.
Mr Mba, Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister, called AU’s donor-dependency a “sickness”, saying member states must look themselves in the mirror on why, 50 years later, the AU should be relying on foreign financial support.
“This is a disease. One of the challenges that we have in this organisation is this one (financial shortage) and it is unacceptable. The first issue that I am going to tackle is this otherwise we will go nowhere,” he said.
“We need to have a discussion. It cannot be that our member states pay their membership to other organisations but when it comes to the premier organisation, they say they don’t have money. We should stop this.
“We should encourage discussions among member states. This organisation is faced with problems of trust. So it is a question of dialogue.”
The Africa Union has faced financial problems every year.
Its current budget of $475 million is financed by foreign countries such as China, the US and the European Union, all contributing about 75 per cent.
“It is a problem, really, if we cannot ensure a proper running of our organisation. I mean, it is scandalous,” added Mr Mahamat, Chad’s Foreign Minister.
“We need to cut down on our expenses otherwise, we will not be independent 100 years from now if we cannot run the organisation properly.”
In July during its 27th Ordinary Session of the AU Summit in Kigali, the leaders endorsed a proposal to increase internal contributions from member states to the tune of 0.2 per cent on imports.
They hoped to raise $1.2 billion annually for self-financing.
Ms Mohamed described the proposal as prudent but argued the problem with the African Union has been in implementing its decisions.
She argued Kenya was already implementing the resolution and is putting the money in an escrow account, awaiting others to follow suit.
“It is not just about resources, it is about how we use them. It is not about lack of proposals, they do exist, but we need to start thinking seriously about how to implement those proposals,” she argued.
The debate was moderated by Ethiopian journalist Girum Chala and Alain Foka from Cameroon.