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

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Some notes on AIAC’s quest to choose “The most influential African thinker alive”

Africa Is a Country launched yesterday an extremely interesting initiative – a poll to choose “The most influential African thinker alive”. Voting is open until next Monday and I urge to do it – and also to nominate other possibilities, as they will take into consideration those names most put forward.

Personally, I have just voted and also left a comment/rant on AIAC’s blog, raising some questions which surround the possible choice. I copy it below.

I would love to hear more thoughts on this! Sigue leyendo

1 + 2 trends to watch out for in African politics in 2012

The (by now not so much) new year always provides a good opportunity to lift our eyes from the detailed aspects of our day to day and embark on broader analysis, general reflections and compilations of what will be important for the starting year – both personally and professionally. In many ways this is a totally arbitrary decision for in fact dynamics, movements and trends do not know anything about calendar years, and what was important a few months back will in all likelihood continue without disruption. So, taking the time to reflect on what may be important in 2012 is in fact partly taking note of what has been recently happening and is likely to continue. Sigue leyendo

It’s that time of the year… On Africa’s eleven top posts in 2011

The end of the year brings with it all sorts of compilations, lists and summaries of the good, the bad and the ugly of the year that’s coming to an end. And On Africa is no exception to this – see here the top-10 stories of 2009 (in English and in Spanish/español), and the ten photos that summarise 2010 (although without photos 😦 since the links broke when I transferred from Maneno to WordPress earlier this year and I have not fixed it yet…).

This year, I have compiled a list of the most viewed original posts written this year (according to WordPress). What this means is that the list excludes posts written in the past (the post most viewed this year is this one on Conguitos, a politically incorrect Spanish brand of sweets, written in march 2010). Also excluded are those posts that serve as self-promotion for pieces published for other media but to which I have made reference here.

So, whilst technically incorrect, the list makes this up in relevance, for these posts reflect better some of the most important news and stories in the African continent and beyond; with some exceptions – South Sudan independence, the war in Côte d’Ivoire (both these stories have op-ed pieces devoted to them and can be viewed on the “Other Work” section), as well as cultural notes. What is there includes: Zambia’s presidential election, Bin Laden’s death, Kenya’s invasion of Somalia and the “Arab spring” among others…

Enjoy these stories, leave below any comments you may have, and have a wonderful festive season and end of the year and beginning of 2012! Sigue leyendo

Three down, who’ll be next?

Reuters Africa blog asks an interesting question, I’m sharing here, since I would love to hear your thoughts on this one!

Three of the ten longest serving African leaders have fallen this year:

Ben Ali – Tunisia 23 years,
Hosni Mubarak – Egypt 30 years
Muammar Gadhafi- Libya 42 years

Of the next seven on the list:

Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea (32),
Jose Santos of Angola (32),
Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (31),
Paul Biya of Cameroon (29)
Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (25)
King Mswati III of Swaziland (24)
Blaise Campore of Burkina Fasso (24)

Who would be next to go? And how?

Cameroon elections this Sunday – Achille Mbembe’s take

Cameroon his holding Presidential elections this Sunday, and incumbent Paul Biya – who’s ruled the country for 29 years – is expected to win and continue its authoritarian rule.
The Cameroonian philosopher and post-colonial theorist Achille Mbembe is one of the most insighhtful commentators on African politics. His recent interview at Slate Afrique (translated into English by Dibussi Tande on his blog “Scribbles from the Den“) on the subject of the elections, which he defines as a “non-event”, is a must-read from start to finish, but here’s an extract I found particularly interesting:

QS: How do you explain Paul Biya’s longevity at the helm of the state for 29 years?
ANS: Having understood very early on that in order to stay as long as possible in power, one had to do nothing, Biya put in place a new system of government which I call government by inaction. Biya studied Machiavelli a lot, and successfully adapted his lessons to a typically African situation. Paul Biya’s genuis is to have discovered that power has no objective other than power itself. The goal of those in power is not to accomplish any grandiose project whatsoever. It is simply to hold on to power. Thus, to govern is to not govern.