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Concept note on Pan-African Conference on the proposed African Union Government

Theme: accelerating africa's integration and development in the 21st century: prospects and challenges of union government

Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG)

Accra, Ghana

22-23 June 2007

SARPN acknowledges Institute for Democratic Governance as the source of this document.
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The 9th Ordinary Summit of the African Union, which will soon be held in Accra, Ghana, on July 2-3, 2007, is expected to decide on whether or not the African Union should take the first step towards becoming the United States of Africa by the year 2015. Programmed as the occasion for the grand debate on the phased transformation of the African Union into a fully-fledged United States of Africa, the Accra Summit is indeed a historic moment for making, perhaps, the most important political decision on African unity in the 21st Century. The summit may decide on the first step, involving the establishment this year of a transitional African Union Government (AUG), which would function as the centralized political authority on the continent and whose edicts should be obeyed by all the current states of Africa. In that regard, the setting up of the AUG necessarily entails the ceding of some measure of the political and legal sovereignty of the existing states of Africa to the new central political authority.

Ahead of the grand debate, one can surmise that the outcome could be open-ended. The debate may well spur Africa towards the immediate establishment of the transitional African Union Government (AUG), or create inertia out of a possible stalemate. Either outcome has far reaching consequences. Africa's integration and development may either be accelerated or stagnated or decelerated. Given that all African stakeholders desire neither a slowdown nor stagnation of the continent's integration and development, how can the debate lead to the most preferred outcome, i.e. accelerated progress towards full economic and political integration and development of the continent? How can Africa's pro-democracy, good governance and pro-poor development actors influence such an outcome?

Since January 2007, when the African Heads of States and Governments called for public consultations and debate on the proposal, national and sub-regional level debates have slowly gathered momentum. Civil society organizations (CSO) have joined in calling for a people-driven process in which the voices and perspectives of the people of Africa will be brought to bear on both the debate and its outcomes. Accordingly, many have launched campaigns to raise awareness and educate the public about the continental union government proposal. In countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia public debates or consultations have already taken place, while several countries are expected to do the same soon.

Apart from the civil society-led consultations, a handful of national parliaments or legislative bodies have also had debates. These national level activities have been matched by continental level consultations. In early May 2007, African Foreign Ministers and Permanent Representatives of the AU held consultations on the matter in Durban, South Africa, followed by the recent AU-Civil Society consultations held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in late May 2007. Invariably, all the consultations have turned into debates on whether the African Union Government should be established now or in the future.

Two main schools of thought have so far emerged, reflecting different opinions about how Africa should proceed on the integration path. One school a "slow track" approach, arguing that integration and development should be advanced at a considered pace that ensures building and strengthening current AU structures as well harmonizing and rationalizing regional economic communities before taking the bold leap to the United States of Africa. The other school advocates "fast track" pace of integration, arguing that as long as the continent remains a motley gathering of fragmented states the ideal conditions for full integration will never be attained. Therefore, there will never be a right time for full integration than now. In addition to the arguments about the rate of integration, process issues have also been raised, pointing to the need to ensure that public consultations on the proposal are as inclusive as possible.

Although the arguments on both sides appear to have merit, they have so far not focused on the substantive issues that led to the proposal to establish the continental union government. Since the transition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union (AU) there has been a growing momentum towards deeper regional integration that will harness Africa's resources and accelerate the continent's development. Initiatives such as NEPAD speak to the need to collectively accelerate Africa's development, just as earlier initiatives such as the Lagos Plan of Action, the Final Act of Lagos and the Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) had sought to do. However, there is widespread feeling that progress in advancing this collective agenda has been much slower that expected and/or desired. Self-interests of the individual African states as well as uneven development of their capacities to pursue an accelerated integration and development agenda are considered as major impediments to progress.

Against the backdrop of the shared dissatisfaction with the current pace of Africa's integration and development, how can progress be best accelerated in the 21st century? In what ways and to what extent will union government accelerate or retard progress in Africa's integration and development? Under what conditions should union government be formed and run effectively and efficiently? Are the feasible alternatives to union government? What are they and how can they be pursued? What are the prospects and challenges of union government and its alternatives? The on-going public consultations and debates on the continental union government proposal have so far not addressed these questions fully. Yet there is urgency to do so, if the forthcoming AU Summit is to make a well-informed decision that inspires broad-based support for effective and successful implementation.

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