African Union in danger of being stillborn.

Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Position:Cover Story: African Union

All roads lead to Durban, the South African Indian Ocean city, on I July. The OAU will make way for the African Union (AU) to be born. It will be a joyous occasion to be attended by Africa's great and good. Amara Essy, the OAU secretary general who was mandated last year to transform the OAU to the AU within one year, says come rain or shine the Union will be delivered in Durban. But there are still some dangers ahead which might well cause the Union to be stillborn. Baffour Ankomah, just back from the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to look at the preparations for the Birth, does not have a very happy story to tell. This is his report.

Durban, fast becoming the African city of conferences, will have another hot item on its CV on 1 July -- midwife to Africa's long-awaited baby, the African Union or AU. The OAU secretary general, Amara Essy (from Cote d'Ivoire), says the Birth is sure.

But will the baby be whole or deformed? It depends on how you define deformation really. The OAU had four constituent organs, the AU will have 17. But Essy says four (you can add ONLY if you want) of the 17 organs will be ready for launching in Durban.

These are the "key organs" -- the Assembly ( of heads of state), the Executive Council (of foreign ministers), the Permanent Representatives Committee (of ambassadors accredited to Addis Ababa), and the Commission (the secretariat).

The other organs such as the Pan-African Parliament, the Court of Justice, the African Central Bank, the Specialised Technical Committees, the African Investment Bank and eight others will have to wait. Perhaps Maputo, capital of Mozambique, the next host of the Summit after Durban, in 2003, might have the honour of being the midwife to the 13 organs that will be missing in Durban.

But this is where the good news begins to end, and the bad takes over. Even the four key organs of the Union might yet be stillborn in Durban if the danger signs on the road are not removed immediately!

In fact, four things are dangerously threatening the Union.

The first is sabotage, by a cabal of the former OAU secretary general Salim Salim's loyalists at the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

The second is non-payment of dues by member countries (over $54.5m is now in arrears).

The third is NEPAD, the New African Partnership for Development, an economic programme endorsed and adopted last July by the OAU Summit in Lusaka as an integral part of the OAU/AU structures but which is now operating as an animal of its own, outside the OAU.

The fourth is the school of thought that would like the "chairman of the AU Commission to be the preserve of former and burnt our heads of state. They are, therefore, pushing for the recently retired Malian president, Alpha Konare, to rake the chair of the Commission and hold it also for President Obasanjo after he serves his second term in Nigeria, if he wins next year's presidential race.


Amara Essy says (in The Interview) that the "OAU is the most difficult organisation I have ever seen". And he is a veteran of the international circuit.

You must see it to believe it. People paid by the continent of Africa (even if the pay is low compared to the UN system) to work for the people of Africa are deliberately sabotaging Africa's progress to the Union. Some of them have

worked at the OAU for, as Essy says, 10, 15, 20 or more years.

Their mentor, Salim Ahmed Salim, reluctantly lost the chance of a fourth-term in Addis Ababa, and so they think that if Salim is gone, the African Union must go with him. They want to prove that Salim should have been allowed a fourth-term to handle the transition to the AU.

In fact, the OAU Secretariat is peppered with some acolytes of former secretaries-general who always have mixed loyalties to the succeeding secretaries-generals. And they are there to prove that "their respective regimes" were better than whatever they are currently serving. They are still caught up in the cement of old thinking and cannot accept that their power base is gone and there is a new master to be served in the supreme interest of Africa.

In Addis Ababa today, there are clusters of these people around who are making life extremely difficult nor only for Amara Essy, but also for Africa as a whole, and their own careers in particular.

Generally, I discovered during my visit in early May, that the OAU Secretariat is nor kind to the infusion of new blood to invigorate the transition to the AU, even though it is recognised that the present professional staff strength is weak in quality.

If these people are nor stopped (and Amara Essy says he is nor going to sack them for various reasons, see The Interview), it is most likely that they will create the AU in their own poisonous image. But that is nor what the heads of state want. They say they don't want the AU to be the toothless OAU in another name.

Therefore, the question that has to be asked is why it has taken Amara Essy so long to put his Transition Support and Planning Team (TSPT) together since he decided to do so last October, just one month after taking office himself.

In March, Essy presented a report to the Council of Ministers meeting and emphatically told them that his transition team was in full swing and that the various working groups had been established and functioning.

What Essy did not tell the Ministers was that he did nor write the report. Those who wrote it for him lied badly. Sadly Essy did nor have enough time to comb through it as it has become the pattern in his cabinet that his speeches are always handed to him a few hours or minutes to the event, and so he ends up ignoring the script.

Procrastination and filibustering have made it almost impossible for the transition team to bring on board new faces and skills to augment what is available. That is the kind of internal politics threatening the smooth birth of the AU.

As a result, senior staffers deliberately sir on important letters and documents for weeks -- letters that ought to be hotfoot in the post on the same day they are written.

Cooperation between and within departments is at a low ebb. Authorisation for various things is routinely withheld deliberately. Some senior staff, from the assistant-secretaries-general down, also deliberately absent themselves from important meetings or "go on official duty abroad" just when they are needed in Addis Ababa.

The AU website, for example, is still nor operational because of the internal politics, and some new staff are still without computers five months after joining, including the new press attache to the secretary general and the cabinet.

This is all part of the intrigues meant to sabotage the work of Amara Essy and by extension the transition process. At the Ministerial Council meeting in March, it was decided that the AU should make a clean break with the current staff and recruit new and better qualified staff.

There is, of course, opposition to this by the staff association. Yet if you speak to staffers off the record, they agree that the Secretariat has become the dumping ground of (as one put it) "misfits" and relations of African leaders, and so there are a lot of round pegs in square holes and this accounts for the poor performance and delivery at the OAU.

OAU headquarters

The funny side of it all is that 39 years after its establishment, the OAU still operates from...

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