The first time many Kenyans could have learnt there was a continental body known as the African Union was February 1, 2017, when their Foreign minister Amina Mohamed lost the contest to become its second ever woman chairperson to her Chadian counterpart, Mr Moussa Faki Mahamat. This was after a series of intrigues during which Kenya discovered that it did not have as many friends in the continent as it had assumed. It is not certain that Ms Mohamed would have made any difference in the monumental, cash-strapped bureaucracy that has become the AU. After that setback, Kenyans nonchalantly went back to their everyday lives and their beloved politics, but the African Union lived on, unappreciated and generally ignored. This is because, on the whole, its sporadic pronouncements do not seem to amount to much. But, of course, this is an unfair assessment of the many roles the AU plays in the continent’s affairs. At least, its intervention in Somalia to prop up a government sorely besieged by al-Shabaab terror militants has not gone unnoticed.
The African Union, which was founded in May, 2001 to replace the almost moribund Organisation of African Unity, was set up principally to ensure the welfare of the continent in various areas — political, developmental, economic, and matters security. It was meant to foster unity among African nations and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its 55 members. It was also supposed to promote peace and security, while ensuring that whole populations are not severely ravaged by containable diseases like malaria, HIV-Aids, and lately, Ebola. To a certain extent, it has succeeded in the last one.
The AU was also meant to act as some kind of continental prefect to promote democracy, make sure that human rights are observed by the rulers, and prevent, if possible, internecine violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide. To achieve these ends, the AU would seek ways to encourage continental integration with regional economic organisations as the building blocks, and with intra-African trade as the vital link. In short, it was supposed to enhance Pan-African ideals without all the rhetoric associated with that ideology. But how has it fared? Dismally, one might say. On Thursday, what was described as a “high level consultation meeting of heads of state and government on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo” was convened in Addis Ababa to discuss the electoral coup in that country. The man who won the elections was declared the loser and now there are plans to install a stooge as president. All along, even when other voices were raised about this blatant theft, the African Union chose diplomatic silence. But at the end of the meeting, they did come up with a somewhat bland communique in which they pledged to send a committee to the DRC to ascertain the facts, meaning even they are not convinced the results announced were correct.
Next month during the biennial AU meeting, it is expected that Egypt’s military strongman who came to power through a coup, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, will take over from Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame as the assembly chairman. He surely cannot be the right person for the job considering how much blood is on his hands (he is said to have been responsible for the slaughter of 817 protesters in a single day back in August 2013). But then democratic credentials do not seem to matter when picking the AU’s figurehead.
After all, we have had the likes of Robert Mugabe on that chair even as he was detaining or massacring those who disagreed with his dictatorship. Indeed, in the past we had folks like Idi Amin, Siad Barre, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Mobutu Sese Seko and their ilk chairing the AU’s predecessor, the OAU. That they were all bloodstained tyrants did not seem to faze anyone. It would be a pity if the AU trod that well-worn path.
Such failures, of course, should not overshadow the progress made in other areas. It is a fact that with the help of international agencies, the organisation has been in the forefront in fighting deadly disease outbreaks in many parts of the continent. It is also hoped that during its 32nd summit next month, it will dwell on issues like the recently launched single air market and free trade agreement that will establish a common market for the continent’s goods and services.
However, these efforts, and the proposed African passport are all overshadowed by the AU’s failure to censure African leaders basking in glorious misrule, which raises the question: Is the AU really relevant in this day and age? The clear answer is yes, but only if there are concerted efforts to reform it. For instance, what is happening in Zimbabwe and Sudan right now — where the respective armies have taken to killing peaceful protesters at will — should worry this body. Will the AU stand with the people or with their oppressors?