By CIUGU MWAGIRU
At about the same time the African Union was celebrating its 50th anniversary last week, the foreign ministers of the member states were busy reviewing the body’s reform agenda.
The foreign ministers were meeting at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa under the chairmanship of Rwanda’s foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo.
The meeting was deemed necessary given the fact that no substantial progress was made on reforms during the last AU summit.
In fact, during the 31st ordinary summit of Heads of State and governments held in Nouakchott, Mauritania, from June 25 to July 2, several crucial meetings were held.
They included that of the Permanent Representative Committee, which is made up of member state ambassadors, and that of the continental ministers of foreign affairs.
The latter grouping makes up the AU Executive Council, and met before the holding of the Assembly of Heads of State and government.
However, despite the high-level meetings the Mauritania summit was overshadowed by peace and security challenges that have for a long time been the bane of the African continent.
Pointedly, the AU Peace and Security Council met the Heads of State during the summit to discuss the situation then prevailing in South Sudan and the volatile Sahel region.
Also discussed during the meeting were the worrisome situations in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Burundi, Libya and the Horn of Africa.
Gratefully, positive developments have in recent times taken place in some of these perennially troubled and chaotic regions.
In the meantime, however, it has become apparent that not all the AU member states have the same vision on how to strengthen the organisation and make it more autonomous and effective.
The recent deliberations of AU foreign ministers on the reform agenda were, therefore, deemed necessary pending an extraordinary summit that will be held from November 17 and 18.
The Heads of State and governments summit is expected to specifically focus on the reform agenda with a view to charting the future of the AU.
That aside, there have been substantial disagreements between member states with regard to the issue of institutional reform of the AU, including the proposals of current chairman, Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
For instance, up to now there is still no consensus among all member states on several crucial matters, among them the proposed application of 0.2 percent levy on eligible importations to fund the AU.
There is also no consensus on such other crucial matters as the mode of designation or appointment of commissioners and the power dynamics within the continental institution.
Other areas in which there is no consensus are the scope of intervention of the AU and the division of labour between the continental body and the regional economic communities (RECs).
Fortunately, apart from the reform agenda, the AU has in recent times been making progress in such areas as that relating to the Continental Free Trade Area.
Already, commendable progress has been recorded, including the adoption of the five service-related priority sectors, namely the transport, communication, financial, tourism and business ones.
Remarkably, in recent months five more countries have joined the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), among them South Africa, which is one of the biggest economies of the continent.
The other new signatories to the AfCFTA agreement are economically weaker countries like Burundi, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, and Namibia.
So far, 49 countries have signed the AfCFTA treaty and six have ratified it, although 16 more ratifications are needed for the treaty to enter into force.
According to analysts, should all the 55 AU member countries eventually ratify the treaty, Africa could become a major economic bloc comparable to other global ones.
Specifically, the ratification of the treaty by all the AU members would give the anticipated bloc a cumulative GDP of an impressive US$2.5 trillion and a market of 1.2 billion people.
With regard to the numbers of participating countries, the AfCFTA would end up becoming the world’s largest free trade area since the formation of the World Trade Organization.
Such lofty dreams are however only possible if the AU can be transformed and be able to tackle such continental drawbacks as widespread corruption.
Source – Daily Nation