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  • Running Africa – changes at the AU

    Sunday morning in Addis Ababa is the time for Ethiopia’s twin religions: the Orthodox Church, and long-distance running. As the loudspeakers call the faithful to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, another congregation is gathered in Meskel Square. The city’s runners are out in force, pounding the grassy running track by the main road.

    The runners stop, just for a moment, as a motorcade speeds past. “Togo?”, the first runner asks? “No, it was Guinea. I think”. They shrug and get back to their training. After all, the African Union is in town, and this kind of stuff happens all the time.

    By Monday morning, all of the private jet spaces at Bole Airport have been taken, and Africa’s leaders are checked in to their hotels across the hilly city. One notable absentee is Adama Barrow, the new President of The Gambia. Having returned to the country to assume office just 4 days previously, he decided against making the trip.

    The first item on the agenda is political – the election of a new AU Commission Chair. The outgoing Chairperson, South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is stepping down after four years in post. Her next campaign is an open secret: the Presidency of the ANC, and maybe with it, the South African Presidency in 2019.

    Although the most high profile individual to ever hold the office, Dlamini-Zuma is not regarded as the most successful. Flagship initiatives like the African Passport and a currency union seem fanciful against endemic problems like poor governance and political instability.

    The recent crisis in The Gambia exposed the limitations of continent-wide leadership. While the commission “insisted” President Jammeh hand-over power, it was the smaller regional grouping of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) that had the capacity to mobilise troops and ensure the transition.

    In a surprise move, Chadian Foreign Minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat was voted to succeed Ms. Dlamini-Zuma on Monday afternoon. Like a papal conclave, the race is usually determined behind closed doors. However, facing tough competition from Kenya’s experienced top diplomat, Amina Mohamed, the voting went to seven rounds. The main dividing line, as is often the case at the AU, was between Anglophone and Francophone leaders.

    During the campaign, Mahamat described his vision of an Africa where the “sound of guns would be drowned out by cultural songs and rumbling factories.” And in the first development under his leadership, the readmission of Morocco to the AU on Monday evening, brought this vision a symbolic step closer.

    Morocco had departed the organization in 1984, after the AU’s predecessor organization recognized the independence of Western Sahara. Over three decades later, 39 out of 54 heads of state voted for the Kingdom’s return. The controversial vote, which faced opposition from the likes of Western Sahara and South Africa, came off the back of a persistent lobbying campaign.

    Bringing one of Africa’s strongest economies back into the fold is a bold move for an organization that is not prone to bold moves. And, unlike its European counterpart, at least no one is trying to leave.

    At the close of the summit, the leaders once again reaffirmed their commitment to Agenda 2063, the AU’s 50 year framework for the continent’s economic transformation. 2063 certainly feels a long way off. But when it comes to running Africa, as the joggers in Meskel Square know, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

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