By Habtamu Liben
As African leaders gathered at the headquarters of the African Union (AU) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, they are urged to reinforce the momentum to realize the union’s financial autonomy from its donors and development partners.
The 11th extraordinary summit of the AU, which started on Saturday in Addis Ababa, primarily aimed at advancing the institutional reform of the 55-member union.
In the two-day session, the AU heads of state and government are expected to consider detailed proposals for making the AU Commission a more effective and performance-based institution, which is at the heart of the reform.
“The purpose of this extraordinary summit is to advance the institutional reform of our union. Events on our continent and across the world continue to confirm the urgency and necessity of this project,” said Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is also current chair of the AU.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, addressing the assembly for the first time, also urged political commitment of African leaders to fully implementing the financing decision, which he said “remains the heart of the reform.”
At the core of the AU reform process is the design and establishment of a sustainable financing mechanism to ensure that the AU not only stands firmly on its own feet but can also shape and drive its agenda, Ahmed noted.
The two leaders’ comments were also shared by experts, who stressed that the AU, as a continental organization, should serve Africa’s common concern and defend the interests of Africa effectively.
“There is no question that the AU needs to be self-reliant in financing its operations through membership contributions if it is going to retain its independence in its decision-making, autonomous from donors,” said Costantinos Bt. Costantinos, who served as an economic adviser to the AU and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Costantinos told Xinhua on Sunday that “a continental political agency must be self-financing if it is to be free from the dominant conditionality that superpowers impose on it.”
Costantinos, also professor of public policy at the Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, stressed that the “AU Commission must address its institutional challenges before member states can believe in its ability to lead the continent out of conflicts and poverty.”
The AU Commission has recently embarked on reducing its financial expenditures so as to minimize its dependency on partner funds.
During the 31st Ordinary Session of the AU Summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in July this year, the AU approved a budget of 681.5 million U.S. dollars for the financial year 2019.
The approved budget represents a record 12 percent decrease as compared with that of the previous years.
The 2019 budget, excluding the peace-support operations, expects the contribution from member states to reach 66 percent while 34 percent is projected to be secured from the development partners.
AU member states’ contribution to the continental bloc’s budget has over the past years increased, to 14 percent in 2017, up from just 3 percent in 2012, according to AU figures.
Costantinos, however, stressed that the current amount of contribution is still low and insignificant, and should be augmented so as to realize the AU’s financial autonomy.
“The AU fund, if at all raised voluntarily by member states, can actually finance its entire operations without the need for donor funds,” Costantinos told Xinhua.
At the 27th AU Summit in Rwanda in 2016, a financing proposal was adopted to direct all AU member states to implement a 0.2 percent levy on eligible imports from a non-AU member countries.
The financing proposal, which aspires to create an equitable and predictable source of financing for the AU and to reduce dependency on partner funds, mainly envisaged to cover 100 percent of the AU’s operational budget, 75 percent of its program budget and 25 percent of its peace funding.
By Habtamu Liben