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'Only dialogue can promote democracy'

Matthias von Hein
February 19, 2018

In an exclusive interview with DW, Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, was adamant that the international community must stand by Africa in the fight against terrorism and poverty.

Moussa Faki, chairperson of the African Union Commission
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/M. Wondimu Hailu

African Union's commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, talked exclusively with DW about the situation of his continent and what needs to be done to deepen democracy and good governance, as well as eradicate poverty and terrorism.

DW: Following the departure of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in November, Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa and one of Mugabe's staunchest supporters, has now stepped down himself. What is your take on these major political upheavals in Southern Africa?

Moussa Faki Mahamat: It's true that there have been changes both in South Africa and Zimbabwe. But change happened within the countries' constitutional frameworks. These were also peaceful changes, so there is much to commend them, even though the situations are not alike. We support and encourage the transition authorities in Zimbabwe to make sure that upcoming elections are credible, transparent and inclusive. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community(SADC) are ready to help in this process. In South Africa too, events conformed to the country's constitution. I think the lesson we can draw is that public opinion in Africa is very lively. I am convinced that this process will deepen democracy in Africa.

A Somali man showing desperation at the sight of collapsed buildings after a terrorist attack
"Terrorism is a reality in Africa", AU chairperson Moussa Faki told DWImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Abdiwahab

In both South Africa and Zimbabwe parties in power are seeking to maintain their position by distancing themselves from leaders who have come to be regarded as a liability. Do you believe this is a genuine process of democratic change?

Democratic change must come from free and transparent elections. In Zimbabwe and South Africa we are seeing transitions. But real democracy, in our view, is when citizens vote for their candidate. In both cases we see peaceful transitions compatible with the laws of these countries. Now we are waiting for elections, which we will follow attentively, and we hope they will be peaceful and transparent to allow the people to choose their leaders.

When we look at Central Africa we see several cases of resistance against accountability and good governance. This is particularly the case in, for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Chad. Does the African Union feel to some extent that it bears responsibility for the bloody acts of repression and restrictions on the right to demonstrate?

Of course the African Union bears no responsibility. It is true that these are member states. But they are sovereign countries with their own processes. Anyway, at the African level we have a charter on elections, democracy and governance. We try to improve transparency and governance on the political and economic levels. We encourage all the states to respect these efforts and make sure all processes happen in a peaceful way. Naturally there is a need for dialogue between all political and social players. And though the situations are different we believe that dialogue is the only way to promote democracy.

Children sitting under a withered tree in a landscape made arid by drought
Drought in Africa is a consequence of climate change made in the rich worldImage: Imago/R. Unkel

In Burundi the process for voter registration for the referendum on amending the constitution has begun. President (Pierre) Nkurunziza has said clearly that to oppose the referendum project would be to cross a red line. What is the African Union under your mandate doing to ensure that this process remains credible?

Within the African Union we have the principle of subsidiarity. The Burundi file is presently in the hands of the East African Community. So things will be managed at that level. Nevertheless as a regional community we call for an inclusive dialogue among political and social players. Burundi went to through a particular situation. There is the Arusha agreement as well as a number of other arrangements all reached with the help of the African Union and they have to be respected. And the African Union will not even send observers before the rules of the game are very clear.

What are the main security challenges in Africa now?

African migrants in a lifeboat on the Mediterranean Sea
Only 20% of African migrants seek to leave the continentImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Palacios

Unfortunately Africa today is one area of insecurity, notably because of the challenge of terrorism in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel region, the Lake Chad Basin and Libya. We think this is a challenge which needs to be taken up by the whole international community. We hope that questions of security will not be treated in an indistinct way. Terrorism and extremism threaten peace and security in the world. We hope that the whole of the international community will mobilize like in Iraq and Syria to face this threat which is unfortunately a reality on the African continent.

Migration is obviously another security challenge for Africa but also for Europe. One of the key proposals is to give young generations opportunities, so that they don't need to flee in the first place. How do you give the young opportunities?

Emigration is the result of a certain number of phenomena, including poverty. I think the answer should address not the consequences but the causes, like poverty, climate change, wars – of course, but also governance and politics. Improvements have to be made in all directions. And for this too we need the solidarity of the international community. It should be noted that 80% of African migration happens within the African continent. It is true that some youths try to go to Europe and some of them are abused by human traffickers. We are working closely with the European Union and the United Nations to solve this very important issue which needs to be handled without undue emotion and with great lucidity.

The interview was conducted by DW's Matthias von Hein 

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