At a time Africa is battling with tribal conflicts and communal strife, the African Union requires a strong leadership capable of mobilising the people at home and abroad to build a new continent, an aspirant has said.
A two-time minister and former member of the Senegalese Parliament, Abdoulaye Bathily, says he possesses the expertise and experience to take up the challenge as he aspires to be elected Chairman of the African Union Commission.
Mr. Bathily, who is also the Special envoy to the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa spoke with PREMIUM TIMES’ Bassey Udo in Abuja on his ambition.
PT: What is your inspiration to run?
BATHILY: It has been my life commitment to the cause of the African people as a pan-Africanist from my early days as a young student leader, trade unionist; and my adult life, as academic and critical leader in Senegal, member of Parliament and executive branch of government. Throughout, I have been involved in African activism, to liberate Africa and make African people autonomous and have a ‘’second liberation.’
The first liberation was about national anthem and the flag. But, the second liberation has to do with economic freedom and social emancipation.
I have already worked with the African Union as special envoy on migrations of rural pastoralists and other conflict issues in Madagascar, and different countries in Africa at different positions.
I participated in peace operations on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, as a member of the ECOWAS parliament.
In the United Nations, I represented the Secretary General in the peacekeeping operations in Mali. Until May this year, I was the special representative of the United Nations in the Central African region, representing the 11 countries of the region, from Chad to Angola, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Gabon, Cameroun to others.
So, for me it is a lifelong engagement and commitment to Africa. Throughout my career, I think I have the competence, and conviction to give my contribution at this stage to the AU and make the organisation relevant to the African people, to get all the stakeholders involved in the process of reinventing the Union.
PT: On the issue of the second liberation, what has been of concern to most Africans has been how to change the narrative about Africa as perpetual producers of raw materials and dumping ground for products from the western world. How would your second liberation agenda change this if elected?
BATHILY: On the occasion of the 50thanniversary of Organisation of African Unity/AU, I published a material on Africa in the magazine of the Commission. The focus was for Africans to do away with the Berlin Syndrome.
Recall that in 1885-86, the European powers met in Berlin, Germany for a Conference, where they partitioned and shared the African continent among themselves. Africa became a territory of different colonists, fragmented and Balkanized for ‘raw materials’ for their factories.
Till today, these tendencies are still there. The colonial division of labour still exists. The time to break from the past is now.
PT: How would you do this?
BATHILY: Apart from the former colonial masters, we have new partners today. But, this syndrome is still there. Whether it is China or India or Japan, they are shipping raw materials back home to produce goods they will bring back to sell at higher cost to Africans.
I think it is important to go for full-scale industrialization of Africa. We cannot continue to have an economy that is externally driven.
Industrialization means to create the social basis for survival. We cannot industrialise on the basis of only foreign investments, which will only focus on areas of concern to them and their interests.
For us to create the conditions for sustainable development, we must have an industrialization and modernization of agriculture driven by African investors themselves.
It is important to create a class of real African entrepreneurs, who invest their money in productive sectors of the African economy and create the basis for sustainable industrial, agricultural and service development, not renters.
We must reproduce the productive forces and social basis from within Africa, not outside. Many people think the talk about regional integration is just about creating infrastructure.
Yes, we need roads, dams and energy. But, this is not enough. We have to create African engineers through our education system relevant to this.
We have to create a new corps of entrepreneurs who would invest in those areas, instead of foreign companies coming with engineers and other categories of workers to build roads and infrastructures.
Once these professionals are there, even for simple maintenance, one would not need to call the foreigners. This cannot create development. It must not be allowed to continue.
It is important to sensitise the people. With me as the Chair of the AU, we will call upon African entrepreneurs to come together and create pan-African corporations. So, we have one Dangote, Elumelu and hundreds of others from other countries coming together to form one group, to look for African engineers from within and outside Africa to handle our infrastructure development challenges.
PT: For long the issue of a common market for Africa keeps resonating. But, there are barriers making it difficult for this to happen. How would you make this to happen under your Chairmanship?
BATHILY: This is all about free movement of people and goods. We have been talking about it.
For instance, ECOWAS is regarded as pioneers in regional integration, in terms of free movement of people and goods. But, the region’s trade with other countries in the region is minimal, because of trade barriers.
The borders of the different countries feature several corruption activities affecting trade between the regions.
Till now, our trade is more with outside. We have to sensitise the government to accelerate the process of integration. This is one area the Commission should sensitize the governments to set up structures they could work with to give a new impetus to pan-African trade. I hope to make this a priority.
PT: A one-time AU Chairman and former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, has been spearheading the campaign against resource curse and illicit financial flows that has cost Africa dearly. Given the chance, how much attention would this receive from your leadership?
BATHILY: President Mbeki has done a wonderful job in this regard. The study his team made, going round to sensitise the people, not only the African governments, but also outsiders, particularly on the negative impact of issues like tax evasion by multinationals, unfair customs rules and tariffs as well as corruption activities, went a long way to open the eyes of the people. It is important to create conditions for government to be aware of this reality and push for new rules and regulations to cut off those links with outside.
I am not only commending his efforts, but, given the chance, I will ensure that his recommendations are implemented to the latter.
PT: Can you tell us in specific terms what your agenda are in this race?
BATHILY: My agenda is to try to revive the spirit of pan-Africanism. This is basically to make the young people aware that Africa has no future without unity. The Diaspora must play a role in mobilizing the people and injecting their knowledge and know-how for the future of Africa.
But, there are some burning issues that I want to bring to the fore. Talking about regional integration, this is not something we can avoid if we want Africa to really take off on a decisive and sustainable manner.
There is also the issue of democratisation and good governance. Most of the conflicts we have in Africa today stem from lack of good governance, in terms of democratic process, rule of law, safeguard of individual and collective freedoms, free, fair elections, the end of massacres of Africans by Africans. These are issues we have to tackle.
Some progress have been made over the past 20 years. When we look back from country to country, region to region, we can see the differences.
For instance, West Africa has gone further than other regions, like the Central Africa, where the situation is still behind.
We have to have a firm and stable democratic transition to government based on the consideration of diversity. We can rule our country without looking at how best we can manage diversity in our continent.
We have to take into account how to manage the ethnic, political and religious diversities and create a society of tolerance, in a spirit of progress and not parochialism.
On governance, we must address the issue of conflicts, because it is lack of good governance and management of resources that lead most societies to conflicts.
In my career, I have been involved in conflict management – in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and other countries in West, East and South Africa. This opportunity would be key, to fight from the front.
We have to have a very stable political and democratic transition in our countries. Unless we manage conflicts and rebuild countries free of conflicts, we cannot speak of development and stable society.
So, peace and security is one dimension we have to focus on very closely. And I have the expertise and the experience to handle those.
Besides, because of my academic background, I have taught and learned about the African society as an historian by profession.
I have been involved in current issues in the Council for Development of Economic and Social Issues in Africa, an academic forum for researchers all over Africa on current and past issues on Africa.
I have accumulated enough knowledge that would be at my disposal to illuminate my activities as the Chair of AU.
There are other important issues, like the problem of women and their roles in development.
Women are under stress on a daily basis. They are also victims of all sorts of discriminations, traditional and modern. We have to do something that would allow us share the best experiences on practices in women involvement in national and international activities.
There is also the issue of young people. Millions of our youth are educated, but job opportunities are not there for them, because the economic and political systems do not give them the opportunity. We will work hard to create the opportunity for our youth.
PT: From all these, what’s in your agenda for ECOWAS as a region, particularly on the issue of promoting regional trade and integration?
BATHILY: ECOWAS as a regional organisation has set the tone for many issues. When one looks at the African peace architecture, the experience comes from ECOWAS. Even the peace building mechanisms and the protocols for good governance, elections and human rights at AU level are based on the ECOWAS experience.
ECOWAS should be considered one of the leading lights in the continent. In fact, the AU cannot work without regional organisations like ECOWAS as the building blocks.
Consultations with the regional organizations will be my mark. As pillars in the process of regional integration and peace building, we have to consult regularly with the regional bodies.
It is important for AU to support what the regional organisations are doing, morally and politically. Working with them will be key in our quest to achieve peace in Africa.
Also, it will be important to put in place consultative mechanisms with all stakeholders on the continent, professional organisations, including media practitioners, private sector groups, women organisations, youth groups, to listen to them. The activities of the Commission will be inspired by their own feelings, proposals and fit into their activities, such that the AU will no longer be regarded as the organization of the government alone, who meet in Addis Ababa to take their decisions which are either not implemented or known by ordinary citizens. To make the AU relevant to all the stakeholders in Africa – at regional and professional levels. What should we do to redress the negative image of Africa? That’s another big question we must address. We must do something to change the negative image of Africa and the black people in general.
There is also something to be done about the general reform of the Commission itself. We have to have a Commission that is functional and responsive to the needs of the people.
We have to carry out the reform of its structures, which will require a lot of resources. Till now, more than 80 per cent of AU activities and functions are sponsored based on donors’ handouts. This cannot continue.
How can we talk about sovereignty and independence of Africa if we have to ask European Union, American or foreign partners for support to pay for all our programmes.
There are a number initiatives we will undertake. There were proposals for alternative funding of the AU, which have not been implemented in the past. There is a current proposal to fund the AU through taxing members about 2 per cent of the imports outside Africa.
If this is implemented, it will go a long way to enable AU to finance many of its activities and get rid of this dependency over partners.
These are things I believe, given the chance, they will be implemented to create hope for the African people and make the organisation relevant to the people.