By Dimetros Birku
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. [next page]