African Union – On Turning 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity now known as the African Union. A few days ago, Africa’s leaders met in Addis Ababa to commemorate this auspicious occasion.

What difference has 50 years made? The hope of continent-wide peace and prosperity that our leaders had when the OAU was formed remains just that – hope. The real difference the five decades have made – well, the irony of Africa’s Main Problems meeting to talk about how to solve Africa’s problems. As usual their discussions ignore the pink elephant in the room – their poor leadership or lack thereof – from which a majority of our problems stem from.

In his opening remarks, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister said, “This historic day marks not only a great leap forward in the Pan-Africanist quest for freedom, independence and unity but also the beginning of our collective endeavor for the realization of Africa’s socio-economic emancipation.” (The complete speech is available here)

Freedom and independence – yes, I agree with that. Unity – not so much so –  that remains elusive. Look at Nigeria with Boko Haram and the tensions between Muslims and Christians. Take Kenya, as another example, where every election cycle brings with it renewed ethnic hatred and irrational fear of “the other.” There’s Somalia – do people even know or remember what the root of the conflict there is? Let’s not forget Darfur which has been in a state of humanitarian emergency for close to a decade. South Sudan’s independence carried with it hopes for peace in the region. However, there is still tension and disputes between South Sudan and Sudan with many a threats flying across the border. Then there’s the Congo whose conflict has birthed several rebellions and infighting. Unity – we are still on the struggle train with that one.

Africa’s socio-economic emancipation – yessir- high five for that! It’s about time. One of the reasons why Africa  needs emancipation is because we have been under the West’s economic yoke for such a long time. It hasn’t helped that we constantly receive the foreign assistance excitedly without analyzing the conditionalities attached and  their consequences. Much as African countries are independent, we have  consistently simply aligned with other people’s agendas for us. Sometimes it seems like every country from East to West and in between has an agenda for Africa.  It’s 2013 – a good enough time for Africa to grab the agenda bull by the horns. In this regard, Africa’s leaders could start by ensuring that all the doors and windows to intra-African trade and investment are open. Africans stand to benefit a whole lot from doing business with each other. It is important that communication channels are open and policies are enacted to ease transactions across the board. Africa’s leaders should remember that socio-economic emancipation and continental integration cannot be achieved without the active participation of their citizenry.

While we are on the subject of an active citizenry, why is it that the African Union doesn’t particularly engage the youth? We do after all form a majority of Africa’s population. Instead of having these talk fests among Africa’s leaders why not have conferences that connect Africa’s youth – you know, the social entrepreneurs, the idea generators, the journalists, the writers, the poets and the activists, among others? Shouldn’t the African Union direct its focus to mentoring and funding youth-led initiatives while promoting partnerships among African youth? If we were supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow, then shouldn’t the African Union, in its efforts to promote unity and prosperity, provide such nurturing environments that enable us to realize that potential?

The African Union’s relevance is slipping from its grip. It has come to be viewed by some as a leaders club that meets at a $200 million building that African countries could not even afford to build. The leaders aren’t helping the cause either. The recent meeting they had turned into a campaign to get the ICC to refer both Uhuru Kenyatta’s and William Ruto’s cases to Kenya. When Uhuru Kenyatta was on the campaign trail he repeatedly said that he would cooperate with the ICC. Both men did in fact say that. At a presidential debate, Uhuru Kenyatta said that the ICC case was a personal challenge and now it’s suddenly Africa’s problem? How did this even come to be?

The African Union declared 2013 the year of PanAfricanism and African Renaissance. Only time will tell how committed Africa’s leaders are to this.







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