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African Union, useful or useless?

By Lindelwe Dube

The continent has recently seen an increase in the number of attempted coups. The list includes Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast and now the Central African Republic (CAR). While Africans themselves and the international community may look to the African Union (AU) to facilitate peace and stability, the AU has struggled to fulfil this mandate despite having mechanisms aimed at pre-emptively detecting possible conflicts. Funding has often been blamed as the AU’s main obstacle to carry out missions on the continent but there are other underlying problems that have limited the AU’s ability to resolve major conflicts.

Africa needs to be made more aware of the work the AU does. Often we hear of stories of western interventions in states such as the Ivory Coast, Egypt and Libya. This can be attributed to the influence the west has on the international arena. But this predominance undermines the AU’s own legitimacy: when Africans do not see AU intervention it is increasingly likely that Africans will not have faith in its ability to intervene. The perception created is that there is lack of capacity and this in turn inspires Africans to look to the west rather than the AU. One could even argue that the lack of reliance on the AU makes it less likely to develop and implement schemes to avert conflict because it is “crowded out” of the intervention market.

This compounded by the AU’s delays in responding to African countries’ domestic conflicts. When the AU dithered over whether to intervene in Libya, the reality created by the AU’s non-action is that African leaders back their old allies even when they may be guilty of committing human-rights violations and other such atrocities. This pattern is on-going: the AU has failed to decisively to deal with leaders such as the late Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and now Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic.

The question that arises is if the AU can be trusted by Africans to resolve conflicts. Considering that non-action in many instances is inspired by political allegiances between political elites, much doubt is cast over the AU’s ability to act as an impartial actor in unstable regions. This is especially the case where AU leaders have adopted politically convenient but worryingly inconsistent positions on internal democracy, human rights and so on.

In assessing the approaches that have been taken to deal with attempted coups in Mali and in the CAR, the AU usually suspends offending states from the organisation until the situation is resolved. Suspending a state may be a step in the right direction but it is not enough. There has to be greater emphasis on the enforcement of deals that not only take into account the interests of the warring parties, but of the people as well.

The AU was able to broker a truce between Bozize and the rebels in January 2013, the peace deal has now been broken. The rebels have accused Bozize of having failed to honour his obligations. Considering that the AU has already created early detection mechanisms, it is concerning that no effective monitoring and detection of this problem occurred. The AU was caught sleeping on duty. Their silence has had the effect of angering the rebels further.

The possibility of attempting to reinstate Bozize has passed. Much like the rebels in Syria who want peace without Bashar al-Assad, CAR rebels’ actions indicate the possibility for peace only with Bozize gone. But the AU should take immediate action to stabilise the country. It could do so by deploying Nigerian and Kenyan troops to the region. Nigeria and Kenya have escaped being tainted by the perception of being partisan, unlike the South Africans, who were there as part of a bi-lateral deal and are now seen to protect and bolster Bozize more than anything else.

It is important that the AU does not simply reinstate leaders that have been the root cause of their country’s problems. It is preferable the AU facilitates a process that will lead to democratic elections and installing a politically accountable government. The willingness of the CAR rebels to comply with the peace deal brokered in January is a unique opportunity for the AU. It is possible that the AU may facilitate the elections happening sooner. But this will not happen if they continue to be seen to stand in support of yet another dictator.

The AU has the ability to step up in CAR and improve its standing, not only among Africans but among the international community too. It is an opportunity that should not be squandered.

It is high time AU leaders condemn their fellow leaders who neglect the interests of citizens, as well as ignore democratic and humanitarian principles. A failure to do so will not only plunge the continent into further conflict, it will limit the AU’s ability to play a meaningful role in the future of African people.

Lindelwe Dube is a master’s student in conflict transformation with the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She is passionate about conflict resolution and development in Africa. She is a university debater who takes part in community development programmes and loves to teach high school children how to debate and more importantly be conscious of the environment they live in.

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    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Dube, most of the finance for the AU comes from the western countries because their members can’t afford to pay their dues. The AU has no power except to meet and pass resolution on various issues. The answer to your question is yes, the AU is useless.

    • The Creator

      No, I’m sorry, but this is poisonous, fascistic rubbish.

      The African Union is a loose assembly of states, many of which have governments only tenuously connected with their peoples. Some of these governments are essentially in the pockets of various Western powers (mainly America or France or Britain). There is no way that the African Union has any right to murder people anywhere in Africa in order to install a political order which someone, somewhere, wants to see installed. Indeed, the UN Security Council doesn’t actually have that right in terms of the UN Charter — although the bogus “responsibility to protect” has been used to give it that odious entitlement.

      The African Union can certainly impose some embarrassing sanctions on countries, and that is its right. However, it has also chosen not to endorse the brutal violence which the West has used against various African countries, and that is also its right. The best rule of international diplomacy is that you should first do no harm; the UN and NATO have forgotten about this rule.

      If the AU is behaving any differently, as in the disaster in Somalia, this is largely because many AU countries have been bribed or bullied by more powerful countries, mainly in the West.

    • A. Nzeyimana

      AU in its current form is useless. It represents African leaders whose legitimacy towards their citizens is significantly questionable. To make it operational it requires radical transformation by setting strict criteria to belong to the institution. Countries not able to fulfill them would be kept out until they do, the same way other effective groupings operate.

    • lwazi marawu

      @dube.I believe that Africans are not united because of regionalism. states focus on members states that assist them politically and economically, and this makes it difficult for AU to make any drastic decision as a collective when it comes to conflicts.

      the issue of funds it important but if we do not agree on solutions or possible strategies in dealing with African issues its impossible to be effective, yes the west has a hand in AU but we are to blame because we do not have backbone which is why we are going beck to square one.

      Africans are made to believe they are not capable of dealing with their problems alone which is not true and we believe it.

      contracts signed between west and African states continue to divide us and read international policies of African states and you will see that its not easy to put interest of AU if you relay on foreign investment and political assistance from the west for development.

      until we look at each other and think why we got our freedom from the western masters, we can unite as Africans and deal with domestic affairs of many states as a collective not as SADEC,ECOWAS,EAC and IGAD.

    • Tofolux

      @Lindelwe, your opening sentence ie “the continent has recently seen an increase etc” begs the most fundamental of questions, WHY?. I put it to you in looking at the countries as mentioned by yourself, you will also note that Egypt, Libya etc shares a close relationshtip with the most fought over resource in the world today ie oil in the Niger region. I also put it that to better understand the so-called attempted ”coups” in Africa it is pertinent to interrogate the history and politics of the Middle-eastern countries, the oil crisises and the positioning of the top 5 oil companies in ALL the conflicts in the world today. You also need to interrogate the formation and positioning of Israel in ALL the conflicts in the Middle east. This non-sense of a homeland for Jews is nothing but non-sense and a lie. In fact it seems that world citizenry is so gullible, we seem to believe any lie told to us by the West. The reason for the attention on the african continent is to secure the oil in Africa. You will note that the rebels who attacked soldiers in CAR were well resourced and clearly were not CAR citizens, so who is behind this attack? It is disappointing that media has not looked at the looming effects all of these impending conflicts will have on South Africa and yes, their positioning of the debate is intended to draw attention away from the core issue ie the impending danger to this continent. I suggest you attend to the matter of IMF and World Banks influence on AU.

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