Can the new African Union chair ‘silence the guns’ in Africa?

On 14 March, the Chadian diplomat Moussa Faki Mahamat took over as chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) following his surprise election in January.

A former Prime Minister of Chad, who also served as Foreign Affairs Minister, Mahamat would have had no trouble locating the shiny glass structure that is the AUC headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But as he will soon discover, if he hasn’t already, the new job will not be an easy ride.

There is no doubt that his election success can be attributed to his experience serving his country. He speaks fluent French, English and Arabic – three of the AU’s working languages. He was instrumental in countering terrorism in the Sahel and will have support from the Francophone bloc, given his predecessor was an Anglophone.

With Africa facing several peace and security challenges, peacebuilding sits high on his agenda.

This year alone, there are more than 20 elections on the continent with potential to drive conflict and violence. From the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the incumbent has refused to go; Burundi, where a political crisis continues; Kenya, where violence broke out just a few days ago; to Somalia and South Sudan, where fighting continues - the stakes have never been higher.

Furthermore, he must face up to calls for the restructuring the African Union as well as ensuring the continental body’s financial sustainability. To do all this, he will need to draw on his expertise and experience as well as that of his colleagues at the AUC, its member states, and of course, AUC’s partners.

During his election campaign, he said that his dreams of Africa will be an Africa where the “sound of guns will be drowned out by cultural songs and rumbling factories”. His dream is linked to the AUC vison of silencing the guns in Africa by 2020 (pdf) which, ambitious as it is, is founded on the commitment from the heads of state and government to promote peace and security.

As a foreign minister of Chad, Mahamat was an active player in countering terrorism in the Sahel. This multi-country, donor-driven intervention used military power in an attempt to ‘eliminate’ violent extremist groups in the region. However, this intervention has merely contributed to mutating these groups into new entities. He must use the lessons learned from the Sahel, and move from supporting heavy military approaches to violent extremism, to promoting an inclusive process which involves all stakeholders, including civil society groups, faith communities, youth, women and girls, and members of the business community.

Mahamat must also plan how he will implement the decisions of the 28th African Union Summit, particularly the issue of restructuring the AUC and reducing reliance on international donor funding.

As an institution, the AUC is complex, with eight departments and different directorates under the offices of the chairperson and deputy chairperson. He could use his skills and expertise to enable the new inter-departmental task force as a platform to enhance relationships, share information and, ultimately, to pull the various parts of the AUC in the same direction.

He must take care not to repeat the mistakes made by the outgoing chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who during her four-and-a-half-year term centralised all decision-making, rendering processes and actions time consuming and frustrating for staff. Returning decision-making powers to the departments would boost staff morale, and partner relationships, increase efficiency and the ability to deliver.

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Photo: Moussa Faki Mahamat addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 2009, during his role as Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Chad.
© United Nations Photo/Cia Pak (Creative Commons)