The African Union’s Lamentations Speak Volumes Part Two – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

It seems the member-states of the AU carry into the AU gamut their peculiar problems to worsen the plight of the continental body. Just like its member-states, the AU is not strong enough to stand on its feet. How many countries in Africa can balance their domestic budgets without first pan-handling in the international donor community or seeking input from the IMF/World Bank? Is there any country in Africa that can claim to be economically strong enough to shun input from the IMF/World Bank and still survive the whirligig? Of course, in a globalized world, inter-dependency should be the watchword; but events prove that in the case of African countries, dependency is the norm.

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The Abuja Treaty establishing the African Economic Community (AEC) in 1991: commonly known as the, it seeks to create the AEC through six stages culminating in an African Common Market using the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as building blocks. The Treaty has been in operation since 1994. But with what benefits for the continent?
The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), adopted as a Programme of the AU at the Lusaka Summit (2001) hasn’t taken off the ground because it lacks commitment from the member-states of the AU.

The Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution (1993)—described as a practical expression of the determination of the African leadership to find solutions to conflicts, promote peace, security and stability in Africa—exists mostly in the imagination of the proponents.

Nothing in terms of the agenda for economic progress has been agreed on to mobilize the resources of the continent for its advancement. The various regional blocs that were formed to harness resources have failed largely because they are inefficient or exist without the political will from member-countries to support their activities.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is more active on paper and in the rhetoric of the 16 member-countries than what it does practically to develop the sub-region. The East African Economic Community has collapsed. Since its formation in 1980, the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (later transformed into the Southern African Development Community in 1992) hasn’t yet managed to withstand the pressures that have made it difficult for it to achieve its objectives. Countries in North Africa have found a safe haven in the Arab League instead of either creating their own bloc or joining any on the continent. There is much back-stabbing, which makes it difficult for the individual African countries to present a solid united front to exact favourable benefits from the developed world.

The failure of these institutions to create the strong platform for economic take-off is one of the problems that make the continent a laughing-stock. The individual countries cannot stand on their own feet because they cannot achieve economic independence. They remain producers of primary commodities whose prices are dictated by the forces that control the international market. These are the same forces that Africa turns to for financial aid.

We must by now have known the subservient position of African countries producing cocoa, for instance. In the workings of the International Cocoa Organization, how much voice do the two principal cocoa producers (the Ivory Coast and Ghana) have to influence decisions in their favour? Instead of pooling their resources to present a common front, they quarrel and bicker to the advantage of the buyers. Do we not remember Nkrumah’s withholding of Ghana’s cocoa in demand for higher prices and Houphouet-Boigny’s collusion with the buyers to counteract Nkrumah’s measures?

How about the other commodities such as gold and uranium or copper? The international market forces conspire against the producers of these exhaustible commodities because they know how to play one against the other. They dangle gifts and other favours as bait for the leaders of those countries to grab. After falling prey to these vampires, what can they do to get the best for their countries without being exposed? They are easily compromised and live under the fear of exposure, which makes it difficult for them to act decisively in a concerted manner for the benefit of their countries.

The AU’s failures are most pointed at the political level. Let’s take the Ivorian crisis, for instance. Neither the ECOWAS nor the AU has been able to devise any concrete and workable strategy to resolve the crisis. The ECOWAS’ impulsive preference for military option (at the instance of Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan) is a non-starter. As the problem drags on, the AU’s initial mediation team, led by Kenya’s Raila Odinga, failed. Another mission by South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zumah achieved nothing. Then, another move by the AU seems doomed already because of obvious laxity.

Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara has rejected the African Union’s choice of mediator in the country’s crisis, former Cape Verde Foreign Minister Jose Brito, according to the AFP news agency. In a statement, Mr. Ouattara gave two reasons for his objection:

Mr. Brito was an inappropriate choice for mediator as the AU high representative due to his “personal ties” with Mr. Gbagbo. He cited Mr Brito’s “personal relationship and his political connection, known to everyone in Ivory Coast, with the incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.”

Mr. Ouattara also said that he “deeply regrets not having been consulted, nor having been approached” about Mr Brito’s appointment. The statement continued: “Moreover, this decision does not conform to the expressed will to appoint a former head of state in this function.”

Why will the AU go for such a person without any prior vetting to determine his leanings? Without doing any diligent work on such a mediator before choosing him, the AU seems to have failed already. Nor is that all.

Earlier in March, the African Union recognized Mr. Ouattara as the legitimate winner of the November election and endorsed a plan for him to put in place an inclusive government. This recognition itself seems to be problematic, especially within the context of viewpoints suggesting that the international community’s rush to recognize Ouattara was also part of the problem. This stance disregarded Gbagbo’s suggestion for a re-count of the votes or a re-run of the elections as another means to resolve the crisis, which is now pushing the Ivory Coast toward the brink of a renewed civil war.

As the AU’s efforts stall, meaning that it cannot tackle the Ivorian crisis soon, the international community won’t sit down unconcerned, especially now that they’ve used the Libyan crisis to gain a foothold on the continent. They seem to be stepping in. The United Nations has stressed the need for quick action to resolve the crisis. France has circulated a draft resolution at the UN calling for sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo and his allies. The United States’ Barack Obama has also waded into the issue, giving stern indications that the US would not tolerate Gbagbo’s intransigence.

At this time, it’s clear that these external forces are gearing up to assume a more direct role in resolving the Ivorian crisis. If they do so, they will surely be in the frontline and relegate the AU to the back stage, from where it will make its presence felt only through statements of lamentation.

For as long as the developed world knows that Africa cannot support itself economically and politically, it will continue to pooh-pooh the continent. They will not rely on the AU to lead the way but will decide on their own how to involve themselves in handling the continent’s problems. It must be obvious to them by now that the AU lacks credibility and the capacity to prevent or solve problems on the continent. Thus, brushing it aside should be a matter-of-course. And who is to blame them? Those in the AU who think otherwise will only come across as huge jokers.

The AU has to be drastically reformed and adequately resourced to serve useful purposes. Anything short of that will leave the AU as part of the problem that the continent has to deal with. The talk-shop that it has reduced itself to, the AU shouldn’t be expected to serve the continent as it is presently constituted. And once written off like a bad debt, it shouldn’t expect to be given any frontline role to play in efforts to solve problems on the continent. Must Africa continue to lose face in the international arena?