Events on the continent over the past few years continue to raise concern about the relevance and effectiveness of the African Union (AU), which succeeded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), to live up to its mandate.
At the transformation of the OAU into the AU in 2002, African leaders pledged to emphasise the democratisation of the political process on the continent. They also expressed commitment to isolate all forms of dictatorship and cultivate a vibrant democratic culture which will in turn push forward the agenda of economic development.
They argued, and quite reasonably, that once the liberation struggle, which was spearheaded by the OAU had come to an end, it became more important to direct attention towards economic development which is still fragile on the continent, notwithstanding its rich and abundant resources.
There was that strong feeling that with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Communist Empire, pivoted around the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), there was the need for Africa to reappraise its priorities and strategise to overcome poverty, disease, illiteracy, ignorance and political marginalisation.
The OAU was also criticised not only for outliving its usefulness but that it had become more or less a club for African leaders who met and indulged in the ritual of wining and dining only to dispersed to meet another day.
Many opined that the continent’s under-development in the past decades could be blamed on dictatorship and the poor quality of political leadership that emerged in the immediate post-independent era.
These historical facts helped to shape the mandate of the AU, which took upon itself, the task of consolidating democracy which translates into zero tolerance for dictatorship, and more important to galvanising the continent into economic development.
Thirteen years down the line, the obvious question on the lips of many is whether the AU, which was modelled on the lines of the European Union (EU), is on course and shown remarkable evidence of attaining its lofty goals?
On democracy, progress is very slow. It is true military coups do not hold any appeal to many countries and most regional bodies have declared their abhorrence for coup makers. But can we say that translates into isolation of dictatorship on the continent?
Most members of the old generation of dictators are gone but not completely. We still have Paul Biya, Yoweri Museveni and Robert Mugabe. They have been joined by a new generation of constitutional dictators who have devised convenient ways of circumventing provisions in their national constitutions to stay beyond their terms.
This is where we expect the AU to bring its authority to bear on these constitutional coups and to ensure that democracy is not just being seen as being practised but truly being practised on the continent. So far, the performance of the AU in this regard has been poor, for lack of a better word.
The AU has also failed to deal with the emerging phenomenon of constitutional monarchies that are ravaging the continent. I am referring to cases such as Joseph Kabila taking over from his father Laurent Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Ali Ben-Bongo succeeding his father Omar Bongo in Gabon and Faure Gnansigbe taking over from his father Gnansigbe Eyadema of Togo.
Sons taking over from their fathers would not have meant much if the process had been transparent and devoid of underhand dealings. Hiding under non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries to allow these challenges to our democracy to fester is an indictment on the effectiveness of the AU.
Burkina Faso recently exploded into street violence. Election results in Togo are still being contested by the opposition, while the situation in Burundi cannot be said to be stable. In all these turmoil, the AU and other regional bodies cannot escape blame.
On the economic front, Africa’s impoverishment continues to baffle many, having regard to its vast resources. But as had been stressed on numerous occasions, economic emancipation will remain a mirage if political leadership on the continent is not restructured to embrace democracy, rule of law, respect for individual rights and freedoms and the acceptance of the ballot box as the only legitimate means of attaining political power.
This is why the AU must do more than it is doing now if it is to remain relevant in the affairs of the continent. For now, many would say its performance has left it in the shadows of the OAU which spearheaded the African liberation movement with positive results.