The African Union’s Big Shame

The African Union's Big Shame
African leaders gathered in Addis Ababa for the 50th anniversary of the African Union

AFRICANGLOBE – The African Union is still heavily dependent on foreigners for funding. Yet this is the organization that should be working tirelessly for the complete liberation of African people from the clutches of imperialism. How can this AU push its agenda in the global arena?

In 1963, founding fathers of newly-independent African states met in Addis-Ababa and founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). In 2002, the OAU was renamed the African Union (AU). The AU was formed with a vision of establishing an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena. But is this so?

The AU has worked towards achieving some of its objectives (on paper). It has, however, mainly been a platform for African leaders to rile at the imperialistic West for meddling in their affairs and driving an agenda that is not in the best interests of Africa. Question is, do those African leaders themselves have the best interests of Africans at heart? African leaders meet at AU summits to give fiery speeches followed by spells of ‘doing-nothing-ism’*.

Simply put, the AU has the bark of a bulldog, and the bite of a poodle. This is because it’s yet to become independent financially – and ultimately, politically.

For a long time, Libya under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi heavily bankrolled the AU. Libya provided 15 per cent of AU’s membership revenue and paid entire dues for many African nations from its vast oil wealth. That is before the colonel was ousted. Six countries – South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – currently contribute about 65% of the AU’s membership revenue.

There exist principles governing contributions to the AU by member states. These are, however, largely ignored. Lack of stable local financing creates donor dependency in the financing of operations and programmes including peacekeeping, health and education.

For example: The AU’s marble and glass headquarters located in Addis Ababa was put up by the Chinese government at a cost of $200M in the year 2012 and dubbed a ‘gift to the people of Africa’. We all know there exists nothing like a free lunch. China has managed to get mining concessions and infrastructural development projects in many African states over the past few years.

The AU’s budget in 2014 was $308 million, and was 65 per cent funded by donors. This budget has since risen to $522 million in 2015. Member states are to contribute 28 per cent of this budget, while donors are expected to contribute a whopping 72 per cent. In the $522 million budget for 2015, $142.6 million represents operational costs and $379.4 million represents programme costs. The AU’s programmes – including peacekeeping, health, education – are 97 per cent funded by donors including the EU, USA, China, Japan, Turkey and the World Bank.

Finances from these foreign powers come with strings attached. Most of the aid is in exchange for something. Donors are thus in a position to determine ‘the African agenda’ making it difficult to defend African interests at the global arena, where those same donors have huge influence. That is precisely why Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma embarked on a mission to wean the AU off donor money when she took over as its chairperson three years ago.

A high-level panel chaired by former Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was appointed to look at alternative sources of financing for the AU. Its report recommended that member states raise revenue by imposing a $10 airfare levy on each international flight leaving or entering Africa and a $2 levy per hotel stay in Africa.

African heads of state approved the recommendations of the Obasanjo panel in January 2015 – almost two and a half years after their submission! Yes, it takes two and a half years to pass an approval – a mere approval! In addition, they also proposed a levy of $0.005 per SMS sent from any corner of Africa.

The report states that if member states follow its recommendations, the AU could potentially raise $1.454 billion in 2015, $1.822B in 2016 and $2.33B in 2017 respectively, with almost two thirds of the amounts for each year arising from the SMS charge.

Tourism dependent counties have however been unhappy with the decision to impose levies on hotels and airfare arguing it will raise the cost of their tourism packages, thus rendering them uncompetitive destinations in the global tourism circuit. This has forced the AU to take a soft stance on these levies, and declaring them non mandatory.

A higher threshold for contributions based on GDP has instead recently been proposed. This states that 60 per cent of the budget is to be shared equally among six countries whose economies represent more than 4% of Africa’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 25% to be shared among 12 countries whose economies represent between 1% – 4% of Africa’s total GDP, and 15% of the budget is to be paid by 36 states whose economies represent less than 1% of Africa’s GDP.

It is worth asking whether African states will pay the proposed contributions this time round, given that they have failed to pay smaller amounts in the past. The problem of financial (and ultimately political) independence for the AU seems like one that is not going away any time soon. As the great revolutionary Thomas Sankara once said, “He who feeds you controls you”. The AU is in no position to effectively defend African interests.

*NEW WORD: Doing-nothing-ism ( /ˈdo͞oiNG/ – /ˈnəTHiNG/ – /ˈizəm/ ) – The practice of appearing to be busy, while doing nothing in actual sense. (I invented the word as I was writing this article.)


By: Sungu Oyoo