Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

AU’s questionable mandate: A call for an action-driven continental body

08.04.2020
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Launched in 2001, The African Union (AU), a continental body consisting of 55 member states have since its existence put in efforts to promote democracy and sustainable peace in the continent. It is believed that the African Union which was conceived with an extended mandate spearheads the political atmosphere in Africa. Created to provide African solutions to African problems, the body has succeeded to unite all its members under the Agenda 2063. Amidst the lofty promises the AU came with, many believe that the organization is falling short of hitting its target. Hence, questions are today being raised concerning the interests of the member states and how it's affecting the smooth functioning of the body. While people still have mixed feelings as far as the role of the AU in the continent is concerned, positivists are more concerned about what the continent would be in the absence of the intercontinental governing body.

The creation of the African Union has been regarded by some analysts as the most essential change in interstate relations in Africa. During the Heads of State summit in Durban, African leaders felt the need to realize Africa’s enormous potential and drive growth and economic development in the continent through interstate cooperation and integration of African countries. Unlike its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, OAU, the African Union is aimed at promoting peace and prosperity which it considers as the basis for achieving political and economic integration for all its members. It was intended to pick up the trails of the OAU and become a more active body in promoting the Pan African vision.

Some of the main aims of the AU as laid down by the Constitutive Act of the African Union and the Protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act of the African Union includes; the achievement of greater unity and solidarity between various African countries and their citizens, protecting and defending the territorial integrity and independence of its Member States and accelerating the political and socio-economic integration of the continent, as well as promoting peace, security, and stability on the continent. Since the establishment of the body, is has succeeded in expanding its mandate into the area of democracy, supporting the establishment of democratic institutions by putting in place effective mechanisms to fight unconstitutional changes in government. It is for this reason that the Constitutive Act, the 2000 Lomé Declaration as well as the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance are considered the building blocks of the AU framework due to its ability to enhance democracy across the continent.

African Union strongly uphold its mandate

More than 17 years after the creation of the AU, the organization has made remarkable progress in mobilizing pressure against the violations of constitutional norms. One of the very big wins which could be credited to the body has been the growing wave of democratization in the continent. In the past few years, the continent has witnessed peaceful political transitions especially in the DRC in 2018, which is a hotbed of political tensions. Furthermore, the development of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) has been instrumental in dealing with violent conflicts and political crises on the continent. Reports indicated that the African Union has so far been able to undertake close to 50 peace operations in 18 African countries since 2000. The organization has therefore been able to build an institution that is available and capable of addressing peace and security issues in the continent. It was very quick to suspend the memberships of countries like Madagascar, Niger, Mauritania and Guinea for promoting unconstitutional regime change in their respective countries and was also successful in the peacemaking process in Burundi, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. 

We can also mention the role the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003) and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance (2007) has played in increasing accountability and transparency in the continent. Equally, the AU has been able to make effective use of instruments such as the African Charter, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the African Court of Human and People’s Rights to increase and give greater voice to the people.

Some analysts have also cited the success of the AU in liaising with other international bodies to intervene in conflicts in Sudan, and also in resolving post-electoral violence in countries such as Ivory Coast and Kenya. According to a report by Brookings Institution–the University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement, the AU peacekeeping troops are making valuable contributions in the Darfur region which is contrary to popular opinions. In February 2020, the AU Peace and Security Council undertook a mission to South Sudan in line with its mandate to promote and enhance peace and security in the Continent. The major aim of the mission was to evaluate the level of implementation of the Revitalized Agreement based on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan which was signed in September 2018. In most elections in Africa today, it is very common to see an election observation team deployed by the AU, a routine that is enshrined in the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance. In the 2017 Human Security Report, it was revealed that thanks to the AU, the number of conflicts in sub-Sahara Africa was reduced by half between 1999 and 2006. It also reported a reduction in the number of autocratic as well as other forms of semi-autocratic governments on the continent recently. 

The African Union has been played a vital role in advocating for and promoting trade in Africa. It successfully brokered for the established of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which was signed in Kigali, Rwanda, on 21 March 2018. The establishment of the free-trade area is considered the largest in the world due to the number of countries participating. As of July 2019, about 54 African states had signed the free trade agreement which according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa is expected to boost intra-African trade by 52% by 2022. Also, Kigali played host to the launching of the African Union passport during the 27th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU Summit in July 2016. 

In March 2018, 21 countries successfully signed the Protocol to the Treaty establishing the African Economic Community, regarding the free movement of persons in the continent which was adopted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 29, 2018, during the 30th ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State of the African Union. All these actions has placed the AU at the centre of major happenings across the continent.

AU fails to show strength as a continental body

Just like many other organizations, the AU is battling with problems, and its inability to overcome its structural shortcomings has led to the questioning of the effectiveness of its mandate. The fact that the AU failed to deal with its structural problems serves as a barrier for the organization to handle the problems it was created to fix. Thus, the continent is still suffering from a constitutional crisis as a result of the inability of the AU to get the various countries to respect their laws.  Many countries are vehemently disrespecting the orders of the organization with no sanctions from the organization. In 2018 for instance, the AU indicated serious doubts in the outcome of the December elections in the DRC and requested that the results be suspended, but these orders were overlooked and Felix Tshisekedi was sworn in as president of the violence-hit nation. Also, the Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza had rejected the sending of 5,000 AU peacekeepers into the country in 2015, after deadly violence erupted when he changed the constitution to run for a third term. The continental body reconsidered its move and instead promised to send observers for an election that had been boycotted by most of the opposition. Similarly, Paul Kagame of Rwanda changed the constitution of his country permitting him to rule the country until 2034 under the watchful eyes of the African Union. 

The AU also completely failed to intervene in Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis which started since 2017 and is now degenerating into a civil war. Consequently, there is still an upsurge in conflict in many countries such as Mali, Somalia South Sudan, and DR Congo a decade after the creation of the organization. The AU has failed to remain self-reliant as a result of financial constraints. Reports indicate that close to 72% of its budget is gotten from external partners. The over-reliance of the AU on aid from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) has diminished its level of independence hence reducing its role and impact in the international scene. There is no way the AU can become as effective as it hopes to be without its ability to independently carry out its operations without foreign assistance. Its inability to contain the violence in Sudan’s southwest Darfur region in 2004 lead to the merging of its peacekeeping operation with the United Nations mission in 2007.

Although it is, however, true that the presence of the African Union in the continent has diminished tensions which have resulted in fewer conflicts, the organization is still a far away from achieving its major objectives. Unless the AU can fully take up its commitment to promote peace and democracy through concrete action, it will only remain an institution with lofty ideas and mechanisms with no effective means to impact the life of the people.

Therefore, political analysts have called on AU to ensure its members adopt and uphold principles of instruments such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance which is aimed at promoting democracy and good governance on the continent with strict sanctions to any defaulters. As long as there remains a gap between policies and their implementation, the AU will only remain an institution with ideas but incapable of fulfilling its mandate to the people.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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