By all estimates, the African Union (AU) is nelieved to have made little headway compared to any other multilateral organisation that played any role- diplomatic or military in the Libyan uprising that toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. However, its prestige has been diminished.
To say that the AU is at a crossroads, a decade after coming into place as an improved version of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) is an understatement. The Libyan crisis, like a handful of other events on the continent, is a test for the effectiveness of the African Union, to stand by its founding principles.
Article 4 of the constitutive act of the AU, has one of its principles asserting the right of the Union to make a decision to intervene in a member country where there are crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide. More so, member countries are vested with the powers to ask for such intervention.
The right to intervene under such circumstances is a departure- a radical shift from the principle of non intervention and non interference of the OAU, the predecessor African transnational body. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda jolted many from deep slumber, and the formulators of Article 4 could have had it in mind.
Before 1994, though, we had witnessed war crimes and crimes against humanity and some acts of genocide, the scale, cruelty and evil efficiency of the 1994 Genocide, was unprecedented. Although there are many other reasons that could have informed such principles as the right to intervene under given circumstances, the mass extermination of the Tutsi in Rwanda, was a scar on the conscience of many. And mechanisms to enforce the universal responsibility to protect people faced with extermination, had to be instituted.
Nevertheless, one can argue without fear of contradiction that such mechanisms, as represented in charters and acts, largely remain ineffectual and implementation is more often than not, half hearted or absent on the part of the countries that make up the AU. We have seen it in Libya.
Even other principles that underpin the AU constitutive act largely remain on paper and implementing them has not been a great success. A case in point is the fact that the AU, pronounced itself on unconstitutional change of government. It expressly stated that change of government by unconstitutional means would not be allowed.
However, that did not stop Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, from taking power by way of coup d’état in Guinea Conakry. Had it not been for his military aide shooting him, leading to his airlifting out of the country for treatment and later exile, Camara would have scuttled the democratic process and retained power. Fate, rather than the effectiveness of the AU, is largely responsible for the return to democracy in that country.
Even the AU’s feeble protestation against undemocratic change of power in Madagascar, has largely been ignored. Simply put, the organisation cannot enforce many of its decisions.
Its position on Libya is lamentable and has been ignored as irrelevant! So, what next AU?
Rwanda was one of the few countries to take a firm and principled position on Libya. Apparently, its recent history informs its decision making in regard to some areas of its foreign policy. Experience has taught Rwanda, the price of keeping quiet when innocent lives are at stake.
Enforcement aside, it is clear that whereas, the constitutive act of the AU, has noble intentions, most African countries will not live by that well intentioned act. The majority of African rulers, elected and unelected have little justification for intervening to protect lives in another country. How would they tell somebody to do what they cannot do in their own backyard?
It is mostly powerful countries, outside Africa, though with a combination of imperial ambitions and arrogant self righteousness, buttressed by superior weaponry and of course money. Their intervention though justified on humanitarian grounds, has other motives. This is because the conduct of relations among states has proved not to be primarily around issues of morality.
For countries especially those in the Western world, the above factors make it possible to take certain decisions and implement them abroad. Importantly, they are able to do that because they are democracies and can be called to order by the electorate, when things go the wrong way. There are limitations on how those in political office use their power. In future, the AU ought to find common ground with other multilateral organization, because conduct of relations among states is no longer a zero-sum game.