The African Union turns ten: time for a reality check*

An image of the 17th African Union Summit held last year in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea (Photo: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea)

The 19th African Union Summit starts today, coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the pan-continental body. Despite this symbolism, African leaders will most likely close the summit next Monday with an anti-climatic message that will be met with a collective yawn across Africa. They may even fail – for the second time – to elect a new head the African Union Commission. An underwhelming performance that contrasts with events across the continent: South Sudan, Africa’s newest country, also turns one today amidst important development and security challenges. Egypt and Senegal have overcome domestic turmoil and peacefully elected new Presidents, and Libya just held its first elections in over 60 years. Less positive developments are also visible in Nigeria, increasingly threatened by terrorism; eastern DRC, where conflict has flared up; and Mali, where a coup d’état back in Marchled to the country’s partition.

The AU certainly lacks capabilities but also, more worryingly, appears out of sync with most Africans’ preoccupations. Its focus on continental economic growth is welcome, but it needs an accompanying political narrative. The “United States of Africa” discourse that gave birth to the AU in 2002 belonged to a generation of leaders such as Thabo Mbeki and Olesegun Obasanjo that have now exited the scene. Continental unity has been reduced to a motto of “African solutions to African problems”, which struggles to translate into real actions. The EU supported this new impetus through the 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) but progress remains limited. Even where greater progress has been recorded, in the peace and security domain, challenges persist with an AU dependent on sub-regional and extra-regional actors. Mali is a case in point: ECOWAS is leading the political dialogue and putting forward a 3,000 strong military contingent. And the recent UN resolution on Mali was drafted by France – a country which supported intervention in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire against the AU’s criteria.

These and other challenges have put the AU on a defensive position that converts the demand for “African solutions” into a flat rejection of external interference. This makes the AU defend regimes that not only are undemocratic, but also face domestic opposition. Sudan is a good example: whilst protesters are taking the streets against al-Bashir’s government, the AU provided him with an inestimable backing in choosing to move the location of the AU summit from Lilongwe to Addis Ababa after the Malawian President refused to host the ICC-indicted Sudanese president. This reflects the inability (or unwillingness) of the AU to recognise the magnitude of the changes taking place across the continent.

External partners also need to clarify their approach vis-à-vis the continent. The EU supports continental integration through the JAES, but carries out substantial negotiations with Africa (e.g. Economic Partnership Agreements ) on a sub-regional basis. And its vocal support for democracy and human rights is often contradicted by moves to strengthen EU ties with African regimes of questionable democratic legitimacy. Global reordering and domestic transformations will make Africa a very different continent ten years from now. The AU, the African leaders that form part of it, and its external partners should all recognise this and act accordingly or risk sinking the institution into irrelevance.

* This post was originally written for The FRIDE blog

Top stories of the week (2 – 6 July)

Monday
Global Voices Summit begins today (Global Voices)

Photo: Global Voives / Flickr)

300 bloggers, activists and technologists participating in the Global Voices Summit 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya have just been seated for a two-day meeting of public discussions and workshops about the rise of online citizen media movements worldwide.

Among the highlights in today’s program is the opening panel on the Global Rise of Citizen Media led by Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman.

We will also be introducing Kenya citizen media, discussing the rise of #Occupy movements around the world, and exploring the influence of diaspora populations on citizen media and national public debates.

Tuesday

Somali Presidential Elections: six ways to win power (African Arguments) Sigue leyendo

Top stories of the week (25 – 29 June)

Monday

“I have today become the president of all Egyptians” – Mohamed Morsi’s speech (The Guardian)

My people of great Egypt, who today celebrate democracy in our country; those of you standing in the public squares, in Tahrir Square, and all the public squares of Egypt; my dear people, big family, brothers and sons, you who are awaiting the future, who want security and safety, goodness and revival, and development and stability for our country, I turn to you praising God for having brought about this historic moment.

This is a shining course written by the hands of Egyptians, by their will, their blood, their tears and their sacrifices. I would never have been able to stand before you today as the first elected president by the will of free Egyptians in the first presidential elections after the revolution of 25 January, nor I would have been able to stand before you now with this overwhelming happiness that extends to the four corners of our beloved country without the support of God almighty and the sacrifices and precious blood of our noble martyrs and the noble, wounded citizens. …

Sigue leyendo

Top stories of the week (18 – 22 June)

Monday
Fighting in the Kivus divides the UN Security Council (Congo Siasa)

Rwandan involvement in the recent fighting, which is still confined to a tiny patch of land of about twenty square kilometers, has fueled much debate in recent weeks. Most foreign diplomats in Kinshasa – as well as some in Kigali I have spoken with – privately agree with the conclusions of Human Rights Watch, that Rwanda is helping M23 recruit soldiers, and is possibly also supplying the rebels with food, weapons and free passage through their territory.

Kigali, however, has vehemently denied the allegations, and aside from expressions of concerns by diplomats – including a letter from Washington a few weeks ago – there have been few concrete demarches by capitals. Meanwhile, after a week of calm, the fighting saw a brief peak again on Thursday, when M23 was almost able to take a large military camp at Rumangabo and cut off the Bunagana road. Sigue leyendo

Top stories of the week (11-15 June)

Monday

Lesotho After May 2012 General Elections: Making the coalition work (ISS News)

On Friday 8 June, Thomas Thabane succeeded Pakalitha Mosisili as the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho, not by winning elections but by building a coalition government with the support of the opposition. The outcome of Lesotho’s 2012 general elections was historic for three main reasons.

Firstly, the country moved from a single party majority government under the Lesotho Congress Party (LCD), led by former Prime Minister Mosisili since 1997, to a coalition government. Mosisili, who led the newly created LCD splinter party, the Democratic Congress (DC), to a significant win of 48 parliamentary seats (218 366 votes out of a total of 551 726) fell short of winning an outright parliamentary majority, leading to his defeat.

The second reason for the significance of these elections is that the coalition, which unseated and relegated the ruling DC to opposition status, was itself produced by opposition parties in the minority.

The third point to highlight is that the parliamentary opposition numbers are now far more significant than during the previous parliament, which was characterised by a fragmented and weakened opposition.

Tuesday

AU moves summit to Ethiopia after Malawi snubs Bashir (Reuters) Sigue leyendo

Top stories of the week (4 – 8 June)

Monday

Nigerians search wreckage after plane crash kills 153 (Reuters)

Nigerian emergency services recovered more bodies on Monday from the smouldering, ash-covered wreckage of a plane that crashed in the commercial hub Lagos, killing all 153 people on board.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared three days of national mourning and ordered an investigation into the cause of Sunday’s accident, in which a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 flown by privately owned domestic carrier Dana Air crashed into the iron roof of an apartment block in the Lagos residential suburb of Agege.
His office said he was scheduled to visit the crash site on Monday afternoon.
“This is really a horrific moment for us here and we sympathise and give condolences to all the victims and families. (There are no) words to express our pain and grief,” Lagos state governor Babatunde Fashola said at the crash site.
“It is saddening, it is simply too much.”
The airline said on Sunday 147 people had perished, but in a list published overnight, there were also six crew members on board, taking the total to 153 killed. An unknown number of people may have been killed on the ground.

Photo: AP

Tuesday

UN Security Council’s June Programme of Work (What’s in Blue) (emphasis mine) Sigue leyendo

Introducing…Amil Shivji

Tired of everyone – including some rather awkward choices – attempting to rebrand, write about, speak for Africa(ns)? If so, here’s an antidote:

Word on the street: is an independent project started by Amil Shivji that puts the spotlight on Tanzanian citizens and their opinions on everyday issues. It is a weekly series that offers us an insight into what the common Tanzanian citizen has to say.

On this (the second) episode, Demere Kitunga, a publisher at Soma Book Cafe talks about what 50 years of independence means to her and where Tanzania is now.

You can suscribe to the series here. Sigue leyendo