AU: Why Macky Sall’s tenure would not achieve much
By Richard Mammah
In a matter of days, leaders of 55 African states in the African Union, AU – and going by current levels of rapproachment thare is no reason why that notable hold-out, Eritrea will not join them this time around – would gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the 35th Assembly of Heads of States and Governments Summit.
One of the anticipated highpoints of that summit is the conclusion of the tenure of President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the coming onstream of Senegal’s Macky Sall as the new Chairman of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments of the African Union.
As is to be expected, analysts are attempting to hazard if the tenure of the new Chairman would make a critical difference in the resolution of many of the hotbed issues in the continent. And for this writer, the response is simple: not much is expected.
Sall comes across as an experienced political player no doubt. He has been much active in the political scene in Senegal, including holding positions as leader of the National Assembly and also as a two-time President. But the challenges the continent is faced with at the moment require more than these.
The Sudanese crisis has now outlived at least some four African Union Chairmen: Rwanda’s Kagame, Egypt’s Al-Sisi, South Africa’s Ramaphosa and the current Tshisekedi. Other than its statutory suspension of the junta each time they do a coup act and another short season when Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed moved to broker the just collapsed shared military-civilian government, there has been scant AU leverage in the overall handling of the crisis. At the moment, it is actors like the AU and Israel that are driving key elements of engagement on the matter. The AU is virtually absent in real terms. Even more paradoxically is the fact that the same Abiy Ahmed has now sadly been bitten by the same distorted power incubus that afflicts many an African leader and thus become another tough challenge for the AU itself. I do not see Macky Sall doing any much more than following in the footsteps of the US, the UN and other external actors.
The federalist crisis in Ethiopia is ordinarily one that insisting on firm principles should resolve fairly quickly. But the AU has also allowed itself to be caught in the rubble and so it is also leaving the leadership of resolving the crisis to other external actors as the UN and the US.
The African Continental Free Trade Area, AFCFTA came into effect in January 2021. One year after, it is still struggling. Clearly, part of the challenge is leadership. After the very commendable push led by Rwanda’s Kagame in jumpstarting the initiative during his 2018 chairmanship, no other AU Chairman since then has given it more push to the desired measure. Not having already proven himself as being one with a solid disposition to pan-African cooperation as say Kagame and Ghana’s Akuffo Addo, Macky Sall may not do better.
‘All Politics is local’
One other reason why Sall’s Chairmanship year would be hamstrung is local Senegalese politics. To win a second term in 2019, Sall used some of the strong arm tactics that had previously been used against him before his ascendancy. Till date, there are still charges on the path of one or more opposition leaders. This weekend, local elections are beig held in the country and the impression already is that ‘they have been fixed.’ Indeed, in one notable public Freudian slip, a Sall associate, and indeed his Chief of Staff, Mahmoud Saleh actually let it out in an October 2021 interview that the elections were already in the bag for the ruling party! Though Sall later disowned the remark, the widespread perception that the outcome has already been called has not changed. And then there is the big elephant in the shop: that Sall and company may be pushing to exploit some leeway provided in the last constitutional reform process to put him in the ballot for a third term in the next presidential polls.
Now should this be the case, it would further weaken the possibility of expecting any credible arbitrage by Saul in many of the other political fires that are burning or simmering in the continent, and which are traceable to untidy constitutional adjustments, the third term syndrome, fixed elections and democratic illegitimacy. Some recent and festering examples include Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Uganda, Togo and the Republic of Benin.
Which leaves us then with one final word. When the OAU was restructured into the AU in 1991, the idea was to empanel a stronger continental body that would more creditably take the lead in resolving African challenges and proactively inching the continent onto greater development and achievement. As things stand today, that AU has not come, Macky Sall ‘is not the one, and we continue to wait for another.’
Senegal’s President, Macky Sall