The OAU is dead, long live the AU

On Friday, the African Union approved draft plans to send troops to the conflict-ridden Burundi even without permission from Bujumbura in what could be a historic move to stop the country’s impending implosion.

The move by the AU Peace and Security Council reached on Friday despite initial opposition from the Burundi delegation invoked a rarely-used clause in AU Constitutive Act.

Article 4(h) of the AU Constitutive Act provides for sending of troops to a member country under circumstances of war crime, genocide or crimes against humanity without that country’s permission.

More on the African Union’s 5000 strong force for Burundi here. The actual AU resolution establishing the African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU) is available here. Paul D. Williams, an associate professor of international affairs at George Washington University, parses the text of the AU communique here.

This semester I taught a class on intra-Africa IR, mostly looking at economic and security cooperation from 1963 to the present. One of the issues we wrestled with in the class was whether the AU was any different from the OAU, despite the language of Article 4(h). The OAU was notoriously ineffectual in dealing with conflict in Africa, on account of its many non-interference clauses.

Doubts about the AU and its ability to effectively originate an intervention in the face of intra-state conflicts were reinforced by:

(i) its continued commitment to the “equality” of member states (no regional hegemons — like Nigeria, Ethiopia, or South Africa — were given any formal status of first among equals);

(ii) the the deliberate weakening of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) — which has no permanent membership (5 elected for 3 years, 10 for 2 years);

(iv) the fact that the chairmanship of the PSC rotates monthly (by country name alphabetical order), giving any one chair hardly any time to develop the connections required for effective operations of such a sensitive post in a major IO;

(v) the structure of the regional distribution of seats on the PSC which incentivizes a sub-regional logic of seat allocation, as opposed to actual efficiency of the PSC.

It is therefore interesting that 4(h) was today invoked to justify intervention in Burundi, without the direct consent of Bujumbura (Nkurunziza may yet save face by inviting the AU mission under 4(j)).

Also interesting is the fact that the troops will be under the banner of the East African Standby Force (EASF) and not the AU. This will expose the actual operations of the mission to the same EAC politics that I outlined in an earlier post here (for the two of you out there who care to know, the different (sub)regional standby forces actually have formal relationships with the AU, so they are not totally run by the sub-regional RECs but can be seen as a practical first step in the aspirational goal of a continental standby force, someday).

Who said intra-African IR is boring (or does not exist)?

Also, watch out for a draft paper on the politics of intra-Africa IR soon…

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