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Can Paul Kagame revamp the AU?

Fred Muvunyi
January 22, 2018

Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s objective of a self-reliant and integrated continent is likely to remain a distant dream as most of his peers are going their own way, politically and economically, says DW's Fred Muvunyi

Rwandan leader Paul Kagame before 2017 electio
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Ehrenzeller

For the first time, Rwandan leader Paul Kagame will chair an African Union summit after he was elected in July 2017 by his peers to take over from Guinea's president Alpha Conde. Many Africans across the continent have high expectations of Kagame. During his twelve months in office as AU chair, he hopes to ensure that the organization becomes self-funded. This can be achieved with the help of a tax of at least 0.2 percent on certain imports. However, so far, only twenty member states have signed up for this mechanism. 

Read more: Will the African Union achieve better efficiency? 

Despite massive income from its natural resources like oil, gold, wood and tropical fruits, the continent is cash-strapped and has no means to fund its peacekeeping operations. For now, Africa cannot operate without the support of the United States and the European Union. Only in 2016, donors covered 70 percent of the AU's operational budget. This is ridiculous for an organization that seeks to become a supranational bloc designed in the image of the EU.

While I believe that seeking to become self-funding is a good idea, I would have liked to see African leaders initiating a reform to reorganize the entire continent into a coherent social-political bloc. An organization that respects political rights and fundamental principles which will leave, at least, every African proud of contributing to the development of the continent. The money will not quell the endless conflicts on the continent, which are caused by greed for power and failure to share the available resources equitably.

Another critical issue is that African leaders have different political ambitions which stand in the way of the goal of a large-scale revamping of the continent. Within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for example, leaders are striving for greater democracy and upholding the rule of law and are slowly are getting rid of dictatorship. However, in eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region in general, they're taking a different route.

Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda's Paul Kagame, Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza, Sudan's Omar al Bashir and DR Congo's Joseph Kabila are all holding tight to power. In general, greed for power is hindering Africa's progress - leading many, if not most, Africans to envy life in the West.

It breaks my heart each day that thousands of African migrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea while at the same time our young people are being sold off in the Maghreb like merchandise. Pouring salt on to the wound, Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu called African migrants living in his country 'infiltrators' who deserve to be sent back home, and the US president Donald Trump sees them as people from a s***hole continent. 

Read more: Israeli deadline fans fears among African migrants

Fred Muvunyi
DW's Fred Muvunyi

Can Kagame resuscitate our dignity? I have my doubts. Kagame has developed a strong reputation internationally, as a technically efficient leader during his tenure as president of Rwanda. He claims to have made progress not only on economic growth and poverty reduction, but also in maternal health care and taking significant strides in uniting a once divided nation. 

Many Africans envy Rwanda for having a leader like him. But there's a lot more that can be said. Kagame has been cutting corners on democracy. The majority of his opponents are in exile or jail while others have been mysteriously killed. To coin a phrase: Asia has tigers but now Africa has a lion.

Can Kagame impose a Rwandan model of governance on the entire continent? It remains to be seen what he can do, given that most African leaders are not used to short-term plans. Ironically, that's the reason they stay in power for decades with the hope that they can ultimately deliver on their promises. We should know more when Kagame delivers a major speech at the UN General Assembly later this year. 

Not all hope is gone

Despite the many critical issues still hampering the continent, dawn is coming. For the first time, the AU leaders are sitting without longtime rulers Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Angola's Eduardo dos Santos.

The dramatic departure of Mugabe in late 2017 was widely welcomed by many Africans and the world at large. This raised hopes among many young Africans who had never imagined him stepping down. It was the biggest news in my lifetime, too.

In Angola, newly elected leader Joao Lourenco is dismantling a family-based power structure set up by his predecessor, dos Santos, who served as president for nearly four decades. President Lourenco has fired the former leader's daughter Isabel as head of the national oil company Sonangol. It remains to be seen whether the new leader will go on to tackle corruption comprehensively or consolidate his control over the levers of power and public wealth.