Tough times for the African Union

2010 must have been a very difficult year for M. Jean Ping and his colleagues. Don’t even get me started on 2011! The Ivorian case, the Northern African revolutions, and now the whole Lybia imbroglio. Ping was widely criticized for the African Union weaknesses in the different crisis, during which regional powers, military coalitions or even international organizations took the ascendancy over the African Union. Jeune Afrique has a whole article on the whereabouts of Jean Ping, whose passivity has been annoying the supporters of a strong African institution for more than 3 years now.

The debate should be elsewhere though, what about the African Union itself? The reformed Organization for African Unity seems to meet the same limits than its predecessors: a very limited scope, the lack of institutional democracy the total absence of consensus in the different crisis, as well as the undermining influence of some strong continental actors. The result: the African Union is weak and its results are not visible after 9 years of existence.

The Observatoire de l’Afrique published a paper The African Union’s in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire conflicts (available here) about the institution. To sum it up:

the AU remains the only continental institution that is able to present and represent pan-African interests and views on the world stage, but the AU strategic decision-making and policy implementation are affected by:

  • The dynamics of inter-governmentalism and tensions within its supranational governance architecture;
  • Weak institutional and political integration of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs), that are supposed to serve as building blocks for the AU;
  • The pace of economic and political integration of the different REC’s differs greatly as do their priorities;
  • The model of inclusiveness that is based on geography and not political vision and shared values;
  • Ambiguities in common governance values and standards; and lack of firm adherence to such values and standards by all Member states;
  • Overlapping agendas, scarcity of resources and donor dependency.

As Pan-Africanist that I want to be, I do not see the African Union succeeding in short terms because of a number of factors. The emergence of strong African democracies and their willingness to be integrated at the higher level of international decision-making does not favor the African Union, but reduces its voice on the continent. There is also the fact that the main African problems (democracy, integration, poverty, AIDS, debt, education…) left their place in the common agenda to “western problems” such as war against Al Quaeda. Add to that the growing influence of various bigger countries (France, China, Russia, United States), the financial dependency and the governance rigidity and you start to get the dark picture.

African unity needs to rely on regional political, economic and military institutions before stepping into the larger scale: continental unity. Regional institutions such as ECOWAS would benefit from the democratic opening of their leaders, and should see some leadership rising with a common agenda, as materialized recently by firm stances from Goodluck Jonathan or Jacob Zuma.

What do you think?

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