Africa, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

POLITICS-AFRICA: Continental Government by 2015?

Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI, Jun 14 2007 (IPS) - Debate on the prospects for continent-wide government in Africa is heating up ahead of the African Union (AU) summit that is scheduled to begin Jun. 25 in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

The gathering will focus on plotting a course towards full political and economic integration on the continent, a central goal of the AU. The dream of a “United States of Africa” also underpinned the creation in 1963 of the union’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.

Advocates of a pan-African administration believe that collective action is essential to halting social decay on the continent, and helping Africa be more assertive on the world stage.

“It is no longer a debate about whether integration is desirable or not, but how far and fast we will achieve it,” said Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, deputy director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, at a gathering held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi earlier this month to discuss the proposed AU administration. The meeting brought together representatives from government, civil society, the private sector and the media.

“The powerlessness of most African states, our marginalisation in global trade, and the shame of our states competing at the bottom of the human development indices have won the argument in favor of unity,” he added.

An African Union government would “expand the internal markets of Africa,” Abdul-Raheem told IPS.

“Instead of a country like Kenya looking at supplying goods for only a few people, it would be looking at serving the whole population of Africa. Jobs would be created, resulting in a reduction in poverty.”

The Millennium Campaign is a project that aims to help citizens hold their governments accountable for pledges to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Eight MDGs were agreed on by the international community at the U.N. Millennium Summit in 2000 to raise living standards globally by 2015. One of the goals is to halve absolute poverty by this date.

Abdul-Raheem’s words are echoed by a 2006 study commissioned by the AU to propose the functions and responsibilities of a continental government, and steps for creating it.

“In order to improve their development performance, African leaders are increasingly convinced that they must act collectively,” says the report, titled ‘An African Union Government: Towards the United States of Africa’.

It envisages a three-phase process that would culminate in continental government by 2015.

Phase one would include the selection of sectors where a union government would be active, decisions on how to finance it, and informing people at regional and national levels about the continent-wide authority.

The second phase would focus, in part, on drafting a constitution for the United States of Africa and establishing an African Central Bank.

During the third phase, the constitution would be adopted, and elections held nationally, regionally and at continental level for posts in the AU government.

The study was reviewed last November in Ethiopia by a meeting of the AU’s Executive Council, during which certain member states questioned the feasibility of the 2015 deadline, and the proposed measures for establishing the government. (The council comprises AU ministers of foreign affairs.)

Certain observers feel that continent-wide bodies which have already been put in place, such as the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), should be strengthened before actions are taken to build an entire AU government. The PAP was established in 2004.

For sceptics like political science professor Peter Wanyande, however, the very idea of a continental government is questionable.

Speaking ahead of the Nairobi gathering, he said such a body was too ambitious for Africa, and would rob countries of their sovereignty. Wanyande teaches at the University of Nairobi.

His concerns have been repeated by others, who also point out that lack of trust and economic disparities between various nations are amongst the problems that threaten to undermine AU government.

An additional concern relates to civil society’s involvement in the project. Some claim that the AU has not included communities in its existing efforts to establish an administration – this despite a 2005 conference organised by the AU in Nigeria having concluded that the goal of this process should be a “Union of the African people and not merely a Union of states and governments.”

Others question whether civic groups have themselves been sufficiently active in taking the initiative on this issue.

The meeting in Nairobi went some way to addressing these fears. It provided a forum for citizens to express their views on the proposed government – and there are plans to present these views at the Accra summit, together with those of citizens in other African states.

The upcoming summit will conclude with a three day meeting of the AU assembly, which comprises the continent’s heads of state and government. This gathering is scheduled to wrap up on Jul. 3.

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