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African Union

Kagame promises assertive Africa as he takes over AU chair

The opening remarks at 30th African Union summit
The opening remarks at 30th African Union summit rfi/anne-marie bissada

Reform is in the air at this year’s AU Summit. In the lead-up to taking over as the AU's rotating chairperson for the year, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has been pushing hard to make the bloc more efficient and self-sufficient.

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The opening of the African Union’s 30th summit on Sunday 28 January was delayed by three hours as Kagame met other heads of state to discuss his plans for reform.

Going into the meeting, many countries were already on board with Kagame’s proposed 0.02 percent levy on taxable imports, with 21 out  of 55 states agreeing to it. The only five that were somewhat hesitant were Egypt, Algeria, Morocco Nigeria and South Africa.

A Nigerian diplomat, who wanted to remain anonymous, explained that Abuja is not against such a proposal but it must be passed in thr AU parliament where all the states of the country can approve it.

A member of the Tunisian delegation told RFI that, while the country supports the principal of reform, such change takes time and more discussion is needed before any commitment can be made.

South Africa most reticent

However, it was reportedly South Africa that made the most noise about the reforms. South African President Jacob Zuma and Kagame have not been on the best terms, so that may have played a role in the South Afican reaction.

The differences did not appear to have an impact as Kagame addressed the AU members after officially receiving the title of chairperson for the year.

“These changes need to happen," said the Rwandan president. "There is no country on our continent that does not want to be a part of a more assertive and visible Africa.

“The levy on eligible imports is being implemented, the Golden Rules were recently approved by the finance ministers and we have a more credible budget process in place.”

Reform already under way

The "Golden Rules", adopted in 2016 to find new ways of financing the AU, established clear financial management and accountability principles and a Reserve Fund for use by the continent when needed.

Other reforms currently being implemented include:

  • The Single African Air Transport Market,
  • The Continental Free Trade Area;
  • Freedom of movement for people across the continent.

Some states are wary of such big ideas coming from a relatively small country.

Others point out that Kagame himself does not have a great track record in abiding by democratic values in his own country.

But he has steered the country towards economic growth since its civil war in 1994, which might make his suggestions for reform more plausible to others.

In his speech Kagame insisted that, while his reforms will not effect immediately, they do not have to take years:

"We have in some ways, in the past, helped perpetuate the narrative that Africa is a burden," the new AU declared. "This way of thinking has been around for years. Fixing it won’t take a year but it need not take more decades either."

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