Thursday, May 23, 2013

Africa: Huge challenges ahead as Africa celebrates 50 years of unity

Source: ISS

Huge challenges ahead as Africa celebrates 50 years of unity

This week the African Union (AU) is hosting dignitaries from around the world to celebrate 50 years since the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), on Saturday 25 May. The organisers are expecting up to 15 000 invited quests, including 75 current and former heads of state, at the celebrations in Addis Ababa.

According to a project document of the AU’s Executive Council, $1,27 million has been set aside for these celebrations, out of a total of $3,37 million earmarked for various events throughout this year. Is this money well spent by the continental organisation, which is struggling to find funding for other crucial activities?

This comes as ordinary Africans still regard the AU as a distant organisation with little to offer them. The great achievement of the founding fathers of the OAU, created in Ethiopia in 1963, was to provide a platform for newly independent states to come together and support those African states still battling colonialism and apartheid. In the last ten years since the creation of the AU, which replaced the OAU, the organisation has been seen primarily as being responsible for peace and security on the continent – mediating in peace talks, monitoring elections, punishing coup leaders and, in rare cases, sending troops to conflict-ridden countries.

However, the work of the AU in making peace has left many ordinary Africans sceptical of its ability to impose its solutions to conflicts. Even if the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) does often mediate behind the scenes, it has struggled to communicate its role in the conflicts plaguing the continent. Where was the PSC in Mali, for example, where France intervened militarily earlier this year? Its sidelining during the Libyan crisis in 2011 and almost total absence that year during the Arab Spring that engulfed North Africa indicated the limits of the AU’s capacity to play a role in conflicts.

Meanwhile, the role of AU mediators in talks between northern and southern Sudan, as well as the AU’s fairly successful military deployments in places like Darfur and Somalia are not that well known. The AU certainly needs more visibility when it comes to its impact on these crises, which are often relegated to Regional Economic Communities.

The AU Commission’s new chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has vowed to take the agenda of the AU further to include socio-economic development: the fight against poverty, the empowering of women and investment by the private sector. Addressing the World Economic Forum in Cape Town earlier this month, Dlamini-Zuma, for example, spoke about the importance of agriculture and the role of the private sector in ‘ensuring a prosperous and peaceful continent’. Since taking up the position of chairperson in October last year she has also stressed the role of women in lifting Africa out of poverty. She called on women to make sure their voices were heard in defining what the AU is calling its Agenda 2063 – a strategy for Africa over the next 50 years.

Is this a change of direction for the AU going forward? Will Africans see the impact of the AU on the continent’s economic development as time goes by? Or is this far too soon for a change of emphasis for the AU, with economic development in so many countries still being held back by political conflict (e.g. Zimbabwe and Côte d’Ivoire); strife from militant groups (e.g. Mali and Nigeria); and coup leaders who fail to leave office (e.g. Madagascar)?

Human rights activists have also emphasised the need for the AU to step up its efforts to ensure individuals in Africa have regional or continental recourse to justice if they do not have faith in their governments to protect them. The African Court on Human and People’s Rights and regional courts like the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice in Burkina Faso and the Southern African Development Community Tribunal in Namibia still do not sufficiently provide for this. The AU’s lacklustre support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) is also seen as hampering the fight against impunity.

The AU Commission is now asking for inputs from around the continent for its Agenda 2063 project, which is to be presented to the 22nd Assembly of Heads of State and Government at its summit in January 2014, according to AU Commission’s planning documents. This is a complex challenge, since the AU is spreading itself very thin, straddling so many priorities and issues. For Africans to have faith in the AU as Africa’s only continental institution, it should be seen to be trustworthy and inspiring, levering funds for the benefit of all Africans.

Liesl Louw-Vaudran, ISS consultant