Dr Daniel Mulugeta, Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London – Written evidence (ZAF0014)



Briefing on the African Union’s Agenda 2063

Prepared for the House of Lords Committee on International Relations and Defence



This policy brief provides a comprehensive overview of the conception and potential of the Agenda 2063 to drive forward transformational socio-economic change, the challenges of mobilising the means of implementation and possible pathways forward. It first summarises the aims and objectives of Agenda 2063. It then assesses Agenda 2063 in relation to three major issues and challenges: (i) pan-African ideological foundations of Agenda 2063 (ii) goals, priorities, and targets and (iii) institutional capacity for programme implementation. It concludes by articulating some questions to guide discussions, and with some recommendations.


What is Agenda 2063? Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for socio-economic development guided by a vision of where Africa wishes to be in 50 years, when the African Union (AU) will be celebrating the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Centenary. It builds on some of the previous development initiatives including the Lagos Plan of Action, The Abuja Treaty, The Minimum Integration Programme, and the Programme for Infrastructural Development in Africa (PIDA), the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP). It proposes 10-year action plans for its implementation by AU, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), African countries, the private sector as well as civil society. Unlike its predecessors, Agenda 2063 is more clearly people-centred in both its design and implementation. It emphasises the need for Africa to take greater responsibility for its security (i.e. in respect of terrorism, poverty, climate change, economic volatility or energy insecurity).


The stated objective of Agenda 2063 is to create ‘an integrated, prosperous and powerful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena’. It aims to eradicate poverty by 2025, double intra-Africa trade by 2022, transform economies through industrialisation, and job creation. It envisions a skills revolution, science and technology (i.e. in respect of an outer space programme, intra-African broad band terrestrial infrastructure and cyber security); world-class infrastructure (such as a single unified air transport market); blue economy (including deep-sea mining, fisheries development, and smart shipping); green growth; and the establishment of the African continental free trade area (AFCFTA) and Africa’s single passport. It advocates for two permanent seats in the UN Security Council within a decade. With regard to social and cultural transformation, it emphases inclusive societies and the empowerment of women and youth; strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics. In general, Agenda 2063 is consistent with international conventions; and builds upon UN development agendas and international climate change adaptation initiatives. So far, the AU has made only modest progress in terms of implanting its programmes. One area of encouraging progress in the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area by 49 countries.


Pan-African ideological foundations: The vision emphasises a particular notion of pan-Africanism in which the expansion of the capacity of Africans to pursue their freely chosen policies is seen as the centre for a better future of Africa. This pan-African vision, and the ideal of ‘African renaissance’ that it encapsulates, is historically tied with nationalist struggles for independence from colonial rule. The projects of the OAU (the AU’s predecessor) and now AU have been linked to this aim. Beyond its objectives of creating a prosperous and peaceful continent, the Agenda 2063 is also aimed at creating a politically unified Africa. The deployment of the concept of pan-Africanism has the advantage of reflecting a shared vision, encompassing all corners of Africa. It also helps the on-going processes of regional integration to focus more on a limited number of strategies, and to improve the clarity of their policy objectives. This implies that regional economic communities develop appropriate policies and establish feasible goals to institute reforms.


However, this approach has several shortcomings. Firstly, pan-Africanism is an ambiguous and contested concept that involves difficult political, cultural, and historical questions. Although it has been the ideological framework that underpins Agenda 2063, there is no continental agreement on what exactly it is, let alone evidence of a capacity to galvanise political will and action. Crucially, the concept is too broad and all-inclusive for meaningful policy-making. Agenda 2063 does not define the scope, content, purpose and indicators to monitor its implementation, but merely states the political programme of continental integration. As postcolonial countries, African states are always especially sensitive to sovereignty and independence issues in political integration even with other African countries. Member states as a result will less likely be committed to following through on such a political agenda. The problem of lack of political commitment arises also from the centralised and monopolistic nature of African states, and the persistence of ‘sit-tight syndrome’ and authoritarianism.


Secondly, the AU’s vision of pan-African, as with other forms of nationalism, is inward-looking and defensive in nature. It thus encourages a self-contained rather than globalising political economy which may lead to the imposition of protectionist policies that impede the free flow of trade, investment, and technology across international borders. The political mobilisation of pan-African ideology is self-defeating as it potentially runs counter to the avowed ambition of the AU to reframing the continent’s presence on the international stage in terms of trade.


Thirdly, while the idea of pan-Africanism is seductive among the African middle class and as such it can be used as a ‘rallying cry’, it has little or no resonance beyond capital cities. Stating perhaps the obvious, Africa is a vast continent inhabited by numerous ethnic and linguistic groups and religious communities with many layers of regional and national loyalties. In a way Africa is very much a geographical expression, for its citizens are never held together by sentiments which could create the feeling of belonging to the same society. The pan-African programme and its justifications for integration do not appeal more broadly to Africans who still struggle to specify where the AU is located.


Overall, starting with a political concept and translating it into a policy vision blurs the edges of how policy arrangements should be specified and defined. The concept of pan-Africanism is neither focused enough nor rigorously codified by the AU and therefore falls considerably short of offering analytical content relevant to expand economic opportunity and growth as well as peace and security in Africa. The Agenda 2063 document demonstrates the general difficulty of translating pan-African ideals into a policy and political practice, and the tensions between rhetoric and reality that have characterised the AU’s transition.


Goals, priorities, and targets: Agenda 2063 is a goal-driven rather than process-oriented strategy, with the ultimate objective of creating a united and integrated Africa rather than with an emphasis on institutional capacity building and workable programmes. It lacks a description of the ground realities that the strategy is intended to deal with, and focuses more on future vision than on operational plans.  Indeed, it potentially offers a sense of purpose and room for operational flexibility for the AU, RECs and member states. But even at a strategic level, the goals are too broad to efficiently target potential critical areas of priority. Although Agenda 2063 outlines seven primary aspirations, 18 derivative goals, 44 priority areas expressed as 161 different national-level targets, it does not offer sufficient means to prioritising the various development and security agendas. Each of the seven aspirations and the derivative goals are represented as strategic development and security priorities. In making all issues of equal priority, none of them could be realised in the end. This approach runs the risk of ‘raising false hopes’, rather than being operational policy option, and also of allowing the AU/RECs and member states to pick and choose issues according to their perceived political and institutional interests. The blowback effect could further reinforce popular hostility towards these institutions.


Institutional capacity: The AU and RECs do not have the institutional capacity, human and financial resources to assume the substantial leadership responsibilities that the vision entails. The Agenda seems to demand strengthening and establishing institutional structures and securing very high levels of efficiency and public trust. It requires the AU and RECs to create an impressive institutional capacity for implementing an array of aspirations and programmes. As it stands now, the AU is widely seen as a paper tiger.  Member states and, in some countries, non-state actors retain complete control over governance and legislative functions. The AU is inevitably a challenged institution and much public attention is focused on its shortcomings.


Furthermore, the performance of RECs is hindered by their multiplicity, and overlapping membership of states. Although the AU recognises eight RECs as a building block of the African Economic Community, there are around 39 regional organisations with memberships per REC ranging from a minimum of three countries to a maximum of 27. Only six countries are members of one REC alone. This creates a ‘spaghetti bowl’ effect of overlapping mandates, tasks, trade rules and duplication conflicting program implementation. Handing over responsibilities even to the AU recognised RECs can make solutions more difficult by creating yet more inefficient bureaucracy and further centralising responsibilities in regional institutions.


It is also important to point out here that regionalism in Africa is fundamentally an elitist and state-led process. It is primarily a political rather than a social or economic process. This means that the AU and regional organisations are only as strong and committed as political leaders want them to be. Initiatives designed to reform regional economies often move slowly, not because countries don’t understand what is needed, but because they are not in state interests.  In this regard, the AU needs to build its capacity incrementally to use sanctions, incentives such as explicit rewards, or punishments in order to encourage policy implementation.


Finally, another problem of African regional integration is that of a core/periphery hierarchy of difference among member states in terms of capacity, interests and national priorities. Core nations, such as South Africa and Nigeria, which control regional decision-making institutions, have an over-concentration of economic activities and display conscious decisions to protect their market and industry. By contrast peripheral states have low levels of economic activity, small internal markets, and suffer from high unemployment, low investment, and a raft of problems with healthcare, education, and other services. The peripheral regions are at a great disadvantage in competing for investment and tourism in comparison to the core. As a result, they are anxious to preserve their economic advantages and political independence.


Questions and recommendations: Key questions, among others, to keep in mind going forward include:


UK support mechanisms could be devised in light of the answers to these and other questions and alternative pathways for supporting the AU and RECs.


To conclude, Agenda 2063 can be more than a funding opportunity for the UK: it can be a beginning of a long-term partnership with regional organisations. This would involve exploring how the UK might support capacity-building, through a strategy that attempts to balance interests at continental/regional levels and between small and large states.



Dr Daniel Mulugeta

Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS, University of London

January 2020


Received 9 January 2019