Tunisia's President Kaïs Saïed on 20 January named Elyes Fakhfakh, former finance minister and unsuccessful 2019 presidential candidate (0.34% of the vote), to form the future government. The choice was as surprising as it was unexpected, given the current political fragility.
Moussa Faki: ‘Whether it’s Algiers or Khartoum, we must avoid chaos’
Chair of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat gives his opinion on the crises rocking the continent, from the transition in Sudan to the crisis in Libya and tensions in Anglophone Cameroon.
Moussa Faki Mahamat is not the type to rush in when it comes to commenting on the challenges currently facing the African Union (AU). Elected head of the AU Commission in January 2017, Faki, who was Chadian foreign minister (2008-2017) in the government of Idriss Déby Itno, is juggling several crises. Whether it’s the transition in Sudan or the chaos in Libya, the words “consensus” and “compromise” are often on the lips of this 58-year-old diplomat.
Unlike his predecessor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was reputed to be “more impulsive”, Faki is painted by those close to him as a man in perpetual quest of the middle ground. A Rwandan diplomat describes him as “pragmatic and reformist”. According to another official posted in the Sahel: “He understands, above all, that in dealing with the heads of state dialogue is more effective than confrontation.” In Paris at the beginning of June, he agreed to be interviewed in the luxurious Parisian hotel where he was staying, close to the Champs-Élysées.
The AU has suspended Sudan until further notice. What role do you want to play now?
Moussa Faki Mahamat: In Khartoum, the regime change took the form of a coup d’état. The Transitional Military Council [TMC] had two months to hand over power to a civilian government. We had almost reached an agreement when the events of early June called everything into question [soldiers fired on demonstrators, killing around 100 people].
We continue to believe that a consensus between the parties is needed to ensure that the conditions for a transparent election are in place. And even if we have had to take action, that does not mean that we are suspending our mediation and facilitation. We have a special envoy on the spot and we are continuing to work with IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development].
Will you still negotiate with figures such as Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo [‘Hemeti’], the TMC’s second in command, who is accused of leading the crackdown?
An investigation will have to be conducted to establish who was responsible. But Sudan has been at a standstill for two months now, and it is essential to continue the dialogue. Despite these tragic events, all parties must find a way to rise above this and reach a compromise to prevent the country from falling into chaos.
The TMC wants to hold an election within nine months. Is that possible?
No unilateral solution will solve the current crisis, and we must go back to what was originally decided, namely a three-year transition. This is a reasonable time frame.
We must avoid interference in Sudan, as we have all agreed, and bring the parties to a compromise.
Egypt is close to the TMC, but is also chair of the AU for one year. Is this a problem?
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi organised a regional consultation on the situation in Sudan in late April in Cairo. But we must avoid interference, as we have all agreed, and bring the parties to a compromise.
Did you really think that the TMC would hand over power to the civilians within two months, as the AU had requested?
In the end, the popular revolt was supported by the country’s army and security services. We therefore thought that the two components that had contributed to the fall of the regime should come to an agreement, and that this would ensure the stability of the country and promote the advent of democracy.
No military solution is possible in Libya, and the external interference is clear to see.
Libya is another complicated scenario for the AU to manage. What is its position on Marshal Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli?
It is essential to stop the hostilities and return to the negotiating table to find a compromise and hold elections. No military solution is possible in Libya, and the external interference is clear to see.
Is Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj right in saying that France supports Haftar?
Ask him the question. One thing is certain: the situation in Libya has been very badly managed since 2011, and this is not the first time we have complained about it. The United Nations, whose cooperation we have requested, has established that weapons are entering the country and that five or six unnamed states are supplying one side or the other.
Will the “reconciliation” summit be held in Addis Ababa in July?
Not until there is a ceasefire.
The Algerian people have clearly expressed a will for change, but chaos must be avoided.
Algeria is going through a transition period on which the AU has had little say. Are you afraid that the military will try to seize power?
We have commented less on the situation because until now things have happened within the framework of the Constitution. But in Algeria, too, everyone must work to find a compromise. The Algerian people have clearly expressed a will for change, but chaos must be avoided.
Why is the G5 Sahel joint force struggling to be operational?
Security must start at home, but there are several problems: we wanted the G5 force to receive UN resources, which was not the case. We also need to review the issue of funding, and that is why we have relaunched the peace fund, which must raise $400m by 2020-2021 and make it possible to finance these peace support missions in Africa.
The United States plans to reduce its contribution to peacekeeping. Does that worry you?
Is terrorism a universal threat or not? Has an international coalition not been formed to fight the Islamic State in Syria? And nothing would be done in Africa against terrorism? The Security Council is responsible for peace and security around the world, and they are under threat on the continent. We need everyone to mobilise.
A mission like the MONUSCO [UN mission in the DRC] costs more than $1bn a year. It is difficult to see what the peace fund will enable…
If there’s a crisis that falls within the framework of UN Chapter VII, the UN must finance its resolution. The peace fund is mainly intended for preventive diplomacy and early intervention until the Security Council decides on the way forward. We know how cumbersome the UN decision-making process is.
The most important thing in the DRC is to ensure peace, stability and the regular functioning of institutions. The Congolese are free to find the right formula.
In January, disagreements emerged within the AU over what to do after the Congolese presidential election and the proclamation of Félix Tshisekedi’s victory. How do you explain that?
There was no dissension. There have been elections and results have been challenged. Taking into account the reservations that were expressed about the outcome of the election, we wanted to send a mission to Kinshasa to talk with the different parties, and I can testify that at the beginning everyone agreed with this idea. But a winner was declared, the results were validated by the Constitutional Court, and we took note of it. That’s all.
Should Félix Tshisekedi assert his independence from Joseph Kabila, in your opinion?
It’s not a question of independence. The most important thing is to ensure peace, stability and the regular functioning of institutions. The Congolese are free to find the right formula.
We were surprised that Nigeria didn’t sign up to the AfCFTA. But I think it’s a domestic problem.
How do you explain Nigeria’s reluctance to join the newly established African Continental Free Trade Area [AfCFTA]?
It’s true that at the extraordinary summit in Kigali in March 2018 we were surprised to that Nigeria did not sign up. But I think it’s a domestic problem. Discussions are still ongoing, and the country will eventually join. Of course, it would have been better if such an important country had been part of the AfCFTA from the beginning, but I want to be optimistic.
The EU and the US have a lot to say about the situation in Anglophone Cameroon, but the AU does not…
We prefer a more direct, but also more discreet diplomacy. It’s not all about talking; it’s about doing something. I went to Cameroon and talked with the authorities. We have pushed the government to engage in a dialogue, knowing that decentralisation is provided for in the Cameroonian constitution and that this should make it possible to satisfy some of the demands formulated locally. But what is serious is this tendency to violence, on both sides.
Do you agree with Brussels and Washington that [Cameroonian politician] Maurice Kamto was arrested for political reasons?
Obviously, it’s not normal for a politician to be arrested for his opinions. But in this case accusations of incitement to violence were made. Cameroon has its own judicial procedures, that is not a matter of debate. But we urge all players to sit around the same table to find a solution together to a problem that is essentially political.
Egypt has often been seen as keeping its distance from the AU. How does President Sisi differ from his Rwandan predecessor [as AU chair], Paul Kagame?
I have not seen any lack of interest on the part of Egypt in the AU. The difference may be due to the fact that Paul Kagame was given a dual mandate: he was charged with reforming the AU and, at the same time, he was the organisation’s president. Perhaps this is what led us to work more closely together.
Some of your predecessors have made the Commission chairmanship a springboard for their careers. What about you? What about you?
All I care about is getting the job done. The issue of reform is important, there are many economic and security challenges. The continent is at a crossroads, and I am devoting all my energy to it.
Are you thinking about a second term?
It’s too early to say. I will let you know when the time comes.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.