Africa’s expensive new Union launched in South Africa

Developing Just Leadership

Zawahir Siddique

Jumada' al-Ula' 22, 1423 2002-08-01


by Zawahir Siddique (World, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 11, Jumada' al-Ula', 1423)

Africa took a new turn on June 8, when the African Union (AU) was launched. Forty-three of the 53 rulers of the continent gathered to witness the birth of AU, which the rulers profess to hope will be a vehicle for democracy, good governance and prosperity. The new body replaces the Organization of African Unity (OAU). “Through our actions let us proclaim to the world that this is a continent on the rise,” Thabo Mbeki of SA said.

The recently-launched New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) was also adopted, with “good governance” codes and a “peer-review” mechanism by which Africans will police each other. The new union is also to have a 15-member peace security council to prevent crimes against humanity such as the genocide in Rwanda (1994).

Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, insisted that partnership was necessary for Africa to progress. Under NEPAD, the African countries are hoping for $64 billion in aid for investment from the rich world. The G8 leadership endorsed NEPAD, but not without conditions. Under NEPAD African governments are expected to commit themselves to “good governance and democracy”: ie. submission to western hegemony.

A report of the OAU’s committee on contributions stated that only 16 of its 53 members were up to date on payments to the organization. Arrears at the end of May were $43 million. AU, which inherits the OAU’s assets and liabilities, will have similar problems in extracting fees from members.

Madagascar has become the first country to be suspended from the AU. Africa’s rulers suspended the government of the “self-proclaimed” president Marc Ravalomanana. “It may be painful but if at this early stage we don’t do things right, people will say we have failed before we even started”, Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo said. Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal, argued for AU recognition of Ravalomanana’s government. Only Senegal, the US and France have recognised it so far.

The AU summit was not lacking other drama either. Colonel Qaddafi of Libya stole the limelight: during an unscheduled speech the “brother leader” railed against the West, Africa’s new development plan and other obsessions of the moment. In an attempt to appease him, Africa’s rulers agreed to expand the heads-of-state implementation committee of NEPAD from three per region to four. It is understood that Qaddafi will be the fourth representative for North Africa; the committee has the task of driving NEPAD’s good governance provision. “It’s better to have Qaddafi in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in,” said one ambassador.

Despite criticisms, Qaddafi was not distracted: “We accept assistance but we refuse conditions. If you insult the beggar, he will drive you away,” Qaddafi said after the welcoming address by host speaker Thabo Mbeki. “We must be self-confident and they [the west] must respect us,” he added.

The AU is modelled to a large extend on the EU, but this is only a superficial similarity. While the AU summit was progressing, the EU passed a resolution condemning Mugabe’s land appropriations in Zimbabwe. The AU did nothing in response, either way.

Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, held discussions with the presidents of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at Durban to establish a “buffer zone” on their shared border in an attempt to end their four-year war. The buffer zone would include the area to be patrolled by both Congolese and Rwandan troops under the supervision of the UN. Interestingly, no role was envisaged for the AU.

The launch of AU, or the re-launch of OAU, was “symbolically” held in South Africa, the last country of the continent to be ‘liberated’ from colonial and white minority domination. Qaddafi had criticised the NEPAD project as being too capitalist and pro-western. But the South African president had a different ‘vision’: “No longer will Africa be simply an exporter of raw materials for the west. We want to produce and manufacture the highest quality products for our own use and export,” he said emphatically. Can NEPAD work? Can AU address the problems facing a continent suffering from poverty, disease and exploitation? In sub-Saharan Africa 40 percent of people exist on less than a dollar a day. One African in five lives in a country severely disrupted by war. These are not problems and inequalities to be solved by platitudes and half-measures.

The UN conference held in June to discuss poverty and hunger was an expensive failure. Thabo Mbeki blamed western countries for sending low-ranking representatives to attend the “crucial” conference. It may take time for the African people to be liberated mentally from the clutches of their imperialist masters in the West. Only time can tell whether the birth of AU, which spent $10 million just on the inauguration of the organisation launched to ‘change’ the destiny of the poorest continent of the world, is another expensive white elephant in international affairs.

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