By Henry Makori / Pambazuka News | on 03 March 2017
The African Union Needs a Total Overhaul, Not Mere Reform. The fundamental problem of the African Union is ideological. And no one typifies this crisis better than Paul Kagame, the terrifying tyrant and imperialist stooge of Rwanda. His new report proposing remedies for reforming the Union belongs in the dustbin. The AU does not need reform. It needs a radical transformation taking it back to its Pan-Africanist roots.
“The problems faced by Africans are brought about primarily by imperialism, by a global political economy deliberately rigged against Africa and the South.”
“The future will have no pity for those men who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference, and sometimes of cold complicity.” -- Frantz Fanon
Last July, African heads of state meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, decided to “conduct a study on the institutional reform of the African Union.” They mandated Rwandan ruler Paul Kagame to undertake the study “with a view to submitting a report on the proposed reforms and thus put in place a system of governance capable of addressing the challenges facing the Union.” Kagame embarked on this mission with gusto, picking a team of experts to help him with the task. His report, dated 27 January 2017, is titled The Imperative To Strengthen Our Union: Report on the Proposed Recommendations for the Institutional Reform of the African Union.
One would have expected that a comprehensive introduction or background to a study of institutional reform of the African Union in the 21st century would, among other things, locate the need for reform within the spirit of Pan-Africanism, or the Union’s Constitutive Act, or even its latest blueprint, Agenda 2063. None of that features in the Kagame Report. Instead, the first two paragraphs tellingly read as follows:
“As unprecedented challenges multiply and spread across the globe at a dizzying pace, new vulnerabilities are increasingly laid bare, in rich and poor nations alike.
“Every country must adapt, but the distinctive feature of recent developments is that even the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations cannot hope to deal with the changes alone.”
This is deliberately misleading. What is being said here, exactly? That Africa is caught up in a whirlwind of problems, which, however, are not unique to the continent but are of a global nature. Both rich and poor (meaning African) countries face the same problems and no one is really to blame for this. Or everyone is equally to blame. Africans, like everyone else in the world, must be part of the solutions, etc.
“The case put forward by the Kagame Report on these and related issues constitutes a most disgusting and shameful denial of everything that the African Union should stand for.”
Is that really the case? Who controls the largest share of the world’s resources and how did that come to be? What accounts for the mass poverty among African people here on the continent and elsewhere? Who is largely responsible for the climate crisis, African nations? Who dominates and manipulates the much vaunted institutions of global governance to the detriment of Africa? Who actually wields global power and to what ends? Who is responsible for the wars in Africa?
The case put forward by the Kagame Report on these and related issues constitutes a most disgusting and shameful denial of everything that the African Union should stand for. It is denial of Pan-Africanism, the ideology that should undergird the Union. Of course Africa faces a lot of problems. But we know that these are not “global” problems as such. The problems faced by Africans are brought about primarily by imperialism, by a global political economy deliberately rigged against Africa and the South. Africa’s problems are a question of social justice, not merely of management. That is the Pan-Africanist position.
“As unprecedented challenges multiply and spread across the globe at a dizzying pace…” Multiply and spread across the globe on their own? The language of the Kagame Report is not the language of Pan-Africanism. It is the language of neoliberalism. It is the totalizing language of globalization. It is not the language Julius Nyerere would use. Or Kwame Nkrumah. Or Thomas Sankara. Or Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem.
This Report frames the African Union as an example of “multilateral cooperation,” facing similar challenges with other such organizations around the globe. Well, here is some news for Kagame and his team: Pan-Africanists have never ever envisaged African unity as a multilateral project. Africans wherever they may live on this Planet are one people with one destiny. There is nothing multilateral about their quest for total liberation, unity and prosperity. That is called Pan-Africanism.
The challenges of “multilateral cooperation” are worse in Africa where, the Kagame Report claims, “arbitrary internal divisions imposed on us by history, have left us relatively more isolated, both from each other and the world as a whole.”
Please read that again: Africa’s internal divisions were “imposed on us by history.” Oh, really? Which history? Whose history? Like the unprecedented challenges multiplying and spreading virally across the globe apparently on their own, some impersonal thing called history imposed divisions on Africa. Not the European colonialists. No, it is history that is guilty. Could there possibly be a more brazen attempt by a group of Africans to absolve European colonialists of one of the most egregious crimes against humanity, as that great son of Africa Samora Machel described it? If this is the thinking within the African Union, will this organization ever raise the issue of reparations for colonialism and the Slave Trade (which, by the way, was also imposed on us by history)?
“The language of the Kagame Report is not the language of Pan-Africanism. It is the language of neoliberalism.”
Having thus repudiated African claims against imperialism, Kagame and his team then proceed to throw in a few words in Pan-Africanist language purely for decoration: “To overcome that legacy, we had to come together in shared purpose and action, first to liberate ourselves from foreign domination, and then to set our people on a path to dignity and prosperity.” Decoration because the past tense implies that these goals -- at least liberation from foreign domination -- have been accomplished.
In the language of the market, the Kagame Report re-conceptualizes the role of the African Union in the lives of African peoples as service delivery. The African peoples emerge as the AU’s clients. “Without an African Union that delivers, the continent cannot progress, and we face the likelihood of yet another decade of lost opportunity…”
Consequently, a review of the literature on the AU’s challenges produces nine findings upon which the Kagame group base their recommendations. The findings are:
• The chronic failure to see through African Union decisions has resulted in a crisis of implementation
• A perception of limited relevance to African citizens
• A fragmented organization with a multitude of focus areas
• Overdependence on partner funding
• Underperformance of some organs and institutions due to unclear mandates or chronic underfunding
• Limited managerial capacity
• Lack of accountability for performance, at all levels
• Unclear division of labor between the African Union Commission, the regional economic communities (RECs), other regional mechanisms (RMs), and member states
• Inefficient working methods in both the Commission and the Assembly
Outsiders not to blame?
But Kagame et al seem to realize that their findings are entirely of the technical/managerial/financial type. That cannot be very good, so they try to sound a little bit more sophisticated:
“Honesty requires us to acknowledge that the root problem is not primarily technical, but rather the result of a deeper deficiency.” Oh, yes. So what is the “deeper deficiency”, sirs?
At this point one would have hoped that Kagame and his reform geeks would delve into the ideological question of the African Union in the world today. But that would be hoping for too much. For the Kagame people, the AU’s deeper deficiency comprises that cliché we have heard so often in hegemonic discourses about Africa, namely, leadership failure. Here they go:
“It is not for lack of ideas, visions, priorities, resources, or capabilities that the African Union has failed to keep pace with changing times. Nor can outsiders be blamed for the internal divisions that needlessly slow us down at times.
“Reform does not start with the Commission. It starts and ends with the leaders, who must set the right expectations and tempo. The effectiveness of the African Union, after all, is our business and responsibility.”
Let’s be fair. Surely, the AU may be mired in a multitude of failures, but has it really failed to “keep pace with changing times”? What does that even mean? The AU is headquartered, not in a rock cave, but in an ultra-modern complex, courtesy of the Chinese. Heads of State and their entourages of hangers-on fly first class to Addis or wherever for their meetings. They don't ride on a donkey. They drink bottled water -- not from a calabash -- at those meetings. Meals cooked by top chefs. During the summits, they don't sleep on mats and cow skins inside grass-thatched, mud-walled huts. That is really keeping pace with the changing times, or isn’t it?
“The Kagame Report attempts to absolve imperialists by covering up the well-documented outsider meddling and looting that has kept “independent” Africa impoverished and under foreign domination for decades.”
Reform of the African Union, we are told, does not start with the AU Commission -- don't even mention the African people. Reform “starts and ends” with the “leaders.” It is their “business and responsibility.” Sure. But it is the second sentence of the first paragraph of what the Kagame Report considers to be the AU’s deeper deficiency that is particularly outrageous: “Nor can outsiders be blamed for the internal divisions that slow us down.”
At this point one must ask: Whom was this report really written for?
With that sentence -- and for the second time, after attributing Africa’s problems to “history” -- the Kagame Report attempts to absolve imperialists by covering up the well-documented outsider meddling and looting that has kept “independent” Africa impoverished and under foreign domination for decades.
In Rwanda, a terrifying dictatorship at the heart of Africa where Paul Kagame rules the roost, persons found guilty of revisionism regarding what the Kagame Tutsi oligarchy calls “genocide against the Tutsi” are sentenced to long jail terms. Yet Kagame has no qualms about shredding African history and attempting to distort the present reality.
Outsiders are not to blame for Africa’s internal divisions? It is clear Paul Kagame and his team have never heard of Francophonie. Never heard about 14 African countries whose currencies are controlled by France. Never heard of the Commonwealth. Or AFRICOM. Not a word about the NATO invasion of Libya, the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi and destruction of Africa’s most prosperous nation. They have never heard of foreign “aid” and the African debt crisis. Or EPAs. Or the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. Nothing about Structural Adjustment Programs. Or the powerful UN Security Council with no African permanent member. Never heard of Western arms sales to Africa and the link to political instability. A fake global war on terror? No. There is no imperialism. No foreign meddling. We, Africans, are the problem.
Given this level of hypocrisy and cover-up, is it surprising that Kagame and his experts prescribe the following for reform of the African Union?
• Focus on key priorities with continental scope
• Realign African Union institutions to deliver against those priorities
• Manage the African Union efficiently at both political and operational levels
• Finance the African Union ourselves and sustainably.
There is no point in going into the details of each of these prescriptions, for the simple reason that even if they were implemented a hundred percent, without the Pan-Africanist spirit, they cannot make the AU any better.
The AU’s deeper deficiency
Africa is not yet free. This point has already been illustrated. If anyone is still in doubt, let them just peruse a recent report by the non-governmental organization War on Want titled The New Colonialism. It shows how 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange — most of them British — have mining operations in 37 African countries. They collectively control over $1 trillion worth of the continent’s most valuable resources. Africa’s total liberation from imperialism remains the first task of the African Union.
The eminent Tanzanian academic and Pan-Africanist Issa Shivji puts it this way: “The power of corporations and the dictates of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and WTO to the peoples and states of the world make nonsense of any democratic states, particularly in Africa. The first condition of democratic states, in the sense of being responsive and accountable to their peoples, is that they are independent and sovereign…under globalization this condition is severely undermined. Their economic policies, their legislative processes and their political stances are all determined by the international financial institutions (IFIs) who are under the hegemony of big states and giant corporations.”
Therefore the African Union’s deeper deficiency, to borrow the Kagame Report’s expression, is failure to make anti-imperialism the centerpiece of its work. It is a betrayal of the Union’s Pan-Africanist origins. Africa’s problem is not poverty, bad leadership, disease, ignorance, poor technology, bad governance, natural disasters, angry gods or anything of that kind - each looked at in isolation. Africa’s problem is imperialism, period. Africa is not yet free.
A radical transformation
The African Union needs a radical institutional transformation rooted in the Union’s Pan-Africanist origins, as follows:
In his foreword to Kenyan leftist politician Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s autobiography Not Yet Uhuru, Kwame Nkrumah writes: “It was in order to eradicate totally and completely foreign rule and domination from Africa and to fortify the continent against the turbulent world of power politics that we bent our concerted efforts towards unity.”
Anti-imperialism is the central pillar of Pan-Africanism. The Kagame Report is enough to show anyone that the African Union is no longer animated by the spirit of Pan-Africanism. The AU has been totally captured by imperialists who fund it and set its agenda, together with their African lackeys such as Paul Kagame. No amount of reforms can cure the Union. It needs to be liberated from the clutches of imperialism. How can this be done?
It cannot be hoped that the same political class, so-called African leaders who have mortgaged the African Union to imperialists can embark on the Union’s radical transformation. It is not in their interest to do so. It remains for the African people themselves to liberate the Union. The people must organize to overhaul the AU.
2. Popular participation
In neoliberal democratic terms, a murderous tyrant like Paul Kagame, on account of having been “elected” head of state, is supposed to represent the voices of all Rwandans at the African Union. He doesn't. In what ways does the people’s will enter the decisions of the African Union? At the present time, the peoples of Africa have entirely been cut off from the AU. The Union is too bureaucratic. Appointments to its organs are a matter for the heads of state of each country, without any input from the people. In the end, the appointments are no more than political rewards for allies of the president back home. This is not Pan-Africanism.
Kwame Nkrumah wrote in Odinga’s book: “Ordinary men and women throughout Africa, even those living in the most remote villages, are now talking the language of the African revolution. They speak of ‘unity’ and are prepared for the next, more realistic, phase of the struggle. In fact, a situation has arisen in which the people of Africa are ahead of their governments in that they have accepted the idea of unity while their leaders, in many cases, continue to hold back or proceed too slowly.”
“The peoples of Africa have entirely been cut off from the AU.”
How did this burning spirit of Pan-Africanism die among the people, such that few people are nowadays interested in the African Union? The answer may be found in what Shivji calls “monopoly of politics” in post-colonial Africa. This is the reality in many countries, particularly Kagame’s Rwanda: First, no politics or political activity is allowed outside the state-party. Mass organizations -- trade unions, students’ movements, women’s organizations, youth associations and even sports clubs and cultural groups -- are brought under the control of the ruling party. Second, if organized interests are not permitted, it follows that articulation and expression of those interests cannot be permitted either. So all the various media of expression (newspapers, magazines, radio and TV, blogs) and institutions that propagate ideas (schools and universities) are under the hegemony of the state. Third, arising from the above two points, is the development of a closed society. Public affairs are conducted mostly secretly and citizens become spectators rather than actors and commentators. The right to know is severely curtailed. Finally, monopoly politics produces “a culture of intolerance which expects and actively solicits unanimity of views.”
How can people living in closed societies develop an active interest in the affairs of the African Union? As Prof Horace Campbell, Kwame Nkrumah Chair of African Studies at the University of Ghana and a long-time contributor to Pambazuka News, points out, “Current leaders such as Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame may grandstand on reforms and the capabilities of the African Union but the seriousness with which they will be taken will be determined by the levels of transparency and democratic participation in their societies.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Arusha Declaration, the socialist manifesto developed and adopted by Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the party of President Julius Nyerere. It states that:
“Independence means self-reliance. Independence cannot be real if a nation depends upon loans and gifts from another for its own development. Even if there was a nation or nations prepared to give us all the money we need for our development, it would be improper for us to accept such assistance without asking ourselves how this would affect our independence and our very survival as a nation.” That statement applies to the African Union one hundred per cent. The Union’s funding is not merely a matter of operational efficiency. It is about independence. It is about being able to carry out the Pan-Africanist mandate. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune.
According to the Kagame Report, in 2014 the African Union’s budget was $308 million, more than half of which was funded by imperialists, or donors, as the Kagame group prefers. In 2015, the budget rose by 30 per cent to $393 million, 63 per cent of which was funded by imperialists. In 2016, imperialists contributed 60 per cent of the $417 million budget. This year, AU member states are expected to contribute 26 per cent of the proposed $439 million budget, while imperialists are expected to contribute the remaining 74 per cent. The Union’s programs are 97 per cent funded by imperialists.
So, who owns the African Union? Can this organization carry out the Pan-Africanist mandate?
Kagame and his group discuss the question of self-reliance at length. They recommend penalties on states that do not pay their membership dues, prudent management of funds, etc. There is no point going into all that. How do people like Kagame even begin to prescribe self-reliance to the African Union when his imperialist puppeteers fund up to 40 percent of Rwanda’s budget?
“The Union’s programs are 97 per cent funded by imperialists.”
Prof Campbell had expressed skepticism about the Kagame group’s ability to effectively address the funding problems of the Union. He was prescient. “It will remain to be seen whether the Chairperson of the reform process (Dr Donald Kaberuka, the former president of the African Development Bank [AfDB] and finance minister of Rwanda) will raise the question of African resources in the global value chain as part of the agenda of how to increase revenues for African peoples, and ultimately for the African Union.” Of course that issue appears nowhere in the Kagame Report.
Africans are quite capable of fully funding the African Union. But not a Union owned by “leaders” and their imperialist partners. Rather, a Union whose Pan-Africanist mandate includes ending the massive theft of Africa’s wealth by the so-called leaders and their imperialist partners, and pursuing reparations for enslavement and colonialism and the return Africa’s stolen wealth.
The Kagame Report should be tossed into the dustbin. It appears to be addressed to imperialists -- the real owners of the African Union at the moment -- and not to the peoples of Africa. The Report has Kagame’s own agenda written all over it. Kagame -- who orchestrated the rape of Rwanda’s constitution to allow him to run for another seven-year term this year, without provoking any tantrums from the sanctimonious West -- is positioning himself as a Pan-Africanist. Authoring this Report gives him an opportunity to use the African Union to further ingratiate himself to the imperialist center and, particularly important, to keep the spotlight away from his horrendous crimes against the people in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region.
It is probable Kagame is using the script of his buddy, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, on how to use the AU for private agendas. Using the Union, Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto (both indicted for crimes against humanity) embarked on an overheated campaign posing as African nationalists opposed to imperial machinations of the International Criminal Court. And the AU did not disappoint.
Africans on the continent and around the world must continue to fight for the radical transformation of the African Union from a project serving the selfish interests of African rulers and their imperialist backers to a radical organization of the African people championing their total liberation, unity and prosperity rooted in the spirit of Pan-Africanism.
Perhaps there is no better way to end this reflection than to echo the deep and urgent counsel of the South African freedom fighter, scholar and Pan-Africanist, Dr Motsoko Pheko:
“Pan-Africanism is more relevant to the African world today than when it was formalized over one hundred and twenty years ago. Yes, we may be Jamaicans, Tanzanians, Trinidadians, Kenyans, Zimbabweans, Angolans, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Basotho, Zambians, Namibians, South Africans, Azanians, African Americans, Afro-Brazilians etc. But the train that will take all Africans to their destination and give them power to take their destiny into their hands is the Pan-African train.”
Henry Makori is an editor with Pambazuka News.
Fanon, F. 1964. Toward the African revolution. New York: Grove Press.
Kagame, P. 2017. "The Imperative to Strengthen Our Union: Report on the Proposed Recommendations for the Institutional Reform of the African Union."
Odinga, O. 1967. Not yet Uhuru: The autobiography of Oginga Odinga. Nairobi. East African Educational Publishers.
Shivji, I.G. 2009. Where is Uhuru? Reflections on the struggle for democracy in Africa. Nairobi: Pambazuka Press.
"The Arusha Declaration: Socialism and Self-Reliance. 1967." Adopted by the National Executive Committee of TANU (Tanganyika African National Union) and subsequently by the Party’s Annual Conference. Reprinted on the occasion of the 2nd Julius Nyerere Intellectual Week, April 12-15, 2010, organized by Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair in Pan-African Studies, University of Dar es Salaam.