Is there genuine commitment to the ACP?
By Elizabeth Morgan
This week, I am remaining with the 9th ACP Summit recently concluded in Nairobi, Kenya, because I am concerned about the attendance of Heads of State or Government (HoS/G).
In 1975, the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States was established as a group of former colonies of European powers working in solidarity in their interface with the European Community negotiating optimum benefits in trade and aid. The intention was also to strengthen intra-ACP relations, which has not materialized in 44 years of the group’s existence. The ACP now has a membership of 79 countries: Sub-Saharan Africa – 48, the Caribbean – 16, and the Pacific – 15.
A summit refers to a meeting of HoS/G and is the highest level of decision-making. It is expected that most of those attending would be HoS/G. The ACP constituent document, the Georgetown Agreement, as I quoted last week, states that the Summit should be attended by HoS/G or their designated representatives. Nevertheless, one would expect a majority of Heads to be in attendance for a proper quorum.
The 9th ACP Summit was expected to take “momentous’ decisions. I read that it was a success and Heads, among other things, approved revisions to the Georgetown Agreement to transform the ACP group into the Organization of ACP States (OACPS), which will be more active at the multilateral level. The current Secretary General, Patrick Gomes, believes the OACPS could become the voice of the global south, its Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
A Xinhua News Agency report on the 9th Summit informed that of the 79 Member States, 70 attended, and there were 17 Heads of State or Government [including Jamaica and Barbados]. Note, only 17 HoS/G of 79 Members attended, i.e. 22%. The Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation had also reported that “over 10 Heads ..” would be present. This means 53 of those attending were “designated representatives”. This reported attendance, in my opinion, was very poor.
I note that the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in London was attended by 46 Heads from its 53 members. The 2017 Africa/EU Summit was attended by most African leaders as were the 2018 Africa/China Summit, and the 2019 Africa/Russia Summit.
Traditionally, in the Caribbean, most Heads turn out for meetings with the US President, the Canadian Prime Minister and the EU Heads. The Caribbean ACP Forum (CARIFORUM) has met with EU Heads in the margins of the EU/Community of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (CELAC) Summits.
Intra-regional summits, African Union, CARICOM and Pacific Forum, are also well attended by HoS/G.
Isn’t it interesting that leaders, ACP Members, turn out in full force for other summits, but almost consistently are no shows for ACP Summits? I believe this signals a lack of interest in and commitment to the ACP except as it relates to the EU relationship. Without strong commitment, how can the Group be transformed into an organization with ambitions of becoming the south’s OECD? How can intra-ACP relations be strengthened?
Another commitment issue is financing. The OACPS must be able to finance itself and have minimum dependence on donor countries and institutions. The organization cannot operate on equal terms with other partners if its Members are not fully responsible for its financial support.
Angola, the country of the Secretary General designate, has offered to host the next ACP Summit in 2022. The President of Angola, Joăo Lourenҫo, will join current host, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, and past host, Prime Minister James Marape of Papua New Guinea, on the inter-sessional Bureau. They, with the Secretary General designate, Georges Chikoti, as well as the Council of Ministers will need to undertake the task of elevating the profile of the ACP and of securing a vast improvement in attendance of HoS/G at the 2022 Summit. Major international media houses should consider an ACP Summit worthy of coverage.
If not, I see no point in continuing to convene Summits and the organization and purpose of the ACP has to be further reconsidered.
Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year
Submitted by Elizabeth Morgan, Specialist in International Trade Policy and International Politics