ADDIS ABABA — The African Union (AU) needs to take a hard look at its activities in this, its 50th year, accepting fewer tasks but carrying them out more efficiently and economically, its commission’s chairwoman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said on Thursday.
She is preparing to host her first AU summit, after taking office last October following a bruising election battle.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma said the pan-African body and its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), had taken myriad decisions over the past 50 years. "The challenge that the union and the commission face is the capacity to implement all these decisions," she told the AU executive council meeting on Thursday.
"Should we not at this stage consider providing sufficient time, capabilities and tools to implement and assess the impact of the decisions we have taken?"
President Jacob Zuma will join other African leaders at the two-day summit, opening on Sunday in the Ethiopian capital, home to Africa’s political headquarters since the OAU founding in 1963.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s first 100 days have witnessed the dramatic explosion of conflict in Mali.
Guerrillas, many of them linked to al-Qaeda, took control of two-thirds of Mali last year and pushed south early this month, taking full advantage of the laggardly African and international military response.
With the capital Bamako at risk, former colonial power France acted on its own with demoralised Malian troops, halting the offensive.
African reinforcements have started to arrive and in her speech on Thursday Ms Dlamini-Zuma hailed the "contribution by the international community, in particular France, to the urgent need to restore the territorial integrity of Mali".
Getting a planned Africa Standby Force up and running, with about 30,000 combat troops earmarked around the continent, is a real priority, as Mali has illustrated so starkly.
There are also bubbling but lesser conflicts in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau and thousands of African peacekeepers holding the ring in Somalia and Darfur.
The big and usually overlooked question is who will pay for this massively expensive and additional military endeavour.
Foreign donors with Europe in the front row are already paying for 97% of AU programmes, Ms Nkosazana-Dlamini said two weeks into her new job.
A criticism heard in Addis Ababa is that the AU Commission — its engine-room between biannual summits — is unable to turn down the growing workload piled on it by presidents. "The trouble is that if you have a dozen priorities, it means you have no priorities at all," said a United Nations official attending the summit meetings.
Judging by her opening speech, with International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the audience, Ms Dlamini-Zuma shares the view.
"Should we not in the coming summits take fewer decisions and concentrate on looking at the implementation of decisions?" she asked the continent’s foreign ministers.
Ms Dlamini-Zuma pledged to improve the efficiency of the AU Commission’s staff of about 700 people as well as their accountability, financial management and discipline.
She appealed to member states to ratify the treaties which they approve at summits, to pay their subscriptions and to stop establishing new pan-African institutions when the existing ones are unaffordable.
"The current structure of the budget, where member states fund the operational budget while external partners fund the bulk of the programme budget, is unsustainable and unpredictable," Ms Dlamini-Zuma said.
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