AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa is hosting this weekend’s 25th ordinary assembly — or summit — of the African Union (AU) in Sandton, Johannesburg. But some of the critical issues on the agenda are probably not going to be to Tshwane’s liking. The most obvious of these is xenophobia.
At a Press conference during the preparatory meetings this week, AU Commission secretary-general Jean Mfasoni diplomatically insisted that having xenophobia on the agenda was not related to “recent events” in South Africa.
But no one was buying that. AU and member state officials had made it very clear before that the summit had to tackle xenophobia precisely because of the outburst of violence against mostly African foreign nationals during March and April this year.
And the AU Peace and Security Council had explicitly debated the South African xenophobic attacks in a meeting on April 30.
There have also been suggestions that some heads of state would boycott the summit in protest — although South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane firmly dismissed such speculation on Monday.
She described how President Jacob Zuma had taken the initiative in dealing with the African fallout from the xenophobic attacks, including addressing them at a Southern African Development Community summit in Harare in April, and on visits to Mozambique and Nigeria since then.
She suggested it was a gesture of goodwill from two countries whose nationals have experienced xenophobic violence in South Africa that Zuma had been invited on the first state visit to Maputo since the new President Filipe Nyusi took office, and to new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration. In both places he had been received “with warm hands and hearts”, she insisted.
The ISS’s Peace and Security Council Report said that the discussion on xenophobia would give Zuma an opportunity to explain to the whole continent what South Africa is doing about the problem. The debate could become heated if Zuma goes on the offensive, as some of his officials suggested he might, by tossing the ball back into the courts of the immigrants’ home countries and suggesting it is their poor governance which is driving their people out.
Another prickly issue for South Africa at the summit is the fate of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crisis (ACIRC). As the Peace and Security Council Report pointed out this week, ACIRC — Zuma’s brainchild —has been theoretically operational for under a year but has never been deployed.
And now it might never be, because this summit could kill it off.
ACIRC was launched at the 21st AU Summit in 2013 as a force —to be assembled by volunteer states — that would enable the AU to deal rapidly with crises. It would in this way avoid repeating the embarrassment of having to rely on outside powers to deal with conflicts, such as those in Mali and Central African Republic.
ACIRC would bridge the gap because the AU’s African Standby Force (ASF) was taking so long to be established. But Tshwane’s rivals on the continent — notably Nigeria — were deeply suspicious of ACIRC, which probably contributed to the fact that it has never been deployed.
Though ACIRC is funded by South Africa and other volunteer states themselves — versus the ASF, which is funded by the AU — it is nonetheless perceived to divert energy and resources from the ASF. The Peace and Security Council Report says this weekend’s summit is expected to decide whether to keep it as it is, to dismantle it or to absorb it into the ASF as its Rapid Deployment Capability.
The report suggests the last option is the most likely, not least to avoid embarrassing the host nation by dismantling ACIRC altogether.
Another major summit topic that is causing Tshwane some anxiety is the AU’s ambitious plan to become far more self-sufficient financially.
AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma emphasised the importance of this issue soon after taking office in 2012, given her suspicion that foreign donors were exerting too much power over AU activities since they financed about 70 percent of its budget. The new plan envisages AU member states financing all of the AU’s operations, 75 percent of its programmes and 25 percent of its peace and security activities.
But that would considerably boost the contributions of member states, to $600 million a year, to be phased in over five years.
The original idea was to finance this with alternative sources of funding, such as taxes on airfares or hotel tariffs or text messages, and levies on lucrative natural resources such as oil.
However, the member states that would be most affected by these measures shot down the proposals. The decision was made at the last summit, in January, to simply increase the contributions from member states and allow each to decide how to fund those.
A new formula was agreed on for sharing the burden, with the richest states — South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Algeria and Egypt — paying the most.
South Africa’s dues will rise sharply, from about $17 million to $60 million, a drain on the coffers that is not pleasing everyone in government.
The theme of the summit is women’s empowerment but, as in January, this is likely to be eclipsed by more pressing conflicts.
The summit leaders will confront the usual daunting list of crises, some of which — such as Somalia, Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya, South Sudan and Boko Haram in Nigeria — are rapidly becoming perennials on the agenda.
By: Peter Fabricius