Kigali - The African Union currently takes almost six months to intervene in a conflict on the continent, but it wanted to cut that time by more than half, AU Commission chairperson Erastus Mwencha has said.
For this, however, the continental body would need more money, and it needed most of that to come from Africa itself, he added.
Briefing journalists on the sidelines of the AU summit in Kigali on Friday, Mwencha said AU heads of state would spend most of Saturday afternoon locked in a meeting to discuss methods of self-funding – a pressing issue that was set to dominate the summit.
Being dependent on foreign funds meant the AU couldn’t intervene in conflicts the way it wanted to.
“We now have a standby force and one of the reasons for having a standby force is that we can mount a mission in a relatively short time," Mwencha said.
It was impossible for the AU currently to mount a peacekeeping mission in less than 22 weeks, "but now we want to reduce that to just under 10 weeks," he said. “If all goes right, and we hope that in an ideal situation you can move immediately.”
He said currently when a conflict occurred, the AU had to follow three steps for mobilization. First, it had to get authorisation from the United Nations to launch a peace mission, “and that takes time”.
“Then you have to look for international partners to provide support for us to undertake such a mission, and at the third stage we have to look for volunteers to give us forces for such kind of exercise”.
Even though the AU had an African Standby Force in place, it needed capacity for that force, Mwencha said.
Former African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka had been talking to the UN about getting “predictable sources”, which would in turn reduce the time it took to mount a mission.
“In addition, then we can also have a very firm say on what we want to happen on the ground,” he said.
This would be one of the things the AU would use the money for that it raised from member states, he said.
The continent also wanted its own money for development, for instance to fund its Pan-African university, which is currently being financed by external partners.
It needed more teachers, however, and was thinking of using modern technologies like e-learning in order to reach more students.
The AU also needed money for infrastructure projects which spanned various countries.
“So what then we’re looking for is that these programmes are owned by people themselves,” he said.
When these programmes were funded from outside Africa, those funders tried to prescribe to the AU what to do, he said.
Former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo was commissioned to look into the issue of self-funding, and two years ago proposed in a report that the money should be raised from a $2 a stay hotel tax and a $10 flight levy.
There were also proposals to have a levy on cellular messages.
Some countries, however, argued that it would hit their embattled tourism industries, and it was decided that countries should implement the proposals as they saw fit.
Mwencha said the taxes on hospitality, air travel and SMSes were still on the table, “and we left it to member states to implement as they feel comfortable”.
He said heads of state would look at the “experiences they gained implementing these options”.
Kaberuka would also present a report on his findings after engagements with member states on this issue, Mwencha said.