Juggling new ambitions and old habits in the transition to the AU

Addis Ababa- Ethiopia (PANA) -- The report submitted to the executive council of the African Union (AU) last Sunday by AU Commission chairperson Alpha Konare reflected a clear vision of the transition from the old structures of the defunct OAU to the new dispensation ushered in by the AU.
Konare looked confident and optimistic while selling his vision to the Council, going to the extent of using visual aids and charts.
At the same time he appeared pragmatic and realistic, as he did not ask for milk and honey, knowing the fragile economies of the majority of the African states.
He rather asked for the minimum required of financial resources, coupled with options and a gradual implementation plan.
Notwithstanding, he was branded by some as a "dreamer.
" Again, far from quarrelling with his detractors, Konare stoically maintained that "it is not a defect to dream, but most importantly we need to work to achieve the dream and insist on translating it into reality.
" The problem facing the former Malian president at the AU is obvious.
The same old mentality that pervaded the defunct OAU for nearly 40 years: that the continental body was no more than a window dressing.
Nothing serious.
Such a mentality remained marking time, and consequently failed to understand the changes that took place since July 2002 in Durban, South Africa, where the OAU was officially buried.
To add insult to injury, a wrong impression emerged due to the long transition period during which the annual budget of the AU Commission required an extra 12 million US dollars, in addition to the traditional 30 million dollars the OAU could operate with.
The impression is that the budget of the AU Commission is fixed at 42 million dollars.
This explains why budgetary figures that accompanied Konare's vision and mission were met with a passive reaction at the level of the Foreign Affairs ministers, who constituted the AU executive council.
These figures, to any fair analyst, represent the real cost of the transition from the OAU to the AU, and the AU Commission chairperson must have based his figures on the assumption that any transition has a cost and, therefore, there is no free lunch.
The ministers seemed to be inhibited by the OAU's methods and mode, because much as they were impressed by the vision and programme presented by Konare, they only saw that half of the cup was empty, while they were supposed to see the other half of the cup which was full of water.
One has to excuse the ministers because they were already victims of the report submitted to them by the committee of permanent representatives (the ambassadors based in Addis Ababa), who could not get rid of the mentality of the OAU despite being abreast with the difference between the past and the present.
The ambassadors are not unaware that the AU, unlike the OAU, which was a mere political instrument for Africa has a number of constituencies and institutions such as the pan-African Parliament, the Central Bank, the monetary fund and the African Court of Justice.
None of these institutions would see the light of day if the necessary resources were not mobilised for them to take off.
The permanent representatives based in the Ethiopian capital, the seat of the AU Commission, have a long history of "butchering" the draft annual budgets of the former OAU, a hobby that used to be entertained on the basis of sovereignty and on the grounds that there were no truly big projects requiring substantial funding.
The case with the AU is different, where institutions are evident.
In the new dispensation, a recourse by the ambassadors to the old habit of cutting, deleting or rejecting budgetary estimates would only take Africa back to square one.
If African leaders have accepted to bury the OAU after 38 years of existence, they should know that the transition process is costly and demands certain sacrifices, particularly in the early stages.
Failing this, Africa would be seen as not being serious on its decisions.
It was obvious that the executive council chose the easy way by deferring the financial implications of the vision and mission until November when a special session of the same council will convene.
The council could have at least looked into the priorities and phases proposed by Konare.
Certain quarters are said to be whispering in corridors that rich African countries should come forth and finance the groundwork, but even this wishful thinking has also disappeared.
Konare found himself in a situation compelling him to avoid confrontation.
He is now tightly wedged between a dream for which he has deep convictions on the one hand, and on the other, a mentality of stakeholders haunted by the old habits and obsolete views.
The AU, therefore, will start its preliminary steps by a significant lack of resources that might hinder its take-off, and that is exactly what we saw in Durban in 2002 and warned against.
The big question now is: Can Konare expect support from his former peers (current African leaders) to, at least, save his face?

06 july 2004 20:35:00




xhtml CSS