3 takeaways from this month’s African Union Summit in Kigali
Depending on where you live, you may not have heard about it in the news, but from July 10th to the 18th the African Union held its 27th summit in Kigali, Rwanda. An unprecedented number of current and former African heads of state gathered to discuss this year’s theme, Human Rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women. Inspired by a spirit of collaboration not dissimilar from Search’s philosophy and approach, they indicated the path forward on many issues that the continent is facing.
Here are three takeaways from the event, reinforcing hope in a brighter future for Africa.
1. A collaborative approach to human rights
One of the AU’s leitmotivs lies in the fight against violent extremist groups: Boko Haram in the Sahel region, al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa, and al-Qaïda in the Maghreb. The threats these organizations pose to security and stability are serious, and the risks of widespread recruitment and insurgency are high. The violence and human rights violations they generate are universal and lack boundaries; that’s why cooperation between states is paramount.
In the past, AU responses to human right violations have been slow, erratic, and reactive. As Oxfam’s representative Désiré Assogbavi said, more than 8 AU decisions out of 10 are not implemented.
However, things are changing rapidly. On the Saturday of the summit, there was a meeting focused on finding a peace agreement in South Sudan, Africa’s most recent crisis. Tensions in the world’s youngest nation, stemming from the rivalry between President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar, flared up again this month in the capital, Juba. Several AU members backed plans to send additional peacekeeping troops as a regional contingent to help a 12,000 UN peacekeeping force already deployed. AU members’ recommendation that the UN Security Council imposes peace, together with the presence of UN chief Ban Ki-moon in Kigali, evidences the Union’s vehement desire to rapidly end violent conflict and build peace in South Sudan.
Whether the AU’s decisiveness will have a strong impact on South Sudan’s near future remains to be seen, but the African leaders’ willingness to work together and take action is a sign that crises all across the continent could be tackled more promptly in the future.
2. Rwanda’s modern visage and commitment to gender equality
The summit was an opportunity for Rwanda to showcase the new — but already iconic — Kigali Convention Centre, located in the heart of the capital. Built purposely for the event, its sizeable dome resembles one of the country’s thousand hills. Its impressive hosting capacity — up to 5,500 people — makes this modern facility the region’s largest convention centre. The bell-looking construction arises as the architectural jewel of a larger urban project, aiming at developing the city center.
Capitalizing on the visibility offered by the summit, the organizers set up an exhibition to promote investment opportunities and tourism in Rwanda. The country emerged as a fastly-developing example of excellence, spearheading economic and societal change in Africa.
Relevant to this year’s specific focus on women, Rwanda is also a global role model when it comes to gender parity in government; as of 2015, 64% of parliamentarians were women. Another country, South Africa, received an award for achieving economic emancipation of women. The AU committed to “women’s empowerment and gender equality in all spheres of life” by 2063.
3. Panafrican agreements
Whilst its European counterpart is facing difficult times dealing with a refugee crisis and the aftermath of Brexit, the AU is designing ambitious projects to become more integrated.
One of the highlights of this summit was the adoption of an electronic AU passport. This e-passport will facilitate the free movement of people, goods, and services within the 54 AU member states, in order to “foster intra-Africa trade, integration, and socio-economic development.” The passport will be available to all African citizens by 2018. In the coming months and years, there will have to be discussions on ways to prevent violent extremist groups from exploiting the new norms to their advantage, maximize access to biometric technologies across the continent, and deal with derogatory policies that restrict freedom of movement in some African nations.
Another highlight was the adoption of Agenda 2063, “a global strategy to optimise the use of Africa’s resources for the benefits of all Africans”. Its goal of advancing a united voice on the international stage fits into the framework of a world ever more global, where the AU wishes to be an equal interlocutor of the BRICs nations, the United States and the EU.
Other interesting initiatives launched at the summit are the Pan-African Leadership Academy, an institution dedicated to development and innovation which will target civil servants and government officials, based in Addis Ababa; talks about the AU’s self-sustainable financing; and plans to achieve a Continental Free Trade Area by 2017.
A stronger, more integrated Africa could have enormous benefits on its people and create unprecedented opportunities for them. It’s encouraging to see that, rather than giving in to the political, religious, and ethnic divisions highlighted by the media, African leaders are working together to emerge as a unified, forward-looking entity on the global stage.
In the wake of the summit, Morocco, the only African nation which is not an AU member, formally announced it wishes to join the continental organisation. After that, the AU will gather Africa as a whole.
History will judge whether the Union fulfilled its original purpose of promoting Africa’s democracy, independence, and development. For now, as peacebuilders dealing with the daily reality of conflict on the ground, it’s heartening to see the willingness to collaborate displayed in Kigali. The news constantly expose us to the narrative of an Africa plagued by violence and crippled by irreparable conflict, but we know for a fact that peace can blossom all across the continent.
Let’s coalesce around the message of unity sent by the AU leaders, and work to bring to fruition the potential for development, tolerance, and opportunity. Today, that prospect is well within reach.
Baptiste Marle is an intern at Search for Common Ground, based in Kigali.