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Towards a people-driven Africa Union:
Current obstacles and new opportunities

Researched and written by Ibrahima Kane and Nobuntu Mbelle

January 2007

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Findings and recommendations

This report presents research on the preparations for and conduct of African Union summits, from some of the civil society organisations currently working with the African Union to realise its own vision. It concludes that, although significant space has been opened up for greater and more sustained participation by a diversity of interested groups, the promise of a people-driven African Union (AU) remains largely unfulfilled. Inadequate institutional capacity and inappropriate policies and procedures have hindered the realisation of the vision that the AU should build ‘a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our peoples’.

The advent of the AU in 2001 raised hopes of a strong, united continent composed of peaceful, democratic states respectful of good governance, human rights and the rule of law. The establishment of new organs, including the Peace and Security Council, the Pan-African Parliament and the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), as well as the AU’s absorption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), added to the widespread belief that a new African era could be in the making.

For virtually the first time since the founding of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), in 1963, African civil society was recognised as an important player in developing the continent. Nowhere was this more evident than in the inclusion of ECOSOCC in the organs created by the AU Constitutive Act, giving civil society representatives a formal advisory role in AU institutions and decisionmaking processes.

On a number of fronts, the mood was optimistic. The setting up of the Pan-African Parliament in March 2004 provided further affirmation that, unlike the OAU, the AU would operate on the basis of a decentralised model with several sources of authority. On his appointment to head the AU Commission in 2002, Chairperson Alpha Konarй reiterated his personal commitment to involving civil society in the development of the Commission’s vision and mission. Key civil society organisations reoriented their programmes around AU priorities.

However, many institutional obstacles still block the realisation of the African Union’s original vision. There is a growing perception among civil society organisations that the initial AU enthusiasm for non-state participation in its policy development processes has given way to a more closed stance. Despite the reorganisation of the former OAU secretariat into the AU Commission, many staff seemed to retain their old habits and attitudes. There are still considerable difficulties in obtaining access to information about policies and documentsunder discussion by AU organs, preventing effective participation by Africa’s citizens in continental decision-making processes.

Moreover, as this report shows, the sheer proliferation of AU ministerial meetings, ordinary and extraordinary summits is taking a heavy toll on both the AU Commission and governments. Unless Commission budget shortfalls and capacity constraints in member states are remedied, the African Union will not be able to deliver on the promise of its decisions, resolutions and treaties. The report calls on the African Union Commission and member states to take urgent action to simplify and improve the multiplicity of legal frameworks, incoherent institutional arrangements and unclear policies and procedures, and to provide more consistent and timely access to documentation in all its processes.

The planned review of the working methods of the AU’s institutions constitutes an important opportunity to regain momentum. To this end, the findings and recommendations below are offered in the hope that they can contribute constructively to this process.

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