Long, long ago, animals from all corners of the earth gathered in one place for a big indaba. Conspicuous by their absence from the great gathering were chicken folk. As animals big and small made their way to the meeting place, chicken folk were seen making their way in the opposite direction to attend to exclusive and unique chicken matters in a uniquely chicken manner. But top of the agenda at the great meeting of all animals was how they might deal with the deadly menace of the creatures called human beings — creatures who were, from the point of view of the animals, as intelligent as they were bloodthirsty.
In a grudging acknowledgement of human superiority and in deference to human ingenuity, the animals voted unanimously to send an envoy bearing a gift of appeasement to the humans. What could they give to humans as appeasement? Chickens! It was decided unanimously. From then on chickens were offered to humans for domestication, breeding, slaughter and wanton consumption … and we have enjoyed Colonel Sanders’ recipes happily ever since!
Taken from Igbo folklore, the original story is told by one of Africa’s most accomplished storytellers — Chinua Achebe. Obviously I have taken the liberty to tweak, nuance and retell the story in my own words for my own purposes. I am afraid that the African Union is behaving like the chickens in this fable. It should not be surprised if it meets the same fate.
2011 will go down as the most momentous in the life of the African continent for years to come — a watershed year. The shape and form of 21st century Africa is being decided even as I jot down these few words. When the events changing the face of the beloved continent are recounted and reviewed, the AU might not feature at all. I think it has been rendered — or has rendered itself — peripheral, to the brink of redundancy.
In three short months we have experienced, and are still experiencing, a radical redrawing of the body politic and political landscape of North Africa. Two long-term rulers — Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak — who between them had been in power for more than half a century — have been swept aside by the sheer force of popular revolt. Within the same period a brand new African state was born — from below and in defiance of the neat African borders of Berlin 1884 — the state of South Sudan. And another state might still be born (or is it stillborn?) — the state of Palestine. The events in North Africa may not be entirely irrelevant to the prospects of the state of Palestine or lack thereof.
But during the first decade of a century, which Thabo Mbeki dubbed “the African century”, we have seen at least two scandalous elections in Zimbabwe (and another one might just be waiting to happen in that country) a tragic election in Kenya, two rival and concurrent presidents in Côte d’Ivoire, thanks to yet another botched election. The residents of Abidjan are living in terror amid a fierce battle between pro-Gbagbo and pro-Outtarra forces — whatever that means. But why? Why must the people be terrorised and killed merely because at the end of 2010 they exercised their democratic right to vote? The AU and the UN oversaw and certified the Ivorian elections but have been impotent ever since.
Then there is the situation of the nightly bombardment of Libya carried out by Nato and the so-called coalition forces under the watch of the UN and with the tacit permission of the Arab League, China and Russia since March 19 2011. The longer the bombardment continues, the dodgier and the less pure the motives appear to be, if ever they were.
The curious spectre of the coalition forces fighting alongside al-Qaeda against Gaddafi has been raised as a very real possibility. Is this Gaddafi’s indirect, back-handed and inadvertent contribution to world peace? Allegations of the coalition forces doing more than protect civilians are multiplying. There are allegations that some of their bombs are killing civilians even though their only moral reason for being over the skies of Libya is to protect civilians. There are allegations that they are arming and training the rebels, clearly going way beyond the mandate of the UN resolution for a no-fly zone. If this goes on for too long even Gaddafi might slowly begin to look like a nationalist hero who is fighting foreigners whose purpose is the instigation of a civil war. We hope that reports of Gaddafi settlement-seeking envoys in London and Athens are not part of his many tricks and delay tactics.
We have not yet fully grasped the implications and impact of these — good and bad — epoch-making phenomena. When these events are recalled and assessed several years later, do you think it will include the names of Monsieur Jean Ping and that of the El Jefe (the boss) Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the much feared dictator of Equatorial Guinea who rose to power through a bloody coup in 1979 and now sits at the helm of the AU? Will historians elaborate on the pivotal role of the AU in peace building, economic development and the enforcement of the rule of law?
What was the role of the AU when Egyptians gathered at Tahrir Square day after day after day? Where was the AU when Tunisia burnt? Not that the AU does not enjoy the goodwill of African countries. Not that they lack documents, founding documents, press statements, constitutions and vision statements — their website is full of those. The AU strives for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena”. But how? By wishful thinking? By osmosis? By burying heads in the sand? By doing one thing and saying the other? For example, although the AU opposed the UN’s no-fly zone resolution on Libya, SA and possibly Nigeria — prominent members of the AU — did not abstain, they voted in favour.
The coalition forces and Nato countries met in London to plot the way ahead in Libya — a meeting at which the AU was conspicuous by its absence. Jean Ping is currently making a whirlwind tour of several European countries to sell them the AU road map to peace in Libya. Is it of any significance that Gaddafi is sending envoys to London and Athens and not to Pretoria and Lagos? Yet Ping would like us to believe that the AU has Gaddafi in its pocket. The opposite may be closer to the truth, if you ask me.
I have a sense that when the history of the new Africa is written, the AU will have to be searched with a magnifying glass among the smallest of footnotes in the annexures. Instead the name of one Mohamed Bouazizi of Sidi Bouzid, who on December 17 2010 set himself and Tunisia alight, will feature prominently.
After the guns have gone quiet and an eerie calm has returned, the rickety AU bus will shamefully sneak into town, with Nguema and Ping at the helm. A quick and nervous tour of the streets of Tripoli, Misurata, Harare, Cairo and Abidjan will be taken. Then the AU entourage will proceed to what used to be parliament and state house, now turned into the local headquarters of Nato and the coalition forces. There the AU will go on its knees to beg for permission to collect what remains of the smiling African corpses strewn up and down the streets, glistening in the heat of the African sun. What a feast for the African mongrel dogs!