Toward a continental AU government?

By | November 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm | No comments | Africa, International Solidarity, Networking, News, Situational Awareness, The Pan-Africanist Imperatives

Toward a continental AU government?

By E.K.Bensah Jr.

When the 12th Ordinary Session of the Africa Union Assembly of the Heads of State and Government ended on 3rd February 2009 with a call by the heads of State for continental government, the election of the late controversial Libyan leader Al-Qaddafi as chair of the AU for one year helped deepen scepticism about what some believe to be lofty ideals of a United States of Africa.

Not a New idea
Let’s face it: the idea of a United Africa is not new. Ghana’s own first, late head of State Dr. Kwame Nkrumah continues to remain the quintessential pioneer of a United Africa.

His call is what stirred him to join the countries of Algeria, Guinea, Morocco, Egypt, Mali and Libya in 1961 under what would be called the Casablanca bloc.

This group believed in a federation of African states. As a counterweight, the Monrovian bloc, led by Senegal’s Senghor —comprising Nigeria, Liberia, Ethiopia and most of the former French colonies — believed that unity should be achieved gradually through economic cooperation.

It is fair to say that the age-old duality of what would represent a united Africa continues to play out in the new terms of rapidists and instantists. However, for whatever one might think or say about al-Qaddafi, he had been consistent in his dream about an Africa with one military, passport, and one foreign policy.

What many observers have been attributing to the Libyan leader – a continental African Union government — is in fact a follow-up of the Grand Debate of Accra in 2007.

From AU Commission to AU Authority
The idea is to establish an “African Union Authority” that would replace the existing AU Commission. According to the late Libyan president, it would have been a “government of the union”. According to a former AU Chairman, Tanzanian Kikwete who held the post from 2008-2009, the new Authority should have been launched and made operational in July 2009.

It would have a President and Vice President while present Commissioners of the AU Commission served as secretaries with portfolios structured along nine areas of shared competence.

These include free movement of persons, goods and services; international trade negotiations; peace and security matters, and foreign affairs.

In fact, in July 2009, in Sirte, Libya, the AU Assembly adopted a decision on the modalities of transforming the AUC into an Authority.

The idea remains for the Authority to exercise its functions on the basis of a principle of subsidiary with regard to Member-States and Regional Economic Communities (REC’s).

It would have competence in continent-wide poverty reduction, free movement of persons and goods, peace and security, and coordination of a common defence policy for the continent as well as coordination of the continent’s foreign policy among others.

While there remain a number of challenges associated with this enterprise, perhaps the two biggest sticking points find expression in the relationship between any putative AU Authority and the regional economic communities (RECS), as well as the legal implications of a continental government.

As regards the RECs, many diplomats are unclear what the roles of the RECs should be, and speculate whether they should not first be strengthened with a view to integrating them into a government.

Secondly, the AU Authority should not merely be a matter of semantics but involve amendment of the AU Constitutive Act. This would certainly represent a boon to the naysayers who believe this would stall the project indefinitely.

If the 2006 “AU study on Union government” is anything to go by, some challenges have been identified which require some attention if the RECs are to succeed in their mission as building-blocks toward deep continental integration. Almost all RECs are “inward-looking” and consider their objective (economic union or political federation) at regional level as the ultimate goal.

There is no road-map at the level of the RECs for their eventual integration into a continental union; there are duplications of some AU organs at the level of RECs, notably the parliament, development/investment bank, and the ECOSOC. More importantly, there seems to be no vision in the RECs for a continental agenda.

Because of that, there is need for the AU to take the lead in promoting the integration agenda at the continental level.

Another challenge is related to the rationalization debate that is currently underway.You may re-call that in my earlier posts, I referred to South Sudan being member of COMESA, and contemplating becoming a member of East African Community.

If one had a proper rationalization underway, whereby one AU member state can belong to only one REC, South Sudan would never have even contemplated the decision of being member of another REC.

Currently, for example, Southern and East Africa is covered by SADC, COMESA, EAC, IGAD and CEN-SAD — and some countries belong to as many as four RECs. The report maintains that “besides the eight RECs recognised by the AU, there are a number of customs and/or monetary unions whose mandate and work somehow duplicate what the eight RECs are expected to do”.

For example, five of the SADC members belong to the Southern African Customs Union while eight ECOWAS members belong to the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) which has economic union as an objective. And there are six members of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), an organisation that also has economic union as an objective, are members of ECCAS.

These shortcomings in terms of the objective of rational regional economic integration notwithstanding, the logic of “using the RECs as building-blocks for the eventual deep, continental integration remains valid” the study continues. The challenge is “in aligning, synchronizing and harmonising the integration efforts of member-states, the RECs themselves and the AU”.

As a consequence, “a road-map for the attainment of deep continental integration and the establishment of a Union Government should learn, first, from the difficulties experienced in the implementation of the two previous road-maps (i.e. the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Treaty); second, from the experience of the RECs as the building-blocks; and, third, from the past four years of the existence of the AU”.

Hence, to facilitate the Union Government project, it is important to also address the current problems faced at the regional level. It is fair to say that while there exists a number of protocols to facilitate addressing these challenges, the stages of development in the RECs vary and are likely to slow down the attainment of any Union government of AU member-states.

In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation — an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism — Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns “Critiquing Regionalism” (

Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. He is also Ag.President of the Association of Ghanaian Journalists in ICT (AJICT-Ghana).You can reach him on / Mobile: 0268.687.653.

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