Time to disband the African Union

2013-02-04 00:00

LAST week marked the 50th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the 10th anniversary of its successor, the African Union (AU). Reports from Addis Ababa indicate that the incoming commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has injected some discipline and realism into her first AU meeting. She is practical and hands-on. She is exploring new funding models and she has urged the AU “to prioritise its proliferation of projects”. Noble starters, but will they be enough to save the ailing organisation?

Truth said, the AU is inherently dysfunctional and should be abolished. Back in 1963, the OAU was set up primarily to liberate the continent. This has been achieved, culminating in our own 1994 democracy. Where then is its raison d’être? It was also an aim to unify the continent. Yet 50 years later, we are in greater disunity than ever before. The recent Anglophone/Francophone dichotomy in the election of a new commission chairperson showed this up again. Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and Egypt see South Africa as a rival, and will continue to do so. Africa is a geographic entity. It is not a coherent cultural bloc with centripetal forces, as is the European Union (EU) which it seeks to mimic. There are no grandiose plans to merge the nation-states of Asia and America — also geographic entities. The process of unity and integration should surely begin at the bottom and not the top, as the AU now seeks to do.

Both the OAU and the AU have devoted most of their time to resolving conflicts. Because of their lack of success should we not be admitting failure and looking to an alternative model? What should have been done is convene a second Berlin Conference in 1963; convened and funded by the European colonial powers, at which our national borders would have been re-drawn. We sit now with nation-states territorially not viable and this compounded by the challenge of transforming subject nations into citizen nations.

The plans, strategies and decisions of the AU are so overwhelming that decisions are simply not implemented. As Yoweri Museveni recently said, the AU is “everywhere and nowhere”! That is why Thabo Mbeki recently said that the dynamics and processes in the AU will not allow the new chairperson to effect any changes, nor to set new policy. The AU’s noble goal of uplifting the continent is a big box of empty promises. At the intangible level, the continent’s dignity and self-esteem have been left behind in a globalising world. In the Libyan crisis, the AU rejected the UNSC’s voting to refer Muammar Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court (ICC), while its proposals for UNSC reform, giving Africa two UNSC permanent seats with veto powers, are so unrealistic that they brand the AU a sideline player.

What can be done to “save” the AU? It cannot be saved in its present form and needs to be dissolved, and its activities and functions devolved to the five Regional Economic Communities (RECs) of which our own SADC is one. The AU would then simply be a co-ordinating body at which the five RECs would meet annually to align their policies and diplomatic initiatives. It could relocate to Accra, home of Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-African vision back in the fifties. The sixth pillar, the African diaspora, set up in 2003, would join the five RECs at their annual co-ordinating conference. They represent a new and important funding source for investment in Africa. The sub-regional bodies would then become the driving force behind Africa’s security and development. This is essentially the default position as it was not an AU stand-by force that went to Mali this month, but a West African force. It is also at this level that the private sector can be drawn in to the economic challenges facing the continent.

• Dr Alexander Shaw is a freelance writer and author of the chapter “the OAU, Institutional Leadership and the Quest for African Co-operation: From Hope to Despair”, AFFRIKA, Journal of Politics, Economics and Society. Inaugural Issue, 2009, pp45-67. He was Minister at the South African Embassy in Addis Ababa from 1995 to 1999.

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