Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The AU Grand Debate Is On: My Interview on Radio Gold 90.5fm

This side of the equator, it's no longer news that the AU summit will be held in Ghana's capital in July.

To this end, a number of public events questioning the utility of a union government in Africa have been held in the country. To ensure that there is open and public discourse on the topic, an open forum was held last week at Ghana's teacher's hall, with the theme: "Achieving African Union Government by 2025".

The forum was packed to capacity as speakers from all sectors of society--from civil society to the private sector, and members of the government and its opposition--were present. The debate lasted a good two hours and a half, and saw many animated interventions and submissions that made the forum worth attending.

As the programme was about to end with interventions, I stepped in, and made one (which will be the subject of a later entry). This prompted a few headshakes in agreement as to my submission--as well as being approached by one Roland Aquah-Stevens. The man has been described in some quarters as "indefatigable", and I only got to know this when I realised much later that he was not just scouting for young people -- the youth -- to make interventions in the flaship Radio Gold programme "Platform Africa", but that he was also reading "Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man". He is, in fact, a very learned man.

So there I was being approached to appear on radio--for the first time ever. Despite my initial apprehension, I agreed.

Two days later, I defied the Andy Warhol conception of short-term fame to be interviewed on Radio Gold, one of Ghana's private radio stations broadcasting in English, for a good two hours.

I was there with two other panellists--one "Grandfather",a Pan-Africanist journalist, and James Kwabena, a youth activist. The interviewer/host was Matuli Muntara--also the brainchild behind the entertainment website
Below is a short transcript of what transpired between me and the host.

MATULI: That was the voice of Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah, and I think that the insert is germane to the discussion we are having this evening on Platform Africa. The Grand Debate of the Union Govt for Africa: Perspectives of the Youth. I'd like to say, gentlemen, welcome to the programme. Let me start with you Emmanuel. When mention is made of the Union govt for Africa, what comes to mind?

EKB: What I see when there is mention of the Union Govt of Africa is an Africa that comprises five main regional blocs, because I think it is important we don't forget that in conceiving of a United Nations of Africa, to include the regional economic communitites. They are so critical to that development. Already the African Economic Community--the main charter--the basis upon which AU govt is supposed to be established has set five main regional blocs--ECOWAS in West Africa; SADC in South Africa; ECCAS; IGAD; Arab Maghreb Union. However, because there is a plethora of regional economic communities--mostly now eight--there is some talk of rationalising--there is ongoing research in Nairobi on rationalising some of tehse RECS so that it is important to look at the overlap --or lack thereof -- of these RECs. When I talk of overlap, it's about some countries belonging to two or more RECS. When we begin to talk about union govt and we exclude this fact, I do not think we are going anywhere.

MATULI: So you think union govt is possible through these five or eight regional blocs?

EK: I really do think that is possible, but it is important also for there to be information strategies/information sharing on these regional economic communities, because a lot of africans--at least some of those who I have talked to... in this country and beyond -- have no idea. Even ECOWAS, I meet a number of Ghanaians who know there is ECOWAS, because you go to the border of Togo--it's French-speaking and you can pass with your passport. But beyond that, ECOWAS is something --an idea that is very difficult to comprehend in their mind, and I think the problem is because it has not been broken down by our policy-makers sufficiently for them to understand the value of, let's say, being West African.

MATULI:To you, what is the union government of Africa?

EK: The union govt of Africa would be decentralised:I would see an AU commission--we already know there is an AU Commission headed by Alpha Kounare--with these RECS linking/liaising with main AU commission in Addis Ababa, taking instructions from there, on how to manage their regional economic communities. Because I think West Africa and Southern Africa and Eastern Africa, there are differing levels of development.

So, supposing in West Africa, ECOWAS remained the main regional organisation -- instead of UEMOA or smaller regional RECS-- we would take instructions from the AU Commission in Addis, and we would look at our political, economic, and social institutions that are there--including our health, through the West African Health Organisation-. All the institutions that are important need to be strengthened so that it would make more sense, rather than trying to devolve all the power to the AU, because it's big. Already, the AU is under-staffed; it has some 500 members of staff-- as compared to the EU, which has about 20,000 members of staff at its commission in Brussels. So already, we are seeing a problem with finances.

I am working on the transcipt, but in the meantime, let me just say that my major contribution for that got me on the programme involved three simple points.

First, there needs to be identification of imperatives of each region. Simply put, what is unique about a particular region that that region can capitalise on to bring to bear in the conception of an AU government? So, we can say, for example, that ECOWAS's sub-regional imperative is that of conflict prevention/resolution /management, given its experience with Liberia/Sierra Leone/and the instrumentality of ECOMOG. SADC's might be a different one; the EAC's might be on, say, regional infrastructure. For example, § A paper from UNU-CRIS cites that: “the AU has been the first regional organization to establish a clear relationship with the UN as it is consciously aspiring to closely coordinate, if not integrate, its mission planning and execution of peace and security action with the prevailing structures/plans of the UN”.

Secondly, there needs to be comparative approaches. By this I mean what best practices are there from each of these regional communities that can best be put to good use in any conception of an AU government? This means that ECOWAS's peacekeeping/peace enforcement wing ECOMOG could be analysed for use in a regional organisation like SAARC that has experienced problems over Kashmir/India and Pakistan. What is it that ECOMOG has been able to do in enforcing peace that SAARC can learn from?

Thirdly, there needs to be collaboration, as exemplified by the donation of $1m by the Arab League to the African Union's peacekeeping forces.

I have further arguments that can be elaborated on in later entries, but for now, these three points remain the crux of my personal vision of an AU government. Even then, ramifications of these elements remain, and can be very much expounded upon.
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