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AU and the problem of political exhibitionism

Is the AU a talk shop for tyrants and bureaucrats who have failed adequately to represent the needs of this continent’s 1.11 billion citizens? Is Agenda2063 a political programme that stands to only benefit and reward those who currently constitute the driving force behind it? Levi Kabwato from Malawi weighs in.



As the curtain closed on yet another African Union (AU) Summit this past month, my thoughts were with African children, especially those in the Central African Republic (CAR) and other crisis hotspots on the continent. I was depressed, nay, sickened by the annual political exhibition organised by the AU, in the name of the people of Africa.


Children crowd around a volunteer who's distributing rice porridge at a makeshift camp at M'Poko International Airport on Friday, January 3. Courtesy of CNN

Children crowd around a volunteer who’s distributing rice porridge at a makeshift camp at M’Poko International Airport on Friday, January 3. Courtesy of CNN

Also read: Can the African child dare to re-invent the future?

The interest is always there. Media are awash with stories, and in recent times, social media are lit – so to speak – with various interpretations of the goings on at AU Summits. Not be outdone, various NGOs are also always in on the action, hustling for meetings with Heads of State or other government officials in addition to issuing statements and launching reports. It is a hive of activity that creates the necessary buzz but does it really move the continent?

It is a question I was asked by my nephew in December, during a political education class. I had just shared with him, together with my other nephews, the AU Agenda2063 and prompted them to think through what it is all about and what it possibly means for them. It is a question, also, that came after an expression of much shock. In 2063, my youngest nephew will be 60. I’ll be 79. No one really knows if those currently punting Agenda2063 will be alive by then.

So, where does that leave the legacy of the AU and all that it has set out to achieve by 2063? It is a question that many would rather postpone because, well, 2063 is a very long time to come. Yet, the lack of any serious involvement of African children in the discourse is a sure sign that those who are meant to grow up with this vision are being systematically excluded and disenfranchised from processes determining the extent to which such a vision can be advanced.


On a continent that does not inspire much confidence regarding the welfare of children, should we not be insisting on clear action that paves the way for future generations to inherit less complex visions, plans and institutions necessary for the growth of their continent? Instead of parroting AU rhetoric ad nausea, and allowing much older generations to shape the future of Africa’s young people, should we not be advocating for more involvement of children in AU programmes?

Going by the just-ended AU Summit however, it seems the future of African children is set to continue being that of decorating Heads of State with flowers, performing to Power and appearing in documentaries and reports whose scripts and content they have no control over. Until, of course, the time comes for commemorating the Day of the African Child.

Even this day too, regrettably, is increasingly being dominated by older generations and older voices who seem to always prescribe what is good for the African child without allowing the children themselves space and platforms to air out their views and shape the discourse on the Africa they want. In a way, therefore, the attitudes of the AU are being mimicked by older populations and exported onto Africa’s children, the so-called leaders of tomorrow, ensuring that in much broader spaces other that the seat of the AU, children remain disenfranchised and excluded from key debates, discussions and other processes affecting them.

But think about it. African children have borne the brunt of the malaise in most countries. Whether it is Disease, Poverty or War, children always suffer the most. And, since our world is ordered and designed in such a way that children’s voices are routinely dismissed and treated with disdain, their pain is hardly documented and they are never in control of their own narrative. What impact is this having on the continent’s future prospects?

The Africa we want. Photo: African Union 2063 Agenda document screenshot.

The Africa we want. Photo: African Union 2063 Agenda document screenshot.

You do not need to look beyond the crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) to understand the threats African children are facing from those who see no future for them to those mandated with protecting and at least guaranteeing a positive future for them. Hence, every single AU Summit that comes and goes without any substantive decision-making on the need for the inclusion of children in the programmes of the AU is an inevitable undoing of any hopes, dreams and aspirations that the generation most likely to be affected by Agenda2063 might carry.

Hence, if Agenda2063 is futuristic, then it is only right to question exactly whose future it secures and guarantees; that of the political players currently sitting in Addis Ababa or of the millions of African children who, like my nieces and nephews, are currently hidden from mainstream sight? Or, is Agenda2063 a political programme that stands to benefit and reward those who currently constitute the driving force behind it, most of whom are at least 50 years in age?

Outside of all the frameworks, plans and institutions designed to advance AU programmes, spare a thought for the children in Burundi. You do not get to see them on international television, let alone hear their voices or cries. But they exist. For every day that you and I retreat to our safe and secure spaces, there are children who have no guarantee of seeing the next the day – not just in Burundi but across this whole continent. Have you ever thought about them, their pain and the continuous anxiety about their future?

Therefore, if the AU is to be relevant to many more Africans beyond those who can afford to fly to every Summit, pay for product and media launches and of course, those who derive their livelihood from the various sections of the AU, it must begin to proactively respond to the needs of millions of Africans who are perennially excluded from engaging with its various structures and programmes.

This is not to dismiss all current work being done at AU level. It is recognise, however, the extent to which the AU bureaucratic rigmarole stifles efficiency and does not inspire much confidence. Even when not responding to so-called ordinary citizens, the AU’s inefficiencies remain very hard to ignore and its reputation and relevance are continuously brought into question, amplified by a glaring lack of pragmatism. This is not a new problem, however. The Organisation for African Unity (OAU) was afflicted with similar challenges, which were never resolved, and the effects of that failure to act we see in the AU today.

Christine Ntahe is a children's advocate and radio broadcaster in Burundi known as "Mama Dimanche" ("Mama Sunday"). Every Sunday, she opens her house to the homeless street children of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, providing them with free meals. Source CNN

Christine Ntahe is a children’s advocate and radio broadcaster in Burundi known as “Mama Dimanche” (“Mama Sunday”). Every Sunday, she opens her house to the homeless street children of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, providing them with free meals. Source CNN

To quote a very pragmatic African leader, Captain Thomas Sankara, on such paralysis: “The OAU cannot continue to exist as it has. The desire to engage in unity-mongering won out too quickly over the desire to realise unity. Many things were sacrificed in the name of unity and through unity-monitoring. The peoples of Africa are increasingly hard to please today. And because they are, they are saying no meetings and conferences whose function is to adopt resolutions that are never acted on, or whose function is to not adopt long-awaited resolutions that can be acted on.


“Africa stands face to face with its problems – problems the OAU always succeeds in avoiding by putting off their solution until tomorrow. That tomorrow is today. We can no longer put all these questions off until tomorrow.”

This was in August 1984. We are in February 2016, almost 32 years later. What has changed?