Jean Ping, the African Union (AU), was in Tunis to open Mo Ibrahim's annual conference, as has been the custom since its launch. As Mo came on stage, the African businessman and philanthropist introduced Ping as the Man of Africa, as he affectionately knows him. The genuinely charming and affable leader of one of Africa's cherished institutions spoke to New African about what has been a critical period for the AU which, even as it celebrates its first decade next year, is facing the challenges presented by Libya Somalia, Cote d'lvoire and the institution's finances.
Q New African: What is your view of Africa today? Do you see the continent's future as being positive?
Jean Ping: Africa is in a far better position today than it once was. I also see an Africa that can resolve its problems, when others allow us to do so without intervening in our affairs. Average economic growth across the continent is strong, with countries such as Ethiopia and Ghana attaining double digit growth rates. This is despite a global financial crisis for which we are not responsible but for which we bear the consequences. Africa is no longer seen as a problem but as an opportunity.
In terms of governance, in 1990 all African countries, bar one or two exceptions, were one-party states. Today we increasingly have political plurality, with parties passing power to each other, and the AU plays its role to ensure this is an orderly process. So the progress is visible; and fantastic when you look where we come from. There is evidently still much to do and the role of the AU in this is essential.
Q You speak of Africa being able to resolve its own problems, but there have been many international interventions in the past year, whilst the AU's voice has seemed muted. Can you expand on this subject?
JP: We think that Africa is best placed to find solutions to African problems. When I arrived at the AU I found the concept of "African solutions to African problems" truly embedded in the institution's philosophy. Africa has never attempted to isolate itself from other international institutions. What we have always asked for from these international bodies is cooperation in implementation of African solutions. You will have noted that we have had four coups in seven months. Our mandate is to bring those countries that have gone astray back in line to an orderly, constitutional process. For this we have specific solutions, and we have become good at implementing them, and we generally always do this within an "international context", for example, working with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the European Union and other international bodies.
When a coup took place in Mauritania, you will note that we involved the Arab League, as Mauritania is an "Arab" country. However, it did nor make sense to consult the Arab League when it came to resolving the problems in Guinea or Madagascar. In those cases, we worked closely with the subregional bodies such as Ecowas and SADC. We never operate in isolation.
Q But does the AU have the means to implement...