The 50th Anniversary African Union (AU) Heads of State Summit is underway in Ethiopia. Dubbed as a celebration of “African narratives of past, present and future that will enthuse and energize the African population and use their constructive energy to accelerate a forward looking agenda of Pan-Africanism and renaissance in the 21st century” this Summit is an important milestone for the continental body.
Following reports that civil society participation at this year’s Summit would be limited, 22 African civil society groups have requested clarification and stressed the importance of cooperation between civil society actors at the local, national and regional levels with governments and intergovernmental organisations in order to properly address the challenges facing Africa. Whilst the AU reluctantly permits civil society to be present during Summits, access is difficult, limited and dependent on formal accreditation. Any move to minimise the already small space in which civil society has to engage with delegations and AU processes, is worrying, and contrary to the founding principle of AU, “to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society”. If anything, more effort should be directed at strengthening the partnership between the AU and civil society.
Whilst many thought the changing of the guard at the AU, following the election of South Africa’s Dlamini-Zuma to AU Chairperson, would bring about some changes within the institution, it must be remembered that decision making in the AU ultimately rests with the heads of state. The AU is one component of African governance, underscoring the need for in country civil society engagement. That said, it is not unreasonable to expect objectivity and fairness in Dlamini-Zuma’s guidance and leadership of Africa’s governing body on issues that ultimately must be benefit the continent and its citizens.
To this end, decisions which have the potential to exclude civil society will only serve to cast a shadow over what should be an inclusive, cooperative event that should see the AU, Africa and civil society tackling the future, celebrating successes and facing challenges together. Civil society has therefore called on the AU to “foster and encourage a sustainable and constructive partnership between the AU and civil society” going forward – Not just at this Summit but at all those to come.
The letter appears below:
24 May 2013
HE Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
African Union Commission
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Dear AUC Chairperson HE Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma:
RE: AU Anniversary Summit Should seek to Foster the Relationship Between Civil Society and the AU
We, the undersigned civil society organisations working throughout Africa, wish to express our disappointment and concern at the reports of the decision of the African Union (AU) Heads of State, and your Office’s endorsement thereof, to limit civil society participation during the May 2013 AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The significance of this Summit in celebrating 50 years of the organisation and in establishing a blueprint for Africa’s future warrants a commitment to even greater collaboration between states and civil society. This Summit must therefore address the need to foster and encourage a sustainable and constructive partnership between the AU and civil society
The AU should use this Summit as an opportunity to commit itself to creating more space in which civil society and the AU can exchange ideas and interact in a meaningful way. Limiting civil society participation is contrary to the founding principles of the AU which commit it to the principle of public and civil society participation. The Constitutive Act unequivocally recognises that the AU must be guided by a “common vision of a united and strong Africa and by the need to build a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society”. This commitment to partnership between states and civil society has compelled in the past the regular inclusion and participation of civil society in the AU’s processes.
Civil society participation at this Summit should be no different from previous Summits. To celebrate the AU’s past and look to its future, without meaningful civil society participation seems likely only to project an image of the organisation as defensive and distrustful – a far different projection from what the Heads of State and Commission must intend.
In order to properly address the challenges facing Africa there has to be cooperation between civil society actors at the local, national and regional levels with governments and intergovernmental organisations.
To restrict civil society’s participation at the 50th Anniversary Summit which, according to the AU, seeks to “celebrate African narratives of past, present and future that will enthuse and energize the African population and use their constructive energy to accelerate a forward looking agenda of Pan-Africanism and renaissance in the 21st century” limits the voice of the African people, and ignores the contribution civil society has made to democracy and the realization of human rights in Africa in the last 50 years.
We therefore request clarification as to the extent to which civil society’s participation in this year’s Summit and its role at future Summits will be encouraged and facilitated. We urge you to address this issue going forward, allowing for full and unimpeded access by civil society organisations so that the AU and its institutions are made fully accessible.
We look forward to a fruitful and collaborative Summit.
- Amnesty International
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egypt
- Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL)- Sierra Leone
- Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Malawi
- Children Education Society(CHESO), Tanzania
- Coalition for the ICC, Democratic Republic of Congo & Benin
- Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
- Community Empowerment for Progress Organization-CEPO, South Sudan-Juba
- Darfur Bar Association
- East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
- Human Rights Network- Uganda
- Human Rights Watch
- International Commission of Jurists – Kenya Section (ICJ-Kenya), Kenya
- Kenyans for Peace with truth and Justice Coalition (KPTJ), Kenya
- Protection International
- South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN), South Sudan-Juba
- Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), South Africa
- Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD), Zambia
- SPEAK Human Rights & Environmental Initiative, Mauritius
- The Kenya Human Rights Commission, Kenya
- Uganda Coalition on the International Criminal Court (UCICC), Uganda