Getting to know the African Union – an insight from Addis Ababa

Oxfam runs a “Pan African Professional in Residence” program, which seconds young members of African civil society organizations to help them better engage with the African Union (AU), its decision makers and policy-making processes. Agnes Yawe, a Campaigns, Advocacy and Lobbying Officer for PELUM, recently finished a three-month stint in the program in Addis Ababa – the home of the AU – and reflects on her experience:

“I am African: I am the African Union” is a powerful AU strap-line that caught my eyes inside the AU that I have continued to ponder throughout my interactions there.

My wish is for all Africans to know about the AU and make their contributions to the good vision of our forefathers. This is what will indeed make the AU truly African. But we are still far from this.

Is the AU worth the effort?

“Being in Ethiopia or Addis is no advantage,” one civil society staff member confessed to me – the organization is so closed, only known by a few that are within its narrow information network. Is the AU worth the effort? We know it as a political organization, and our work is far from that. We know the AU for its disruptions – the traffic jams caused whenever there are AU meetings. These are some of the expressions by which the AU is known in the public eye.

I would have said exactly the same three months ago, but thanks to Oxfam, I now know more about the AU and how best to contribute as an African based NGO worker.

Making it possible for African citizens to engage with the continental body is not just the work of the AU organs (although it is their cardinal role given provisions in the Constitutive Act). We as Africans, either as individuals or through our organized groupings, have a role to play in making it better. My contribution in this article is a humble start and I hope it encourages some additional Africans to get interested in knowing more about the AU and seek more information about it. My experience was mainly around the agriculture sector and to a little extent, trade in the continent.

How the AU affects communities across Africa

The organization is now 10 years old in its new stature as the AU, with a broadened mandate of addressing continental development needs beyond the political and sovereign protection. It is effectively a teenager to be shaped.

Many continental policies and big programs shaping Africa’s agricultural development and trade are being shaped at the AU, with major impacts (be it positive or otherwise) on communities across the continent:

The biggest challenge: implementation

But these are not just a given – we need to contribute to shaping the mechanisms that would deliver this to rural smallholder producers.

The biggest challenge for the Commission is poor implementation of AU decisions. At present, according to internal assessments, just 10 per cent of these decisions are actually implemented, despite huge amounts of human and financial resources invested in the processes of making these decisions.

Part of our role as citizens is to hold our leaders accountable to implementing the decisions they have made – or else save us the resources in making decisions that they are not willing to implement.

With this, our role as civil society should be to technically contribute in shaping policies and demanding implementation. At this level, our fighting boots may not be the best tools, but our technical input in different spaces – expert group meetings, sharing expertise with departmental staff, Ministerial meetings – is needed if we are to make an effective African Union that really meets the needs of its citizens.

Learn more

Read the African Union Compendium, the most comprehensive manual on the AU structures and organs:

Related links

Blog: Opening Oxfam’s African Union liaison office in 2010

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