Tumultuous events currently tearing apart some countries on the continent have exposed the weaknesses of the continental body—African Union (AU)—and revealed why the international community would choose to do things with impunity on the continent.
What makes other continental or regional blocs strong and assertive but not the AU? The European Union is a force to reckon with, just as other blocs in North/South America are. Why is the AU disrespected and sidelined? The reasons are not difficult to adduce. In every sense, the AU is a non-starter, serving as a mere talk-shop, not the vibrant force that it has been expected to be since the birth of the OAU in 1963.
The African Union Commission Chair, Jean Ping, is reported to have said that the African Union feels completely ignored by world bodies in the quest to restore peace in conflict-ridden Libya. Ping said efforts by the AU to intervene in the early days of the Libyan crisis were curtailed by the UN Security Council and since then the regional body has been left out of peace talks on Libya.
“All our programmes which I mentioned to you were stopped by the decision of the UN Security Council. We were supposed to go to Libya on the 18th in Tripoli and on the 19th to Benghazi. Then the decision of the Security Council came. We asked permission to go too, they say don’t go. So we stopped going there,” he said.
He said a meeting was scheduled in Paris with the AU but nothing has been heard ever since, even though ministers of western countries on their own have made attempts to resolve the crisis in Cairo. “Nobody talk to us; no body consult us” he lamented.
Why should anybody talk to or listen to the AU, knowing very well what it is? The AU can’t help the continent solve its problems and seems to have lost public confidence. No amount of lamentation will change matters for the better.
In the first place, Africa is the only continent on earth that always has problems for the world to solve. If it is not poverty, disease, and civil war, then, it is corruption and political instability. From all corners of the continent, there is news of disaster. Since African countries gained independence from their colonial masters, they have been ravaged by all kinds of disasters—bloody civil wars, self-serving politics, military intervention in politics and consequent political instability, famine, genocide, ineradicable bribery and corruption, the brain-drain syndrome, and many other indescribable occurrences that threaten to revive the infamous calumny of the continent by the Europeans as the “Dark Continent.”
Yes, Jean Ping may be complaining bitterly about this slight but he has to know that in the community of continents, Africa is still regarded as a toddler. Who will leave responsibilities for a toddler to handle?
African countries look up to the international community to either supervise or monitor their internal political processes and general elections. If the AU were vibrant enough to perform its functions, it would have assisted in such efforts? After all, the AU’s own charter has the following: “The 2000 Solemn Declaration on the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation,” which established “the fundamental principles for the promotion of Democracy and Good Governance in the Continent.”
The atrocities that occasioned the elections in Kenya come to mind. Then, the impasse in the Ivory Coast, which is tearing apart that country stand tall for attention. All over the continent, pockets of conflict exist. It appears Africans are more prone to creating problems than solving them. Clearly, no one even trusts any African country’s internal political structures to conduct incident-free and credible elections.
The AU hasn’t ever been known to be pro-active. It lacks the capacity to detect potential conflict situations and can’t even tackle them at their inchoate stage until they get out-of-hand. So, when the world bodies step in to help solve those problems, should the AU expect them to defer to it? They will not because they know that as presently designed and constituted, the AU can’t be relied on to do what we assume are its responsibilities. The AU is a waste-pipe, serving as a burdensome job-for-the-boys bureaucratic structure.
In all honesty, can the AU point to any single major achievement that should warrant its demand for respect and recognition by the world bodies? I shudder to say that nothing recommends the OAU/AU as such. And here are some reasons why:
The ideological conflict between the so-called conservatives (the Casablanca Group ) and the radicals (the so-called Monrovia Group) that undergirded the birth of the OAU seemed to have done much harm to the Union; and that harm still hurts it. The various organs of the AU are mere paper-tigers. They don’t function to make their impact felt on the continent. Where they do, they seem to compound problems instead.
Lack of leadership—Who in the AU can be equated to leaders of countries in the West or elsewhere as a capable leader whose policies and actions provide the impetus for development?
Lack of credibility—the AU represents a continent that is still regarded by the white man as his “problem.” Long after decolonization, some African countries (especially the Francophone ones) still owe more allegiance to the colonial master (France) than to the AU, which impedes unity.
Under-development despite the availability of all the resources that should make the continent a heaven-on-earth for its citizens—cocoa, gold, diamond, uranium, bauxite, copper, timber, human resources, abundant water resources, rich tourism resources, arable land, etc.
Excruciating poverty, debilitating diseases, brain drain, civil wars, political instability, paralyzing corruption, etc.
Lack of vision—political office holders enter office only to enrich themselves at the expense of the system. Africa is riddled with human-created problems that don’t make the continent credit-worthy. And the AU superintends over this sordid situation. No one will respect such an institution and allow it to spearhead efforts.
Member-states of the AU and its predecessor (OAU) have never spoken with a single voice because they have never agreed on any common agenda to move the continent forward. No reliable structure exists to propel collective and concerted action. Politically, different systems exist; economically, there is no integration even though almost all the countries produce similar primary commodities; socio-culturally, the diversity seems to be problematic and generates tension all over the continent. The problems are ambient. Yet, the AU seems to have lost its bearings and has no sense of urgency in finding solutions.
To be continued…
By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor