From February 18 to 19, 2023 in Addis Ababa, was held the 36th ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) under the theme: “Accelerating the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.” The opportunity was given to African leaders to address all the political and socioeconomic problems of the continent and to propose appropriate solutions for a more developed, resilient, and peaceful Africa.
Indeed, the stigma of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, and the socio-political crises in some African states have clearly weakened the continent. Several issues were addressed during this meeting, including integration, cooperation, continental solidarity, pan-Africanism, the challenges of implementing the AfCFTA and Agenda 2063, the challenges of peace and security, and the institutional reforms of the African Union.
Accelerating the AfCFTA
The choice of theme for the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU, which focuses on accelerating the implementation of the AfCFTA, is indicative of the importance that the Heads of States attach to the economic integration of the continent. Indeed, the AfCFTA offers several benefits to African people and economies.
Its implementation will promote job creation, poverty reduction, improved welfare, and sustainable development (1). The World Bank is more explicit when it states that the agreement would create 18 million additional jobs and could help lift up to 50 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035 (2).
Moreover, the AfCFTA will establish a single market for African-made products and eliminate 90% of tariffs and non-tariff barriers (3). However, all these prospects remain unfulfilled owing to the fact that, since the trade agreement came into force on May 30, 2019, and the effective launch of continental free trade in 2021, the AfCFTA remains beset by implementation challenges.
During the Summit, these challenges were addressed. These include the weak political commitment to African trade. Indeed, it appears that only “eight of the 46 African countries that have ratified the AfCFTA agreement are already engaged in the process of marketing goods under the preferential rules of the Zone notably Egypt, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Mauritius, Cameroon, Ghana and Tunisia” (4).
It is in this perspective that the chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called on the African leadership present to give this African common market the decisive impetus it needs by making possible the free movement of people and goods (5).
‘Zero Tolerance’ for Unconstitutional Changes of Government
The resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government remains a preoccupation of the continental organization. According to the Chairperson of the AU Commission, these undemocratic changes accentuate political instability and weaken states (6). Hence the need for the AU to reaffirm its “zero tolerance” for this mode of political governance, which has been observed in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. As a reminder, the latter countries had been suspended by the AU and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after successive seizures of power by the military in 2020, 2021, and 2022. But for Faki Mahamat, the sanctions imposed on them do not seem to be producing the expected effects, as they are instead “generating mistrust among the States concerned and seem to be further punishing the populations and negatively impacting the economies of the countries concerned.”
This observation has led him to reflect on the advisability of giving priority to targeted “individual sanctions” to dissuade those who want to carry out unconstitutional changes in order to avoid general sanctions affecting the interests of the population (7). In addition, there have also been discussions on the possible reintegration of sanctioned states into the AU.
New Leadership at the AU and the Situation in Libya
The African Union has a new chairperson. Indeed, Macky Sall, outgoing chairperson of the African Union, has passed the torch to the president of the Comoros, Azali Assoumani, who takes the head of the pan-African organization for a one-year term. It is to the latter that falls the responsibility of carrying the voice of the continent and defending it in all multilateral Fora. Elected as the head of the AU in February 2022, President Macky Sall has waged several battles during his tenure. In particular, he has advocated for the AU’s membership in the G20 and carried Africa’s voice to major international conferences and to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (8).
There were also mediation efforts in major cases, such as the case of the 49 Ivorian soldiers detained in Mali (9). Another salient point that was partially addressed during this Summit is the Libyan crisis. Indeed, since the 2011 revolution, Libya has been sinking into a destructive spiral that has consequences in North Africa, the Sahel, and the entire Mediterranean (10). The magnitude of the problem prompted the AU to schedule a “National Reconciliation Conference” under the aegis of Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who heads the High-Level Committee on the Libyan crisis (11).
During the Summit, the latter presented the report of the mission, which indicates the actions that must be implemented without delay by his committee. These include, in particular, holding consultations with the Presidential Council for the establishment of the preparatory committee for the reconciliation conference and disseminating as widely as possible within Libya the conclusions of the preparatory meeting and overseeing the appointment of delegates to the reconciliation conference” (12).
The AU Summit was arguably the palaver tree of modern Africa. Several challenges were addressed by the leaders present, including those related to the implementation of the AfCFTA and the resurgence of unconstitutional changes in government. The new leadership of the AU thus begins its exercise in the context of protean crises that affect the African continent. The continental organization plans to accelerate the establishment of the common market. The economic growth and integration of the continent are at this price. The new AU chairman, Azali Assoumani, is resolutely committed to this.
Aboudi Vanessa is a Research Associate in the Democracy and Governance Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Master's degree in Political Science from the University of Yaoundé II and is particularly interested in governance and gender issues. She is the author and co-author of several articles published in national and international journals.