African leaders will be meeting in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, for the 27th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU). A key highlight of the forthcoming summit, to be held from July 10 to 18, 2016, will be the election of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC). The winner will lead the continental body for the next four years, renewable once.
The AU was founded, as a premier continental institution, for the promotion of accelerated socio-economic and political integration of the continent; not just as the level of countries or governments, but also by forging greater bonds amongst citizens of Africa.
To give expression to the above imperatives, the Commission is tasked to serve as the crucial administrative hub for driving and achieving the numerous mandates; including the implementation of Agenda 2063. It is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years.
The Commission is, in particular, envisaged to be the key organ responsible for the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Union. It represents the Union; the yearnings and aspirations of member states, and also defends the continent’s collective interests. Alongside, it is expected to articulate and give concrete expression to the African common position, determine the strategic vision, plan and future horizons of the Union.
Whatever the AU has become today builds on the pioneering efforts of prominent sons and daughters of the continent; from Emperor Haile Selassie to Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, and Seiko Toure, to name a handful. These founding fathers, without an iota of doubt, had a clear vision; they could see far where the continent was heading, almost as if they had the power to look into the future. All of them, without exception, made their mark in the struggle for freedom and liberation.
When three years ago, Africans celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forebear for the AU, it was a milestone opportunity; both to celebrate but also begin to contemplate how to translate our collective dreams into concrete results to make Africa a better place for the present and future generations. The celebration was the beginning of a new phase in the collective journey, not its end.
Clearly, the AUC has generated considerable momentum around issues of African development and integration. Yet, many of the ‘teething’ challenges the continent faced at its inception continue to slow the pace; just as new ones have crept in. Most of today’s problems may be attributed to the slow progress made in the quest for unity and integration. At best, these have remained aspirational despite the best of efforts.
If in 1963 the continent’s leaders were preoccupied with colonial and post-colonial struggles, and the consolidation of independence. Nowadays, there are myriad new – though no less daunting – realities.
Given the many challenges Africa faces now, the continent needs to have at the helm of the Commission a leader with proven track record in dealing with Africa’s persistent problems: poverty, resource use, economic development, wealth sharing, peace and security, democracy, human rights, neo-colonialism, environmental protection, climate change and corruption. The list is far from exhaustive. The experience of the new AUC Chair as well as her unshakable determination to overcome the challenges – not merely deal with them – will be critical if the continent is to realise the vision of a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa.
In today’s knowledge-driven world, the clarion call for visionary and committed leadership at the helm of the AUC is far greater than ever. The leader needed must be capable and willing to identify and tap into the pool of amazing talent of African citizens, starting with the team of talented staff of the Union; a growing number of whom risks drudgery and disillusionment with the status quo.
The men and women who work at the Commission should be more than satisfied, they should be energized and passionate about what they do, and not approach their work with the business-as-usual attitude that is endemic now. The leader of the Commission must be one that leads by example and inspires. He must have clarity of purpose in working to achieve results, hand in hand, with broad constituencies of stakeholders: from civil society to the private sector; from women’s groups to youth movement.
Because the AU represents the hope of Africa and its peoples, it must care about the calibre of leaders who aspire to head the Commission. When convening in Kigali to elect the incoming Chair and leadership of the Commission, all eyes will be on the Heads of State and Governments to do what is right. They must put aside petty politics and permutations to decide what is best for the AUC and the continent.
We stand at a crossroads: if Africa fails to make the right decision in electing the right leader the AUC deserves, the continent risks taking several regrettable steps backwards.
Because it does not pay to allow chickens to lead the eagles even if the chickens convince themselves that they are actually eagles, African citizens must demand a move from mediocrity to excellence. The incoming chairperson must not be determined by which region the candidate comes from but rather by her strength of character to lead.
Africa has had its fair share of failures over the years since the 1960s. It still carries old scars and new bruises, but it must look into the future with hope. In 50 years, the architects of Agenda 2063 and those currently tasked with its implementation might no longer be around given the life expectancy in the continent.
There will not be a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa unless the youth – the very people who will still be around in 50 years – are actively engaged in the process. The message of African youth calls for a different mindset, a different way of thinking, making decisions and acting. The choice before the Kigali conclave in July will be a tall order.
As they elect the right leader, they will have no better loyal partner than African citizens. They must deliver by all means; posterity will remember and not forgive them if they do otherwise. As Frantz Fanon put it perceptibly decades ago: “Each generation discovers its mission. It either achieves it or it betrays it.”
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