African Union Summit 2015: A reminder to keep our eyes on the long-term vision whilst addressing immediate crises

by 02nd Feb 2015
The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa

Over the past few months, I have been scoping out the potential for CARE to engage more strategically with the African Union and civil society at continental level. For me, it’s clear that we can and should do more – detail to be discussed in the coming weeks – but for now, I’m writing from Addis Ababa during the closing days of the 24th AU Summit...

The summit brought together government and civil society from across the continent and beyond – it’s the main annual opportunity for full expression of Pan-African vision, solidarity and energy. I’m writing with a clear view of the iconic Africa Hall, where the OAU (predecessor to the AU) was founded in 1963. Today the heads of state and government are meeting at the AU’s newer, glossier HQ and the collective vision is for 2063.

There are many, many urgent issues on the continent, with resolution of ongoing conflicts, upcoming elections and the Ebola crisis at the fore.

This week, for example, diplomatic efforts have been targeted at reaching a settlement between the parties in South Sudan (things nearly went awry when Salva Kiir was rushed to hospital, but this doesn’t seem to have sent things completely off track).

Elections due in 2015 on the continent have also been high on the agenda. These are not only tests of democracy and stability for the 18 nations scheduled to head for the polls this year but also of the ability of the continental and regional institutions to support them (and to respond when things go off course).

Beyond the peace and security agenda, there remains an urgent need to respond on public health. Today, the AU Foundation has been launched and an Ebola Solidarity Fund introduced, aimed at gathering support from the private sector and philanthropists on the continent. However, at the same time, the continent is looking beyond the current crisis to think about an institutional structure to respond to public health crises on the continent in the longer term – an African Centre for Disease Control is on the cards.

Beyond current and anticipated crises there is room at AU level to discuss and shape long-term, collective efforts towards realising a prosperous and peaceful Africa.

It is these longer-term efforts that are on my mind today. For all the fire-fighting that the AU and its member states have to do, they have their eyes on an ambitious long-term goal, evolving the continental institutions and norms, seeking investment and harnessing energy in support of Agenda 2063.

Excitingly, 2015 is also the AU’s ‘Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063’ – which deserves and will get a dedicated blog.

Beyond current and anticipated crises there is room to discuss and shape long-term efforts towards realising a prosperous and peaceful Africa. Agenda 2063 is lofty and ambitious. It has its cynics of course, and the workings of the union are not always rosy (the decision to elect Robert Mugabe as the new Chair highlights some of the complex political workings).

However, we all know that development and peacebuilding are complex, long-term ‘projects’. The vision is crucial. Why not be ambitious? Without that we might achieve our stated goals but we would be selling ourselves and those we support short.

A reminder to CARE

Within CARE, over the past decade we have made huge efforts to move beyond short-term project cycles, keep our eye on a larger vision, define more ambitious goals, and work more cleverly together to realise these and ‘multiply impact’.

We increasingly seek to connect our work in different country programmes, access smarter funding, raise up the voices of staff and partners to influence decisions at national, regional and global levels, work better together and work better with others for common goals.

We can still do more to maximise our impact but the CARE 2020 Programme Strategy is a great step in the right direction and I’m proud to be part of these efforts.

So, beyond all the specifics of deliberations in Addis Ababa this week and the outcomes that you’ll see in the press, I’m also taking away a big reminder to keep an eye on the very long-term goals despite the immediacy of much of our work; a commitment to help CARE itself be more than the sum of its parts; but also a renewed energy to help CARE work with others to realise a long-term vision of peace and prosperity.

Michelle Spearing

Michelle Spearing was formerly a Conflict Advisor with CARE International UK, based in Nairobi. She supported CARE's work in Africa and the Middle East, aiming to ensure high quality design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of peacebuilding projects as well as improved conflict sensitivity across development and humanitarian programmes in key conflict-affected countries. Michelle has an MA in Peace Studies and more than a decade's experience working on conflict issues.