Leaders of AU members at the 32nd AU Ordinary Summit in Addis Ababa in February (XINHUA)
African leaders gathered at the African Union's 32nd Ordinary Summit in Addis Ababa this February with weighty issues on their minds. This year's theme of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Toward Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa directly affects many of the pan-African body's member states, while indirectly affecting the entire continent.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced globally, of which 40 million are internally displaced, 25.4 million refugees and the remainder, asylum seekers. A large number of these people are in Africa.
Speaking at the summit, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Africa hosts nearly a third of the world's refugees and internally displaced persons.
"Despite the continent's own social, economic and security challenges, African governments and people have kept borders, doors and hearts open to millions in need," he added.
However, the flow of humanity from conflict and climate change is challenging the continent as never before.
Root causes of conflict
Egyptian President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, who took over the rotating one-year-term chairpersonship of the AU from Rwandan President Paul Kagame, told delegates he was committed to achieving the objectives set by the AU during the summit. These included recommitting to increase domestic resources to eliminate malaria by 2030, putting into force the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and rehabilitation of refugees and internally displaced persons.
"The AU Summit theme on refugees and internally displaced persons showed how the displacement of people can create social, security, political and economic challenges on the continent, hence this will be my focus during this year," said al-Sisi.
That focus will no doubt be directed at the source of the refugee crisis. When addressing the theme of the summit, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, said the origin of the crisis lay across several regions. Kenya and Uganda, for example, host refugees from the conflicts in Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Meanwhile a new refugee crisis has been created in the Sahel by terrorist attacks in countries including Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad.
Apart from the ongoing conflicts across the continent, the results of climate change are also playing a role in displacing people, particularly in the drought ridden areas of the Horn of Africa, experts say.
One of the innovative mechanisms to address climate change is the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Agency, a specialized agency of the AU, which was established in 2012 to help member states better plan, prepare and respond to extreme weather events and other natural disasters. In its first four years of operations, the ARC insurance mechanism has provided more than $36 million to countries in the Sahel and Southern Africa, assissting over 2.1 million people and 900,000 livestock affected by extreme drought conditions. The African Development Bank has taken the lead to create the Africa Disaster Risk Financing Facility, to offer wider access to the ARC's risk transfer facilities for AU member states. The AU has called for all its members to join and ratify the ARC treaty.
AU members' commitment to take bold and effective political leadership to resolve conflicts in Africa through adopting policies and strategies that prevent conflict and displacement on the continent was high on the agenda. In addition were efforts toward the creation of conditions conducive to return, rehabilitate and reintegrate refugees and displaced persons, as part of durable solutions to forced displacement
The Egyptian president also explained that Africa's economic integration could be the key to resolving the multidimensional challenges facing the continent. Al-Sisi said that implementing the AfCFTA will not only ease the movement of goods across the continent's borders, but also facilitate the movement of African brainpower. AfCFTA is expected to formally start operations during the next AU Summit in Niamey, capital of Niger, in July.
Funding is a perennial challenge for the AU. In order to complete the various tasks and reforms it has planned, the AU must have sustainable funding, something which has long been a barrier to the organization's development. According to Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission Kwesi Quartey, the 2019 budget approved on July 3, 2018 is $681.5 million, of which member states will contribute 46 percent, while the remaining balance of 54 percent is expected to be financed by development partners.
The approved budget is in line with the continent's move to reduce dependency on partner funding and gradually move toward funding 100 percent of the AU's operational budget, 75 percent of the program budget and 25 percent of peace support operations by 2021, with resources generated from the continent.
The summit agreed that its institutional reform plan to implement a 0.2-percent levy on eligible imports should be expedited to enable long-term financial independence of the organization. This levy will provide the $100 million needed for the AU's peace fund, which is sufficient to address conflicts, giving rise to refugees, through prevention and mediation.
However, the peace fund needs total participation by all member states. At the AU's Extraordinary Meeting held in November last year, only 14 member states had implemented the 0.2-percent levy, with another 24 countries in the process of implementation. AU members are, however, committed to working toward providing all the funding for the organization.
The headway being made in more improved funding is part of the AU's institutional reform process launched in January 2017, which will see a total evaluation of its structure and the responsibilities of its senior leaders. These reforms center on economic development and the goal of financial autonomy within the AU's Agenda 2063.
"The ongoing institutional reform is, undoubtedly, one of the most ambitious initiatives for change ever taken by our union," said Mahamat. "It touches upon all aspects of its [the AU's] functioning and concerns all its organs."
Mahamat also commended the partnership between the AU and China in different arenas. In September 2018, the organization officially launched the AU representational office in Beijing, he recalled, indicating that it would further strengthen the partnership. "The opening of an AU office in Beijing will obviously strengthen this multifarious and fruitful partnership, including the strategic dialogue between the AU Commission and the People's Republic of China," he added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to AU members at the summit, saying the AU is a banner of unity and strength, and that since last year, under the leadership of the AU, the African integration process has made significant progress, African countries have continued to speak in one voice on major international and regional issues, and Africa's global influence has increasingly grown.
"I warmly congratulate the AU on the progress and sincerely wish that it will continue to unite and lead African countries toward new and greater achievements," he added.
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