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Trade, security and anti-graft top AU agenda

Sella Oneko dpa, afp
January 29, 2018

A single African air transport market, promises to fight corruption and plans to address the continent's crises dominated the African Union summit. But with a full agenda for 2018, how much will the AU manage?

Alpha Conde and Kagame shake hands surrounded by other AU functionaries
Image: Imago/Xinhua

"Corruption is indeed one of the greatest evils of our time," Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari declared at the start of the African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Winning the fight against corruption, was the AU's chosen theme for the year 2018 and President Buhari was nominated its champion. "Corruption rewards those who do not play by the rules … I cannot over-emphasize the value of strong institutions. A Judiciary which stands firm against arbitrariness and injustice by the executive is a vital pillar in the anti-corruption fight," Buhari added.

The annual meeting of the heads of state was a first on many levels. With newcomers like Liberia's new leader George Weah and Zimbabwe's Emmerson Mnangagwa, and with President Paul Kagame's drive to reform the AU, there almost seems to be a new enthusiasm in an institution that is better known for dragging its feet and lacking the will and resolve to address the issues at hand.

Read more: Opinion - Can Paul Kagame revamp the AU?

"The declaration of 2018 as the anti-corruption year by this summit was set to increase national, regional and continental awareness of the menace and improve our chances to totally eradicate it," the freshly sworn-in President Weah noted.

And as a report by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in South Africa suggests, there might indeed be a small chance for the AU's anti-corruption plans. President Zuma is losing his grip on South Africa's ruling ANC party, the report states, in Angola, the Dos Santos dynasty seems to be crumbling and in Nigeria, a survey by the Afrobarometer research network has shown an improvement in how Nigerians view their government's fight against corruption since Buhari took power. What the AU, however, lacks, the report says, is an implementation of its own anti-grant agreements and networks.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
UN Secretary General Guterres emphasized the need to address migration: "Migration should always be of choice, not of despair." Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Maina

Kagame's drive: more trade more focus

For many African heads of state, the summit was a ‘meet and greet' to discuss regional issues and most importantly business and trade agreements. As rotating chair of the AU for the year 2018, Kagame launched the Single African Air Transport Market – an agreement between 23 out of 55 countries to lower the cost and ease of inner-African air travel. The move will also most likely see a boost for countries like South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia who have the biggest commercial airlines and have been pushing for the agreement for the past few years.

Kagame also emphasized the need for African countries to catch up with other areas of the world. "Technology has evolved so rapidly in recent years, that Africa's window to follow that strategy is narrowing much more rapidly than previously understood," he said. "We must act now to save Africa from permanent deprivation … We must create a single continental market, integrate our infrastructure, and infuse our economies with technology."

Besides trade, Kagame's ambitious plans for the AU include making it more focused on key areas such as political affairs, peace and security, economic integration and improving Africa's global representation. Additionally, audits and reviews are supposed to help the AU itself become more efficient. Recommendations from the research organization, International Crisis Group, welcomed Kagame's plans but noted that these should not divert the AU's attention from regional crises and that unlike in the previous year, the reforms should come in the form of action rather than just words. One key point in which the AU has made progress, although it hasn't met its set goals, is the issue of self-reliance. Until recently the AU received nearly all of its funds from foreign donors, but this year it announced that 59 percent of the funding now comes from the African countries themselves.

Spotlight on South Sudan

Two topics which were emphasized by both African and non-African leaders are the failed peace talks in South Sudan and reports of slave labor in Libya.

"The time has come to sanction those who are blocking peace," said African Union Chief Moussa Faki Mahamat. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who also attended the meeting voiced his support of any AU initiative: "If the ceasefire ... is not respected, we all agreed that stronger measures are required to guarantee it is respected," he said.

The discussions at the AU summit came just days after comments by Nikki Haley the US ambassador to the UN, calling South Sudan's President Salva Kiir an unfit partner, caused a diplomatic spat between the US and South Sudan. Relations between the US and other AU member states were however smoothed over just weeks after Trump described some African countries as s***holes. Through a letter to the AU, Trump expressed his "deepest compliments" to the African leaders and commended them for the partnership in the fight against terror.