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From OAU to AU

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From OAU to AU

Cameron Duodu focuses on the nomenclature of the African Union and asks if it was really advisable for the organisation to rebrand itself from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU).

ALTHOUGH THE AFRICAN UNION is celebrating its 10th “anniversary” this year, the antecedents of the organisation go beyond 10 years as it evolved from the “Organisation of African Unity” (OAU). The AU only “rebranded” itself 10 years ago  – on 9 July 2002, in Durban, South Africa!

Whether a body that had existed and done business under one name for a good 39 years was wise to follow the hollow idea pursued – with commercial objectives in mind – by certain public relations agencies in the West, and change its nomenclature, with all the confusion that such an action would create in the international arena where it operated – is open to question.

In justification, it might be argued that the world had, indeed, changed during the 39 years the OAU had been in existence. But the world had also changed for some of the other international organisations that existed. For instance, one of the most powerful international organisations, sthe North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) underwent a major transformation towards the end of the 20th century (following the end of the Cold War) and could easily have changed its name.

Yet even though it managed to absorb some of its old “antagonists” in the Warsaw Pact, sometimes under different legal arrangements, NATO didn’t change its name.

Of course, the fact that NATO did not change its name brought no obligation to the OAU not to change its name, either. Indeed, another international organisation, the European Economic Community (EEC) did change its name and became the European Union (EU).

But it cannot be denied that in the case of the EEC, the change of name was fully warranted. The reason was that the “European Economic Community” did become a misnomer, when the organisation’s objectives evolved with time to become radically transformed from a system of mere economic co-operation into a fully integrated unit that combines economic co-operation with full socio-political integration as well..

To some in Africa, the name change from “OAU” to “AU” was the result of the African countries being seduced to imitate the European example without first enacting any of the organic arrangements that bind the members of the “European Union” together.

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.

Without wishing to dwell too much on the name change, I must point out that it was, in the main, promoted by a leader of an African country, the late Colonel Muammar Al Gathafi, whose grasp of political realities were proved, tragically, to be a bit shaky. He called big conferences at Sirte, in Libya, to push his idea for rebranding the OAU. Some even mocked him as harbouring the ambition to be crowned as “King of Kings of the African Union”.

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?

Of course, essentially, the AU’s  change of name could not but be cosmetic. 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.

If it happened, the country that did so would pay a high price, for no one would ever trust its word again in the councils of the AU.

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 AU’s day-to-day relationship with member countries is oiled by a body known as the “Permanent Representatives Committee”. It comprises the ambassadors of African countries accredited to Ethiopia and who reside in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

This body liaises closely with the administrative arm of the AU, the AU Commission, which provides the secretariat to the political structures. It is chaired by Jean Ping of Gabon, who, at the time of writing, was waging a gallant battle to be re-appointed to his post. He suffered an early setback, when he could not garner enough votes to be elected outright. He was due to go through a second electoral process. The AU also possesses structures that are hosted by different member states. For instance, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is based in Banjul, The Gambia; while the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) is based at Midrand in South Africa.

Midrand also serves as the site of the secretariats of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the Pan-African Parliament. These organisations have all evolved with time as they were not part of the body formed in May 1963 as the OAU. However, the truth is that the AU, like the OAU before it, continues to be perceived by many Africans as one that does not “pull its weight”.

For, on a daily basis, very little happens in Africa that helps to lift the spirits of the African people. Coups d’etat and other acts of violence carried out in pursuit of political objectives, continue to cause deaths and injury to the citizens of African countries (the most recent took place in Guinea Bissau and Mali, despite the fact that the AU has more or less banned coups).

Obviously, the threat that a country which undergoes a coup will be suspended from the AU does not act as a credible deterrent to African coup planners. Why is this so? We shall return to that issue and examine it in detail later in this article. A major problem facing Africa today is Afro-pessimism. It is probably the most dangerous challenge facing Africa, for being psychological in nature, its effects are not easily detected. You cannot realise that an African is a self-hating racist who wants to be a white person – unless you hear him speak and espouse sentiments that point to his secret longings. It is now more pronounced amongst the youth in Africa especially, but not entirely confined to their ranks. The bitter fruits of Afro-pessimism can be detected. They can be seen in the adoption of foreign mores in place of African modes of conduct. It is sad to have to admit this, but to some of Africa’s youth, almost everything African is “primitive” – African music is eschewed in favour of foreign “pop” music or “transmogrified” versions of indigenous African music. Even when they see that foreigners prefer original African music to the “hip” types (sales of indigenous African music are constantly dominating the misnamed “World Music” charts), they ascribe it to the “quaintness” with which some foreign musical impresarios approach African music.

Now, one doesn’t want to imply that the “quaintness” does not exist. But surely it is self-defeating to crave recognition for African music and then turn round and accuse those who get the message of – being quaint (for which we should probably read patronising)?

Indeed, Afro-pessimism creates so much confusion in the mind that if it is not eradicated root and branch, it will rob the African youth of the very self-confidence without which they will never be able to accomplish the technological development of their countries. And without such development, they will never respect their countries, but continue to look abroad for salvation.

The exodus of Africans even into situations where there is known to be serious risk to their survival – such as the risky sea route from North Africa to Italy and latterly, the travails of Africans in Israel – point to the ultimate harvest of Afro-pessimism. Yet, how can Afro-pessimism be cured if  TV pictures continue to portray Africans as victims of famines, horrific diseases, illiteracy, and poverty? How can anyone respect and repose confidence in the future of a country whose families become refugees and whose children are condemned to die, whenever there is drought – or its opposite, flooding – in the land?

It is the youth who must learn the techniques with which to combat the unnecessary hardships to which Africa is exposed. But where is the example that can inspire them to stand up for their rights and those of their countries, at international forums where the yields of Planet Earth are parcelled out and shared? Who will stand up for Africa when the World Trade Organisation, or the Law of the Sea Conference, or the United Nations Environmental Programme, are taking decisions that will affect the future of every country and region for decades to come?

Who will write the syllabuses that will transform African education from one evolved for other climes and other environments, into one that is suited to Africa’s own needs? The youth have the brains, yes. But how can they think of broad goals when all they want to do for the present is to escape a drought, if possible, with their families?

While TV brings pictures into Africans’ living rooms that depict world statesmen trying – and sometimes succeeding – in solving the debt problems of Greece, or Italy or Portugal, all Africans see is their leaders arriving at their summit conferences in their luxurious limousines being driven with outriders to their sumptuous hotels, and a few days later, carrying out the same journey in reverse.  When did we hear that an African leaders’ summit has raised money to feed the poor, or relieve the famine in drought or flood-stricken African countries?

G8 and the AU

Strife, strife, strife – that is what African leaders discuss, in the main. And yet, they feel misunderstood if they are badmouthed by their compatriots who keep asking the question: “What are African leaders going to do about this? [Darfour, Eastern Congo or Mali] What is the use of the AU if it cannot do anything about that?”

Even when the leaders of the AU actually succeed in putting a plan on the ground to solve one or other of the numerous problems that the continent faces, they do not know how – or most probably do not care enough – to communicate their achievement to the African people.

Who knew that there were Angolan troops trying to save Guinea-Bissau from civil war, until the troops were pulled out in June 2012? Which African is adequately informed about the AU troops in Somalia, trying to restore what was once a very beautiful country, to a semblance of normal life?

Without doubt, the most important work of the African Union lies in trying to ensure that  “peace and security” continue to exist in Africa, or is restored to areas of the continent where peace and security no longer exist.

Now, one of the AU’s most closely-guarded secrets – a body which should receive immense publicity throughout the continent because it bravely tries to intervene in crisis situations, but is hardly ever heard of – is the “Panel of the Wise”. It is made up of mainly retired African heads of state and “friends”. Until 11 April 2012, when he died in Algiers, the Panel’s chairman was former President Ahmed Ben Bella, the first president of Algeria.

The Panel’s current members include Mrs Mary Chinery-Hesse of Ghana; former President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, former President Miguel Trovoada of São Tomé and Príncipe, and former President Festus Mogae of Botswana.

The “Panel of the Wise” works in close collaboration with the AU’s Peace and Security Council. This is the department of the AU Commission that supports the organisation’s efforts aimed at promoting peace, security and stability on the continent.

Its functions are, in the arcane words of the AU’s website, “implementation  of the Common African Defence and Security Policy.

The Council also supports the efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts; the implementation of the AU’s Policy Framework on Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Development; and coordination, harmonisation and promotion of peace and security programmes in Africa.

The main organ of the Peace and Security Council is its Secretariat, which provides the operational and administrative support required by the Council to enable it and its subsidiary bodies to perform their functions effectively. The Secretariat acts as “the builder and custodian of the institutional memory on the work of the Council and facilitates its interaction with other organisations and institutions on issues of  peace and security”.

I have been exposed to the work of the AU in three different capacities – first, as a member of a sub-committee of the OAU Liberation Committee; second as a contributor to a workshop on how the organisation can relate to the media, and third, as a discussant at a workshop on peace and security, at which I met some members of the Panel of the Wise.

I shall discuss my impressions of the organisation, as gleaned from this privileged access, in my next article.

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