The African Union (AU) has had a rough few months. The diplomatic failures in Zimbabwe, Cote d’Ivoire, and Madagascar exposed the organization’s incompetence. The misguided anti-ICC crusade continues to cement the image of the organization as nothing more than a club of out-of-date and tone deaf autocrats. To many observers, calls for “African Solutions to African Problems” amid all this failure has been seen as a cover of impunity and mediocre leadership on the African continent.
It says a lot that the current chairman of AU is President Theodore Obiang’ of Equatorial Guinea; a man who leads an oil-rich country of under 0.7 million people, with a per capita income of more than 30,000; but with more than 70% of its population living on less than $2 a day.
The epitome of the organization’s woes was the total snub it got from NATO before the military campaign against Libya’s Gaddafi, one of the AU’s main patrons. The AU was created by the Sirte Declaration, in Libya. Mr. Gaddafi’s influence ranged from his “African Kings” caucus (in which he was the King of Kings) to investments from Libya’s Sovereign wealth fund. I bet Gaddafi had a hand in the organization’s green flag.
So what ails the African Union?
The AU’s problems are legion. In my view, the following are some of the key ones.
Lack of a regional hegemon(s): The AU faces massive collective action problems. With no regional hegemon(s) to act as the rudder of the organization, most of the organization’s resolutions are not worth the paper they get written on. The rotating chairmanship is a distraction from the real leadership needed in the organization. For instance, I had to google it to find out who’s currently in charge of the presidency of the EU (Poland). Everybody knows that France and Germany run the EU. Their word has gravitas in the Union. In the AU on the other hand, there is no leader. Could it be Navel-gaving South Africa or serially under-performing Nigeria?
Too much political control: Most successful international organizations, despite having political principals, tend to have technical agents that are to some extent shielded from the principals. The AU is political through and through. The key decision-making body is the assembly of heads of state. The council of ministers does nothing. And the commission is all bark and no bite. Cronies of dictators staff most of the key positions in the organization.
Disconnect from the masses: Most Africans have no idea what exactly the AU does. What is the point of the organization? Is it to preserve Africa’s borders? Is it to defend the likes of Gaddafi when the ICC’s Mr. Ocampo comes calling? Giving the people a voice in the Union might force the organization to do the people’s bidding, instead of being a protector of impunity in the name of African sovereignty.
What would reforming the AU entail?
Radical restructuring: Like all inter-state organizations, the AU’s leadership should reflect regional power differences. The current assembly – in which Chad has the same power as Nigeria – makes no sense. There should be a smaller assembly of sub-regional representatives (West – Nigeria; East-Ethiopia; North – Egypt; and South-South Africa) with veto power and the mandate to implement the organization’s resolutions.
Competent staffing: The practice of presidents appointing their sisters-in-law as AU representatives should go. An injection of competent expertise into the organization would go a long way in making it appear to be a more politically independent, competent and respectable organization.
Direct elections to the AU parliament or no parliament at all: Instead of having the members’ parliaments elect representatives to the AU parliament, there should be direct elections. If that cannot happen then the parliament should be scrapped all together. A toothless and unrepresentative parliament is a waste of resources.
Constructive and focused engagement with the rest of the world: Who is the AU chief foreign policy person? Are there permanent representatives in Beijing, Brussels, Brasilia, New Delhi and Washington? Why aren’t they trying to initiate a collective bargaining approach when dealing with these global powers (even if it is at the sub-regional level)? And what with the siege mentality? Not every condemnation of African leaders’ incompetence and mediocrity is a neo-colonial conspiracy, you know. For instance, instead of whining against the ICC’s Africa bias, the AU should clean up its own house. It doesn’t matter that George Bush is not being tried for crimes against Iraqis. The last time I checked none of the leaders of Switzerland was being tried for crimes committed in the German cantons.
A more consistent commitment to progressive ideals: The AU is the only organization in the world that includes in its charter the provision to intervene in its member countries under the principle of responsibility to protect. If the AU were slightly more serious, the disasters in Zimbabwe, Cote Ivoire and Madagascar could have been nipped in the bud. As things stand it is only tiny Botswana that keeps shouting about the organization’s commitment to proper governance and responsibility to protect.
I am not a fan of the idea of the United States of Africa. That said, I believe that a regional organization like the AU can be a force for good. But in order for it to fulfill its purpose, it has to change. The change must reflect the regional power balance; it must increase the competence quotient in the AU and it must increase the voice of the average African within the organization.
UPDATE: The BBC reports that soldiers loyal to Rajoelina have stormed the barracks where the mutinying soldiers were ensconced to restore order and discipline. It is not clear how many casualties, if any, resulted from this operation.
Military officers in Madagascar have announced that they are in charge and have dissolved all government institutions on the day of a crucial referendum to lower the age requirement for president. Col Charles Andrianasoavina made the announcement. The country’s Premier, Camille Vital, has however denied the coup claim in a statement supported by the country’s top military brass. The situation is still unfolding.
Current president, former mayor of Antananarivo and DJ, Andry Rajoelina, took power in a 2009 coup and wants to lower the age limit to 35 so that he, 36, can legally be president.
Madagascar, the island nation off the east coast of continental Africa, has 21.2 million people, half of whom live below the poverty line. The country’s per capita income is US$ 1000 and life expectancy is just over 63 years. 80% of the country lives on agriculture, including fishing and forestry. Early this year, Antananarivo unfairly lost its duty free access to the US under AGOA* for hypocriticalpolitical reasons.
Togo, a tiny West African country of 6.6 million, goes to the polls today. Faure Gnassingbe, President of Togo and son of the late strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema, is hoping to be re-elected for a second term. His father ruled the country uninterrupted between 1967 until his death in 2005. The younger Gnassingbe was then installed by the military as interim president before elections were held. Most observers believe that these elections were not free and fair. Many hope that this time round things will be different.Yeah right.
African democracy’s teething problems will not go away just yet. 2010’s busy elections schedule will surely bring some of these problems to the fore. The top four to watch include the elections in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Ivory Coast. Paul Kagame will most certainly win in Rwanda, but the question is how much room he will give the opposition this time round. Mr.Kagame has been president since his forces ended the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and has been touted to be among the more economically liberal strongmen on the Continent (he is no Tutu but he is good for business). In Ethiopia Meles Zenawi’s party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDP), is also expected to win. Mr. Zenawi has been in power since he deposed the tin pot despot Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. Here too it remains unclear just how much opposition Mr. Zenawi will tolerate in parliament.
Madagascar, as you may remember had a coup in March of last year. It will be interesting to see who emerges as winner in this election. The contest is between the factions led by former DJ and mayor of Antananarivo Andry Rajoelina and the man he kicked out of office Marc Ravalomanana.The political instability in this island country off the east coast of the Continent has not gone without economic consequences.
Ivory Coast, once a paragon of stability in West Africa, is also holding elections this year. This year’s polls were originally planned to be held in 2005 before a bloody civil war that divided the country in half got in the way. The land of Houphouet-Boigny has not known peace and stability since the strongman’s passing in 1993. Mr. Houphouet-Boigny was president between 1963 until his death in 1993. Among his accomplishments was the relocation of the capital of Ivory Coast to Yamoussoukro, his home town, and the construction there of the US $ 300 million Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (which the Guinness Books of records lists as the largest church in the world).
The Kenyan Education Minister Prof. Sam Ongeri is not among the big fish in Kenyan politics. Neither are his assistant and the Ministry’s permanent secretary. Firing them and making them face the law will not have any awful political consequences for the president and his non-existent party. But it will serve Kenya. I think that this is a wonderful opportunity for the president to demonstrate that there are sacred programs that should never be compromised with – like the free primary education program, or healthcare.
Several months ago I thought that the president and his premier would punish those who stole government maize for re-export even as Kenyans starved to death. No one has been punished yet. Word on the street is that bigwigs in the Agriculture Ministry and perhaps even the premier’s son were deeply involved, plus a number of MPs. Now almost SHS 200 million has disappeared from the Ministry of Education. This is money that was intended to finance free primary education. Kibaki cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this.
In other news, the UN wants Guinean dictator Capt. Moussa Camara (and his henchmen) to be tried for crimes against humanity following the massacre of over 150 protestors in late September. Mr. Camara is currently recovering in a Moroccan hospital following a botched assassination attempt. The attempt on his life is believed to be a result of infighting within the junta over who should take responsibility for the September massacre.
Elsewhere, the president of Nigeria continues to rule in absentia. President Umaru Yar’Adua has been ailing in a Saudi hospital for a while now, prompting calls for his resignation. Nigerian politics aside, I echo these same calls. Nigeria is the undisputed leading country in West Africa. The chaos in Guinea and to a lesser extent in Guinea-Bissau and the Ivory Coast require mediation and regional engagement. Nigeria can provide leadership on this front, plus it can send troops (to Guinea especially) to keep the peace. The region needs Nigerian leadership (yes, I know I just said that). And that means having a strong and engaged Nigerian president.
The BBC is reporting that the army in Madagascar seems to have heeded the opposition leader’s calls to arrest president Marc Ravalomanana. The former mayor of Antananrivo, Andry Rajoelina, has since the end of January declared his opposition to the presidency of Mr. Ravalomanana and vowed to oust him before the latter’s second term expires in 2011. The former mayor accuses the president of misspending tax payers’ money. It looks like Mr. Ravalomanana’s days as president are numbered, especially after the self-declared head of the army, one colonel Andre Ndriarijaona, declared his support for the former mayor.
The events in Madagascar are yet another remainder that may be we should not take it for granted that democracy is the best form of government – especially for young, impoverished nations like Madagascar. Since the Rajoelina-led protests began in late January the capital Antananarivo has seen looting and running battles between police and protesters. A few dozen people have died. This has obviously impacted the economy negatively. And for a country where 70% of the people live on less than $ 2 a day that is very bad news.
If this coup succeeds it will be the fourth successful coup on the Continent in the last one year. The other three have been in Mauritania, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. It’s like we are reliving the late 60s or early 90s all over again. When will people realise that this moving around in circles will not take the Continent, and its people, anywhere?
Meanwhile, the African Union on Monday issued a statement supporting the incumbent Mr. Ravalomanana, without any mention of the president’s ineffectual leadership or the grievances of the opposition. For the AU, the incumbent is always right. No surprises there. The head of the AU, if you may recall, is one Muamar Gaddafi. It is essentially a club of kleptocratic little men who parade as gods.
There is a lot of expensive childish behaviour going on in Madagascar. And no, I am not talking about the 2005 animated production by dreamworks. I am talking about the ongoing standoff between former mayor of Antananarivo, Mr. Andry Rajoelina and the president, Mr. Marc Ravalomanana. A few days ago the former mayor, who heads two communication firms, including a TV station, claimed to be in charge of the country – a treasonous act if you ask me. Reacting to this the president ordered the closing of his radio station. Mr. Rajoelina later ordered his supporters to storm the presidential palace, an act that resulted in the death of some 25 people.
It is unclear what the former mayor really wants. He is not eligible to be president on account of his age (He is 34 and must be 40 to be eligible to run in the 2011 elections). Although Mr. Marc Ravalomanana’s government is no efficiency machine, causing chaos and uncertainty in the manner that Mr. Rajoelina is doing will cause more harm than good. President Ravalomanana was elected in 2006 and should be allowed to serve his full term. If the former mayor wants him out of office he should use legal means. Using the poor people of Antananarivo as pawns in his attempt to grab power is a most heinous crime. More than 25 lives have been lost. How many more people does he want to die before he sees the folly of his actions? There has to be a better way of doing this.
Also, president Ravalomanana should wake up and smell the coffee. It is time he stopped the corruption in his government that precipitated the cancellation of much needed development assistance in December of last year (2008). The president should step up his government’s efforts to improve the lives of the people of Madagascar instead of just enriching himself. Otherwise trouble makers like Rajoelina will have every excuse (and every right) to send their supporters to the streets in order to disrupt constitutional order.