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Egyptian Presidency of the African Union: A Mutual Opportunity?

Three Questions to Dalila Berritane

INTERVIEW - 13 February 2019

Following the African Union summit that was held in Addis Ababa on 10 February 2019, Egypt has taken over Rwanda to assume the presidency of the Union for one year. Often considered closer to the Middle East than to Africa, Egypt, which is at the crossroads of the two regions, has nevertheless announced its intention to use this presidency to get closer to its African partners. President Sisi will continue the work of his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, whose presidency of the continental organization has been marked by unprecedented reforms - or at least a desire for reform. What assessment can be made of Paul Kagame's presidency? What to expect from the Egyptian presidency? Dalila Berritane, founder & CEO of Nedjma Consulting and rapporteur of Institut Montaigne’s report Ready for Today’s Africa?, shares her analysis.

How would you evaluate the Rwandan presidency of the African Union?

It all depends on the perspective you take, and whether you look at the trajectory or the results. Certainly, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has sought to make his mark on the presidency of the African Union. He has launched a number of projects, some successfully and others with more mitigated results.
 
In his closing speech at the extraordinary summit of the African Union (AU) last November in Addis Ababa, President Kagame considered that he had done his share of the work. Better, that his work would continue to have an impact decades later: "We have done our part to continue the journey and I expect the next AU President to continue on the same path and with the same progress".

In his closing speech at the extraordinary summit of the African Union (AU) last November in Addis Ababa, President Kagame considered that he had done his share of the work.

The reform regarding internal resources allocated to the functioning of the African Union was adopted during his presidency, although it has yet to produce its effects. The aim is for African States to finance the functioning of the African Union by allocating an import tax of around 0.2% to it. While half of the 54 African Union states have adopted the measure, President Kagame has failed to convince a heavyweight like South Africa, which is lagging behind.

Regarding the electoral processes, President Kagame suffered a major setback. Last month, he convened an AU meeting to discuss the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He wanted to impose on Kinshasa a recount of the presidential election votes but was unable to obtain it. Worse, President Kagame, who had planned to lead a delegation to Kinshasa, had to renounce his mission because of the official proclamation of the presidential election results. And because of the reluctance, to say the least, of Southern African Development Community (SADC), the southern African region chaired by South Africa, to endorse his approach. SADC simply called for calm in the DRC, considering President Kagame's initiative as null and void.
 
No one within the African Union forgets the enmities between Paul Kagame and his former protégé, Joseph Kabila, as well as his role in the destabilization of Congo. In Kinshasa, including in the ranks of the opposition to President Kabila, it was ironic that President Kagame, re-elected three times in a row with Soviet-style scores and the right to run until 2034, could still manipulate the presidential election in DRC.
 
As for the pan-African peacekeeping force desired by Kagame, it has certainly been launched but requires considerable financial and human resources. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Chadian Moussa Faki Mahamat, considered close to President Kagame, has launched a $400 million fund to manage conflicts. To date, 60 million have already been collected.
 
Finally, Paul Kagame has failed to strengthen the powers of the AU Commission, although he has succeeded in streamlining its functioning by reducing the number of commissions from 8 to 6.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mustapha Madbouli stressed the need for Egypt to use its AU presidency to bring African countries closer together. What is the current state of this relationship?

We must remember that a little more than a year after the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union, it was Cairo that hosted the very first OAU summit in 1964. Egypt therefore played a major role in the creation of the OAU before moving away from it during the Mubarak years, after the attempted attack on the Egyptian Head of State in 1995 when he arrived in Addis Ababa to attend the OAU summit. Today, Egypt, which is taking over the presidency of the African Union, will have to demonstrate its anchoring in Africa, while maintaining a very strong foreign policy towards the Near and Middle East.

Egypt therefore played a major role in the creation of the OAU before moving away from it during the Mubarak years.

In a context of political tensions in the region and internationally, Cairo has every interest in fostering its neighbourhood relationships with other African countries. Indeed, at its borders, major upheavals are taking place. In the Horn of Africa, Egypt is particularly interested in an unprecedented rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, as it is closely monitoring the use of the Nile waters following the construction of the huge Ethiopian dam on the river. Sudan is also a source of concern, after the protests against the Bashir regime. Indeed, Cairo has a tortuous relationship with Khartoum due to a conflict on an island in the so-called Halayeb border triangle, which the two countries are fighting over.
 
And let's not forget that Egypt will host this summer the ACN 2019, the African Cup of Nations, which is a very important moment of football and celebration for Africa.

What can we expect from the Egyptian presidency, which will begin on February 10, particularly with regard to the AU reforms initiated by Paul Kagame during the Rwandan presidency?

Nevertheless, it is unclear whether Egypt will endorse President Kagame's desire to strengthen the powers of the African Union Commission.

One of the priorities of the Egyptian presidency at the head of the African Union will be above all security and the fight against what Cairo calls terrorism. Economic development is also announced as a focus of work by the Egyptian authorities. To this end, Egyptian companies will undoubtedly be pushed to invest more in other African countries. Young entrepreneurs who, it seems, are more inclined to reconnect with their African roots, will be strongly solicited, especially during the summit that Egypt will organize this year in Aswan between Arab and African youth. Cairo also intends to boost its tourism by promoting a number of pan-African cultural projects.

Finally, with regard to AU reforms, Egypt will encourage member states that have not already done so to ratify the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), the Pan-African economic area. In this respect, President Sisi will continue the work of his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether Egypt will endorse President Kagame's desire to strengthen the powers of the African Union Commission. Indeed, Egypt, in the aftermath of Marshal Sissi's coup d'état in 2013, was suspended from the African Union. A decision that, according to Cairo, was the work of the AU Commission. In this respect, Cairo will certainly be followed by a large number of heads of state who refuse to deposit their sovereignty powers in the hands of the AU Commission.

 

Copyright : 2019 African Union Commision

 

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