Friday, May 31, 2013

Africa: Africa's new declaration of independence

Source: ISS

Africa's new declaration of independence

Inspired by the spirit of their founding fathers exactly 50 years before, African Union (AU) leaders made a bold new declaration of independence at their summit in Addis Ababa this week. On Saturday, 25 May, the continent’s leaders, past leaders, civil society and international partners celebrated the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor of the AU, by the leaders of 32 independent states in the same city on 25 May 1963. The OAU was essentially dedicated to decolonising Africa. And this week the continent’s leaders evidently felt a need to match the heroism of that moment.

Now that Africa has been entirely liberated politically – with the sole exception of Western Sahara in the AU’s view – they made three big decisions to liberate Africa also economically, militarily and judicially, from the West. They launched an initiative to find alternate sources of funding to reduce their dependency on foreign donors. They decided to establish a rapid response force so as not to rely on foreign powers like France to tackle continental crises. And they resolved to ask the UN Security Council to drop the International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto in order to create the space for Kenyan courts to try them instead.

AU peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said that the AU now depended on foreign donors for 93% of its programmes. AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who had expressed grave concern about this dependence when she took office, said after this week’s summit that self-reliance was a key principle of the strategic plan for the next five years which the leaders had adopted as a first big step towards its Agenda 2063 to transform the continent. She said the founders of the OAU had planned for the political sovereignty of Africa ‘and we must now plan for the economic sovereignty of the continent. We can’t continue as usual to depend only on outside help. It’s welcome and we graciously accept it. But we must also look at how to mobilise our own resources for development, for infrastructure and all those things that will make Africa prosperous by 2063’.

On the decision to establish the rapid response force – to be known as the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIR) – Lamamra stressed that its purpose was also to free the AU from dependence on external donors. He noted that foreign governments were funding 100% of Amisom, the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia. And he added that it was unfortunate that 50 years after Africa’s independence the continent had had to rely on a foreign partner – France (‘a friendly partner but a foreign one’) – to prevent insurrectionary forces capturing Mali this year. So the purpose of ACIR was to ‘preserve the independence of our decision-making’. He also stressed that it would be financed entirely by the African countries which volunteered for it.

Independence from foreign influence was clearly also the driving force behind the summit’s controversial decision to ask the UN Security Council to defer the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto so that Kenya’s own courts can try them instead. Only Botswana registered reservations about the decision. South Africa was silent. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said the ICC had ‘degenerated to race-hunting’ from its proper mission of ending impunity, because all its cases are in Africa. Dlamini Zuma pointed out that although the Kenyan courts were not considered legitimate when the ICC indicted Kenyatta and Ruto for alleged orchestration of the post-2007 election violence, they have since been reformed and so are qualified to try the cases. Lamamra said that Africa remained committed to fighting impunity but that the ICC was not the only court which could do that. And he said that the ‘overarching need for justice has to be balanced by the equally important needs of promoting democracy and respecting the freely-expressed will of the people, very recently…’.

So, what should we make of the three declarations of African independence: economic, military and judicial? Certainly in the case of the plans for greater economic and military self-sufficiency, they show good intentions. However it is already clear that implementation will be difficult. Lamamra acknowledged that when the leaders debated former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s report on alternative sources of funding, no one was keen to have their own vital resources taxed; tourist-dependent countries opposed proposals to raise money from hotel and airline taxes while oil-rich countries objected to the proposal for an oil tax. And so on. He said eventually the leaders decided that each country could choose its own method of raising the additional revenue – including taking it from the fiscus – as long as everyone contributed its fair share. Which seemed to take the debate back to square one.

In the end the brave declaration of economic independence was actually a declaration of semi-independence, as no one said Africa must aim eventually for complete self-sufficiency. Perhaps a concrete plan that set out how and by when the AU would be entirely free of foreign donations would have been more impressive.

And what are the prospects that a rapid response force will be in place before the next crisis hits? Remember this force is an interim measure pending the establishment of the African Standby Force which was decided on in 2002 but will not be ready before 2015. Lamamra explained it was taking so long because of the high standards that had been set and because it involves coordinating Africa’s five regions which must each contribute a brigade. The rapid response force will be more of a coalition of the willing, quite clearly. It is encouraging that South Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda volunteered for the force immediately and about 20 other leaders did so in principle, pending necessary authorisation from parliaments etc. Lamamra said, though, that defence ministers would meet only by the last quarter of this year to further the planning.

The ICC Kenya decision, however, might have been a bridge too far along the road to greater independence for the continent. Rule of law activists have very serious doubts that Kenya’s courts will be independent enough to try a sitting president. And Lamamra’s assertion that ‘respecting the freely-expressed will of the people’ is as important as the quest for justice, is worrying. First of all because the March election of Kenyatta and Ruto was not a referendum on the ICC indictment against them. And even if it were, can very grave charges alleging complicity in scores of killing be settled by a plebiscite? What does that say about the doctrine of the separation of powers?

Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers