The narrative, which has hinged on the reality of the state of affairs in Africa, has tended to speak a story of an institution that was born to fail dismally at its duties. Little mention is made of the successes of the African Union. It is quite obvious that the institution is burdened with a myriad of challenges, but to only focus on one side of the story does not provide a balanced assessment of the institution.
Since its initial inception in 1963, when it was still called the Organization for African Unity (OAU), it has faced many challenges. Some are within their control, and it is only their reluctance towards tackling them which makes them not to, and in other instances the challenges are well beyond their control. Many resolutions have been passed, and some have come to fruition, while the remaining stay as pipe dreams. But in analyzing the African Union, it would be of importance to depart from its failures, for this is quite apparent to all, and focus on the achievemnents. Some of the achievements are little known, while others are well heralded.
The African Union was born in 2002 in Durban, with different goals and agendas from the ones that characterized the existence of the Organization of African Unity which had been born in 1963. The new goal was that of propelling African states towards peace and prosperity as the basis for achieving the ultimate goal of political and economic integration of its member states. When it comes to the issues of peace and conflict-resolution, the AU has done considerably well, in contrast with its predecessor, the OAU. The OAU adhered to a toxic doctrine of "non-intereference," something that portrayed Africa in the negative light.
The birth of the AU saw the organization engaging the international community on ways to minimize conflict in the region's hotbeds such as Sudan. Post-election violence is an undesirable menace that incessantly bedevils the continent, and in some cases the AU has played a major role in resolving things. The role of the AU in resolving post-election violence in Kenya and Ivory Coast is something we ought to be singing in the streets. the AU has the authority through decisions of its Peace and Security Council to interfere in member states to promote peace and protect democracy, including deploying military force in situations in which genocide and crimes against humanity are being committed.
The AU’s unique voluntary ‘Peer Review Mechanism’ by which individual member states agree to be assessed by a team of experts drawn from other states is designed to encourage democracy and good governance. AU observer missions are now sent as a matter of routine to cover elections in all member states, in accordance with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007).
There have also been some hiccups or setbacks, such as the decision by the AU to move its July 2012 bi-annual summit from Lilongwe, Malawi, to Addis Ababa in response to Malawi’s refusal to invite the Sudan’s head of state, Omar al-Bashir, from participating on the ground that he is charged and under a warrant of arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes: this, in a way, reflects a potential conflict between African regionalism and international mechanisms to promote and protect the rule of law, justice and respect for human rights. Judging from the drastic fall in conflicts and coups, and the increasing number of successful elections in the region in the past decade, it can be inferred that on balance actions by the AU has added value to Africa's 'political performance.'
As regards peace-keeping missions, the AU has actually stretched itself in pursuit of peace. In Somalia, the AU's deployment mission co-ordinates more that 20 000 troops from various countries. In the case of Somalia, the African Union Mission to Somalia, or AMISOM, has made remarkable progress against the radical Islamist group al Shabaab, which it has managed to expel from numerous cities that were under its control, but have not yet been able to end the terrorist threat.
Part of a press release on AU's website read, "A continued strong engagement in support of implementation of peace agreements in Member States emerging from conflict and the fight against terrorism, will remain the priorities for the AU. Somalia could be sighted as an example that has made significant progress against Al Shabaab with support from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). On its part, AMISOM continues to provide guidance on capacity building, and sensitization of communities on countering violent extremism, as part of its comprehensive strategy for reviving policing activities in Somalia."
As facts stood in January 2017, the AU Commission provided (and still provides)strategic, political, technical, and planning support to operations authorized by the Peace and Security Council and carried out by regional coalitions of Member States, Regional Economic Communities (RECs), or Regional Mechanisms for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (RMs). Such support included (and still includes): The Regional Cooperation Initiative against the Lord’s Resistance Army (RCI-LRA) and the operation against Boko Haram undertaken by the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin- the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF).
The AU now pays more attention to international development cooperation and relationship with international partners than has hitherto been the case. This is most obvious in the case of China’s ever growing presence in Africa, which the AU appears to regard as a positive factor. The headquarters of the AU is now housed in a magnificent multi-million dollar complex in Addis Ababa that has been provided by the China as a “ gift to Africa”. Africa’s traditional partners in the West tend to view its relationship with China with some concern and scepticism regarding motive and outcome. Citizens of some AU member states are apprehensive about the consequences on their personal well- being and livelihoods of growing Chinese presence in their national economies. In this case, the AU needs to be more careful in their approach to doing business with the Chinese. Neo-colonialism is an existing reality and that is the last thing we would like for our continent.
All this shows that as much as the AU is still facing some problems, it suffices to say that African problems simply need African answers. Where the problems grow beyond our reach, it becomes prudent to engage others from the international community. With this, people need to produce a balanced assessment of the AU, without necessarily pointing out to the failures. When pointing to the failures, feasible and viable solutions must ne proffered.