Opinion: Where the African Union should focus its reforms
Hua Wang

‍Editor's note: Hua Wang is a researcher in comparative politics at the University of Glasgow, UK. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

At the 32nd ordinary session of the assembly of the African Union (AU), which took place February 10-11,  heads of state and government from across Africa sought to find a durable solution to the continent's refugee problem.

The meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, came at a time when the pan-African organization is facing an urgent call for reforms, less than two decades after it was established in 2002 as a replacement for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and with a goal to propel a united continent toward peace and prosperity.

Participant leaders gather for the family photo at the African Union (AU) summit at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo.

Participant leaders gather for the family photo at the African Union (AU) summit at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo.

The AU has achieved some progress in terms of creating new images for Africa, improving relations with the industrialized world and maintaining continental peace.

For example, in recent years, the AU has successfully established constitutional organs like the Pan-African Parliament and the African Court of Justice, which advanced the process of African integration.

However, internal conflicts and external challenges have never been silent around the AU. Constant criticism has questioned the organization's institutional capability and efficiency. 

For instance, the corruption problem on the continent is continuously serious, with at least 140 billion U.S. dollars in all the AU member states being swallowed every year, according to the report from the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Of the AU's annual budget, 73 percent is dependent on foreign aid, which mostly comes from outside of Africa. The finance deficits of the AU affect its independence in decision-making and the refugee issue has been one of the thorny challenges it faces.

Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 percent of the world's 25.4 million refugees, a figure which has recently been rising because of ongoing crises in countries like the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

A migrant African woman in a wheelchair is helped by members of  the Spanish Red Cross after her arrival at the Port of Malaga. /VCG Photo.

A migrant African woman in a wheelchair is helped by members of  the Spanish Red Cross after her arrival at the Port of Malaga. /VCG Photo.

Three African countries – Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia – are among the top 10 countries hosting refugees in the world.

All these challenges make the AU's internal reform inevitable. 

To resolve these issues, there's a strong need to develop strong institutions.

In 2016, African leaders agreed that institutional reforms are urgent and necessary, given the role the AU is expected to play in achieving the continent's Agenda 2063 vision of inclusive economic growth and development.

In January 2017, heads of state and government decided to embark upon a robust process of reform of the AU, with priority limited to five main areas – continental scope, institutional realignment, connecting the AU with African citizenry, management of the AU at the political and operational levels and sustainable financing of its programs. 

2018 was a reform year, with three summits focusing on combating corruption and internal reforms. 

Steady steps have been taking place, including the new anti-corruption system, which declares anti-corruption champions every year and contributes political and economic support to those in reward, and the issuing of the African Union Administration Reform Roadmap 2018-2021 at the AU's 11th extraordinary summit in last November.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame makes a speech during the African Union summit at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame makes a speech during the African Union summit at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 10, 2019. /VCG Photo

The current reform of the AU also seeks to reduce the number of summits – which are costly and time-consuming – to only one ordinary summit a year. Accordingly, it will broaden the union's responsibilities to improve the functioning of the African Economic Union. 

Therefore, from 2019 onward, a mid-year coordination session with the Regional Economic Communities will replace the secondary union summit in summer. The first coordination session will be held in Niamey, Niger, at the end of June.

Can the AU reform itself? This institution has previously launched several reform initiatives that have eventually foundered because of a lack of implementation.

The immediate past chairman of the AU, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, summed up the challenge facing the institution in a speech in January 2017, “Serious problems were repeatedly identified. Solutions were found. Decisions were made to apply the solutions. And very little happened.” 

The reform steps taken by the union are certainly constructive, though it takes time to see whether all these good intentions will be translated into changes on the ground.

Nevertheless, with all the skepticism ahead, tackling the refugee crisis in this year's summit would be a very good attempt to test the AU's effectiveness in implementation.

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