After nine days of intense deliberations, decisions and policy formulation, the 15th summit of the African Union (AU) rounded up on July 27th in Kampala, Uganda. The theme of this most recent assembly was the incredibly important and pressing yet often marginalised issue of Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa. The matter of security in Somalia was always a by-line to the main subject matter of the summit, but its importance was propelled after the terrorist attacks that struck at the heart of the AU host nation on July 11th, which killed 76 and left dozens of others severely wounded.
Developing solutions to the problems currently being experienced in Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa is one of the Millennium Development Goals that the AU member states subscribe to achieve by 2015. Their mission is ideally to promote ‘a holistic and human-centred approach to socio-economic development, as well as intra- and inter-sectoral coordination of the social sector with a view to alleviating poverty and improving the quality of life of the African people, in particular the most vulnerable and marginalized’.
There were five areas into which efforts will be concentrated:
[protected]Under ‘Child Survival and Development’ it is stated that no child should suffer from hunger or disease; and that children should have increased access to and utilization of appropriate interventions to life threatening childhood illness, such as measles.
The section entitled ‘Health System and Community Involvement’ focuses on the need for Africa to create an integrated, comprehensive and strengthened health system with clear health outcomes for women and children; to make primary healthcare cheap and affordable; and to reposition family planning and promote universal access to reproductive health services, aspects that people living in developed nations take for granted in their own health systems.
‘Nutrition and Food Security’ centres on promoting better nutrition practices, which contributes to empowering women and to reducing discrimination against girls in family feeding practices; and on reducing maternal and child mortality resulting from contributing factors including under-nutrition, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases.
‘Health Financing’ aims to provide long-term predictable financing for health; invest in good health of women and children; and increase external funding, domestic resources (including the Abuja 15% target) and to ensure use of available resources.
Synchronizing this effort comes under the ‘Framework of Accountability’, which endeavours to create one national coordinating authority with a broad multi-sectoral mandate; adopt maternal and child health as key indicators of a functioning health system; and produce one agreed national monitoring and evaluation system and reporting format. This should help report and regulate national activities and suggest room for improvement.
So now it is up to the AU to implement these progressive changes.
The AU allows African leaders to make the decisions they feel are right for their own people without Western intervention. However, it noted the need to engage with other multilateral and regional partners in recognition of the challenges posed by globalisation and the world economic crisis.
Yet if the AU wants to retain the power and freedom that it has created for itself then its comprising nations need to be prepared to put their money where their mouths are and instigate the actions that lay behind their promising words. It cannot rely on the wider world the whole time, and many AU members are not forthcoming with their efforts.
The Summit urged all members to reach the Abuja target of a minimum of 15% of the national budgets allocated to health care by 2015. The Abuja promise, however, was made in 2001 and according to recent World Health Organisation statistics; only Tanzania, Liberia and Rwanda have met the objective this year. Others are lagging behind.
Despite African leaders in Kampala pledging to reduce out-of-pocket health care expenses, they clearly need to be more committed if they are going to reach their targets and prove themselves committed to the cause. The Sudanese leader (amongst others) was not even there to comment on the proceedings and give his input.
Even South Africa, after hosting one of the most successful and undoubtedly most surprising World Cups in history, does not seem to be participating to a large degree – to go on the governmental website is to see a want of information regarding the Summit. Nothing is available. As a leader of progress in Africa this is unexpected, if not a little disappointing.
Organisation, commitment and desire are needed to successfully implement the AU’s ideals.
Youssouf Quedraogo, advisor to the President of African Development Bank Donald Kaberuka, expressed the fact that ‘Africa leaders [are] unanimous in their call for greater regional intervention in Africa’. Desire Assogbavi, Head of Oxfam’s AU Liaison Office in Addis Ababa had this to say on the matter:
‘While this declaration is a positive step, most of it has been promised before but has never been delivered. Only 10% of AU decisions are effectively implemented. There is a need to immediately put in place comprehensive tracking and monitoring mechanisms to ensure the decisions are fully implemented at national level. African people are tired of rhetoric – now they need to see real change in their daily lives’.
Words are meaningless if African countries do not develop and implement national plans to reduce maternal, newborn and infant deaths, as well as addressing health worker shortages over the next five years. A key step would be to publicly announce timetables and timeframes leading up to 2015, the target date for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.
However, there were constraints on the conference.
Most notable are the bombings supposedly carried out by the al-Qaeda linked Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab. This not only dominated discussions at the Summit, but also led to a distinct shift in media attention. As previously noted, the Somali crisis was already on the AU’s agenda, but the dramatic and unexpected events of July 11th were allowed to overshadow the main focus of the meeting to a certain extent.
The rebels had been threatening to strike for some time before the events that took the lives of football fans gathered in a rugby club and a restaurant early last month. Their actions were, therefore, expected. Yet the attacks show that the events in Somalia had a direct impact on the region and global security and, accordingly, strongly imply that Africa needs to band together to fight terrorism on the continent.
As a result AU leaders agreed to deploy an additional 2,000 troops to the East African Nation to support the 6,000 that already manage security there. This will help support the UN backed government currently in power. Will Ross of the BBC believes that ‘this decision is unlikely to make a significant difference on the ground but should help shore up the transitional government, especially if more equipment and troops arrive soon’.
Furthermore, security measures were tightened in the run up to the international cricket match between Uganda and Namibia – it has been relocated by the International Cricket Council to the Namibian capital of Windhoek.
Overall there was an air of reserved optimism.
Africa can implement the changes it has verbally promised at the Summit and it’s in its best interest to do so to ensure a safe future for its people. AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Advocate Bience Gawanas, rightly said that this Summit needs to ‘be a means to an end’. It cannot continue to put off issues that are internationally recognised as imperative.[/[protected]