Articles and Analysis


Ezana sehay 05/25/13

The African Union is in session; according to the leaders attending and addressing the assembly, the cardinal moment this year is not the state of the continent, but the state of the AU or more precisely, how to make the fiftieth anniversary less remembrance and more renewal.

It is in this spirit that I propose some constructive and timely initiatives for reform, which make a tidy checklist of the challenges facing the organization. To consider a few of them:

Democracy and human rights: when the Organization of African Union [OAU] changed its name to African Union [AU], it wasn’t a mere name cloture, rather a reflection of the changing priorities of the continental body. Back then, in 1963, few leaders coalesced with the objective of liberating Africans from European colonizers: the affirmation of cultural and racial pride and the restoration of dignity. Once those objectives were achieved, there come a paradigm shift in the psyche of Africans.

Africans resented the organization becoming a sap to the sensibilities of undemocratic leaders who elevate their most disreputable members. In 2002, some wise and progressive leaders, led by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who recognized the African people’s aspiration for democratic and transparent governance proposed a change of focus for the organization: the emancipation of the people from home grown despots and dictators. It was a challenge, in a continent used to tyrants roaming around, but no question the principle is worth embracing and fighting for.

Now, a decade after that consequential change it has began paying dividends. As the majority of African countries espouse democracy or the semblance of it, the continents image has been transformed for the better, confounding the cynics.

Nevertheless, there are member states, who still reflect the stigma “hopeless Africa”. That exposes the weakness of the organization’s leadership or power of persuasion. To effective, the AU:

1. Should sternly confront those member nations who fall behind in the democratization processes.

2. The NEPAD peer review mechanism should be expanded to encapsulate all members.

3. The AU election monitoring capacity should be augmented to make to able it cover a much wider geography in an effective manner.

Peace and security: the evolution of continental peace keeping – which now includes enforcing and building peace – demands new approach. The AU must be able to intervene more quickly and more effectively to maintain peace. In Somalia, for example, the AU was initially slow, inept and disorganized. To mitigate such shortcomings the AU

1. Should create a permanent continental military force under the auspicious of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union [PSCAU], with carefully worded mandate that permits pre-emptive action against plausibly apprehended threats, terrorist groups and the prevention of crimes against humanity.

2. Strengthen regional institutions: groups, like IGAD and COMESA should be allowed to form a rapid deployment military force as part of the multi-dimensional component of PSCAU. That would help to quickly identify hot spots and act on before things get out of hand.

Of course, before deciding the composition and capacity of such forces, the AU will have to determine the criteria for intervention. This is a debate in itself on the meaning of sovereignty and the assertion of continental will which lies at the heart of the notion of common security and humanity. Before deciding on a standing army, then, the organization must be clear on when, where and why to deploy it.

Preventative measure: if you have peace you don’t need peace keepers, and if you have war peace keepers are not always effective. Therefore, the AU’s capacity to prevent conflicts and conflict resolution must be strengthened. The idea is to gather intelligence more thoroughly and to provide prominent states men, the likes of Thabo Mbeki and Kofi Anan, who can serve on missions of good will and intermediaries.

It is also necessary to broaden the AU’s mandate by establishing a mechanism to track arms buildup and provide early warning of a concentration of arms which presage a conflict.

Strengthen diplomacy: global political and economic influences are inextricably linked to skilful diplomacy. In the political front: It seems the world is headed towards to multi polarity. Africa as one entity may not be considered as a pole leader, but its potential clout as strong as those of a super power. Therefore, it is imperative it invest in raising issues and setting agendas on global stage.

By using its sway, it should push for reform of the UN Security Council, whose permanent membership largely reflects the view of the few. It is time Africa acquire a permanent seat in council and play a centripetal role.

In the economic front: the continents rapid growth and its untapped natural resources have accorded her more leverage than ever. The proof: all major economies are cajoling African countries. Hence; The AU should lobby for or advise member countries demand better trade agreements. It should also call for the reevaluation of the purposes and policies of the international financial institutions to satisfy the needs of African economies.

Addressing these issues will not recast the AU over night. But they will make the organization more focused, efficient and more muscular, and mark its return to relevance. Opportunity beckons and the need for African renovation and renaissance is now.


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