Opinion: The African Union is making progress - despite Mugabe′s selection | Africa | DW | 01.02.2015
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Opinion: The African Union is making progress - despite Mugabe's selection

At the African Union summit, the member states elected 90-year-old Robert Mugabe as their new chairman. Despite this, the union is making progress, writes DW's Ludger Schadomsky.

More than a handful of African leaders mourned deceased Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi at the African Union (AU) summit on the weekend. This had less to do with the memory of his bizarre appearances at former AU meetings - which saw him dress in extravagant uniforms and declare himself "the king of African kings" - but more with the disappearance of payments from Libya that helped keep the AU afloat.

However, the AU has come up with new, creative ways of sourcing funds: taxes on plane tickets and hotel stays, as well as on text messages. The union plans to raise $2.5 billion per year this way - enough to deal with crises and running Ebola interventions. By 2016, two-thirds of the AU budget is predicted to be covered by the organization's own means; today the figure stands at 28 percent.

The problem with the new concept, however, is that the taxes are voluntary. Already many AU member states are grumbling about the potential negative impact on tourism and investment. The ambitious financial target seems unlikely to be met.

The 7,500-strong African intervention force set up to fight Boko Haram, mandated at the AU summit, is not a perfect blueprint for sustainable financial cooperation for solving local crises. The countries involved each have a strong interest in putting a stop to Boko Haram's terrorism, and there are two suitable regional powers that are up to the task - Chad and Cameroon - in contrast to the helpless Nigeria.

Considering the collective shock over the terror wielded by Boko Haram, the hoped-for UN mandate should in theory be a mere formality. Aside from Germany, the US and even Iran have promised aid.

Shaky security structure

But this does not solve the fundamental problem of Africa's security model, which has been on shaky ground for years now and which keeps struggling with the same questions: who pays, who provides troops, and who is in charge and therefore free to pursue their own regional interests? These questions lead to conflict between pan-African and regional crisis interventions, to the detriment of the countries affected.

Ludger Schadomsky

DW's Ludger Schadomsky

A repulsive example of this is the "peace negotiations" pertaining to South Sudan. Apart from the fact that both parties prefer AK-47 rifles to the negotiating table, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) trade bloc, with the individual interests of Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, makes for a poor mediator.

The Boko Haram crisis (which is reverberating on the other side of the continent in the form of Somalia's al-Shabab terror group) is raising questions about more than just resources. It is also raising questions about the Africans' political will to start the election year 2015 in the spirit of stable and transparent conflict resolutions. This pertains in particular to Africa's self-proclaimed superpower Nigeria. Calling the intervention, managed by the clique around President Goodluck Jonathan, "appalling" would be putting it kindly.

"Boko Haram? Can we tackle this alone?" was the doubt weighing on Nigeria's mind at a point when Jonathan no longer dared to send forces to the affected regions. It was a good decision on Jonathan's part to not show up at the summit in Addis Ababa. It would have been too embarrassing to answer questions about why neighboring Chad, and not Nigeria's well-funded army, was having some military success against the terror group.

Reality trumps ideology

Still on the topic of political will: there are bitter feelings between the UK and the US over the election of the nearly 91-year-old Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, as AU chairman ("What the West will say or do is not my business," he said). However, nobody needs to be afraid of this dinosaur from Harare anymore. Despite all the criticism, the AU's peace and security council has managed to evolve into a serious instrument of African policymaking. And in the corridors of AU headquarters, a new generation of African politicians and civil society advocates is expressing its discontent over the ideological battles of its ancestors.

This is, even before the introduction of the text message tax, a piece of good news from Addis Ababa.

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