The AFRICAN UNION: Building a New Africa
Ambassador Amina Ali

The African Union established its representative office in Washington a year ago, with full diplomatic privileges. The first AU ambassador to the United States, Amina Ali of Tanzania, recently spoke at Hood College in Frederick, MD, as part of a Visiting Ambassadors program organized by East West Communications and Hood. She explained the steps that lead to the creation of the AU, its agenda for Africa, and the purpose of her mission in Washington.

President George Bush recently had a successful visit to six African States to give a boost to American foreign policy on the continent. The visit of President Bush reflects the increased importance of Africa in the global economic and political arenas. Africa is now enjoying a special position in the scramble for resources between the developed world, on one side, and emerging powers, on the other.

Africa is perceived as fertile ground for accessing raw materials needed by the economies of developed countries. Therefore in the near future we will see a lot happening in the world that will have a bearing on the economic and political development of Africa.

Africa over the centuries was integrated into the world economy mainly as a supplier of cheap labor (the infamous slave trade) and raw materials,

This had perpetuated the draining of African resources rather then their use for the continent’s development. In addition to its human resources the continent has 97 percent of the world’s chrome reserves, 85 percent of its platinum, 64 percent of its manganese, 25 percent of its uranium and 13 percent of its copper, not to mention large deposits of bauxite, nickel, lead and other minerals and gems

Africa also has 20 percent of the world’s hydro electric potential, 20 percent of traded oil (if the USA and Russia are excluded), 70 percent of world cocoa production, one third of the world’s coffee production, and many other agricultural commodities.

During this period, the drive to process Africa’s minerals and raw materials through developing an indigenous manufacturing base has not been there, and a highly skilled labor force to sustain growth and development was not created. To this day, then, Africa’s place in the global community has been defined by its role as an indispensable resource base for all humanity. But it is the poorest continent with the largest number of countries that suffer from limited development.

Post-colonial Africa inherited weak states and dysfunctional economies, whose problems were aggravated by poor leadership, corruption, bad governance and the implementation of new political philosophies and ideologies.

Today, weak governments remain a major constraint on sustainable development in a number of countries. Indeed, one of Africa’s major challenges is for its governments to strengthen their capabilities and to develop long-term policies and strategies for economic development.

We view with disquiet the over-dependence of African economies on the export of basic raw materials and minerals, a situation that makes African economies highly susceptible to external forces and commodity price fluctuations.

Africa continues to be the least developed continent, contributing only an estimated 2.7 percent of the world’s GDP and with an average per capita income of only $166.

In the first 20 years after independence the average annual rate of growth continent-wide has been no more than 4.8 percent, with the least developed countries averaging only 2.9 percent average annual growth, while oil producing countries have done better.

The effect of unfulfilled promises of global development strategies has been more sharply felt in Africa than elsewhere in the world. Indeed, rather than result in an improvement in the economic situation of the continent, successive strategies have resulted in economic stagnation and vulnerability.

The poor economic results produced after independence spurred African leaders to conduct a series of in-depth discussions, and lead to their adoption of the Monrovia Declaration at a July 1979 summit in Liberia.

The declaration established guidelines and instituted measures for national self-reliance and self -sustaining economic development. The African leaders also committed to social development and regional economic integration. This declaration paved the way for Africa to create a new dynamism by establishing national, sub-regional and regional institutions, with the intention of eventually setting up an Africa Common Market leading to an African Economic Community.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, African countries went through a period of implementing structural adjustments to strengthen their state institutions and stabilize their economies.

Under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), an April 1980 summit of African leaders in Nigeria adopted the Lagos Plan of Action for Economic Development of Africa, 1980-2000.

This blueprint contains a valid analysis and correct prescriptions for African countries to transform their economies. In brief, the central principle of the Lagos Plan of Action is that the value of economic development can only be measured by the well-being of the people. No program of structural adjustment or economic development makes sense if it makes people more miserable. Africa should attain a self-sustaining process of economic growth and development.

In the Lagos Plan it was envisaged that African countries should establish an African Economic Community by the year 2000. In the meantime, the African leaders decided to establish regional economic communities (such as ECOWAS and SADC). These were meant to be the pillars of African economic integration.

African Union

This historical outline of the efforts made to achieve African unity and economic integration as a means towards economic and social development shows that African leaders have been aware of the challenges and have seized the moments to take action, when needed.

The advent of the African Union (AU) can be described as an event of great magnitude in the institutional evolution of the continent.

On September 9, 1999, African heads of state and government issued the Sirte Declaration calling for the establishment of an African Union. The Constitutive Act was adopted in the year 2000 and entered into force in 2001. The AU was officially launched at the 2002 African Summit in Durban.

The major objective for the creation of the African Union was to accelerate the process of integration in the continent, to enable it to play its rightful role in the global economy, and to address multi-faceted social, economic and political problems.

The African Union is a vital institution in the achievement of an African renaissance and in enabling Africa to build a new future for its people. It is pivotal for an accelerated transformation of Africa into a viable and self-sufficient economic region.

Through the African Union, African leaders seized the momentum and embarked on the journey of African economic recovery and self-determination.

In recognizing the urgent challenges confronting Africa, the leaders adopted a New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which embodies a vision and strategic framework for Africa’s renewal and is designed to address those challenges.

Issues such as escalating poverty levels, under-development and the continued marginalization of Africa needed a radical new intervention, spearheaded by African leaders, to develop a new vision that would guarantee Africa’s renewal.

A core concept of NEPAD is that Africans should solve Africa’s problems, guided by the following principles:

   1. Good governance as a basic requirement for peace and security and sustainable political and socioeconomic development.
   2. African ownership and leadership, as well as broad and deep participation by all sectors of society.
   3. Anchoring the development of Africa in its resources and the resourcefulness of its people.
   4. Acceleration of regional and continental integration.
   5. Building the competitiveness of African countries and the continent.
   6. Forging a new international partnership that changes the unequal relationship between Africa and the developed world.
   7. Ensuring that all partnerships with NEPAD are linked to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and other agreed development goals and targets.

NEPAD’s goals are as follows:

  • To achieve and sustain an average gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of over 7% per annum for the next 15 years. (The average economic growth rate for the continent in 2005 was 5.1%)
  • To ensure that the continent achieves the agreed international development goals, which are:
  • To reduce the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by half between 1990 and 2015.
  • To enroll all children of school age in primary schools by 2015.
  • To make progress towards gender equality and empowering women by eliminating gender disparities in enrollment for primary and secondary schools by 2005.
  • To reduce infant and child mortality rates by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.
  • To reduce maternal mortality rates by three quarters between 1990 and 2015.
  • To provide access to reproductive health services for all who need them by 2015.
  • To implement national strategies for sustainable development by 2005, so as to reverse the loss of environmental resources by 2015.

Let me briefly examine the status of African development at present. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty, even after recent improvements.

In 2005, nearly 300 million people (over 40 percent of all Africans), were living on less than $1 a day. Life expectancy at birth declined over 15 years (1990-2005) from 49 to 47. The infant mortality rate increased in many countries.

Nearly two thirds of African children are fully immunized against measles and DPT; more than half of the population (56 percent) now has access to improved water sources; and nearly 60 percent of children complete primary school. However, even with the recent improvements, the majority of African countries are unlikely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Compare Africa to East Asia and the Pacific. In 2005, African life expectancy was 45 years, in East Asia and the Pacific it was 71; per capita GNI was $746 compared to $1,630; primary school completion was 58 percent to 98 percent; the ratio of girls to boys in school was 86 percent to 99 percent; child malnutrition was 30 percent to 15 percent; the under-5 mortality rate was 163 per 1000, compared with 33 per 1000; the adult HIV infection rate was 5.8 percent to 0.2 percent; and access to improved water sources was 56 percent to 79 percent.

With these challenges, Africa has an urgent need to transform itself. NEPAD is well placed to be the force to build the new Africa. We should bear in mind that transforming a country and a continent is a long-term process and it can take decades or even generations. In the case of Africa this is an even more complex task due to entrenched problems.

In recognizing the challenges ahead, the NEPAD policy framework focuses on the following areas.

1. AU peace support operations capacity.

2. Standards and guidelines for the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

3. NEPAD’s instruments for promoting good governance.

4. NEPAD’s health strategy.

5. The education action plan

6. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture development program (CAADP): regional communities and national governments have identified high priority projects and early actions. Governments have also committed to increase national budget allocations for agriculture to 10 percent per annum over 5 years.

7. The short-term Action Plan (STAP) for infrastructural development.

8. The environment action plan.

9. The science and technology strategic plan.

10. The tourism action plan.

11. The Africa productive capacity action plan. This plan is also closely linked to the CAADP with the primary objective to promote agro industries and other manufacturing activities by harnessing the comparative advantage of each sub-region.

The entire 11-point program was adopted by the African leadership. Rapid progress has been registered during the past few years.

The African Union is conducting itself differently from its predecessor, the OAU. It is taking its mandate and responsibilities very seriously, and a number of African leaders are helping to make it an effective organization, not only by providing it with additional resources but by ensuring that it conducts its affairs competently, procedurally and transparently.

The most challenging area for the African Union is peace-building, conflict resolution and management.

Through NEPAD African leaders have not only taken ownership and leadership of the continent’s socio-economic renewal agenda, they have also transformed the African agenda and are making progress in changing the international context as well. NEPAD’s priorities and policies have become the international framework for Africa’s development.

APRM, a governance initiative under NEPAD, has received international acclaim.

In addition, agriculture, infrastructure, science and technology and regional integration, which were not among the top priorities on our partners’ agendas, have now taken center stage.

In other words, through NEPAD African leaders have fundamentally changed the development paradigm in Africa. The narrow approach of the poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) has been replaced by a comprehensive and holistic approach to development.

Through these interventions, the African people have themselves determined a development path for their countries and continent.

Let me briefly outline the mission and mandate of the African Union Mission in the US. The AU Washington office has full diplomatic recognition from the US Administration. This demonstrates the commitment of the Bush Administration to Africa. Our mission is to be a bridge between America and Africa. We are seeing a lot of opportunity in various areas for the mutual benefit for our continent and its people.

The future for Africa is very promising. Long live Africa!