Given the failure of the African Union to act robustly in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya, can ordinary Africans put their hopes in the pan-African body, wonders Phidelia Amey
Recent decisions and postures by the African Union have started to make Africans wonder whether they can depend on the continental body to realise their hopes for a brighter future come true. Initially, it appeared that the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity into the AU was going to be a new beginning for an organisation which claims that an integrated, prosperous and peaceful continent is its ultimate goal.
But events in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya, not to mention Tunisia and Libya, have created some of the major challenges facing the continental body. Contrasting these challenges, though, was the successful referendum in South Sudan for secession from the North, as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 between the North and South.
In a bid to address these sensitive cases, the AU has made some very interesting decisions and taken some positions that provide food for thought. First, after several attempts to resolve the civil war that broke out in Cote d’Ivoire since 2002, the Ouagadougou Political Agreement was signed. In fulfilment of the agreement, presidential elections were held last November with the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo refusing to step down following the declaration of Alassane Ouattara by the Independent Electoral Commission as the winner of the run-off. Following the deadlock, the AU sent former South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate. He failed to break the impasse. This was followed by AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping’s mission, which also did not yield any fruit. Then it was the turn of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was appointed AU mediator. [protected]
What was the rationale behind Odinga’s appointment in such a situation? The circumstances under which Odinga became a Prime Minister of Kenya are still fresh in African’s minds. Was the AU wishing on Cote d’Ivoire the Kenyan and the Zimbabwean scenario: sacrificing the will of the people on the altar of politicians’ ambitions?
How could Odinga have been a credible, impartial arbiter, taking into account the peculiarity of the situation? The choice of Odinga was a wrong one, given his own situation and the circumstances in which he was to act.
The AU failed completely to find a solution to Cote d’Ivoire, leaving it to the UN and French forces to do the job. The AU, unlike the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), does not have a supra-nationality status in its Constitutive Act or any of its protocols. So how was it going to enforce the outcome of the decisions of the five-man panel it eventually appointed on Cote d’Ivoire which is a sovereign state? It would have also been difficult to get a legally binding decision.
Another issue was the credibility of some members of the AU panel. What credentials did these leaders have for citizens of the AU to believe that they will eventually come up with an African solution to an African problem? The AU has at its disposal the Panel of the Wise made up of respectable statesmen and women in their own fields. One may suggest in situations like this the AU may want to call on their wisdom and sound judgment. However, the AU still looks like a club of presidents.
Another subject of interest is the appointment of the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, as the new AU Chairman. This is a president who is known to be a dictator and has been in power since 1979. He presides over a government associated with corruption, poverty and repression of its people. In the next 18 months, about 20 elections are due to be held in Africa. What kind of leadership role is the AU President going to show, given his own poor standing, when it comes to the thorny issue of elections in Africa?
Furthermore, Obiang, in his acceptance speech, said the concept of democracy, human right and good governance should “be adapted to African culture”. This is common statement made by leaders in in Africa. But what is this so- called African culture that we must adapt to?
African leaders, who have now come to realise that using colonialism as an excuse for Africa’s woes is no long a sustainable argument, have turned to the need for democratic values to be kept with an African context. The AU Chairman and all others who use this as the basis for their arguments should come clear and explain how to design democracy, good governance and human right in an African way.
This brings us to the issue of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. Close to 1,200 people died, but eventually a coalition government was formed as part of a peace agreement brokered by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General. One of the clauses in the peace agreement was the institution of an independent tribunal to try alleged perpetrators of the violence. Following the government’s inability to fulfil these requirements, the International Criminal Court named six people as a first step to prosecuting them for their alleged involvement in the crisis. The
Kenyan government, though, has persistently tried to frustrate the ICC process by seeking support from the AU.
The AU Executive Council went ahead to endorse Kenya’s request for a deferral. When asked why the AU wanted to support Kenya to stop the ICC from prosecuting the accused, Ping gave an interesting response. He accused the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of being biased. Ping highlighted the lack of the court’s action in Gaza, Iraq and Burma as evidence of double standards when it came to dealing with African states. Does this argument mean that African leaders should not face justice committing atrocities against their people? How does this argument justify the death of about 1,200 Kenyans in the post-election violence?
The alleged bias of the ICC does not justify impunity in Africa. If the AU has proposals for an alternative to the ICC, then it should come clear or allow the ICC to do its work. Raising objections without providing alternatives only leaves victims of impunity in a state of hopelessness.
Ping has hinted that AU leaders are considering the establishment of a continental criminal court to prosecute Africans accused of grave political crimes. Given the power of African heads of states who have the authority to set up this so-called independent body, it is vain to envisage the moral and political will on their part anytime soon when they know very well that they will be signing their own indictments.
In the final analysis, Africa needs to put its house in order and stop justifying their poor performance on external factors. What Africa and the AU need are transformational leaders with vision, commitment and a resolve to make Africa a better place for its younger generation and generations yet unborn. It is hoped that the People’s Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt will be a wake-up call for African leaders and the AU. Leaders with the zeal to tackle the myriad problems with solid policies and actions are what Africa needs now. If the AU cannot represent its citizens, then the people themselves, after enduring years of inequality and injustice, will demand accountability for their stewardship through revolt. The time to start making history is now. [/protected]