Dr Dlamini-Zuma’s assumption to the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), was greeted with much controversy. There were widely-held assumptions that South Africa’s bid for this position was driven by ulterior motives, not in the least that it wished to build its international prestige so as to justify its status as an African “Lead” nation, and the more serious charge that it wished to use the Commission as an instrument for Pretoria’s foreign policy ambitions.
In one attempt to deflect attention away from the notion that South Africa was treating the AUC like an extension of her country’s foreign policy, and give credence to the idea that she was a visionary, functional leader, Dr Dlamini-Zuma soon embarked on the expansive exercise of coming up with a new vision for the continent, African Union Vision 2063. This aimed at cementing her reputation as a competent and effective visionary leader, and an organisation's person. She also wanted to bolster her reputation as a Pan-African in her own right after the bruising battle for the position against former Chair, Jean Ping, which left the continent a divided place.
Through the exercise of crafting a grand “fifty-year” vision, Dlamini-Zuma set out to “revive” Pan-Africanism and promote continental integration. She latched on to the idea of Africa “claiming the 21st Century as the African Century”, and that under her leadership, “Africa will promote peace, security, governance and economic development”. But there is little new and novel about these ideas. Since the end of the Cold War, and even before the formation of the AU, African leaders have placed hese goals at the apex of their agendas. Agenda 2063 also advanced the developmental ideas of economic growth, access to education, public health, and consolidation of democratic governance, peace, stability and human development. But these too were not novel ideas, with all Dr. Dlamini-Zuma’s predecessors advancing these ideas. In line with the new developmentalism, Agenda 2063 placed great emphasis on the state playing a prominent role in development through initiatives such as public investment and infrastructure development.
The Dlamini-Zuma inspired Agenda 2063 recognised firstly that there is a need for norm implementation and professionalization of the AU. Indeed, since its inception, the AU has suffered from a deep seated implementation crisis as it shown itself to be good at policy making and norms interpretation, but fundamentally weak when it came to operationalisation of policy and ideas. The idea of professionalisation of the AU staff and diplomatic corps is one that needs to be stressed here. There has often been the idea that many of the continent’s leaders send “dead-wood” diplomats to Addis Ababa, and not taking seriously the need for highly skilled and competent civil servants to serve the continental interests. Indeed, when Dr. Dlamini-Zuma speaks of “professionalisation” of the AU, we must assume that she has in mind overhauling the human resources and capability-enhancing dimensions of the Commission. The Commission remains a weak and moribund institution that can do with greater degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.
But Agenda 2063 is a highly-ambitious, even unrealistic vision statement. The very idea of a 50-year vision statement is somewhat far-fetched. There is of course no gainsaying that the idea is important for Africa to end all wars. But the statement that Africa should end all wars by 2020”, without backing such a statement up with the necessary policy and institutional rigour is almost meaningless. Even the promise by Agenda 2063 to speed up the idea of the Continental Free-Trade Agreement is one that has enjoyed the attention of many policy-makers before the arrival of this new vision statement.
What is needed is for the new AU Commission Chair to show just how much political muscle she has and to try and extract commitment from political leaders to pool sovereignty so as to move the continent to deeper levels of integration. On this score, Dlamini-Zuma’s greater achievement to date has probably been to unlock a series of igh-level talks between the AU Commission and regional economic communities (RECs) such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and others. For years, talks between the AU and these entities were almost like a “dialogue of the deaf”, with little progress being made on the devolution of power and delegation of authority. Many RECs have undermined the AU Commission and other organs as they believed that, given that they were much older than these bodies, they have an inherent right of existence. These breakthroughs notwithstanding, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma and her team has their work cut out to sustain this dialogue and to ensure that it results in the foundations of an African union of States, with greater decision-making powers and authority being devolved to the RECs, in exchange for RECs respecting the authority of the AU Commission more.
In short, the challenge faced by the AU Commission Chair and her team is how to turn an ambitious vision statement that is long on promise and short on delivery into one that is able to translate promise into delivery. For one, we should not work on the assumption that all states are buying into the idea of the vision. Many would pledge their commitment to the vision verbally but fail to back it up in practice. Just as she has to try and ensure buy-in into the new vision, so Dlamini-Zuma also has to work on closing the gap between promise and delivery in Africa. Vision 2063 is correct in reminding us about the need to close the policy-implementation, and the continental divide, and to ensure that continental visions are operationalised. So just as there is a need to get Africans to speak with one voice continentally and abroad, so there is a need to get states to live by continental commitments and provisions. We are desperately in need of the idea of ‘continental sovereignty’ in Africa. Given that Dlamini-Zuma was victorious in defeating Jean Ping, it would be prudent for her to take the lead in the project of building continental sovereignty.
Chris Landsberg is professor and SARChI Chair of African diplomacy and foreign policy at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and Senior Associate at the UJ School of Leadership
The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of ECDPM
Photo courtesy of UNAMID