The Current and Future Prospects of the African Union

The African Continent on Planet Earth

The African Union usually does not receive the attention it deserves.  Media coverage of the organization has been minimal, despite what has arguably been a very significant year for it. This began with the peaceful resolution of a disputed election in the Gambia followed by the reintegration of Morocco into the bloc. With that latter occurrence the entire continent, excluding those regions governed by overseas powers, is now a part of the organization for the first time since its foundation in 2002. Furthermore, ongoing reforms aimed at promoting democracy are changing the organization's image from one that historically has been associated with dictators to one that is spearheading democratic change on the continent.

The African Union is now in a strong position, but its ambitions are greater still.  Under its Agenda 2063 framework, the A.U. intends to initiate wide-ranging reforms to reorganize the entire continent of Africa into a coherent socio-political bloc. The most notable of these objectives is the stated intention to create a currency union by the mid-2030's on the model of the Euro.  Its initial step is the formation of about four or so currency blocs, which can then be integrated to form an overall single African currency.  These precursor blocs are already coalescing.   A single African Union passport is to be created in order to turn the entire continent into a visa-free travel zone.  The first group of these passports has already been issued.  In essence the African Union seeks to become an overarching organization designed in the image of the European Union.  Should it succeed in these ambitions, we may see one of the most rapidly developing regions on the planet united under a single currency.  If this comes to pass, the geo-political implications could be huge.

Nevertheless, its laudable ambitions do often struggle to find realization, and it is with this in mind that the current head of the A.U., Paul Kagame, has recommended wide-ranging reforms.  These primarily aim to rationalize the current structure of the A.U., primarily by internalizing their finances.  One of the main factors undermining the credibility of the A.U. is its financial arrangements.  Its budget is primarily funded by overseas donors, with about 70% of the 2016 budget supplied by external sources.  Kagame’s reforms include seeking to establish taxes among the member-states to fund the A.U. internally, thus decreasing their reliance on outside sources. Similarly, he also recommends reforms that would prioritize certain goals and increase organizational efficiency.  Kagame has developed a strong reputation as a technically efficient leader during his tenure as president of Rwanda, making him well qualified to spearhead these reforms.  If these reforms come to pass, we may find a more effective A.U. emerge over the next decade.

We must also consider the future in which these reforms are to come.  Even considering the growth disparity between less well-off countries such as the Central African Republic and the better-off countries such as Ethiopia, the overall growth rate of the African continent is expected to rise to around 3.5% by next year. This will be further bolstered by record high levels of foreign direct investment into the continent, particularly from China.  That will serve to increase infrastructural development and stimulate business growth on the continent.  Therefore, even when considering the unavoidable challenges a lot of African countries will face in the coming years, the region has an undeniably unique potential for development and growth.

Only time will tell what lessons the African Union will leave for similar organizations seeking regional integration.  It has been defined by inclusivity and compromise, which has allowed all countries on the continent to become members. This has in turn allowed its decisions to be holistic and focused, and has given it a sense of unity and purpose.  The unique developmental and security challenges faced by the African continent facilitate this unity through provision of a common objective.  It remains to be seen whether the growing economic disparity between countries in the region will lead to schisms over policy.

When considering the future of the African Union, we must consider it in light of its stable and qualified leadership, its impressive growth prospects, and its ambitions for greater reform and integration.  In this light, it seems fair to return to our initial assertion:  the African Union deserves far more attention than it currently receives. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

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