Africa in the News: AU summit ends, EAC countries present budgets, Gayle Smith seeks USAID administrator confirmation, and White House announces trip to Ethiopia

African Union summit concludes in Johannesburg

The 25th African Union (AU) summit ended earlier this week in Johannesburg, South Africa. The theme for this year’s meeting was gender equality and women’s empowerment; however, focus on these issues was, in many ways, undermined by several controversial events. One of the most significant was the government of South Africa’s decision not to detain Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who attended the session and is under indictment at the International Criminal Court. African Union member states did, however, take several notable actions, agreeing to send 50 military advisors to support Burundi as the nation prepares for disputed elections later this summer, and calling upon the United Nations General Assembly to set a date for residents of Western Sahara to vote on independence from Morocco. President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, was also appointed the new chairman of the African Peer Review Mechanism, an regional effort to improve governance standards that has struggled in recent years with allegations of internal corruption and lack of funding. President Kenyatta called for an “extraordinary summit” to revive the troubled entity before the end of the year. Muhammadu Buhari also made his first appearance at the African Union as Nigeria’s new president. During his remarks, he called upon African leaders to take greater steps to deal with the region’s illegal migration crisis, urging renewed efforts to support economic development, create jobs, and “improve and upgrade our infrastructure.”

East African countries direct spending towards security and economic sectors

Last week, East African governments presented their annual budgets for the next fiscal year, which starts in July. The budget announcements are coordinated across the East African Community (EAC), one of the bloc’s steps toward fuller trade and financial integration. Though each country had different priorities, security, debt repayment, and infrastructure dominated the region’s sector allocations. Additionally, the region is also aiming to boost its energy supplies to meet huge industrial and domestic demands, a fact that is demonstrated by high budget allocations for hydropower dams and thermal energy plants, among others. Importantly, countries are increasingly looking at domestic resources to fund national expenditures, which include improved implementation of existing tax policies that could enhance revenue collections during the coming financial year. Burundi’s budget was not presented last week along with that of other EAC partner states as its budget reading is not aligned with the EAC member countries arrangement yet.

U.S. Agency for International Development admin
istrator nominee Gayle Smith highlights her key priorities during Senate confirmation hearing

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama’s nominee for administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Gayle Smith, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a nomination hearing. Prior to this event, analysts commended the speed with which Congress’ efforts to fill the role of USAID administrator have progressed. Ms. Smith, currently a National Security Council senior director, stated her key priorities if confirmed, which include institutionalizing successful programs, strengthening institutions and the rule of law, and ensuring that USAID maintains global leadership in responding to humanitarian crises. After the hearing, next steps will include a vote by the committee followed by a vote before the full Senate. Speedy confirmation would provide Smith an opportunity to deliver on some of her list of targets and provide the world’s largest bilateral aid agency leadership in this crucial time before the two major multilateral negotiations taking place later this year—the Third International Conference on Financing Development and the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, where the Sustainable Development Goals are expected to be formally adopted by member states.

President Obama to visit Ethiopia

The White House announced today that President Obama will visit Ethiopia following planned travel to Kenya in July. In Kenya, the president will engage in bilateral discussions with the Kenyan government as well as attend the Global Entrepreneurs Summit. Later, Obama will travel to Addis Ababa where he will meet with the government of Ethiopia and visit the African Union headquarters, marking the first time an acting American president has been to Ethiopia and the AU’s head office. Since the president’s Africa travel was announced in spring of this year, many suggestions have been offered on ways to utilize the visit to enhance U.S.-Africa relations. Obama’s trip to the region will be his fourth since assuming office, more than any other sitting president.