By Aggrey Mutambo
Kenya is set to join Rwanda as the second East African Country to be formally admitted to the grouping of African countries that helps determine continental projects.
The admission into the Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (HSGOC) which had been scheduled for Saturday was pushed to July when the African Union holds its next General Assembly.
The inclusion of the two countries is part of reforms to make the AU's implementing agency, The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) look more continental and independent of donor influence from outside of Africa.
The HSGOC is a key leadership team of Nepad created in 2010. It is now chaired by Senegalese President Macky Sall and its duties include providing the agenda for Nepad such as setting priorities to be acted on.
The committee also includes leaders from Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa as well as 14 others.
On Saturday, officials said they had postponed the meeting of the committee which had also scheduled an inaugural address on integration by ODM leader Raila Odinga, who is the AU High Representative for Infrastructure and Development.
They said they will wait for key legal documents to be ready before officially admitting 13 other countries scattered across Africa's regional blocs.
Nepad's Chief Executive Ibrahim Mayaki said his agency is changing tack to work with regional blocs in a bid to end suspicions it was a project of the West on the continent.
In adopting a new name, African Union Development Agency (AUDA), he said, will also have a new mandate to make it easier for it to play catch-up with the issues on the continent.
"One of the diagnosis of President Kagame's reform document is the necessity to accelerate the implementations of decisions related to development," Dr Mayaki told reporters in Addis Ababa in a press conference which was also streamed live. He was referring to the Rwandan President's work to reform the African Union.
"The decision to change the institutional structure is informed by the transitions through which Africa going; the demographics, technological, human development, governance, which are going at a very accelerated phase.
"Our decisions need to match these accelerated transitions," he said.
Nepad was created by Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt to help deal with challenges of underdevelopment, poverty, political instability and improve relations between African states.
The agency has cited the estimated 12 million women benefiting from agriculture, 16,000km of inter-state roads and 3,000km of power transmission lines as well as up to 17 countries connected via fibre optics as key achievements.
But critics charge it was too donor-dependent and lack independence to work on projects beneficial to Africa, especially since foreign aid has not brought the benefits intended.
Under the new arrangement, AUDA will be fully funded from the African Union budget and will be required file quarterly reports on performance.
AUDA will also mobilise funding for key integration projects like highways or railways but will mostly be through regional blocs as opposed to independent sourcing. It will also second more staff to its regional offices, away from its head offices in Johannesburg.
A briefing on the change in structure also shows the membership of the Heads of State and Government Orientation Committee (HSGOC) has been increased from 20 to 33 and will also include representation from regional blocs such as the East African Community, the Southern Africa Development Community and the Economic Community of West African States.
The HSGC, created in 2010, is now chaired by Senegalese President Macky Sall and its duties include providing the agenda for Nepad including setting priorities to be acted on.
But even as it changes tack, critics may still notice that it will be funded by an African Union budget which is still sourced from donors; despite current efforts to reform and seek domestic financial support.
In Addis Ababa, the AU Summit will be focusing on refugee problem; coming at a time when about 20 million Africans are displaced by conflict and at least three countries on the continent hosting the largest refugee population in the world; according to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Nepad was supposed to address the causes of refugee problem, political instability, and at least help the AU 'silence' guns by 2020.
Ahead of the Summit, Mr Odinga though had called on African countries to take advantage of the improving "peace dividend" to focus on infrastructure.
Mr Odinga had been scheduled to vouch for liberal air transport under the AU's Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), as his initial pet project.
SAATM was signed on by more than half of the AU's members last year in January, hoping to finally liberalise the skies and make air transport easier on the continent.
But even after 27 countries accepted the treaty, just 14 ratified further documents to start implementing it.
In fact, heads of states agreed on a formula for regulations but were still negotiating ways of solving disputes should they arise.
Africa's air transport has been cited as expensive owing to steep tariffs, poor safety, undeveloped facilities and generally lack of connectivity, according to one bulletin by IATA, the global association of commercial airliners.
Yet air transport is cited as one of the areas that could help raise continental trade from the paltry 14 per cent. The AU member also signed the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement.
The agreement initially requires members to remove tariffs from 90 percent of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods, and services across the continent. Kenya ratified but the continent still waits for bigger guns like Egypt and Nigeria to ratify.
When it appointed Mr Odinga last October, the AU said it will bank on his political contacts across the continent to help its "drive to expedite the integration of the continent through infrastructure, in order to promote economic growth and sustainable development."