Friday, April 1, 2011



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

March 30, 2011

I have always wondered whether African leaders that regularly meet at the AU meetings in Addis Ababa really care for this continent. The amount of cash spent at each summit runs into millions of dollars in providing maximum comfort and security for our already over-pampered heads of state. These summits that hardly take more than two days are so expensive that their preparations and house-keeping after the fact do not last less than ten days for the staff of each of the 53 heads of state.

Assuming that each of the 53 states spends an average of US $ 1 million to cover their private jets, five star presidential suits, limousines, escort cars and other security detail, one can estimate that at each AU summit, at least US $ 53 million are spent within a span of ten days. And as is now routine, the summit meets at least twice a year hence the possibility of burning US $ 106 million on summits alone in one year is real.

Forget about the AU summit expenditures. How about defense budgets for each of the 53 states? Yes, each state has a standing army that is budgeted for each year, paid for and equipped with the latest war arsenal even in times of peace. Yet, when the AU passes a resolution to send troops to Somalia or mulls over military intervention in Ivory Coast, member states are reluctant to donate military personnel and logistics. Richer and more powerful states such as Nigeria, Egypt, Libya and South Africa leave it to war-torn Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda to shoulder the responsibility of fighting insurgents in hostile streets of Mogadishu.

With 53 national armies spread across the continent with each country having no less than 40,000 military personnel, what would be so difficult in each state donating just 1,000 military personnel?

If Africa availed between 50,000 and 60,000 military personnel to its standby army, it would not be difficult to send 20,000 military personnel to Somalia to finish off the job in the shortest time possible. The snag is the AU heads of state have taken their dependency syndrome to Addis Ababa. Yes, they will argue that personnel they can donate but who will equip and maintain them? They look to the European Union, the UN and the US to foot the bill yet the amount of cash they misappropriate in the name of equipping their home armies are mind boggling.

Because of this inertia or inability to think strategically for the continent, the war in Somalia has reached a stalemate. It no longer hits the headlines unless the Al Shababs cross into Kenya or blow up a few Ugandan or Burundian soldiers.

When Mr. Ouattarra won the Ivorian elections and President Laurent Gbagbo refused to vacate office, the AU made a few noises and even appointed Kenya’s Prime Minister to be the chief mediator. When he made his first and only report at the last AU summit in January 2011, the Summit decided to appoint some of the most hated African dictators to go and negotiate with a fellow dictator. As expected, that all- presidents- team came to nothing. Outtarra rejected them as biased towards the dictator. Now Ouattarra has realized that neither the AU nor the UN will give him the power he genuinely won at the ballot box. Now he has taken arms to fight Gbagbo’s goons. What this means is that Ivoirians are gearing up for another round of civil war as the AU watches helplessly.

At what point will the African leaders behave like their European counterparts? At what point will they see the need to rally behind a moral issue like stopping war in Somalia, Ivory Coast and Libya rather than from time to time rallying behind criminals like Muamar Gaddafi, Omar El Bashir and Kenya’s Ocampo Six? What is so difficult in taking peers to task at these summits? Why did the AU heads of state set up the African Peer Review Mechanism a decade ago when they knew they had no moral ability to enforce democracy and good governance in the continent?

The shame of an African country like Libya being invaded and bombed by European and American troops speaks volumes about the ineffectiveness and irrelevance of the African Union. Had the Union enforced democratic and good governance practices at the beginning of the decade, we would not have had the turmoil we have witnessed in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya in the last three years.

For Africa to gain the respect within the international community, it must start seriously taking African patriotism more seriously. This mentality of rallying behind despots at the expense of the citizenry must stop. This mentality of creating conflicts then expecting rich and powerful nations to bail them out must stop. Fifty years after independence, it is shameful that Africa must look up to just a handful of European nations for handouts from time to time despite abundant wealth available on this continent.