Luckystar Miyandazi

December 2, 2020


The African Union’s ambitions for a fully integrated and cooperating continent is frustrated by the implementation gap on agreements made by member states. Regional incentives and power dynamics must be addressed to realise Africa’s role as a future global powerhouse, but the roll-out of the continent-wide free trade area and the pandemic response show reasons for optimism.



What the AU has been able to achieve since its formation in terms of African regional integration is inspiring, though it continues to struggle when it comes to coordination and coherence. This is especially the case when the member states and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) attempt to reconcile divergent interests towards achieving Agenda 2063’s ambition of the continent becoming a global, inclusive and sustainable powerhouse. It highlights a pivotal struggle: how to compel member states to stick to, and implement, the AU’s decisions, resolutions and positions. In principle, member states have agreed to their implementation by signing the Constitutive Act of the African Union, which has various Articles underscoring the need to accelerate the process of workings towards Africa’s development and integration agenda.

As a secretariat, the AU Commission (AUC) struggles with enhancing its transparency and accountability mechanisms to build trust among member states and African citizens. Such a gap between aims and practice creates a vicious circle: why implement agreements when the sense of ownership is limited and priorities lie elsewhere?

In this context, in July 2016, the highest authority of the AU, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, entrusted President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to conduct a study into institutional reform of AU processes, intended to guide proposed reforms. The outcome was to put in place a system of governance capable of addressing the challenges the AU faces. Six months later, the Assembly adopted the findings – referred to as the Kagame Report – and its recommendations, which led to the AU institutional reforms we have seen rolled out over the past four years: 1) a focus on key priorities with continental scope 2) realigning AU institutions to deliver against those priorities 3) delivering efficient management at both political and operational levels and 4) financing the AU by the member states sustainably.

‘A crisis of implementation’

The AU institutional reforms entail various complex processes at the national and regional level that may hinder collective action. While representing and coordinating the AU’s 55 member countries with a population of 1.3 billion is no easy task, the overriding challenge is to ensure member states see through policy decisions rather than merely formulating and adopting them into their jurisdictions.

Implementation of the reform agenda is a crucial example. Since adoption in July 2016 of the historic Kigali Decision on Financing the Union, which included a 0.2% levy to ensure that all member states pay yearly contributions to the AU fully and on time, by 16 June 2020 there were only 17 countries, representing about 31% of AU membership, that were at various stages of domesticating the agreement. The result is an AU still struggling to implement sustainable financing for its programmes and reduce over reliance on development partners.


Still, the amounts remitted by these countries represent below 10% of the amount expected as a contribution to both the AU’s regular Budget and Peace Fund. The AU still has arrears of over US$25 million.

In the words of the Kagame Report itself, produced under the leadership of a pan-African advisory team: ‘the chronic failure to see through African Union decisions has resulted in a crisis of implementation.’

Reasons for limited implementation relate to political, technical, legal and regulatory challenges once recommendations have been adopted by member states. These challenges include: selecting the goods eligible for a 0.2% levy, selecting the appropriate financial institution or customs authority responsible for its assessment and collection and legal implications under obligations to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The AU has no enforcement mechanism in place to ensure that the money collected is transmitted. However, political challenges reign supreme. For example, some member states and RECs indicated limited inclusivity in the consultation process and raised questions about the binding character of the Kigali Financing Decision on Financing the Union.