The new chairperson of the African Union, Alpha Konare, must wield a strong broom and clear out the deadwood from his secretariat, recruit competent staff and establish accountable financial systems that could absorb and efficiently use large donations and grants from external funders.
The AU should also focus on creating a few effective institutions rather than trying to establish all 18 organs called for in its charter.
These were among the key recommendations from a three-day brainstorming meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, held recently to help the AU to define a new vision for itself.
Along with senior AU officials, 25 eminent African scholars, civil society activists, politicians and generals were invited to contribute to the shaping of this vision. Among them were Frene Ginwala, South Africa’s Speaker of Parliament, and Wiseman Nkhulu, the czar of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).
The wide-ranging discussions covered issues as diverse as security, governance, economic development, gender, youth, culture, media, the HIV/Aids pandemic and the AU’s institutional challenges.
Several participants stressed the need for an effective peer-review mechanism with greater civil society participation and championed the promotion of human security as a way of ensuring long-term stability.
While conferees welcomed the decision to integrate Nepad into the AU within three years, several complained that Nepad was being privileged by Western donors over the AU and talked of Nepad as a ”Western wolf in African sheepskin”.
Discussions also focused on the need to promote regional integration by improving infrastructure, transport and communication to attract greater foreign investment. There were calls for the rationalisation of Africa’s plethora of sub-regional economic organisations and the creation of commodity cartels by African states to increase export prices. The AU was urged to play a role in strengthening the capacity of African countries to negotiate external trade agreements.
In a visionary address to participants, Konare — a historian and former president of Mali — called for the creation, in 25 years, of a ”United States of Africa” built around a confederation of states consisting of Africa’s five subregions. He called for the free movement of peoples and the establishment of a common African passport.
Participants further called for a reversal of the disparity in the education of African girls; an increase in the representation of women in African Parliaments; and the recruitment of more women to the AU, half of whose 10 commissioners are women.
Africa’s youth were said to be in danger of becoming a ”lost generation” with bleak employment prospects, rendering them vulnerable to becoming cannon fodder for ruthless warlords, as most dramatically evidenced by Liberia and Sierra Leone’s child soldiers.
Perhaps the highlight of the meeting was a magisterial presentation by the octogenarian Burkinese historian, Joseph Ki-Zerbo. The pioneering scholar reminded his younger audience that culture must not be treated as a supplementary item to development, but must be an integral part of the process. He noted that Africa was the cradle of civilisation and home of the most ancient cultures, and counselled that both culture and science must be harnessed to transform African societies by drawing on indigenous practices and knowledge.
Dr Adekeye Adebajo is the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town. He was a participant at the conference