Is the African Union so Lame and Dumb? – An Analysis by Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

Since May 25, 1963, when African Heads of State formed and ratified the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as a continental instrument to bring them together and to synchronize their efforts at tackling issues of socio-economic, political, and cultural importance to the continent, nothing has alarmed Africans more than the fear that such a body might be active only in the name it bears. To date, that fear still lingers as the continental union continues to do the inconceivable, which erodes public confidence in it. Its member-states cannot speak with one common voice on issues of mutual concern.

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Morocco’s intransigence over the Saharoui Arab Democratic Republic’s legitimate claims to the Western Sahara has not been tackled; the expulsion of Guinea from the union lacks bite; and the union glorifies leaders of countries who loot their national coffers, oppress their own people, and practice the politics of intolerance, nepotism, and selective justice. The union’s failures outstrip its successes, which casts serious doubts over its very existence in contemporary times.

Africa has not achieved unity nor have the persistent ideological differences that have ravaged the continent since the conflict between the so-called Casablanca and Monrovia camps just before the birth of the OAU abated. To date, the various African leaders are more eager to position themselves to serve varying interests of the West or East, depending on where the gravy train passes than implementing measures to serve the needs of their own people. The persistent, devastating ethnic conflicts, genocide, economic hardships, damaging brain-drain, and complete loss of hope among the millions of citizens on the continent indicate the extent to which leaders of the various countries have mismanaged affairs.

Hopes that the OAU would galvanize the people for a positive change didn’t take long to evaporate. The transition from OAU to African Union (AU) is just an exercise in futility because it hasn’t affected the continental body’s modus operandi or helped it serve useful purposes for which member countries continue to commit their financial and material resources. The AU has become a forum at which the most calculating Head of State pulls strings to wield influence. The jockeying by Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi to use the AU to prosecute his personal agenda under the “Green Book” ideology confirms the circus that the AU has turned itself into. In this state, it is just the metaphorical chicken with its head cut off—running around in unpredictable leaps and bounds until it eventually drains itself of its life.

Why The African Union Must Be Feared

Nothing demonstrates this self-negating posture of the African Union than what it has just done by appointing Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, as its Chairman. Obiang has no credibility and shouldn’t be the face of Africa that the world must see. His appointment is a clear indication that the lethargy that has been killing the Union for some time now has now reached its apogee.

I am concerned at this development because not only does it reveal the rot that has engulfed the African Union but it also confirms long-held opinions that the spirit behind the AU is DEAD and that any further reliance on the union to solve the continent’s problems is suicidal! The AU hasn’t rid itself of the hiccups suffered by its predecessor, and has just been masquerading to be seen as a go-getter.

Having died long ago from inaction, the AU lies on the African horizon, buried in its own shell as happens to the tortoise. We see it in that posture of a SHELL, sitting in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to be adorned at ritualistic annual summits (or snap talk-shop sessions) by Heads of State who have too much time (or money?) and too little to do. This HUSK is what the various African countries waste money and logistics sustaining.

By its latest action of glorifying the tyrannical Obiang, the AU has finally damned itself as a traitor. The people whose sweat, blood, and toil sustain it feel the pain of this betrayal and will never forgive their leaders for their part in perpetrating this mischief. Sooner than later, the people’s actions to rid themselves of this albatross will speak louder than their words.

The Anathema Called Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

To appreciate the depth of the problem that this elevation of Obiang has created, we must see the big picture in which he features. It is only when we see him as he is that we can begin to cringe and twinge in apprehension of what lies ahead for the continent. Then, we will understand why it is frightening for our Heads of State to impose such an anathema on us. Perhaps, calling Obiang an “anathema” doesn’t even reflect the reality of his monstrosity, which renders him unfit to head the continental union. He is far worse than that depiction and must not be accepted as the face of Africa!

For those who don’t know much about Obiang, here is how the situation surrounding him shakes out: At 68, he draws widespread attention to himself as a vicious tyrant whose torture network is incomparable in contemporary times. Evidence confirms that he is a liability even in his own country. Forget about the support that he enjoys from the West, especially the United States. It’s all to pave the way for the exploitation of the petroleum reserves that Equatorial Guinea has. Those countries (especially the United States) have interests, not friends. In a sharp contrast, Africa needs friends to advance.

Nguema is in his 30th year of ruling Equatorial Guinea and is widely despised for several reasons, the most obvious of which are his senseless brutality, corruption, and loss of credibility. In spite of his long rule, Equatorial Guinea is yet to benefit from his rule and to see the kind of development that a country so richly endowed would be expected to have in place by now. While he lives in affluence, owning numerous property, the Equatorial Guineans wallow in abject poverty and in fear of his brutality if they dare open their mouths to complain. There is no freedom of expression or opportunities for advancement. In effect, Obiang is a celebrated and vicious dictator whose oppression of his own people is an open secret. He is even accused of cannibalism, his favorite delicacy being men’s testicles.

Obiang is foreign-educated but that exposure hasn’t eradicated the crudeness from him. You can take a man out of the bush but you can’t take the bush out of him, right? Probably, the tutelage of his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, who ruled Equatorial Guinea during the 1970s with unrivalled barbarism and cruelty, might be an influence on his governance style. Or could it be in his own genes as well?

In all those years of extreme viciousness and outright depravity, Obiang was at Macia’s side, first as military governor of Bioko province, then as head of the National Guard. When the end finally came—Macias was shot in the arm after fleeing to the jungle with suitcases of foreign currency—Obiang assumed control of a new Supreme Military Council in 1979 (as observed by Britain’s The Independent newspaper).

Equatorial Guineans did not elect Obiang into office as their President. He seized power; and through an intricately woven mechanism of fraud and treachery, he has swept several elections since, winning by 97.1 per cent in a 2002 poll widely condemned as fraudulent. In 2009, he was declared the winner with 95.37 per cent of the votes in an election that also drew widespread repudiation.

Now, to the country that is unfortunate enough to have Obiang as its ruler. Equatorial Guinea is a scattering of islands and a tiny scrap of mainland in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea—a country rich in petroleum (making it Africa’s third-largest crude exporter) but desperately poor. The country also earns revenue from cocoa exports.

Oil earnings are now $3bn a year—enough to give the country the second highest income per head in the world. But the reality is that Equatorial Guinea doesn’t profit from this wealth because it ends up in the private coffers of Obiang and his family. The country’s capital town, Malabo, clearly portrays the depth of neglect, which is in sharp contrast with the glittering palatial heaven-on-earth that Obiang and his family live in. The population of Equatorial Guinea is 520,000.

According to information provided by Britain’s The Independent newspaper (online), when he wants to travel, Obiang has a choice of six personal planes, the most recent of which has a king-size bed and a bathroom with gold-plated taps. His destinations include the mansion in Maryland or the holiday home in Cape Town. Meanwhile, his son, Teodorin, has managed to build an impressive fleet of Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bentleys, despite claiming to earn an official salary of only £30,000 a year. Many are in Paris, where he lives in a luxury hotel.And if Paris or Cape Town become too dull, Little Teodoro (as some in Equatorial Guinea call him) can always retire to his $35m Malibu mansion, where his neighbours include Britney Spears and Mel Gibson.

According to US investigators, much of the wealth was funnelled from American oil majors to Obiang’s family through a once-prestigious US bank, Riggs. A Senate inquiry found that $700m had been deposited with Riggs, and that the oil companies were fully aware that the money was going to Obiang’s private bank accounts. In one case, $450,000 in rental fees for office space was paid to a 14-year-old relative of Obiang.

Several attempts to overthrow him have failed and he still rules with the iron fist that he clenches. But as Fate will have it, he can’t hope to be in his element forever. Obiang is believed to be suffering from prostate cancer, which is said to be getting worse.

African Leaders’ Mischief

That is the man in whom the Heads of State of the African Union have entrusted the fate of the continent. One wonders how short the memories of our Heads of State can be. Considering how Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi went round the continent giving Mercedes Benz cars and other expensive gifts to the African leaders when lobbying for the Chairmanship of the AU, I won’t rule out the possibility of their being corrupted and bribed by Obiang. No one should trust these wolves-in-sheep’s clothing.

Or did they choose Obiang as a brazen challenge to the international community? Or to spite his critics and dare them to take on the entire continent and not only Obiang? Where did our Heads of State leave their thinking caps before making this ill-considered decision at the AU summit?

Here is something that they shouldn’t have missed, at least. Late last year, the searchlight was on Obiang’s massive human rights abuses and mismanagement of his country, which stoked worldwide furore over the establishment of the $300,000 UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences to such an extent that the UN’s cultural and education agency was forced by public opinion to suspend the award. The prize, established in 2008 in Obiang’s name, was scheduled to be given last year for the first time but was pooh-poohed because of Obiang’s own ill-repute. How can such a brazen abuser of human rights establish an award scheme to honour “life”?

Human rights groups slammed the award by citing Obiang’s poor human rights record. In the words of Simon Taylor, Director of Global Witness: “A dictator who has impoverished his citizens and enriched himself and his family by plundering the country’s oil wealth has no place sponsoring a UN prize.” Obiang’s dream of international applause ended in smoke. That is the man to be feared, not honoured. If the UNESCO didn’t appreciate Obiang for stated reasons, what did our Heads of State find credible and enticing about his leadership style to make him the Chair of the AU? Or are they telling us that between the period that his human rights records were being condemned and now he has turned a new leaf and, therefore, deserves to lead the continental union?

This anointing of Obiang is the height of mischief on the part of our Heads of State. Considering the waves of protests against incompetence by governments in many countries on the continent, it is inconceivable that such a ruthless tyrant as Obiang would be given this office. He doesn’t deserve it in any way.

Perhaps, by this move, our Heads of State want to tell us that they have reached their wits’ end and can’t be relied on to steer the affairs of the continent in such a manner as to instill confidence and hope in the millions of their suffering citizens. In contemporary times when public cries for fresh blood to be injected into institutions for solving dire problems have reached a crescendo, one expects something encouraging from our Heads of State. Instead, they have chosen to go for the stale, atrocious, and perilous element to seal the continent’s doom. Indeed, I am fully convinced that the AU has lost its value and must be disbanded. The time has come for progressive minds to come up with a better instrument. If we leave the fate of the continent in the hands of the current crop of leaders, our sorry plight will become permanent.

Such a character as Obiang (and all other long-serving and self-acquisitive leaders of his sort) has nothing useful to offer Africans. A continent plagued by debilitating brain-drain, perpetual social unrests, severe political instability, extreme privations, hunger, disease, and alarmingly low life expectancy rates, does not need such a tumble-down fogey as Obiang to lead its continental union. The whole world is laughing us to scorn, and we must rise up to rid ourselves of those who stab us in the back.

To all and sundry, it must be clear by now that the African Union is dead and gone with the wind. May it never rest in peace until the last suffering citizen in every African country wills it so!

This article was written by Dr Michael J.K. Bokor. The opinions expressed and arguments employed herein are those of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the official views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of www.africanewsanalysis and