Unravelling the African Union Elections

Brenda Wambui
7 February ,2017

We have been treated to weeks of intrigue following Kenya’s failed campaign for its current foreign affairs cabinet secretary, Amina Mohammed, to become the next chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC). The AUC is the executive arm of the African Union (AU). The election was instead won by Chad’s foreign minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Our response this loss has been anything but diplomatic, with Aden Duale, who is the National Assembly majority leader, blaming Kofi Annan, a former United Nations (UN) Secretary General for manipulating the elections, and Amina Mohammed, the failed candidate, said that we should investigate our neighbours who may not have supported us. These include Burundi, Uganda, Djibuti and Sudan. In the seventh round, Tanzania also did not vote for Kenya. This was after the president, his deputy and a select team had lobbied 51 African countries (allegedly spending KES 4.5 billion on lobbying) and were convinced they had this in the bag. She had name recognition, a good network, and was supposed to be boosted by the fact that the East African region had never produced a commission chair. Kenya however lost to Chad after seven rounds of voting. Many people feel betrayed, and a lot of fingers have and will continue to be pointed.

It is worth looking into why we failed, as well as the importance of this institution that has long been an afterthought of our political leaders, until now. Uhuru Kenyatta has rallied African heads of state against the International Criminal Court (ICC) since he took the presidency in 2013, and this would have been a perfect position for mobilizing African countries that are members of the ICC to pull out. This was a key element of his personal agenda, seeing as he and his deputy spent a significant amount of their first term facing charges at the court.

Many have said that it may be because Francophone Africa is much more united than Anglophone Africa, using the same language, and the same currency (the CFA Franc). Others said it was because we did not clarify where we stood on the Western Sahara – Morocco issue, what with Morocco wanting to rejoin the AU. It was also said that Chad’s win could be attributed to the fact that it was leading the regional fight against Boko Haram, a menace in West Africa.

It may be as simple as the fact that our current government has a poor record on the platform items it was running on. Amina had said she would take a business-first approach to solving Africa’s problems and focus on job creation and economic growth – focusing on foreign direct investment, innovation, trade, industry and tourism. This approach fails to acknowledge that most of our problems as a continent stem not from these areas, but from poor governance, hostility to human rights, neocolonialism, insecurity and armed conflict. She also said she would promote integration, support young people and help open up markets – stating that she was the best candidate to implement Agenda 2063, which is Africa’s 50 year plan (from 2013 to 2063). I wonder how, since the most immediate target is to stop armed conflict by 2020, yet her focus was to promote commerce. Our government’s track record on these issues is also wanting, at best.

I believe this loss is an indictment of our government and its approach to governance, one that we discuss here every other week. At a time when regional integration is becoming more and more important, ironing out the kinks that make it difficult – such as terrorism, war and poor governance needs to be given top priority. Agenda 2063 also prioritizes the elimination of oppression and discrimination based on gender – something Kenya has been unable to formalize in its parliament by passing the two-thirds gender bill.

One of the AU’s key priorities is self-funding – if we are to truly pursue a pan-African agenda, decolonize and dictate our own path to prosperity, we must be able to fund the AU’s operations, at least to a large extent (the target being to self-fund all operational costs, 75% of development programs and 25% of peace and security by 2018). At the moment, the AU is extremely dependent on donor funding – every 9 out of 10 shillings it spends comes from donors. Efforts to free us from this cycle are being led by Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, and will perhaps lead to the body gaining more relevance in member states among their citizens, many of whom do not really understand what the AU does or feel its impact in their lives.

Perhaps once we are funding our own operations, the AU will become more invested in what happens in its member states, and act decisively when there are crises such as Yahya Jammeh’s refusal to give up the presidency, or when terror groups like Al Shabaab and Boko Haram paralyze entire regions. If further integration and unity is the key to solving Africa’s problems, then it follows that we have to put our money where our mouths are.

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