In his inaugural speech to the Organisation of African Unity as its newest and 53rd member-state, President Isais Afewerki blasted the OAU on its failure to deliver on the founding principles such as its human rights agenda, and had been a chief contributor to the marginalisation of Africa.
Two decades and a half later, nothing much has changed. Not even re-branding the organisation to the African Union has manged to change the culture that was in the organisation in the 20th century. The organisation has been unresponsive to undemocratic tendencies by its member states, failed to resolve inter-member disputes and has failed to act on human rights abuses by its members.
In his address to the OAU general assembly, Afewerki observed, “We do not find membership of this organisation, under present circumstances, spiritually gratifying or politically challenging.”
Do these words also stand true today as they did when they were spoken?
Citizens from multiple member states have taken to social media to express their frustrations over the failure of the AU to take action on serious issues that affect the continent. It is hilarious that one of the objectives of the African Union is “to promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance.”
The AU seems rather more of a gathering at which corrupt, arrogant, oppressive dictators gather to lament over their colonial history and a platform to attack the West. They lament of how much Africa is marginalised and how much the colonialists looted from Africa yet reports that have been produced have revealed how they have looted and hidden in Swiss bank accounts.
The recent ouster of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan demonstrated how much the Secretariat of the AU is ready to hog and wine with dictators. During the protests the AU did not issue any substantive statement asking the dictator to act on the will of the people or call him out to stop the human rights abuses against the protestors.
When the protests broke out, the AU issued a statement in which it stated that the protests were a “testing period in the history of Sudan.” Testing period? A statement was all the Commission offered, with no proper course of recourse that was set to guide a peaceful transition or dialogue.
On the other hand, the AU was quick to set deadlines for the military to transfer power. Where was the hard-line stance when al-Bashir was in power and using violence against protestors? Their condemnation reveals how much they are willing to protect the interests of the incumbent dictators across Africa rather than be objective and listen to the will of the people. They came to the party a bit too late for them to act and guide the process.
It is not surprising considering that most of the Presidents in the General Assembly are from the continent’s revolutionary movements. They share a brotherly love that dates back to colonial times and a bond protecting each other’s interests. It is a bond built around common hate for the colonial powers and their opposition.
The historical foundations of the African Union originated in the First Congress of Independence African States, held in Accra, Ghana, from 15 to 22 April 1958. The conference aimed at forming the Africa Day, to mark the liberation movement each year concerning the willingness of the African people to free themselves from foreign dictatorship. Critics argued that the OAU, in particular, did little to protect the rights and liberties of African citizens from their own political leaders, often dubbing it the "Dictators' Club".
In his Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela expressed how he found it hard to make in-roads with the Organisation of Africa Unity. The leaders had apparently wanted to take sides with Robert Sobukwe whom they considered being more radical than Mandela. Why Sobukwe over Mandela? Reason was they considered Mandela was ready to make peace with the whites, something the radical Pan-Africanists considered as being “soft” and lenient. He was a threat to the ideology held by most members of the revolution parties then, he was an outsider.
Come to the 21st century, Africa opposition feels the pains that Mandela felt. They are the outsiders. The former liberation movements are more bent on protecting ideologies than forging towards the development of the continent. There is an unresolved border dispute between Uganda and Rwanda. There is need for dialogue in Zimbabwe, the Saharawi Republic is under the oppressive occupation of Morocco and there is an ongoing civil war in Rwanda. Where is the AU? What has it done to resolve the issues at hand?
If the African Union continues to be cautious about interference and its non-interference policy persists, the organisation will continue being the toothless bulldog it has been labelled. Other critics may try to defend the leaders. However, you only need to look at the prevailing socio-political crisis in Africa to understand something needs top be done.
Prince Mashele, a political analyst, offered a different view about the challenges that the organisation is facing.
He said that, "Inter-governmental organisations by their very nature are held hostage to national interests of member states. The AU is not an exception, the UN suffers the same problem, the EU is in turmoil because of the same problem."
Header Image Credit - Crisis Group