The African Union at 20: progress, challenges and future opportunities


I am happy to be back in South Africa. The setback of the COVID pandemic renews our established relationship and cooperation. I am also happy that the Thabo Mbeki Foundation has chosen, as its focus for 2022, the history and evaluation of the African Union which was officially launched twenty years ago in South Africa.

The African Union (AU), the main continental organization in Africa, has come of age. Twenty years ago, in July 2002, this prestigious African institution was born in the continuity of the pan-African vision of an independent, united and prosperous Africa shared by the independent leaders of the continent for whom they created its parent institution. , the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

This occasion to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the African Union is an opportunity for all of Africa to come together and listen to each other in order to determine to what extent the continental organization has succeeded in achieving the objectives for which it was created; what challenges have limited its success; how to overcome these challenges; and what opportunities there are in a fully functioning continental organization in today’s global geopolitics.

The creation of the OAU on May 25, 1963 marked the culmination of diverse and profound political tendencies on and outside the continent. Its ideological basis is in the Pan-Africanist movement of the late 19th century, which had its origins among black American intellectuals – Martin Delany and Alexander Crummel – in the United States of America (USA). Seeking a black nation independent of the United States as the only way to ensure prosperity for black peoples, their ideas took hold and were furthered by WE B Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, who urged a return to the continent. The Pan-African idea has been picked up and advanced on the continent by several prominent intellectuals and heads of state, including Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Sekou Touré of Guinea. These individuals provided practical expressions of Pan-African ideals in Africa, applying them to the African reality of colonial subjugation and other forms of foreign oppression.

Therefore, when the heads of the thirty-two independent states of Africa gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to sign the OAU Charter in 1963, it was with the common conviction that for Africa realizes its potential and aspirations, it must be free from external control. , and its peoples must rise above racial, ethnic and national differences and work together in a spirit of brotherhood and solidarity. Accordingly, Article II of the OAU Founding Charter included a program to promote African unity and solidarity; coordinate and intensify their cooperation and efforts to ensure a better life for Africans; protect their sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence; destroy all forms of colonialism in Africa; and encourage international cooperation, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Armed with a commitment to cooperation in all aspects of social endeavour, politics, economy, education, health, science and defense by Member States, the OAU immediately embarked on what was then the main obstacle to its program of a united and prosperous Africa – the struggle for the independence of all African states under colonialism and other forms of foreign oppression (apartheid) . In this regard, the OAU Coordinating Committee for the Liberation of Africa sprang into action, organizing diplomatic, financial and logistical support to liberation movements wherever they existed in Africa. The organization was involved in the independence agitation of Guinea Bissau, Angola, Mozambique, the Central African Republic, Namibia (formerly South West Africa) and the fight against the regime of apartheid in South Africa. It has also been active in defending the integrity and sovereignty of its member countries and in resolving border disputes. This impact was particularly observed in the Congo, where strategic raw materials have always been a source of unrest, in Nigeria during a civil war that threatened the unity of the Federal Republic, and in Egypt during the Israeli occupation of 1967.

Another historic achievement of the OAU has been the ambition to create an economically integrated Africa. In this case, he was instrumental in the creation of regional economic communities (RECs), including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community ( EAC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMMESA), the South African Development Coordination Commission (SADCC) and the Arab Maghreb Union. In addition, he created the African Economic Community (AEC) in 1991, which was to evolve into a common market, a customs union and an African monetary union.

Notwithstanding the laudable achievements of the OAU, its members have identified the need to refocus the organization’s attention on its decolonization agenda and more on the promotion of peace and stability as a prerequisite for eventual political integration and economy that will secure African interests in an increasingly geopolitically compartmentalized world. To this end, the OAU Heads of Government reached consensus and issued the Sirte Declaration of September 1999, calling for the establishment of an African Union which would accelerate the process of integration on the continent to enable it to compete favorably in a changing global economy and meet all the social and political challenges arising from globalization. Thus, the African Union (AU) was born in 2002.

The AU was established with the aim of achieving “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force on the world stage”. Consequently, the birth of the AU marked a shift in the focus of Africa’s premier pan-African institution, shifting primarily from supporting anti-colonial and anti-apartheid (liberation) movements to the task of greater integration for accelerated development. Among the stated objectives of the AU are: the achievement of greater unity and solidarity among African countries and peoples; defend the territorial integrity and independence of its Member States; accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent; and promote common positions on issues of concern to the continent and its peoples; promote sustainable economic, political and cultural development; foster cooperation in all fields of human endeavor to raise the standard of living of the African peoples; protect and promote human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and promote peace, security and stability on the continent.

In line with its mandate, the AU has recorded reasonable successes through direct contributions and collaborations with the international community. He has been active in conflict minimization and resolution in conflict-prone areas such as Somalia and Sudan, successfully mediated post-election violent conflicts in Kenya, Comoros and Côte d’Ivoire, and intervened in coup situations by ensuring a return to civilian rule. . Without being restricted by the concept of “non-interference” of the OAU, the AU has reserved the power, through its Peace and Security Council, to intervene in the internal affairs of member countries. to promote peace and safeguard democracy, even when resorting to military action in circumstances of genocide and crimes against humanity. Through its voluntary “peer review mechanism”, whereby individual member states agree to be evaluated by a group of experts drawn from other member states, the AU has been able to foster democracy and good governance on the continent. The AU has also established a practice of sending Election Monitoring Teams (Observation Missions) to all Member States to ensure that the terms of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (2007) are respected.

The AU has shown strategic leadership on the continent. Africa has presented a common front on several issues that have shaped global debates and decisions through its activities. This has had some impact on the terms of engagement between the UN and regional organizations. By reaching an African consensus, he was able to enlist the support of African candidates vying for positions in international organizations, such as Nigerian Okonjo Iweala as Director General of the World Trade Organization, the Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as Secretary General of the Global Council for International Health and Rwandan Louise Mushikiwabo as Secretary General of the International Organization of La Francophonie. The AU has also shown commendable leadership and served as an advisor to governments and intergovernmental agencies.

In pursuit of its African prosperity agenda, the AU has put in place the necessary declarations and institutions to promote economic integration among its fifty-four member states. It has established development organizations such as the African Union Development Agency (NEPAD) and progressive frameworks such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and Agenda 2063. There had proposals for an African Monetary Union and an African Central Bank, although these did not see political will on the part of member states to carry them out. The AU has also made considerable efforts to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are available to its Member States.

Financial dependence, poorly governed states and constant pressure for reform were identified as some of the obstacles to AU progress. Among the other factors identified are the development of the “cult of personality, the concentration of power in the office of the president of the commission and the narrowing of spaces for popular participation in decision-making”. The AU showed some flaws in its decision-making when it moved its biannual July 2012 summit from Lilongwe, Malawi to Addis Ababa over the AU’s refusal to invite Omar al-Bashar because he had been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Court of Justice (ICC). Also reprehensible is his practice of appointing leaders with dubious democratic credentials to the presidency. Other issues that denigrate the image and performance of the AU include its inability to find a lasting solution to the abundance of educated and unemployed young Africans, the recent resurgence of coups and conflicts violence, and his romance with China, which has seen the latter gain more and more importance. unbalanced concessions on the continent.

Many untapped opportunities can be drawn from an objective, independent and people-oriented continental union. Without some of the burdens of the AU – vested interests and constitutional limitations – the continental organization can do much more to ensure good governance, peace, stability and economic prosperity through vast networks of collaboration that transcend any cultural divide. , national and regional. To achieve this, the AU must be perceived as upholding the highest standards and be more people-oriented.

Let me close this conversation by thanking former President Thabo Mbeki, the Mbeki Foundation and the Thabo Mbeki School for the honor of inviting me to speak to various groups. I thank the students for listening to me.


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