Sunday, June 2, 2013

AU at 50: no achievement to celebrate but idea

A $3.5 million festivity to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the African Union, amid hours of power blackout in Addis Ababa, might not sound much. Beyond the fifty years mark and the celebration about it, who can afford to avoid a quest for meaning as to what the African Union means to Africans, and as to what it has achieved in its fifty years of existence? These are continental questions.

OAU, the predecessor of the African Union, came into being in May 1963 for which Kwame Nkruma of Ghana, Sekou Tore of Guinea, Modibo Kaitha of Mali and Emperor Haile Sellasie of Ethiopia are specially credited( you may refer to General History of Africa vol.VIII to learn more on that).

Theoretically, the organization was meant to be an expression of, it seemed so at least, desire  and commitment for freedom. It was an expression of assertion of rights and freedoms for Africans. An expression of desire to liberate a continent with exceptional experiences of unfreedom and exploitation. It was an assertion, and celebration at the same time, of the African identity.Accordingly,the organization was fundamentally meant for fighting colonialism in all its forms and promote best practices and actions to foster gradual unity of African states.

Fifty years later, we ask, what is it that the organization has changed along the lines it was meant to change? Or do we just consider the change from OAU to AU a change? Oddly enough, the declaration that changed the name OAU to African Union was made at Sirte, a city which was to be razed by NATO airstrike with a pretext of “humanitarian intervention” a little over a decade after the Sirte Decleration.The “humanitarian intervention” turned out to be utter destruction involving loss of civilian lives .As the air strike in Libya intensified, heads of states gathered in Addis some time in April 2011. The African leaders condemned the air strike and accused UN security council of “double standard.” Yet, the message echoed through the condemnation of the airstrike was how weak the African Union is. The signal is that the African Union was unable to do a more practical action.

Had the African Union built capacity to resolve intra-state and inter-state conflict and/or dispute (btw, conflict resolution was one of the main objective of the organization upon establishment), it could have acted much earlier than the “humanitarian intervention” which means, among other things, that it could have denied a fertile ground for “humanitarian intervention.” Well, Intervention might not have been avoidable, but Africans could have understood the motive of the intervention more clearly- and the clarity could have helped in building understanding as to what the real challenge that Africa facing.

Another recent example of intervention in Africa is the case of Coted’Ivore. Again, AU could have resolved this conflict. Unfortunately, we had to witness a situation where by a European power had to send paratroopers and humiliate an African head of state and “resolve” the situation in the way they like. Cote d’Ivore was another failure for AU.

If we move a little further back in time, we have the genocide in Rwanda – another remarkable example of failure of the organization and an important evidence to substantiate the point that conflict resolution and emergency response capacity of the organization is so weak. still a litter further back in time, we had the crisis in Somalia which is not resolved for good to date, which represents another failure story of the organization.And I am not sure if the organization is sincerely thinking in terms of building the capacity it needs to resolve possible conflicts of similar nature in the future.

Promoting integration among African states was one of the principal rationale for the formation of African Union. As it turns out, it happened to be one of the failure areas of the organization. Far from integration, some African countries even seem to be in what looks like a gradual process of disintegration. In many parts of Africa,there appears to be a solid ground for an ideology of disintegration: ethnic politics. What else could be the fate of countries which are in the hands of politicians that hold ethnic politics tight?

A case in point, at the time of the establishment of Organization of African Unity Ethiopia certainly did have political problems but there was no indication,what so ever,for the existence of a potentially explosive political tension on the basis of ethnicity. Yet, while there is much talk about what Ethiopia achieved in terms of infrastructure development, a project hugely funded by global lending institutions and state actors (much of which is to be payed back with interest),and economic growth, many seem to forget whether the infrastructure development or economic growth means anything if there is a possibility for the country to slip into ethnic based violence. 

Ethnic ideology and ethnic politics undermine,so to speak, the very principle that the African Union stands for since the time of its establishment. It is really outrageous that the organization and many African leadership did not take a firm stand to condemn the ideology of ethnic politics in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa.

Countries like Rwanda learned the danger of ethnic violence, in a hard way, and were determined to discourage ethnic sentiment,constitutionally, not to manifest itself in a form of political party or any other destructive forms. In Kenya, constitutional provision bans ethnic based political organizations. Yet, even the constitutional measure did not help tackle ethnic based violence totally as Kenya had to experience one of the worst ethnic violence in its history in recent years.

In a stark difference, constitutional provisions in Ethiopia encourage ethnic sentiment and majority of the 80 plus political parties in the country are organized on the basis of ethnicity. The ruling party itself is a coalition of parties organized on the basis of ethnicity. The Federal structure is organized on the basis of ethnicity. The trend in Ethiopian politics is clearly against the desired norm of the African Unity. Clearly, ethnic based political ideology and administrative structure represents an impediment to promote integration which is what the African Union seeks to achieve. It rather promotes conflict and violence.  Yet, the organization does not seem to act on that, and probably not even discussing it. The talk with regard to Ethiopia is “economic growth” and how the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was “intelligent” and “visionary” leader. The destructive power of his legacy of ethnic politics is conveniently ignored by African leaders and the African Union.

Human rights issue is another area where the African Union failed to act in a meaningful way. Despite “The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights” which was agreed up on in Nairobi in 1981, human rights violation is a rampant problem in Africa. The seat of the African Union, inter alia, witnessed massacre of well over 200 civilians in 2005. Recently, there was another massacre involving labour relations in Marikana South Africa- a massacre which looks like one of those massacres in colonial Africa (Sharpville comes to mind). The list can go on and on. No signs of improvement.

In the economic front, no significant economic success story for which the African Union played a catalyst role. Economic growth for many African states is like a mirage. Many African countries are sinking in debt. The African Union does not still have the political leverage to campaign against loans with strings from lending institutions. Poverty still remains an outstanding challenge in the continent.Negative trade balance is persistent. Likelihood of Africa to take an active role in the global economy, as the AU aspires to, is appearing more like pursuing the wind. What more evidence can capture the failure in the economic realm than the mere fact that well over half of the budgetary spending of the organization is reliant on donations from other institutions like the European Union?  Why is it that more than fifty-four African states failed to fully support the organization? And is it not the case that the economic influence of donors from other parts of the world could spill over to other areas as well?

Lastly, how decolonized is Africa? Whether one is to turn to politics, economy, culture, social realm or other aspects of Africa societies,there emerges a picture that depicts not only that decolonization of Africa is essentially incomplete but also a new and subtle form of neo-colonialism is on the rise. And sadly,a section of the African elite, knowingly or unknowingly, is giving a hand to the new “neo-colonization” process. Domination and conquest is deepening. Worse, it is being taken for what it is not. It is considered as empowerment, for many.

Very unfortunately, the section of population that is being conquered primarily is the very section of population with tremendous potential –the Youth – to liberate Africa in the real sense of the term and in all its forms. Politics is not decolonized. The economy is not decolonized. Culture is even more colonized, it seems so, than it was the case in colonial Africa. Colonization has got a new face in “globalization.” What concert steps has the African Union taken at least to minimize the impacts of the new form of conquest is a question perhaps the organization could hardly answer. The African Union is not playing a leadership role to influence change by way of averting challenges that Africa is facing. It is not mobilizing African leadership to focus on where it matters most to change Africa for the better. Simply, its existence is nominal.

What are we then celebrating? The African Union then is still, to a great extent, an idea rather than a prudent continental entity. It is an idea to be pursued with vigor. Why is it the case that the African youth is used as “change makers” for a world view and for the part of the world that is thinking in terms of continuity of domination and exploitation of Africa? What is the AU doing in terms of fighting cultural conquest which is crucially important to achieve better results in other areas of interest to the African Union? African Union needs to forget unfounded complacency about its virtually useless 50 years of existence. In that sense, the $3,5 festival was essentially a waste of resource. The essence of African Union lies in the idea and objectives of it- which are not yet achieved.


This article was  originally posted on borkena website on May 29,2013

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