Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has donated 300 cows to raise money for the Africa Union (AU) Foundation to help stop dependance on foreign aid funding. President Mugabe handed a $1 million cheque to the AU after the cattle were sold in Zimbabwe. The cheque was handed to the AU at its leaders’ summit in Ethiopia and President Mugabe said his friends helped contribute to the noble cause.
“Zimbabwe has auctioned cattle worth $1 million to raise money for the African Union Foundation to help end the “donor dependency syndrome…this modest contribution is a symbolic step towards helping the donor dependency syndrome in Africa,” President Mugabe said.
Zimbabwe Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said the cattle had been mostly donated by farmers who benefited from land reforms and added that the donation was an expansion in the 2015 pledge by Mugabe to donate 300 cattle to show that the AU could find innovative ways to raise money for its projects.
“As an African and a farmer, the donation of cattle came naturally to me, given that our continent is rich in cattle and cattle are held as a store of wealth,” President Mugabe said.
Observers have often argued that for the AU to remain independent and sustainable it must and needs to be self reliant and fund its own programmes.
In 2014 in Arusha, during the 5th annual high-level retreat on the promotion of peace, security, and stability in Africa, some envoys asked AU to take bold measure to get out of donor dependency syndrome for sustainable peace and security.
During the meeting, the envoys raised concerns on the AU’s reliance on the United Nations when it comes to peace and stability in Africa. They urged AU to come up with strategies to be free of aid.
This is not the first time President Mugabe has shown his support for “aid free Africa.” In 2015 and 2016 when he was AU chair, he campaigned for the organization to be self-financed after it was revealed that the 54 member states of the AU only contribute 40% of the budget whereas about 60% of its budget came from foreign donors including the European Union, the US, China, the World Bank and the United Kingdom, according to its financial statements. While the AU’s budget grew from $278,2 million in 2013 to $393,4 million in 2015, external financing also rose from 56% to 61,7% in the corresponding years.
Speaking at the summit, President Mugabe said it was a “modest contribution” and a “symbolic step” towards helping to end the “donor dependency syndrome” in Africa.
In July 2016, at an AU summit in Kigali, Rwanda, the African Union unveiled a new funding model. The new fiscal plan was expected to raise about $1,2 billion annually – or nearly triple the AU’s current budget.
Commenting on it, the AU Commission said the institution was ready to shed its dependence on foreign donations. The AU had made “some progress” in this regard, but should look to finalizing its decisions on “sustainable financing” said the then Commission’s chairperson, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“If African nations cannot fund the AU’s budget, it says something that is not complimentary,” Chris Ngwodo, an Abuja-based international affairs analyst and columnist, told Africa in Fact. “If, decades after African nations got independence from colonial powers in the 1960s … we are still receiving outside funding for [the] AU, it is difficult to think of [the] AU as a serious coalition of member nations.”
Getting African nations to meet their financial obligations to the AU hasn’t always been easy. According to a formula adopted by the bloc, five countries, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, and South Africa cover at least 66% of the member states’ share of the budget.
Dlamini-Zuma said continued dependence on foreign funding could affect the AU’s ability to focus on regional priorities. “Self-reliance is a cornerstone of Pan-Africanism,” she said in her welcome speech, referencing Gamal Abdel Nasser, former Egyptian leader and one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity, who said: “He who cannot support himself, cannot take his own decisions.” Dlamini-Zuma remarked that these were “pertinent words”. Some 53 years later, the organization’s funding “remained a challenge”, she added.
Historically, member states have failed to pay their contributions “not because of the lack of money” but because their leaderships displayed a “lack of determination, capability, propensity, willingness, energy and commitment” to their countries’ AU membership. This makes President Mugabe a trendsetter in alternative financing for the AU showing both determination and capability for domestic funding.