The story of the African Union and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity is a story of great expectations, but also littered with broken promises.
It is a story of enduring hope and belief in a better future. There have been periods of great expectations and great promises followed by great disappointments.
We now stand at that moment in the life of Africa when the air is filled with great expectations stirred by the ongoing AU reforms and the kind of continent it promises.
In summary, the reforms and related protocol signed since President Paul Kagame’s appointment as the reform leader in 2016 provide a road map of what the continent’s leaders need to do to secure “the Africa we want.”
In other words, while everyone knows Africa as it is now, the reforms give us a snapshot of what the continent could be if leaders implement what they have agreed on.
And the Africa I see in these reforms and protocols signed in recent times point to a “promised land” of what Africa could and should be rather than what it now is.
The continent as it is now is voiceless; depends on foreign aid; doesn’t easily trade with itself or restricts free movement for its people and is ravaged by corruption, war, conflict and poverty.
On the other hand, the Africa the reforms and related protocols promises is one that is self-reliant and pays its bills; freely trades with itself; allows free movement of its citizens with a single Pan-African passport; enjoys a free airspace and maintains peace to actualise a possible political federation.
With political will and commitment, there is nothing in the reforms that can’t be achieved.
The question we must now ask is whether it’s possible to maintain the current reform momentum and secure “the Africa we want” after Kagame’s tenure as the chairperson ends and hands over to Egypt in January?
Answering this question requires not only interrogating why reforms have generated hope and registered impressive achievements in a short time but also why past initiatives that generated similar hope ended in failure.
First, pessimists doubt that the current crop of leaders can take us to the “promised land” since most of them preside over a mess in their own countries and therefore can’t bring to the continent what they don’t have at home.
This cynicism also originates in the perceived failures of the Organisation of African Union and its predecessor, the AU in the 2000s.
At its establishment in 1963, OAU leaders promised not only to fight and end colonialism but also ensure unity, democracy, prosperity and respect for human rights.
By in the late 1990s, while political independence had been secured, dictatorship was the order of the day amid widespread poverty, endless violent conflicts and human-rights violation and apathy.
When the OAU became the AU in 2002, optimism was high after the defeat of apartheid in South Africa and the rise of intelligent leaders like Thabo Mbeki, Olusegun Obasanjo, Meles Zenawi, and Abdoulaye Wade with their “New Partnership for Africa’s Development” and “African Peer Review Mechanism” alongside talk of “African solutions to Africa’s problems”.
The optimism of the 2000s ended in disappointment as people like Mbeki exited the political stage and “peer review” became a mechanism for legitimising rather than checking dictatorship.
The main problem both the OAU and AU of the 2000s faced is the same and it is lack of political will to implement agreed projects. That remains the primary problem today.
In my view however, the Kagame-led reform team has been able to register modest achievements in a short time, including reducing expenditure by 12 per cent by eliminating waste and getting 44 nations to sign up to a free trade area largely due to Kagame’s activism, determination to succeed and a strong belief in what Africa can be.
Being the chairperson of the AU also enabled Kagame and his team to freely move about literally “knocking on the doors” of other leaders reminding them to implement what they agreed.
In that sense, if the reform momentum is to be maintained after Kagame hands over the head of AU seat to Egypt in January, there is a need for the new chairperson to closely work with the Kagame team as well as “knocking on the doors” of other leaders to remind them to implement what they signed up for.
The achievements of the past few months show that attaining the promise embedded in the reforms requires activism and a hands-on approach on the part of the chairperson of the Union.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website: www.mgcconsult.com