The African Union’s 36th summit, held on 18th and 19th February 2023, brought together leaders from across the continent, UN officials and representatives from various regional and international organizations to the alliance’s headquarter in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to discuss the pressing issues affecting the continent. The recent years have been marked by bloody civil wars, armed insurrections, coups and other crises that have spread instability and cost thousands of lives in the continent. External shocks have also contributed to such precariousness. The continent also suffers from shortage of food, potential famine in various countries and there is huge untapped trade potential among its countries. Thus, among the key topics of discussion were security challenges, including the ongoing conflicts and violence in several countries, as well as the need for increased cooperation and coordination among African nations to address these threats. The food crisis affecting many parts of the continent, exacerbated by climate change and other factors. The lack of democratic practices and institutionalism in some countries was also highlighted as a major challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure greater political stability and development in Africa. In addition, effects of global issues like Russia’s full-scale assault on Ukraine and its spiraling impact, chartering the path to economic recovery after the shock of covid-19 and many more agendas were also discussed.
Background and the African Union Summit 2023 at a Glance
The 2023 African Union (AU) heads of state summit takes place at an especially delicate moment for the continent. The region is at a crossroad and it is time to seize the moment. The continent has more than a full plate when it comes to peace and security. During the previous two years, devastating internationalized civil conflicts broke out in Ethiopia and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Armed groups are destabilizing large portions of the central Sahel and looking for new places to establish bases. Jihadist insurgencies are still being fought in Somalia, Mozambique, and other nations, including those in the Lake Chad basin. In South Sudan, intercommunal warfare is raging. Moreover, in the preceding couple of years, the continent had seen six coups and attempted coups (Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan, Mali, and Guinea, as well as an attempted coup in Guinea Bissau), and undemocratic governments continued to rule in these nations. In addition, four AU members have had their memberships suspended because of unconstitutional political changes. The continent reels from a record drought in the Horn of Africa in 2022. Against this backdrop the summit this year took place under the beacon of hope of the ten year anniversary of AU’s agenda 2063, Africa’s blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future and ensuring inclusive and sustainable development of the continent. The two-day meeting thus looked to address these issues. It aimed to jumpstart a faltering trade deal while also focusing on the continent’s most pressing challenges, which include armed conflict and a worsening food crisis. The theme of 2023’s summit was “The Year of AfCFTA: Acceleration of the African Continental Free Trade Area Implementation” with the aim to enhance the close collaboration with all relevant organs and specialized agencies to fast track the benefits of AfCFTA for the benefit of Africa’s population. However, the summit flared up in the international news most when the Israeli delegation was expelled from the conference hall during the opening ceremony.
The Dominant Agendas
There is no shortage of issues that demand AU leadership attention, with the continent being battered by economic shocks, insurgencies, and security difficulties due to arm conflict and climate change. Most of the sectors in the continent were prone to instability and a number of issues competed for the leadership’s attention in this year’s summit. Of all those agendas a few sets of the most pressing agendas were:
The first set comprises of growing instability and security threat in different parts of the continent. Fighting between the governmental force and armed groups in the countryside in the Cental African Republic (CAR) has caught the civilians in crossfire. The M23 militia group has seized swathes of territory between DRC and Rwanda, sparking a diplomatic row between the two governments. Moreover, insurgency in countries like Somalia and Mozambique is shedding continuous blood.
The second group of agendas includes backsliding of democracy and unconstitutional political power change, which has been a constant issue in the continent. The six attempts of coup in the last two years, with instances of five countries currently ruled by military rulers, is a growing concern for the alliance. There is no fit for all models in these coups and the coup leaders cited instances of insecurity, bad governance, corruption and inability to produce civilian goods as reasons for their takeover. Currently Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan, Mali, and Guinea are under unconstitutional military rule.
The third set comprises of internal migration humanitarian crisis caused by conflict, climate change, environmental degradation and displacement of people. According to United Nations data, the number of displaced persons south of the Sahara Desert has increased by more than 15% in the past year as a result of armed conflict spanning from the Sahel region of West Africa to the Horn of Africa in the east and the effects of drought and flooding. The United Nations projects that 44 million people—up from 38.3 million at the end of 2021—were displaced by the end of 2022. Countries like Somalia is on the verge of famine after five failed rainy seasons with hundreds of thousands of people suffering catastrophic food shortage.
The fourth set of agendas includes the initiatives to accelerate the free trade pact, The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) launched in 2020, which is billed as the biggest in the world in terms of population, gathering 54 of 55 African countries. African nations currently trade only about 15 percent of their goods and services with each other, and the AfCFTA aims to boost that by 60 percent by 2034 with the elimination of almost all tariffs.
The fifth set includes bolstering the AU’s institutional capacity by bringing relative changes. Established in 2002, the bloc has been credited to take stance against inhuman and unconstitutional issues. However, it has long been criticized for being inefficient. Thus Rwanda’s president Kagame presented a report on the reforms of AU institutions, urging the AU to implement major reforms and also bring financial independence since the bloc largely depend on foreign donors for its functioning.
With constraints and limitations few outcomes were produced in this year’s summit.
Zero tolerance against coup: the Union emphasized its support for democracy by reiterating its “zero tolerance” against “unconstitutional change” and retaining the suspension of members, especially Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, who have been ruled by military leaders as a consequence of coups. The Union emphasized its support for these nations’ “return to constitutional order,” although it is unclear to what degree this help would really be provided. One significant, non-conflict option that has the ability to put pressure on these countries to seek
However, explicitly condemning the violence and unrest that has emerged in these countries and isolating them from the Union is an important, non-conflictual strategy that has the potential to exert pressure on these countries to bring them back on the constitutional path.
Accelerate the implementation of AfCFTA: the Union discussed and agreed to “accelerate” the implementation of the trade deal under AfCFTA, which was agreed upon back in 2020. The union wants to attain economic emancipation, which will lead to job creation, poverty alleviation, improved welfare and sustainable development. To implement the union have already established an AfCFTA guided trade initiative for matchmaking products for export and import between interested state parties, introducing the Pan African Payment System (PAPSS) to facilitate instant payment across nations.
Attesting for Dakar-2 food summit
The summit endorsed the outcomes of the recent African Development Bank’s Food Summit Outcomes– Dakar 2 Summit on Food Sovereignty and Resilience. The resolution described the Dakar 2 Food Summit as important and timely to address rising food prices, disruption in the global food supply, and worsening of food insecurity in Africa. In less than a month, the Dakar 2 Food summit mobilized more than $36 billion in investment to boost food and agriculture production across the continent.
The African Union Summit of 2023 has been a momentous occasion marked by the adoption of significant decisions that will shape the future of the continent. The integration of AfCFTA into the mainstream African economy and the emphasize it has received will hopefully bring about desired changes. While the decisions like supporting Dakar-2 summit and the fund that it has collected promises to make the continent resilient on food production.
– Wahid Uzzaman Sifat is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).
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