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 The misguided anti-ICC crusade continues to cement the image of the organization as nothing more than a club of out-of-date and tone deaf autocrats.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.
As this piece in the Economist reports, Zimbabwe is slowly emerging from the hole that Mugabe and his men run it into. The pragmatic Tsvangirai and his MDC supporters appear to have decided that confronting the old man on every issue is a losing war and opted to placate him in the short run for long term gains. Importantly, Tsvangirai has strove to earn the confidence of Jacob Zuma, the South African president who is the de facto regional leader.
That Robert Mugabe is in the twilight of his despotic career is a given. What Tsvangirai and his men (and women, TIA) should be worried about is his cabal of leeches supporters who have continued to milk the country dry even as thousands of their fellow citizens died under crashing poverty and government brutality. These are the people in the way of Zim’s future.
The BBC is reporting that the government of Robert Mugabe and the opposition MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, have agreed to a tentative deal that may see the formation of a coalition government by MDC and ZANU-PF. I am cautiously optimistic because the last time such an agreement was made Mugabe failed to hold his end of the bargain.
The tussle still remains around who should control powerful ministries in charge of the treasury and the security forces. Mugabe, and his henchmen in the security forces, are afraid of possible prosecution and loss of control if they give up ministries running the security forces. The opposition MDC on the other hand, tired of years of intimidation and police brutality, want to have control over the police forces and perhaps to reform the departments and bring some of the offenders who tortured and killed innocent Zimbabweans under Mugabe to book.
The end has come. Judging from what I hear and the stuff I am reading online, it is apparent that Robert Mugabe has lost in last weekend’s general elections. The people of Zimbabwe have finally managed to send home their many faceted leader. Mugabe was at once a militant, a mild mannered gentleman with some class, the independence hero of the former British colony and a tyrant who killed and jailed many and drove his country’s economy deep into the ground.
The supposed winner of the elections, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, is playing it cool. He says that although he is confident that he won he is not going to declare victory until the electoral commission officially announces the results. If indeed the MDC has won then uncle Bob will have done a great job of diminishing my afro-pessimism.
The next few days are going to be critical for Zimbabwe, especially following remarks by it’s security forces that they would not serve under Mr. Tsvangirai. However, it seems that even this threat cannot muffle Zimbabweans’ cries for change. The Times of London is reporting that Mugabe is right now trying to negotiate a settlement that will guarantee him immunity from prosecution under the new government. I guess that is the least they could do for an independence hero.
You would imagine that with a president like one Robert Mugabe the Zimabwean opposition would do anything in their capacity to have him out of power. But you would be wrong. This power hungry lot (yes, this is what I think of them) has refused to come up with a coalition against Mugabe. Their leaders, Tsvangirai and Mutambara, have confirmed that talks between their rival MDC factions have “broken down irretrievably” – according to the BBC.
A divided MDC almost certainly guarantees the aging Mugabe a win in the March polls. Meanwhile, ordinary Zimbabweans continue to live their lives under the yoke of the wayward economic practices that the world has come to know the Mugabe administration for. Mugabe’s bad economics has also been served with a touch of human rights abuses and lack of respect for the rule of law. It is really shocking to imagine how he manages to get re-elected.
Tsvangirai and Mutambara owe it to their countrymen and women to form a united front if they really want to unseat Mugabe. They have no business running separate campaigns in March because this will guarantee the presidency to Mugabe. Knowing African leaders (yes, I think after all that has happened on the continent from Senegal to Somalia and Chad to South Africa I can make this generalization, but I digress) I don’t think these two power hungry men will let their egos and quest for personal aggrandizement take the back seat and let the plight of their countrymen and women take the front seat.
Sadly, this is yet another case of African leaders lacking true leadership. It also paints a bad picture of both Tsvangirai and Mutambara and makes one doubt whether these two really want to end the bad governance that we’ve come to associate with Bob or whether they just want to perpetuate the same old practices of rent-seeking, cronyism and over-the-roof inflations rates – but may be with less human rights abuses and the jailing of opposition supporters. Even this is questionable, after seeing what Kenya has turned into following the “bad” years of Moi rule. African leaders just have a way of making you look back and shock yourself by wishing you had the likes of Moi in power.
If Tsvangirai and Mutambara care about their international reputation thy ought to unite. Otherwise many reasonable people will question their vision for Zimbabwe and indeed their commitment to ousting Mugabe and bettering the lives of millions of hungry, sick and illiterate Zimbabweans.