Towards Africa-EU Brussels Summit: Dialogue and Capacity for Delivery A partnership characterized by fatigue and frustration
For varied reasons, those regularly engaged in the Africa-EU partnership tend to exhibit a degree of fatigue and frustration. If not addressed during the Brussels summit and 4th partnership period, the ongoing fatigue and frustration may grow to mutually assured distrust about the partnership. The AU has already indicated its position on the need to overhaul its partnerships with a view to embracing the minimalist and inclusive approach. More importantly it urges all partnerships to be anchored in priority based on “concrete projects with earmarked funding” modeled after the Africa-India, Africa-Korea and Africa-China or FOCAC partnerships.
The focus should be on “implementation, implementation, and implementation”
Compared to some other partnerships, the Africa-EU partnership has been characterized by a lack of delivery of concrete actions commensurate with the pledges and promises of the previous summits and technical meetings. A case in point is the current disappointingly low performance in all partnership areas. This is partly due to the lengthy procedures in terms of disbursement of funding by the EU, but more so in that actual financial disbursement does not usually match up with pledges. Largely, the lack of delivery emanates from the weak absorption capacity of the AU. The AU Commission, designed to be the engine of the AU, reflecting 78 % of the budget and 92% of the total human resources of the AU, is currently functioning with only 54% of its approved staff complement. It has 1458 staff members, of which 495 are professional. With 319 professional positions vacant, it employs more than 800 short-term consultants. Its programme performance and budget execution rate, as assessed by the AU Assembly for 2012 remains at a dismal 60%. This conceals a much worse performance rate in the execution of its programme budget, which stands at a depressingly low 39%. Some departments critical to ensuring human security in the long term, are “struggling between execution rates of 15% and 25% budget execution.”
Weaknesses on either side are likely to affect the overall performance of the partnership. Since one of the most serious binding constraints of the partnership has been the slow and low delivery of most of the projects, the effectiveness of the next partnership period will depend on the capability of the AU to absorb the existing funds and implement the relevant projects. Hence, given its human resource capacity limitations, and its sluggish internal decision-making procedures, the AU’s delivery capabilities in terms of this partnership will have to be developed as a partnership priority.
Delivery as a measurement for an effective partnership
Effective delivery depends on the will and capacity of the partners. Both sides need to ensure continuous dialogue to reinforce political will and identify and reinforce overlapping consensus. On the EU side, it has to make resources available. The EU should provide much-needed funding without any conditional strings attached, and needs to understand Africa’s priorities. This however does not mean that there should not be mutual accountability by either side toward one another. As such there should be a clear allocation of responsibilities, review of progress and proposals for addressing weaknesses. Such processes, though, need to be conducted on the basis of mutual respect and equality, not as a donor-recipient subordinate relationship, one questioning and the other responding. Both partners need to question and provide answers. Above all, however, dialogue should aim at offering impetus for implementation, and reviewing progress and ensuring mutual accountability.