The African Union – compromised from all sides
What is going on with the African Union? Is its drifting away from the bold values declared in its Constitutive Act, meant to signal a definitive departure from its predecessor, the moribund Organisation of African Unity?
True, the AU oversaw a fairly determined response to the so-called results of Kenya‘s presidential elections of 2007 and the violence that ensued””resulting in the formation of a Grand Coalition Government and a reform package that finally ushered in Kenya’s long-awaited new constitutional dispensation. But, since then, its diplomatic efforts in respect of elections-related political crises””from Zimbabwe to Madagascar and, more recently, Cote d’Ivoire“”seems to have assume that that success can be replicated elsewhere, as a model some now term, derisively, ‘negotiated democracy,’ without due attention to the specifics of a given situation.
Most shocking from the AU’s January summit was the passing of a resolution supporting the bid of one section of the Kenyan government for a deferral of the International Criminal Court process. That this could happen, essentially undermining a process of events that the AU itself had ushered in, is both confusing and disturbing.
The AU was also almost studiously silent on the events unfolding in North Africa from the end of last year. Nothing was said on Tunisia or on Egypt until both people’s movements had achieved, almost unbelievably, their conclusions. And nothing of import was said on Libya until, last week, the United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 1973, at the behest of the Arab League and air strikes began on Libyan air force bases to prevent any more military offensives against Libyan citizens. Then””and only then””came the mutterings about the need for diplomacy and political negotiations and the warnings about regime change.
What is the explanation?
The AU is meant to be slowly moving towards full regional integration on the basis of consolidation of the Regional Economic Communities. In respect of managing political crises, what this means in practice is that, in the first instance, the RECs will act on behalf of the AU. With Cote d’Ivoire””where, unlike Kenya, it was clear that the incumbent had lost the elections and was simply refusing to go, with the support of the constitutional court””it has to be said that the Economic Community of West African States was initially unequivocal about its position. The incumbent was to leave, failing which ECOWAS would intervene militarily. That ECOWAS was serious was signalled by an almost immediate convening of the region’s defence heads to plan the intervention.
But the incumbent treated the same like a bluff””and ECOWAS retreated, particularly given Ghana’s signalling that it did not think military intervention was advisable. The AU’s first mediator, Kenya’s Prime Minister, was rebuffed. And, at the January summit, what remained of West African determination on the matter was crumpled by South Africa’s entry into the fray””ostensibly to protect its own economic interests in Cote d’Ivoire. The AU’s mediation team now includes South Africa. And both ECOWAS and the AU now look incompetent and ineffectual–with the incumbent, despite financial constraints imposed by the sub-region and region in terms of incoming transfers and export halts, clearly unhesitant about dragging the entire country back into armed conflict.
What is the moral of the story? There are, perhaps, three morals to the story. First, successfully relying on the RECs in the first instance requires cohesion within the REC concerned. Second, that if and when the AU itself takes over, obviously self-interested parties cannot and should not override the position of the REC concerned. And third, as was evident even in the Kenyan situation””but mitigated by the quality of the AU’s mediation team, the Panel of Eminent Persons, clear mandates for any mediation attempt are required, spelling out a logical chain of consequences for non-compliance from the softest to the hardest, and not the other way round.
The reliance on the RECs in the first instance perhaps explains the apparent lethargy of the AU in respect of north Africa. The central and north African RECs are the least developed of the RECs both economically and politically. And, given that the entire Maghreb (with the exception of Morocco) belongs to both the AU and the Arab League, it is perhaps not surprising that the Arab League assumed and was given priority in responding to Tunisia, Egypt as well as Libya. The signalling of a fundamental shift in respect of the Maghreb and Mashreq by the American White House (if not quite by the State Department and Defence) no doubt helped move things along as well.
It also must not be forgotten that Egypt has always been a significant player within the AU. And Libya has recently tried to be as well. In pursuit of the ‘United States of Africa’ dream, the Libyan President has bankrolled (with Libyan public funds) the payment of dues to the AU of any number of small Central and West African states. He has also bankrolled – through means both dubious and legitimate – the electoral (and re-electoral) efforts of both dubious and legitimate African Heads of State from Cairo to Cape Town, from Dakar to Mombasa. While that may not have gotten him the political results desired during the so-called ‘Grand Debate on the Union Government,’ it has certainly won him bemused, if often irritated accommodation. For even the most ill-conceived of regional integration efforts, such as the convening of all genuine and manufactured feudal structures in Africa””the Kingdoms and Councils of Elders. That Kenyan Kamlesh Pattni of Goldenberg grand corruption scandal fame is a fixture of these convenings is enough to tell the entire tale.
The point being here that the AU’s position in respect of Libya seems perhaps compromised””and its entry into the fray to, finally, post the UN SC resolution, move on the diplomatic front and engage Libyan protagonists in political negotiations seems a little too little, hopefully not too late.
Muthoni Wanyeki Executive Director, Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)