10 Jan 2014

Towards Africa-EU Brussels Summit: dialogue and capacity for delivery

by Mehari Taddele Maru and Emebet G. Abate.

Scheduled for April 2014, the 4th Africa-EU Summit will be held in Brussels. The Summit comes at a unique period due to four important developments: the crises in South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Mali, and the ensuing upheavals in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the new leadership at the African Union Commission (AUC), and the proliferation of African partnerships with various old and newly emerging powers. With a different philosophy influencing the new leadership at the AUC, and divergent views on the causes, consequences and responses to the crises following the North African uprisings, the upcoming Summit needs to focus on overhauling the partnership and its underpinning assumptions.

A partnership characterised by fatigue and frustration

For varied reasons, those regularly engaged in the Africa-EU partnership tend to exhibit a degree of fatigue and frustration. If not addressed during the Brussels Summit and 4th partnership period, the ongoing fatigue and frustration may grow to mutually assured distrust about the partnership. The AU has already indicated its position on the need to overhaul its partnerships with a view to embracing the minimalist and inclusive approach. More importantly it urges all partnerships to be anchored in priority based on “concrete projects with earmarked funding” modeled after the Africa-India, Africa-Korea and Africa-China or FOCAC partnerships

The focus should be on “implementation, implementation, and implementation

Compared to some other partnerships, the Africa-EU partnership has been characterised by a lack of delivery of concrete actions commensurate with the pledges and promises of the previous Summits and technical meetings. A case in point is the current disappointingly low performance in all partnership areas. This is partly due to the lengthy procedures in terms of disbursement of funding by the EU, but more so in that actual financial disbursement does not usually match up with pledges.

Largely, the lack of delivery emanates from the weak absorption capacity of the AU. The AUC, designed to be the engine of the AU, reflecting 78% of the budget and 92% of the total human resources of the AU, is currently functioning with only 54% of its approved staff complement. It has 1,458 staff members, of which 495 are professional. With 319 professional positions vacant, it employs more than 800 short-term consultants. Its programme performance and budget execution rate, as assessed by the AU Assembly for 2012 remains at a dismal 60%. This conceals a much worse performance rate in the execution of its programme budget, which stands at a depressingly low 39%. Some departments critical to ensuring human security in the long term are “struggling between execution rates of 15% and 25% budget execution.”

Weaknesses on either side are likely to affect the overall performance of the partnership. Since one of the most serious binding constraints of the partnership has been the slow and low delivery of most of the projects, the effectiveness of the next partnership period will depend on the capability of the AU to absorb the existing funds and implement the relevant projects. Hence, given its human resource capacity limitations, and its sluggish internal decision-making procedures, the AU’s delivery capabilities in terms of this partnership will have to be developed as a partnership priority. 

Delivery as a measurement for an effective partnership

Effective delivery depends on the will and capacity of the partners. Both sides need to ensure continuous dialogue to reinforce political will and identify and reinforce overlapping consensus. On the EU side, it has to make resources available. The EU should provide much-needed funding without any conditional strings attached, and needs to understand Africa’s priorities. This however does not mean that there should not be mutual accountability by either side toward one another. As such there should be a clear allocation of responsibilities, review of progress and proposals for addressing weaknesses. Such processes, though, need to be conducted on the basis of mutual respect and equality, not as a donor-recipient subordinate relationship, one questioning and the other responding. Both partners need to question and provide answers. Above all, however, dialogue should aim at offering impetus for implementation, and reviewing progress and ensuring mutual accountability. 

Mega trends in Africa and the EU’s unique pedigree

By aggressively working on fewer, yet more essential shared priorities with anticipated high returns on efforts and resources, the Africa-EU partnership could be turned into a natural and mutually vital partnership. However, the partnership needs to avoid areas that are already sufficiently covered by other partnerships in order to reduce the potential waste of resources by duplication of efforts. The partnership also needs to strive to enhance its returns for its efforts by investment in areas of comparative advantage.

In this regard, three mega trends in Africa shed light on the Africa-EU partnership’s preferred area of focus. First, with increasing worldwide competition for resources, trade, investment and markets, and with an ill-equipped regulatory and enforcement mechanism, Africa still manages multiple and diverse partnerships. Currently, Africa has more than a dozen partnerships, including the Africa-EU, Africa-China (FOCAC), Africa-Japan (TICAD), Africa-India, Africa-Turkey, Africa-USA (AGOA), Africa-South America, Africa-France and the Africa-Caribbean partnerships. There are also the Afro-Arab and Korea-Africa Forum partnerships in addition to potentially new relationships such as the Africa-Iran and Africa-Australasia partnerships. Other multilateral institutions such as the UN also collaborate very closely with Africa. As indicated in recent decisions of the AU, Africa is willing, but also progressively able, to grasp those opportunities with prospects for high returns and the ability to deliver results.

Second, and highly related to the first trend, is that in a bid to reclaim performance legitimacy, that African states have been denied by the ‘Washington Consensus’, African governments have focused heavily on the need to deliver basic services such as infrastructure, health, education and other public utilities. These increasing inclinations towards the ‘developmental state’ model comes with funding and soft loans devoid of governance related conditions. This trend is being enthusiastically supported within the AU Commission, including the new leadership. The main sources are non-traditional donors such as India, China and Korea. The deflationary implications of these trends for democracy, human rights and good governance are grave, as African developmental states seek performance legitimacy through delivery at the cost of popular legitimacy through democracy.

The AU needs to rapidly shift its focus toward the prevention of conflicts instead of unsuccessfully reacting to violent civil wars beyond its means. Increasingly, African problems will be local with regional and global impact, but their solution will mainly remain local in terms of grievances related to governance and political issues. Well-placed to promote democracy and human rights, the EU could assist the AU in a smooth transition towards preventive works through improved governance and economic development. Hence, in contrast to China, the unique pedigree of the EU and mega trends in Africa dictate that governance should take pride of place in this 4th Africa-EU partnership.


Dr Mehari Taddele Maru is International Consultant on African Union affairs, and Research Fellow at the NATO Defence College. Follow him @meharitaddele

Emebet Getachew is Consultant and expert on Gender, Peace and Security. She can be reached at emebet.ga@gmail.com


Post a Comment