Africa's security cash headache—and what its leaders really think about it

“Africa needs to start taking responsibility, in concrete terms, by funding its own peace initiatives and developmental priorities” - Obasanjo

BAHIR DAR, ETHIOPIA. Africa can better finance regional security — even reclaim it from donors—if it roots out theft, leaders meeting at a high-level summit said.

The continent has for years struggled to fund operations to maintain internal stability, a task that is currently almost entirely met by the international community.

It is an issue that, going by most presentations by leaders at the just-ended Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, rankles deeply.

“In Africa there are huge and deep-seated corrupt practices that derail the progress Africans are making as a people,” Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn said here on Sunday.

“The money we are taking in our bags to Europe is much more than we are channeling to Africa,” he said, a reference to illicit financial flows from the continent that were for the first time quantified last year and which have been pushed back into the spotlight by recent revelations of offshore structures in Panama.

“We have to stop those practices of embezzling and looting.”

The AU has since 2005 been exploring alternative means of financing its budget, but its most recent high-level effort in 2012 led by former Nigeria president Olusegun Obasanjo continues to gather dust in the shelves after objection by member countries that would be most affected by its proposals, which included levying additional taxes on air tickets and hotel beds.

At the time, member states were only funding about 7% of the budget, with many in arrears. This figure is yet to breach 10%, the resulting deficit which is met by non-African donors.

The bloc is looking to by 2020 internally fund 100% of its operations, 75% of its programmes and at least 25% of its peace and security component, following a plan adopted by African leaders last year.

Read: For years African Union lived on other people’s money, with that drying up it’s looking for cash at home

But the existing constraints have seen a pattern where the AU takes first charge of a conflict, before handing to the UN or re-hatting under it.

Newer approaches to retaining African control include hybrid AU-UN missions, the first of which was launched in Darfur, but for many leaders, this is still far from ideal.

“An organisation that is still mostly funded by external donors, including for the most basic routine of travels, will only have limited elbowroom, or policy autonomy, when the interests of its key benefactors are at stake,” Obasanjo said, calling for committed leadership which translates to “putting our money where our problems are.”

“Africa needs to start taking responsibility, in concrete terms, by funding its own peace initiatives and developmental priorities,” he added.

Keynote speaker Kofi Annan in a later interview with Mail & Guardian Africa said the budgetary concerns were constraining the work of the continent in strengthening its stability and solving them required creative ways of resourcing.

“I was happy to hear them [African leaders] say ‘we must be prepared to pay for what we want; we must be prepared to put out our own money on the table and fund issues that are of great importance to us.’”

“We cannot always pass a hat around and insist we want to be sovereign, we want to be independent. We should lead and get others to support us; the solutions to issues have to come from here,” the former UN secretary-general said.

The invitation-only Tana Forum is chaired by Obasanjo and seeks to provide a platform for current and former leaders to interact with key players in an informal setting to tackle contemporary issues facing the continent’s security.

Now in its fifth year, it does not make decisions but prides itself on its informality and conversational style, allowing leaders to speak with a bluntness that is absent from official forums.

It is a brain child of the late Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi and is organised by the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) of Addis Ababa University.

The leaders also questioned the capacity of existing institutions to manage the large sums of money that would be due to it if such loopholes are sealed.

Somalia president Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud said African countries should get their own financial practices right, and extend that capacity to their institutions such as the AU.

Sudan president Omar al Bashir drew a link between unemployment and insecurity on a continent where 11 million young Africans join a tight labour market every year.

“Africa should add value to its resources instead of exporting its rich raw resources and thus strengthen its economies and create employment for its people,” he said.

Botswana ex-president Festus Mogae said that even before dealing with illicit outflows, Africa could still finance its security operations, but called for a sharp movement from rhetoric.

“African governments must demand more from the AU. We make resolutions but don’t follow up; we need to see more demand on what has happened after agreements are reached,” he said.

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