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Some Reflections on AU’s 35th Summit and Pan Africanism

Taye Berhanu /PhD

The 35th Summit of the African Heads of State and Government had attracted the world’s attention for various reasons. Ethiopia, the host, has made glamorous preparations for the auspicious occasion with a spirit of pan Africanism, an aspiration of the founders of the OAU carried on by the African Union. The spirit of pan Africanism signifies unity, freedom, independence, democracy and prosperity of African nations and envisages for an economic and political union that would have immense contributions to the process of globalization for the benefits of mankind.  The purpose of this short article is to have a reflection on the success of the deliberations, limitations or shortcomings and decision on coup d’états and to cast few ideas or suggestions on few critical issues as a way forward.  

Since the foundation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963 and succeeded by the African Union in 2002, 74 ordinary and extraordinary sessions of Heads of State and Government have been held, out of which 33 sessions were hosted by Ethiopia and the rest 40 sessions by 29 African member states. The brotherly African countries have witnessed their honor and pride on Ethiopia for its relentless struggle for the independence and freedom of Africa and for its exemplary role as a non-colonized African state and for its strenuous efforts and commitments to the strengthening of the continental organization by deciding Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to be the seat of the Headquarters of the OAU/AU.

Success of the AU Summit

The 35th ordinary session of the AU Assembly was held on 05-06 February, 2022 amidst the baffling corona virus pandemic compounded with the security threat of the venue of its deliberations, the host, Ethiopia.  The 34th Summit in 2021 was conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 threat. Though the pandemic has perilously continued unabated, African leaders decided to hold the General Assembly with the necessary precautions.  They decided to meet physically at the Headquarters in Addis Ababa so as to decide on African issues of paramount importance. Facing the challenge and achieving it is a success by itself.

Secondly, the summit’s obvious challenge was whether or not it was wise to conduct it amidst a specter of confusions and illusions disseminated by certain governments and international media.  There were some who had advised their citizens to leave the country for security reasons. They have made an avalanche of disinformation and misinformation on the situation of Ethiopia. Undoubtedly, this had made member states think twice or more whether it would be safe or not to have the Summit take place in Addis Ababa. Undeniably, as the pandemic was a test for the AU, so was the situation of Ethiopia. But, not perturbed by the malicious and fake news and propaganda of certain quarters, African brothers and sisters proved their unflinching support by siding alongside Ethiopia by not having a virtual session or a change of venue for the summit.  Evidently, AU did not succumb to all sorts of conspiracies against its member state, Ethiopia. Africa confirmed its non-betrayal of its part as the adage goes, a friend in need is a friend in deed. This is another success of the AU Summit. The decision to hold the Summit in Ethiopia despite security concerns has crowned Ethiopia and Africa with historic success story. In this regard, Ethiopians and friends abroad have played an important igniting role by visiting Ethiopia since the eve of the Summit. They showed their confidence on Ethiopia that it does, as always, fully protect its guests at all costs whatever a dangerous situation clouds. 

Truly, Ethiopia’s current situation has become a test not only to the Ethiopian government and its people but also to the African brothers and sisters as well as to peace loving and democratic forces the world over. Concurrently, it has been a concern of the AU’s 35th Assembly of the Heads of State and Government. Regrettably, the venue of the Summit was unfairly and unnecessarily exaggerated. It must be abundantly clear, though, that there could be no problem if the Summit had taken place elsewhere or virtually since this could happen at any time regardless of the precarious situation that engulfed the country. As it was held virtually in 2021 due to the unabated COVID-19 pandemic, same could be repeated. Any member state could as well request for hosting the Summit. Either way, it has no adverse effect to Ethiopia in particular and Africa in general. Because, though summits should take place at the Headquarters, a request by a member state is also welcome. 

What actually clouded this normal practice or principle set by the AU is the sinister motive and adverse wish of certain quarters from within and outside the country. Those who had dreamt for the Summit to move to another place so as to increase orchestrating malicious propaganda and bear sour fruits remained in vain. Their ill-wishes to tarnish the image of Ethiopia and their ignominious blatant interference in its internal affairs for the last 15 months or more have opened a wide vista for the renaissance of pan Africanism. 

All in all, the deliberations in Addis Ababa have gone smoothly and peacefully from the beginning to the end without any mishaps. This epitomizes the success of the AU’s 35th Summit.

Limitations and Shortcomings

It goes without saying that the AU Summit had some sort of limitations and shortcomings. Despite this, however, the Agenda 2063 has to and must be maintained. Apparently, its agenda on Silencing the Gun by 2021 was far from implementation which may be registered as a reflection of its incapacities. Yet, AU’s optimism is growing and adequately demonstrates unquenched strive in forging ahead the expectations of the African peoples. The ideas, wishes and aspirations of Africanism are still strong and vibrant. 

Its limitations and shortcomings related to the 35th summit can be explained, among others, by not addressing the renaissance of pan Africanism to the level expected. It is an open secret that the Ethiopians in diaspora, citizens of African origin, and friends of Ethiopia, democratic and peaceloving forces have staged demonstrations in about 40 countries, including USA and European major cities, raising aloft the motto #NoMore!.  It is a movement urging countries to cease interfering in the internal affairs of Ethiopia and escalating its internal problems. The call is not solely for Ethiopia. It is a call for the whole Africa, a renaissance of pan Africanism.

 In this respect, its shortcomings, so to say, have been apparently observed. The 35th Ordinary Session has evidently portrayed its limitations in exploring the pan African spirit thrilled abroad. The #NoMore movement, an awakening of Africanism, should have been reflected aloud at least by some speakers. Moreover, the AU Summit should have taken stock of the trials and tribulations of Ethiopia as related to the response of African countries and its continental organization, the AU. 

One of the pivotal reasons for having a continental organization is to have one voice at all international fora. The West had played unfriendly roles by bringing the agenda of Ethiopia’s situation in the UN’s Security Council for 12 times. The sinister conspiracies of some have been foiled primarily by the principled stand of China and Russia. The EU had tabled a biased agenda under the pretext of humanitarian concern at the UN Humanitarian Commission Council in defiance of the position of the Ethiopian Government. Africans have witnessed the unprincipled and harmful activities of the WHO head working against his own country and contrary to the WHO principles of impartiality and prudence. In such challenging circumstances, the role played by the AU and African brothers had been minimal in light of the expectations of the African peoples. This should have been raised as a lesson for Africa’s future in standing united and voicing as one in such trials.

Decisions on Coup d’états

The resurgence of coups in Africa is becoming a grave threat to peace, security and development of the continent. Recently, Africa has seen a series of coups and attempted coups in different countries, namely, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Sudan. The 35th General Assembly of the AU has suspended four countries from participating in AU’s activities and one is said to have warning for staging coup d’états  Some consider such position as inconsistent on the part of the AU. 

The AU’s concern is legitimate in light of the grave threat coups pose to Africa’s security and stability. Coupled with threats of terrorism, conflicts, poor governance – corruption, coups add more devastating fuels to the deteriorating humanitarian situations and fragile socio-economic and political milieus of Africa. In such topsy-turvy situation, Africa hardly implements the Agenda 2063, including the realization of a united one Africa, the United States of Africa, and the long awaited dreams of pan Africanism. 

The coups that were rife in the 1960s have reverberated and resurged becoming serious concern for the AU. Needless to say, unconstitutional and undemocratic means of assuming state power darkens and kills the spirit of pan Africanism. In today’s Africa where poverty has taken roots with rising inflation and debt burden, excessive external economic and political pressures, unfair treatments in the global undertakings, weak governance and deficiency to manage its own continental regular budget and individual national budgets, etc., coups in Africa cannot be tolerated. 

AU’s measures on countries where coups are staged could be commendable. But, mere condemnation of coups and sanctions cannot necessarily lead to solutions. It has been learnt from the statements of the various officials of the AU and leaders that there is ambiguity and inconsistency in addressing coups. For instance, the TPLF is a designated terrorist organization and has waged a war on the Ethiopian government and on its people to grab state power unconstitutionally. But, no word was mentioned condemning it. Rather, an encouragement of a national dialogue with the terrorist group is recommended. This is really a paradox.

The raison d’etre for condemning coups is because unconstitutional path of assuming power is not only undemocratic but ends in creating havoc, civil strife, insecurity and instability fettered with prodigious economic and political problems. The unconstitutional change of government is not only through a surprise coup. It is crystal clear that there are some crippling actions that lead to crowning the malignant nature of coups or to poor governance. The AU has failed in recognizing or hiding this fact. For instance, the AU as an observer should have given its true opinion on the 2005 election process and result. The blunder it has made is evidently proved by Ethiopia’s current existing situation. Its siding with the government then by providing support to the fake election result has covered the truth till now. The AU pretends to be unaware or ignorant of the fact that what the TPLF has been doing since it was ousted is a path for unconstitutional change of government – qualifying a nature of coup. 

Basically, there are three kinds of coups in Africa: “small gunner or military coups”, “large group bandit military coups” and “pseudo election coups” all having similar features and consequences to the African peoples. The first two are similar except their differences in the number of actors and followers as well as timing of actions. Their vehicle or instrument of achieving their objectives is military force. They are undemocratic, backward, retarding growth and nurturing insecurity and instability. The three coups can be instigated and realized by external and internal factors. Internally, coups are staged either because leaders  ought to be toppled down for not being committed to translate their promises they  make to their respective peoples; or, they are targeted by foreign forces for not being loyal and for not bowing to external pressures. Though gun coups are harmful as the others, there is a need to give a benefit of the doubt for the plotters. This is not meant encouragement of coups is necessary. Rather, the root causes for the staging of the coups have to be scrupulously and thoroughly examined prior to a hasty judgment.

Incontrovertibly, sham, unfair and fraudulent elections are no less dangerous to the other military led surprise or prolonged war coups. All coups grab powers undemocratically leading to dictatorship and more corruption. Under the pretext of election, some leaders dare to change constitutions unconstitutionally that would allow them to prolong their period of rule to the extent of life presidency or more quadrupled terms of power. Unfortunately, the AU is concerned not about the continuation of dictatorship and disturbing corruption through deformed elections but about the coup that materializes instantly under the barrel of the gun. 

Deplorably, in the African context, AU’s outright condemnation of coups without examining the position of the people on the coup is tantamount to blessing corrupt leaders. Obviously, under certain circumstances, coups, though undemocratic with adverse effects, may be the right measure of ridding of unwanted leaders. In view of the governance problem pitching and piercing Africa, it would be unfair for the AU to make biased judgment favouring election coup, opposing instant gun coups and war led coups like the TPLF is doing. All the three types of coups should be equally condemned. The AU’s swift condemnation of instant coup d’états need some considerations for the necessary verifications. It is important that AU delegates first talk to the coup leaders to assess the peoples position and they shall be advised and convinced to immediately embark on just, fair and free election.

As a way forward, the AU should think beyond the usual apprehension of common coup and encompass the election coup if Africa is to have transformational change. More succinctly,in order to realize the dreams of the founding fathers of the OAU in particular and the peoples of Africa in general, the pan African movement has to be owned equally by the leaders of the AU and citizens of Africa. For the consolidation and strengthening of AU’s pace of a strong political, economic, social and cultural union of Africa and concomitantly for contributing to the realization of the globalization process, the AU shall, inter alia, focus on the various factors that augment the spirit of pan Africanism.

To this effect, in the political front, the democratization of AU member states is indispensable. The AU shall have a tangible role by amending its Charter. It shall clearly and unambiguously stipulate the obligation of each member state to have a fixed term of leadership through democratic election for a span of two terms extending to a maximum of eight years -each term being four years. It shall also stipulate that member states are not allowed to institute in their respective constitutions ethnic based government system. Member states shall enhance their cooperation at bilateral, regional and continental levels. They shall have a united African voice at international fora in defense of sovereignty, territorial integrity, freedom, independence, peace and stability of member states. AU member states shall redouble their efforts to implement the various decisions, resolutions and treaties making the peoples of Africa the centrifugal force.

Africa’s political independence shall inextricably linked with economic independence. Africa shall get rid of itself from dependency syndrome. This starts with being self-sufficient in food, enhance the various vehicles of development in the science, technology, infrastructure, environment and other fields. The social aspect is an important ingredient in the process of African complete political and economic union. Pulling together the resources of Africa, pan Africanism shall thrive. This again depends on the democratization of all member states and the political commitment with the fervent desire to work for the benefit of mankind.  

Pan Africanism shall not be misconstrued. Its mottos are freedom, independence, cooperation, peace and stability, progress and prosperity. It strives for its emancipation out of the shackles of all sorts of exploitation, domination and suppression. Its ultimate goal is to create a new international order for the well-being of humankind globally on equal footing. The path is long, hard and cumbersome. Its realization, however, depends on the sacrifices of Africa’s gallant sons and daughters and the collaboration of kind, humane, democratic and peace-loving forces. The spirit of pan Africanism that accompanied and echoed the AU’s 35th Ordinary Assembly will, hopefully, continue glowing. 

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