Since its inception in 2002 to replace the now defunct Organization of Africa Unity (OAU), the African Union has not really made the great strides that were expected. Looking at its objectives and analyzing them critically, this organization had one primary aim of transforming Africa from a continent that is plagued by so many problems and challenges to one that would be devoid of such. But talking of transformation is where we have certainly missed the mark and in any case this is the point where the AU needs to evaluate itself thoroughly. Transformation simply implies the tackling of problems once and such problems never recurring. However, this organization pretends to deal with the challenges but they do re-appear.
The AU’s role in governance is wanting. On African governance issues I will focus on three major aspects: ‘democracy’ and ‘democratic institutions’, security and stability and the economic institutions. One of the aims of the AU is to promote democratic principles and institutions so as to enhance good governance. Certainly, this goal is well stated but the reality is that this is only a mirage to most of the African states. Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes exist in plenty in Africa and to my clear understanding, the AU has never made tangible efforts to democratize such regimes. This is absolutely one of its failures.
It defeats logic that the African Union wants democracy to prosper in the continent while its leaders elect Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe as its chair. Who on Earth doesn’t know of the political miseries that Uncle Bob has inflicted on his antagonists in Zimbabwe? The reality is that you cannot rear a ram and have heavenly expectations that one day it will magically change to a bull. Reading a book, ‘Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty’ by Prof. Daron Acemoglu and Prof. James Robinson, a lot of emphasis is laid on the kind of institutions that lead to failure of some of the nations that have existed in human history. More specifically, they say that extractive political institutions characterized by dictatorships lead to failure while prosperity is realized under the inclusive political institutions that promote democracy.
In promotion of democracy in Africa, the AU needs to spearhead a clear-cut strategy to ensure that this is achieved. However, this strategy ought to be above board to avoid the familiar cases of the bloody coup d’états. In orchestrating such a strategy, the most definite and simple event would be to ensure that the leaders show fidelity to the laid down constitutional term limits and also to prevent the unnecessary constitutional mutilations that have made some to rule for eternity. All these, however, would be mere rhetoric if ‘iron-fisted’ individuals like Robert Mugabe would continuously be elected to head the AU.
Another governance aspect that the African Union needs to look into with boldness in the issue of peace, security and stabilization across Africa. Insecurity and state destabilization has been occasioned by the extractive political institutions that have exploited the masses giving rise to revolutions and revolts and also by the global threat of terrorism. The fall of extractive regimes in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Mali and others has bred instability in these regions. Through the study of History, political disequilibrium of nations is bound to occur when certain governance fundamentals are not adhered to. My concern is not about the occurrence of such revolts in Africa but rather it is about the strategies put in place by the African Union to deal with such cases when they arise and how to prevent similar ones from taking place. If this organization was or is effectively and truly organized then majority of these political challenges could be averted. On terrorism, which is a global threat and concern, we’ve got to do more to deal with this rather seemingly pestilent issue. In West Africa, the terrorist attacks by Boko Haram are clearly evident and the situation is similar in East Africa where the Al Shabaab is thriving. To state that African nations have not been on the fore-front to deal with terrorism would be an insinuation and an allegation. Such countries need to be given credit but the AU has to do more to counter the threats advocated by these groups.
The anti-terrorism campaign is a ship that we definitely should not sail alone. In this, we need to incorporate the West and work with them very closely as they have experienced such threats. I understand that most African nations are facing East, China to be specific to resuscitate themselves economically but the Chinese would not help fight terrorism zealously the way the West would do; my opinion though. In obliterating terrorism in Africa the AU needs to pay unwarranted attention in carrying out massive counter-balance strategies by having its own permanent security forces that are trained solely to fight terrorism and such forces should be trained in accordance with the evolution that terrorism is undergoing.
The third facet of governance in Africa that I will look into is concerned with the economic institutions. Most countries in Africa are reeling from poverty and its related issues due to poor economic conditions that exist in the continent. It is an issue of great concern as to why majority of the African states are struggling to find their footing economically. This can be traced to the extractive economic institutions that exist. Extractive economic institutions do not promote tangible economic growth and development but inclusive economic institutions do so. Economic and political institutions are related and hence work in tandem with each other. Professors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that extractive political institutions give rise to extractive economic institutions and seemingly, inclusive political institutions lead to inclusive economic institutions.
Africa has fallen victim to the extractive economic institutions that create a vicious cycle of poverty than a virtuous cycle of prosperity. In a nut shell, the African Union needs to champion an economic strategy and road map that will ensure the African countries experience a socio-economic quantum leap. But achieving economic prosperity would not be a walk in the park because of the nature of political institutions that are present in Africa. Of course not all is doom and gloom as we have those states that are prospering democratically for example Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria is also joining the bandwagon. In creation of inclusive political and economic institutions does not imply that the AU has to be impetuous but it is a rather long and gradual process. The bottom line however is that to achieve economic growth and development we must have effective, operative and efficient political systems in place. This must be championed by the AU.
The African Union needs to re-discover itself and its mandate by electing leaders who have the vision to transform Africa. We should not expect Africa to change and experience prosperity if the ‘leaders’ who have engineered economic and political failure in their respective countries are elected to head this organization.