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President Ruto joins drive for African Union reform

Member states will have to cede more powers to the continental organisation argues Kenya's president

After nine months in power, Kenya's President William Ruto has not appeared shy about wielding executive power. So, he has surprised his counterparts with a call to reform the African Union and pool national sovereignty on trade and security policy.

'Member states must consider donating power to the AU on trade, regional and global security as well as other areas that Africa can benefit from engaging together rather than individually,' Ruto told leaders of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) on 8 June.

He added that leaders 'should merge the position of chair of the AU Summit and that of the AU Commission into one so as to give it sufficient leverage to engage on behalf of Africa.' This year, the AU marks 60 years since the founding of its pan-African predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity.

The AU Commission Chairman, currently Chad's Moussa Faki Mahamat, is elected for a four-year term but his powers are heavily constrained, focusing on running the HQ in Addis Ababa.

The AU Chairman role, currently held by Comoros President Azali Assoumani – rotates annually between heads of state. That wields more power, especially when backed by the biggest economies on the continent.

The AU's format resembles the European Commission and the rotating chair of the European Union's Council of Ministers – but it lacks the executive powers of the commission in Brussels.

This year AU has won the support of the EU, United States, and China for its bid to become a permanent member of the G20, along with South Africa.

Yet the sidelining of the AU in several national and regional conflicts – such as Ethiopia, Somalia and the Sudan – has eroded confidence in its capacity to intervene in the continent's security crises.

It has been scoring more points on economic and climate issues, pushing integration under the African Continental Free Trade Area. But a dispute over negotiating rights between the AU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) community secretariat derailed plans for a comprehensive political and trade deal with the EU in 2018 (AC Vol 59 No 21, Who speaks for Africa?).

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