By Dr Naledi Pandor
This year Africa Day is particularly auspicious for Africa and for South Africa. We are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the African Union (AU) and recalling that the launch was held right here in South Africa, a very special affirmation then of our new democracy.
The AU has made important progress in these two decades and has established itself as the premier organ of unity on our continent and has devoted focused attention to enhancing its ability to address the complex challenges of African unity and development.
In this 20-year period, progress has been achieved in several significant areas. AU member states have developed the practice of adopting common positions on many issues of global importance and jointly striven to influence international debates in multilateral organisations. For example, they have pushed for much-needed reform of UN-decision making bodies such as the Security Council.
They have also succeeded in developing an African perspective on climate change policy and practice, despite developed country’s efforts to divide developing countries. Together, they have argued for development financing for climate change responses, reminded developed countries of their obligations as large emitters, and worked together to secure debt relief, progressive trade regulations, and access to Covid-19 research innovation and production capacity.
Beyond these more recent developments, the AU has ensured action on establishing institutions of the union. We now have a Pan African Parliament still in its formation stage but functional, an increasingly robust African Peer Review Mechanism, and the recently agreed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). All of these institutions have support from the majority of African countries and point to increased acceptance of a future truly United Africa.
These are a few celebrated signs of progress. Despite these and many other successes, the continent and the AU continue to be confronted by near insurmountable challenges. First, after having adopted a well-designed strategy to finally silence the guns in Africa, many conflicts continue to reverse progress.
The war in Libya severely impacted African peace and progress. The devastating war that has spawned mayhem in the Sahel region continues to pose a massive risk for the continent. The role of external parties in the conflict in Libya was a clear demonstration of how powerful countries continue to be a force for instability. The AU is working hard at drawing the various parties together to devise an Africa-supported solution to the conflict.
The coup in Sudan, instability, and absence of democratic outcomes is also a challenge for the union. The most devastating blow to our progress has resulted from the coups witnessed since April last year. Chad, Mali, Guinea Conakry, and Burkina Faso all had unconstitutional takeovers of government.
The AU acted swiftly and suspended Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso. The lack of action against Chad remains a concern nevertheless, even on Chad the displeasure of the region through Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and that of AU has been emphatic.
A challenge that must be attended to by the AU is the inadequate embrace of democratic competition in some countries. At times opposition is treated as an invading enemy and leads to destructive intra-state conflict with worrying levels of internal refugees and humanitarian disasters.
The AU has also not fully succeeded in addressing the conflict in eastern DRC but continues with peace efforts in that country. Much more needs to be done by the AU to inculcate dialogue on the continent and preventive measures to stem armed conflict. Focused attention to the Sahel is critical, as well as embedding democracy in the Sudan.
In addition, the AU has to strengthen its peace and security architecture so it can intervene more decisively if governance begins to collapse or if conflict results in war or skirmishes. Greater attention has to be given to so-called Islamist groups that are terrorising communities and diverting resources away from development.
The key focus alongside conflict prevention has to be achieving higher levels of intra-African trade as anticipated in the AfCFTA. The AfCFTA is a milestone achievement for Africa in creating potentially the largest free trade area in the world. Once fully implemented it creates a trade area linking 1.3 billion people, enabling enhanced industrialisation and viable regional and continental value chains. The AU must focus on this with resolve as it is the policy that will alter Africa’s fortunes forever if fully implemented.
Thus far 41 out of the 55 states have ratified the agreement, the overall legal framework has been agreed, including protocols on trade in goods and services, as well as protocols on procedures for settlement of disputes. The negotiations aimed at finalising rules of origin are also at an advanced stage of completion. This is remarkable progress.
The AU must also be acknowledged for developing a forward-looking blueprint for the development of Africa - Agenda 2063 - providing a vision of Africa in the future, an Africa we want.
The next 20 years must focus on this Africa. One that is united, one in which youth play a leading role in integration of Africa. Linked to this must be a radical change in our attitude to our extensive natural resources.
Our mineral resources must be beneficiated in Africa, a solid manufacturing and industrial capacity must be created, and agriculture must support a nourished skilled Africa. Of course, digital platforms must support all sectors.
Our leaders have already adopted a 50th anniversary declaration that these goals will be accomplished through a people-driven process. Agenda 2063 is that blueprint and must be fully implemented by all Africans supported by committed, forward looking, leaders whose sole interest is the fundamental and progressive development of Africa.
*Pandor is the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation