On 9 July, the African Union (AU) turned 20 and the debate about its effectiveness so far is on the table once again.
Since its creation, the AU has made undeniable achievements, including the body’s progress towards creating the conditions for member states to play significant roles in international policy negotiations, says Emmanuel Balogun, assistant professor of political science at Skidmore College, New York.
He said: „The AU in 2022 is a key actor in the world, evidenced by recent meetings between the AU and EU, the invitation of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to the African Union and Putin’s invitation to AU chair Macky Sall to Sochi to discuss food security issues related to the Russian invasion.“
Experts also say the AU’s creation of several instruments such as the African Union Peer Review Mechanism as well as The African Union Peace and Security Council has helped improve accountability and transparency from governments on the continent.
However, some analysts argue that the AU’s role in mediating conflict between member states and fostering unity remains its primary weakness.
The list of current civil wars, armed conflicts and military coups in Africa remains alarmingly long.
For example, on 25 October 2021, the Sudanese military took control of the government in a coup. In Ethiopia, the government has been fighting against regional rebel forces since November 2020, consequently triggering a humanitarian crisis.
Moreover, tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to keep the continent in suspense.
Although both sides now appear ready for diplomacy, armed groups, which each country accuses of backing, in an attempt to destabilise the other, continue to wreak havoc in the DRC.
Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali are currently suspended from the AU for military coups, causing many commentators to remark that Africa is stepping back to the ‘70s when such actions were the order of the day.
According to Mehari Taddele Maru, professor at the European University Institute, the many crises have been worsened by pan-African institutions facing “a terminal crisis of leadership” and their credibility being “increasingly undermined by a lack of decisive interventions”.
These challenges have led many to question whether the AU needs strategic overhauling and repositioning.
“In many ways, the AU has incrementally improved its responses to coups and other conflicts by creating instruments in place to respond to unconstitutional changes in government, and other peace and security issues on the continent,” Balogun said.
But the inconsistency of its responses has muted the body’s efficiency, he added.