The African Union (AU) was established in Durban, South Africa in 2002 as an international organisation with the aim to build a brighter future for the peoples of Africa.1 The preceding pan-African organisation, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was too often labelled as a ‘dictators’ club’ that did little to improve the daily lives of ordinary citizens or to promote peace and security.2 However, to what extent did the AU fulfil these promises? (Featured Image © Michael Branz)
The Long Road to African Unity
With the notable exceptions of Ethiopia and Liberia3, about 100 years ago the African continent was subject to domination and exploitation by European imperial forces. The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 marked the beginning of the Scramble for Africa, a period that roughly speaking lasted until 1914 in which several European powers4 invaded and colonised almost 90% of the continent.5
In the three decades following the Second World War, Africa experienced dramatic changes. In the 1960s most of the African states had been granted independence from their coloniser. This process of decolonisation was accompanied by the rise of pan-Africanism.6 The concept of pan-Africanism can be defines as “the idea that peoples of African descent have common interests and, therefore, should be united.”7 Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of an independent Ghana (1960-1966), was perhaps the most important pioneer of African unity. He declared that Africa should be united in the face of the many problems that Africa would have to counter.8
However, there was much division on how to realise the idea of a united Africa. The Casablanca Bloc (Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Mali and Morocco) had the desire of immediate political integration. They envisaged a federation of African states. Many other countries supported a much less radical version of pan-Africanism. Led by Liberia and Nigeria, these countries were united in the Monrovia Group and were convinced that a more gradual process of political integration and functional cooperation would be much more effective. According to the Monrovia Group, the recently acquired and hard-fought independent statehood was too important to compromise on autonomy.9
Founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963, the Organisation for African Unity embraced the ideals of the Monrovia Group to uphold the principles of non-interference and national sovereignty.10 However, it were exactly these principles that turned the OAU into a toothless tiger unable to address Africa’s mounting problems. Since the 1960s, the continent has witnessed thirty violent conflicts costing close to ten million lives.11
It were the principles of non-interference and national sovereignty that turned the OAU into a toothless tiger unable to address Africa’s mounting problems.
Perhaps the biggest failure of the organisation was the inability to prevent the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. This was even acknowledged by the OAU itself in a devastating report from 2000 in which it chastised the non-interference principle that was a part of its founding charter.12 In addition, the organisation encountered further division because of the ongoing Cold War. Africa was part of the global chessboard, as states to varying degrees aligned with either the United States or the Soviet Union.13 Although the OAU might have been successful in supporting the liberalisation of countries such as Angola and Mozambique from Portugal and persuading the West to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa, it failed to address (civil) wars and massive human rights abuses.14
A New Wind Blowing in Africa?
Partly in response to this failure, African governments launched initiatives to revitalise their pan-African project with the establishment of a new organisation in 2002 loosely modelled after the European Union (EU): the African Union.15 Contrary to the OAU, the AU was granted the right to intervene in Member States “in case of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity” and Member States were given the right “to request intervention from the Union in order to respect peace and security”. These decisions are ought to be made in consultation with the United Nations (UN).16 One of the first humanitarian interventions orchestrated by the AU was the African Union Mission in Burundi (AMIB) in 2003. 3,000 troops were assigned to maintain peace and security during cease-fire negotiations in the Burundian Civil War until a larger contingent of UN peacekeeping forces was deployed. This mission was largely considered a success.17
The AU badly needs effective political and material support from the international community.
Perhaps the biggest litmus test for the AU was the war in the Sudanese region of Darfur and the subsequent United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) that was approved by the UN Security Council (UNSC) in July 2007.18 Several observers have criticised the mandate of UNAMID. Colum Lynch, UN specialist at Foreign Policy, referred to UNAMID as “a mission that was set up to fail.”19 He and others chastised the very poor Western engagement in the mission and a general lack of troops. That is to say, African states were by far the biggest contributors to the mission.20 It has also been said that UNAMID was even unable to protect itself from attacks. Also the UNAMID prioritised constructive cooperation with the regime of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir. This undermined the efficacy of the mission, as Khartoum was granted the right to dictate the terms of deployment. Bashir delayed among others to give approval to provide land for bases and to grant visa for peacekeepers.21 Therefore, it is safe to argue that the ultimate test for the AU’s peacekeeping ambitions failed.
In general, the AU faces serious constraints in its financial and human resources. Therefore, it badly needs effective political and material support from the international community.22 In addition to the AU, also several regional organisations are active in the field of security cooperation and peacekeeping. In the case of the political crisis in Ivory Coast in 2010/2011 in which President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the elections, it was rather the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS)23 that was putting pressure on Gbagbo by threatening with military intervention.24 In addition, it was the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)25 that initiated a peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic (CAR). However, this Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX) also sparked widespread criticism. There was a lack of coordination between the participating states and some participants were accused of acting on national interests.26 Given the multitude of regional organisations, local groups and states with diverging political agendas, it is very difficult to coordinate peacekeeping in Africa.27
In addition, AU faces many more challenges that might impede the development of a peaceful and safe atmosphere in Africa. Like the OAU, the AU could still be dubbed a ‘dictator’s club’. 27 Member States of the AU are classified as an ‘authoritarian regime’ in The Economist’s Democracy Index of 2015.28 Although the African states are considered as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, this economic growth is expected to be patchy and precarious.29 Another challenge for the AU is the expected, tremendous population growth. The UN has estimated that Africa’s population will double to 2.5 billion by 2050. Especially Nigeria is expected to face dramatic changes in its demography30. On top of all of this is the increasing Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Kenya, the Islamic State in Egypt and there has been ongoing terrorism in Mali.31
In conclusion, it is clear that the African Union has a much more active approach with regard to peacekeeping than the OAU ever had. However, the several missions that were set up and/or executed by the AU lacked efficiency and capacity. In that sense Africa is still largely dependent on the wider international community in their security needs. A new wind was blowing in Africa in 2002, but it was a silent storm at best. It was encouraging that the AU committed itself to the promotion of peace and security on the African continent. In order to help the AU to truly fulfil these promises, the international community needs to offer more political, material and financial support.