Introduction: In my capacity as Former Director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, I was asked by the Apostolic Nunciature to be one of two delegates to represent the Holy Sea at the 25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) in Johannesburg. The other person was the Counsellor of the Nunciature. We were accredited Observer Status; which meant we could only attend ‘open sessions’ and not those held behind ‘closed doors’. The organisation of such a huge event could not be faulted; and once again South Africa must be credited with delivering the goods. A major drawback was the fact that timetables were rarely heeded and sessions often went on into the late night. It was a tragedy that the proceedings were eclipsed by the presence of President Omar Al Bashir from Sudan. He had been promised that an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant of arrest would not be carried out; despite South Africa have ratified the ICC protocol. This was a costly mistake as the saga became the focus of the Assembly. A local NGO won a court order to have the President remain in South Africa until the same court ruled on whether he should be arrested or not. With over 1.000 South African soldiers on a peace mission in Darfur; South Africa were taken no chances of possible revenge and had President Bashir ushered out of the country in a top secret mission. However, the harm had been done and a lot of the good work of the Assembly went unnoticed. As an Observer one could roam freely during intervals and greet whoever one wanted. I availed of this possibility to greet the Presidents of the countries DHPI worked in and where possible to discuss our work. I met President Bashir who was most pleasant and President Salva Kirr from South Sudan. As Presidents were seated in alphabetical order, normally the two Sudanese should have been seated side by side but the organisers decided to split them by putting the head of the Seychelles between them. Interestingly, the South Africans had invited Riek Machar to be present in Johannesburg for yet another attempt at peace brokering in South Sudan and again behind closed doors.
The Opening ceremony a lavish affair, had curtailed speakers to 7 minutes opening remarks. The speakers included President Zuma from South Africa, Dr. Kosazana Zuma, Chairperson of the AU, a delegate representing Ban Ki Moon from the UN, President Mahoud Abbas from Palestine who spoke in Arabic and President Mugabe, the present Chairperson of Heads of State. President Mugabe spoke for close on one hour, was highly amusing, as he hurled insults at leaders across the globe. Few were speared his wrath and no one dared try and stop him talking.
The Content: There is no doubt that the rhetoric was impressive and music to the ears for all those who wanted to see fundamental change in Africa. What was missing across the five days was a plan of action and a commitment to see it implemented. The theme of the 24th Assembly in January this year was ‘gender’ but this was eclipsed by ‘The Ebola Epidemic and Boko Haram and this time round one could see that there was a concerted effort to place the ‘gender issue’ at the heart of the Assembly. The American actress and UN Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie gave a passionate plea for an end to gender based violence, particularly in war torn countries in Africa. Gender dominated many interventions and time and again the dignity of women was affirmed. There was also a call to put in place a plan ‘to silence all guns on the African continent’ by 2020. This goes hand in hand with attempts to get more control over scarce national resources, often seen as the cause of much of the conflicts in Africa. There is also an impressive socio-economic plan to improve the lives of all Africans known as Agenda 2063. 2063 will mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which preceded the AU. This Assembly would articulate the first ten year plan of Agenda 2063. The signing of a trade free zone in East and Southern Africa had taken place prior to the Assembly in Cairo and many spoke of the need for an all Africa free trade zone. There was also passionate pleas for the AU to become self-reliant and not to be dependent on foreign donors who often wanted to set their own agenda for Africa. Among meetings held behind closed doors were the following:
- Gender Pre-Summit-High Level Panel on Gender Equality and Woman Empowerment.
- Meeting of the Panel of Eminent Persons
- Meeting of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)
- Meeting of the International Contact Group for Libya
- Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change
- Special Session of the High Level Committee on the Post 2015 Development Agenda
- Meeting of the Committee of 10 on the United Nations Reforms
- Meeting of the Peace and Security Council (PSC)
Conclusion: The Agenda was impressive, the issues pertinent for Africa today, the commitment for fundamental change for the good of all Africans impressive. One presumes that the Secretariat of the AU in Addis Ababa will now have to put in place the decisions agreed on and come up with relative plans of action. What was lacking at the Assembly was a Secretariat that would disseminate what was agreed upon on the spot. Though much was spoken in the open; decisions and plans were to be hammered out behind closed doors and to date these have not been made public. I was reminded of the closing line of the 2009 African Synod Working document: ‘Africa take up your pallet and walk’. One had the impression at the Assembly that Africa was indeed walking together to new exciting horizons. Only time will tell if this 25th Assembly of the AU actually achieved anything.
Former Director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, Pretoria June 18th 2015