In 2011 I was invited by the African Union (AU) to speak on a panel at their annual High Level Retreat. The theme of the retreat was, “Making Peace Happen: Strengthening Political Governance For Peace, Security And Stability In Africa”.
Held in Cairo in the middle of the Arab Spring the conversations at the retreat were fascinating as leaders (political, diplomatic, military, etc) tried to understand and get to grips with the rapidly changing political landscape in North Africa. The retreat was held under the Chatham House Rule which allowed normally reserved and cautious diplomats to speak very candidly and passionately. The Chatham House Rule restrict me from sharing in detail the discussions that took place. I can say what diplomats say in public is sometimes very different from the actual position their country is taking. A lesson that current Kenyan government is coming to terms with pretty quickly. Read the Cairo Declaration issued at the end of the retreat.
This High Level Retreat was partly funded by the AU and Government of Egypt and also had funding from a wide range of international partners including non African governments. This pattern is repeated throughout the AU’s finances. The AU’s 2014 budget is USD 308,048,376 broken down into USD 137,884,958 operating costs and USD 170,163,418 program costs. AU members will contribute USD 126,050,898 (45%) towards this budget and partners will contribute USD 170,098,545 (55%).
Analysis of the AU’s 2012 budget by Janah Ncube and Achieng Maureen Akena in Pambazuka notes that of the amount that the African governments are contributing, only $5.3 million goes towards programmes of the AU while 96% goes to operational costs … the cost of programming at the AU is borne by external donors.
This is a ridiculous situation. The call for Africa to take ownership of its Institutions is reaching vuvuzela like crescendos.
Although the conversations in the formal sessions at the retreat were interesting what I found most exciting was an informal discussion around mobilising African citizens to fund the AU directly. This idea was inspired by the FeedKE campaign started by my good friend Ahmed Salims that eventually grew into Kenyans for Kenya. Kenyans for Kenya raised at least KES 633,854,734 (USD 7,355,015) and perhaps as much as KES 677,716,662 (USD 7,863,973) from Kenyan individuals and corporations to fight famine in Northern Kenya [pdf 82KB].
Kenyans for Kenya inspired the AU staffers because Kenyans did not wait for foreign governments to come to their aid. Equally important Kenyans did not wait for the Kenyan government to come to their aid. Instead citizens acted as soon as they learnt of their brothers and sisters in need. In the same way AU staff who were tired of waiting for African governments to fund the AU entirely were exploring appealing directly to Africa’s citizens above the heads of the slow moving African governments. (The AU is full of people passionate about Africa who want to see Africa succeed). Kenyans for Kenya could become Africans for the AU!
The conversation moved quickly to which technology platforms and which mobile phone companies should be approached to make Africans for the AU happen. At this stage we had to interrupt and pull the conversation back. At Ushahidi we say technology is only around 10% of a successful citizen engagement solution. There are strategy issues that have to be dealt with first. For example, Kenyans for Kenya was most probably the most heavily monitored and audited public giving initiative ever launched. Kenyans for Kenya was audited by Deloitte and Touche assisted by Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC, with the support of volunteers from the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) all of whom verified the entire Kenyans for Kenya process including procurement, transport and distribution in the field.
Would the AU be open to this level of public scrutiny of its finances by ordinary African citizens? We explained that if the AU asked Africans across the continent to fund the AU budget with contributions of 100 Shillings, Birr, Naira, Rand, Francs, Kwacha etc then the AU would have to reveal publicly, openly, in exhaustive detail, to the citizens of Africa what every single cent they contributed was spent on. How many cars did the AU buy this year, how much was spent on air travel, how much on hotels, how much on salaries, catering, flowers, per diems? How much on education, on health, on infrastructure, how much on summits or peace keeping missions? All this would have to be shared and justified.
As an African citizen I would need to know what our money was being spent on before I sent the AU any money. I suspect many other African citizens would feel the same way.
After sharing these thoughts the conversation petered out. The arrival of tradition Egyptian dancers (including a highly skilled belly dancer) was greeted much more enthusiastically than our comments on the need for detailed accountability from the very beginning of the process.
I am not sure if the AU will ever launch an appeal for African citizens to fund the AU directly. I hope they do because that will mean that the AU is ready to have an open and full discussion on its budget and programming priorities. I hope the AU will rise to the challenge and embrace an open relationship with African citizens.