The Relevance of the African Union at 50
On May 24, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the founding meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the fathers of the African independence movement gathered to craft a blue-print of continental unity, a tangible representation of the philosophy of Pan-Africanism.
Kwame Nkrumah proclaimed “we must unite now or perish… the masses of the people of Africa are crying for unity.”
Despite these fierce words, half a century later, after decades of border disputes, conflict and flawed leadership across the continent, we are left wondering: is the AU still relevant today?
The original agenda for the OAU included proposals to create a common African financial market, an African currency, an African monetary zone and an African central bank. To date, none of these goals have been accomplished.
Today, as government and state representatives begin to gather in Addis Ababa, where it all began 50 years ago, it is time to re-examine the AU’s commitment to its lofty goals and reflect on how it might continue to stay true to its mission.
The theme of this year’s summit is “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”, a fitting title meant to gently remind nations of the ideals of Pan-Africanism that ungird the organization and renew a commitment to these principles.
In recent years, the eight main regional organizations such as the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have enjoyed increasing levels of influence and made inroads towards political and economic regional integration. However, does the emphasis on the regional networks compromise the AU’s focus if they work independently rather than inter-dependently?
Although these regional organizations can harness political power, their small scale would be eclipsed by a continent-wide partnership facilitated by the AU. Rather than focusing at the regional level, we need large-scale collaboration. Only when the AU puts some teeth in its initiatives will African nations be able to harness their political power on an international stage that often minimizes their interests. A renewed commitment to partnership will also aid in improving the levels of intra-regional trade, which lags far behind other regions of the world such as the ASEAN and EU nations.
Nevertheless, despite these critiques of a lack of cohesion, the AU has done commendable work in the area of peacekeeping by playing pivotal roles in conflict settings like Somalia and Sudan.
To move towards increased cooperation capable of spurring peace and development, the AU must develop a cogent, common ideological framework that allows for discussions based on a coherent moral foundation. In order to expedite this process, nations must work draft action plans that emphasize standards of behavior to which they must hold one another accountable. Otherwise, crafting a sustainable 2063 vision will be impossible.