50 Years of Decline
The Chair of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, believes the continent is on the rise – but still faces many challenges.
In her view, industrialisation and greater economic integration are central to improving the situation.
Speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this past week ahead of the annual Summit of AU Heads of State and Government, Dr Dlamini-Zuma said: “Our continent still has to contend with huge infrastructural backlogs, backlogs in education, especially higher education, health and other basic services, including responding to rapid urbanisation, youth development and the need for food security.”
With the bloc marking 50 years of existence – as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the AU – there is much stock-taking going on as to whether or not the continent has managed to serve the interests of citizens over the past half century.
Poverty and unemployment, coupled with food insecurity, remain at the core of Africa’s challenges, as much as they were 50 years ago at the founding of the OAU in Addis Ababa.
And with conflicts raging in the DRC, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Somalia, among other hotspots, questions are being asked about the AU’s capacity to deliver the goals of a prosperous, developed and educated Africa as envisaged back in 1963.
Aptly, the theme for this year’s Summit is “Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance”.
When the OAU transformed into the AU in 2002, Former President Thabo Mbeki – a major proponent of the African Renaissance – said their goal was to ensure that “Africans own and control Africa from Cape to Cairo”.
At the age of 50, how far have African leaders gone in delivering on these promises?
Peace and Security
Speaking in Addis Ababa this past week, Dr Dlamini-Zuma said, “We are registering steady progress towards the operationalisation of the African peace and security architecture.
“And they displayed a critical role in the management of these conflict situations. As a result, progress has been registered in Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Madagascar.”
One of the key institutions in achieving a real union of Africa has been the establishment of an African Standby Force (ASF).
Despite Dr Dlamini-Zuma sounding upbeat about this infrastructure, the reality on the ground is much more sobering.
Kwame Nkrumah, one of the OAU’s founding fathers, pushed aggressively for a continental force that would be speedily deployed to protect the continent’s development and security interests.
From the 1960s, headway in establishing the ASF was only made in 2003, when AU members agreed to have the force ready by 2010.
From 2010 to the present, there have been major conflicts in the Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, the DRC, Mali, Libya, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, and the Central African Republic. Not once has the ASF been deployed. Instead, as happened in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya and is happening in Mali, European and American troops have been coming into Africa to assert their own interests while the AU makes largely pointless protests.
Poor funding (Dr Dlamini-Zuma has said more than 90 percent of the AU budget comes from non-Africans) and opaque jurisdictional issues have crippled the ASF.
And while the OAU’s founding fathers declared “(there) will be no foreign military bases on African soil. With a united foreign policy and a common defence plan, there would be no need for them”, the reality is that the United States has already declared that 2013 will see American military personnel operating in 35 countries on the continent.
International Relations expert, Dr Nhamo Mhiripiri, says Africa has many reasons to distrust Western military intervention in its affairs, but invites it – explicitly or tacitly – by failing to fund its own standby force.
Within the context of French involvement in Mali, he says: “They are the ones with resources and a ready standing army.
“It is a double tragedy in that we cannot trust the people that we invite, but the threat posed by the rebels should also be considered because they are causing massive destruction in Mali, destroying historical sites and promoting massive religious intolerance.” For Dr Mhiripiri, a strong Africa starts with strong regional economic groups, a development that the continent is yet to register.
“I think African integration should start with the consolidation of such bodies as SADC and ECOWAS before we can talk of a strong African Union.
“However, because of a lack of political will and resources, this has not materialised and allowed the Europeans and former colonisers to interfere.”
Matters of governance also come into play when one considers peace and security in Africa.
According to Cameron Duodu, writing in New African magazine, the AU leadership is wieldy and generally unresponsive.
“Its highest decision-making organ continues to be the Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
“Directly beneath the AU’s apex body is the Executive Council, made up of foreign ministers of African countries.
“This is the most important body of the organisation, for it is responsible for preparing decisions for the Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
“The Assembly hardly ever goes against the wishes of the foreign ministers, for, of course, the heads of state are kept in constant touch with the deliberations of their foreign ministers.
“Although it is theoretically possible for a Head of State to change his country’s position – as formulated by his Foreign Minister – once he meets his brother Heads of State at the AU Summit, in practice, such a volte-face hardly ever happens…
“In imitation of the European Union, the AU has created the Pan African Parliament, which consists of 265 members.
“But unlike the EU, these parliamentarians are not directly elected by the people of AU countries, but instead, selected by the national parliaments of AU member states.
“This means that the largely ineffective role played by African parliaments at home, is bound to be transferred to the African Union.
“Why cannot the selection of PAP MPs have been left open to the African populace, so that persons who have a real interest in serving Africa could have been elected to represent their people in the African Parliament?”
The issue of governance also comes into play within the context of poor leadership being blamed for the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, as frustrated citizens took to the streets to protest that they were not benefiting from their countries’ resources. Which leads to the matter of economic governance.
A statistic that is in vogue these days is that Africa’s average GDP growth between 2000 and 2010 was above five percent.
This has given rise to much optimistic talk by business and political leaders about “Africa rising”.
But that growth has not translated into empowerment of ordinary people, employment creation, food security, better housing, access to education and healthcare and infrastructure development. The Union’s overarching infrastructure for economic development is premised on creation of a continental central bank, a single currency and trade integration. While this will certainly advance development, it remains elitist in that it largely results in greater wealth for the wealthy without ushering in any structural changes that can improve the lot of Africa’s poor majority. Resource control remains in the hands of Western and Asian multinationals, as it was in 1963. This fear by most of Africa’s leaders over the past five decades to deliver economic independence to the citizenry means that (according to a 2012 African Development Bank report) unemployment is growing. Between 2000 and 2007, Africa’s working age population grew by 96 million but the number of jobs only grew by 63 million. And while there are gallant efforts to make it easier for registered companies to trade easily with each other across Africa, such heroic efforts are largely by-passing ordinary people.
With much unemployment, more and more people are trading informally – but they find it difficult to cross national borders to conduct their small-scale commercial activities.
Cameron Duodu says, “The most glaring example of the emptiness of the ‘African Union’ idea, of course, is that despite the example that Europe has dangled before the eyes of the African leaders, most African countries still oblige African visitors to their countries to obtain a visa before they can do so…
“The only way in which the name change will be accorded the respect similarly given to the European Union, is to peel the hypocrisy out of the notion of ‘African unity’ and implement measures that will make every African feel at home in any other African country.
“If a Romanian can feel at home in Britain or France, is there any reason why a Zimbabwean or Mozambican – who probably speaks a dialect that is understood in South Africa – should fear for his life in a South African township like Soweto?”
As such, a single visa – or more ideally a holistic deconstruction of colonial era borders – will better serve the goals of African unity.
Reclaiming the Ideals
University of Zimbabwe International Relations lecturer, Dr Charity Manyeruke, says, “The main problem is that the AU has failed to integrate the African continent particularly due to differences caused by colonialism on Anglophone and Francophone lines.
“You may find that these divisions have actually intensified and this has drawn back development on the continent.” She goes on: “This lack of proper integration has allowed former colonial powers to return and you can see how the Europeans and Americans are positioning themselves in various parts of the continent in pursuit of their broader agenda to exploit our resources.
“The ideals that the founding fathers had have been lost along the away and until we revert to upholding those the civil strife that we are witnessing today and plunder of resources will continue.” Dr Mhiripiri concurs, adding that Africa’s citizens must revisit the ideals of OAU founding fathers and measure the current leaders with that yardstick.
“The continent lacks strong leadership such as was there among the early proponents of unity.” Perhaps this year’s theme of Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance will re-ignite the flame that has been slowly dying since 1963.