Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The AU at 50: Nostalgia and Hope

By Takura Zhangazha*

The 2013 celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union (AU), will be characterized by feelings of nostalgia and also of hope. The nostalgia will be for the passion and belief that drove its founding leaders in the struggles against colonialism and for self determination. It will also be for how to the greater extent they succeeded in this the key founding objective of the OAU as it was known then.  

It is an understandable nostalgia because the same unity of purpose, belief and commitment no longer obtains on the African continent today. And there are many reasons why this is so. Not least because completion of these struggles against direct colonialism brought with them the differentiation of African state and regional agendas by a unipolar world.  A development which has been further compounded by an inability of a majority of past and contemporary African leaders to remain true to the founding vision and principles of the OAU. 

This is an issue that the serving and former African leaders will be silently aware of as they gather in Addis Ababa on 25 May 2013 . The handshakes and photo opportunities will be many but true continental solidarity will be a thing they can only remember. In the years that both contemporary and past leaders transformed the OAU into the AU, there has not been a unitary approach to solving the continents problems. This has been seen through the complicity of these same said leaders in aiding direct intervention in African affairs and crises by global hegemons. This has unfortunately left the AU significantly weaker. This particularly in the aftermath of the Libyan, Cote d'Ivoire, Central African Republic,  Democratic Republic of the Congo and recently the Malian political and humanitarian crises.

These political problems have been further aggravated by the continents placement in the global economy where it has come to be viewed as an open ‘market’ for finished products and a primary source for raw materials.  The continued weakness of African states, regional blocs and the AU to negotiate these intentions of global capital into fairer and people centered deals has led to severe exploitation of African citizens in the name of an elite leadership few who have amassed huge personal wealth. And this now includes some heads of state and government who have decided not to let go of state power in the wake of the discovery of vast amounts of mineral/energy wealth in their respective countries.

But there is hope for the continent. It is a hope that however does not reside in the glossy business and economic magazines that occasionally define Africa as ‘rising’ on the basis of its increasing appendage to neo-liberal global capital. Instead, the optimism that Africa must share is to be found in the initial efforts at renewing and seeking to broaden the mandate of the OAU through its restructuring into the AU. This included establishing more inclusive and oversight components of the AU such as the Pan African Parliament, the African Commission on Human and Peoples  Rights and the overall African Union Commission together with its attendant executive sub-commissions. 

Add to this the then fledgling New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) which was adopted as the economic and social development blueprint for the continent by the AU.  Where and when this was launched and implemented the reception on the continent was one that was to be in tandem with the good intentions of former presidents Mbeki (South Africa), Obasanjo (Nigeria), Wade (Senegal) and current Algerian president, Abdel Azziz Bouteflika. The reception in the rest of the world was also optimistic, not least because both the restructuring of the AU and the establishment of NEPAD were similar in tone and fashion to the European Union (EU). In all fairness however, a path to greater African continental cohesion in the spirit and letter of the OAU had been established. And this where the hope began and where it must continue.

The continuation of this hope for the continent resides in further democratizing the AU structures particularly the Pan African Parliament and the ACHPR to provide greater oversight on the functions of the AU Commission and be more representative of the African people as a whole in the work they undertake. Members states, in order to address the resource challenges of the democratic continental project that is the AU must remit the necessary funds as far as is pragmatically possible in order to stem the reliance on foreign aid for peacekeeping missions and day to day operations of the union.

Further democratizing the AU also entails a review of NEPAD to make its framework more social democratic in value and intent, with less technocratic assumptions of mimicry over and about economic blueprints as they exist in Chicago school type of economics and social development plans. Neither should such a plan seek to merely open up Africa to the ‘market’ without due consideration taken into account over and about the necessity of socio-economic development and service provision being the primary role of states and governments for the betterment of the livelihoods of all of Africa’s citizens. This would be regardless of whether the foreign direct investment is coming from the West or the East.

At 50, the AU is a testament to the continuation of the popular and real hope that Africa will be free from the challenges that it was facing at the inception of the OAU as well as those that have emerged with the passage of time and in the aftermath of the defeat of direct colonialism. Indeed we all habour nostalgia for an African leadership that was as focused as the likes of Nkrumah, Nyerere, Cabral, Machel, Neto, Mbeki, Nasser and others. But we must also have hope and belief in the future. As informed by an organic knowledge of the past and a firm understanding of the possibility of a truly democratic future for Africa.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)