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Until Africa takes the AU seriously, how can the EU?

From its Chinese-built headquarters, where its operations are funded by the West, the African Union’s demands to be taken as an equal partner in global affairs ring hollow.



At the last AU summit in Addis Ababa, the cheers were loud and the standing ovations long as Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe, in his last speech as AU chairman, pounded the podium and demanded a greater say for Africa at the United Nations.

“If the UN is to survive, we [Africa] must be equal members of it,” he said, to loud applause.

You cannot fault Africa’s plea for equitable representation in global affairs. The West’s hegemony over the developing countries has gone on for too long. The only problem is, at the UN, Africa’s calls to be taken as an equal partner would only be met with the rolling of eyes and dismissive flicks of wrists by the West. Why not, when they fund the AU, and when the AU itself seems not to have a clue how to get itself out of that trap?

What’s the point of giving someone a place at the poker table when you have their wallet?


For years, the AU had depended on Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi for money. However, since Gaddafi was toppled, the AU now looks to the US and the EU to fund its operations.

The AU’s own data shows just how far the body is far from actually ever gaining the financial independence it needs for anyone to take its pleas for a greater voice seriously.

For 2016, the AU adopted a budget of US $416,867,326. Of this figure, $150,503,875 will fund operations while $266,363,451 will fund the AU’s various programs. Of the total budget, the AU is looking to raise $169 million from member states, while the remaining $247 million, close to 60%, will be secured from “international partners”.

Mugabe himself has previously expressed his shame at this.  “Over 70 percent of our budget is foreign funded. This is not sustainable,” Mugabe said last year as he took over as AU chairman.

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 26 ordinary of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Jan. 30, 2016. Photo: VAO News

Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 26 ordinary of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Jan. 30, 2016. Photo: VAO News

African Union members themselves are not putting their money where their mouths are.

While African leaders cheered at all this talk of Africa going it alone, only 19 out of the 54 member countries have paid up their subscriptions to the AU, according to the union’s budget report in 2015. These contributions, in any case, are only 2% of the AU’s entire budget.


According to the AU, there was “need for ownership of AU programs by Member States through an effective demonstration of political will and by honouring their financial commitments to the organisation”.

As part of a plan to wean itself from Western aid, the AU proposed to raise money from new taxes on airline tickets, hotel accommodation and mobile phone messages. But this is unlikely to be enough to match the amount of money put up by donors. Besides, many African countries say these taxes are not a good idea as they will hurt their tourism by making travel and accommodation more expensive.

So Africa is taking the begging bowl to the doors of the same Western nations, and yet demanding to be treated as an equal.

Between 2003 and 2014, the European Commission gave 1.6 billion Euros to the African Union. In 2014, according to the AU, the commission gave the AU some 424 million Euros. This “cooperation” – which is diplomat-speak for donor aid – funds the AU’s peace and security operations and “capacity building activities”.

The EU spent 1.3 billion Euros on Africa’s peace operations between 2004 and 2014. This included operations in Darfur, Somalia, the Central African Republic, and Mali.


Last year, the African Union Commission and the EU signed a 165 million Euro deal to fund AMISOM, the AU mission in Somalia. The EU funded everything from police allowances, death and disability compensation for security personnel, salaries for civilian staff and other operational costs.

So, while African leaders plies us people with their version of George Ayittey’s “African solutions to African problems”, the AU can barely walk on its own.

Unable to fund its own operations, the AU struggles to react swiftly and effectively to Africa’s problems.

European Union. Photo:

European Union. Photo:

Burundi? Bodies of opposition supporters litter the streets there. The AU politely asked the person responsible for the carnage if they could please come in and help the people he is repressing. He said no, and that was it. So the AU went back to Addis to prepare for “a crisis meeting”, whose date remains unknown.

The African migrant crisis? “We are going to convene an extraordinary Assembly on the migration to Europe,” said President Idris Deby, the new AU chair, as he closed the AU summit.

Terrorism? We have had to suffer the ignominy of watching – on Western global news channels, seeing as we don’t have our – French special forces moving in on terrorists in Mali and Burkina Faso.


Just how seriously do African bad guys take the AU? Who is scared of the AU? What will they do? Fold all those “we-strongly-condemn” press releases and use them to hit terrorists and truant leaders over the head?

Getting the world to see Africa as an equal partner will take the AU actually being taken seriously by Africans themselves first. And this will not happen until Africa can pay its own way, and can take the lead in solving its own problems.