What’s in a name?

How the AU differs from OAU Early this week African Heads of State gathered in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt for the African Union summit. This is something that has become a ritual of sorts for Africa’s top decision makers.

How the AU differs from OAU

Early this week African Heads of State gathered in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt for the African Union summit. This is something that has become a ritual of sorts for Africa’s top decision makers.

This summit comes several years after the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the post independence continental body, was replaced by the African Union that is modeled on the European Union. 

The transformation from OAU to AU was informed by a number of considerations. The OAU had a principle of non interference in the internal affairs of member states.

This was a retrogressive premise, on which African international relations within the context of the OAU were based.

It created a situation, whereby African countries would descend into anarchy with no country intervening to put the house in order.

The only intervention would be in form of supporting one side of armed conflicts. In most cases countries would intervene to scale back gains made by freedom fighters and pro-democracy forces.

Mobutu Sese Seko intervened many times to support reactionary elements in Angola organised under Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA.

He is also said to have intervened on behalf of dictator Habyarimana against the Rwanda Patriotic Front in the early 1990’s.

It was rare for the OAU or member countries to intervene on humanitarian grounds. The assumption was that since the OAU charter called for non intervention in the internal affairs of member states, then under no circumstances would the organisation seek to resolve any conflict by means of intervention.

Thus with the formation of the African Union, it was hoped that there would be a radical departure from business as usual mentality. The AU charter provides for different measures to be taken against any member state that violets a number of agreed upon democratic principles.

At the same time, the concept of a peer review mechanism was introduced and this was and is still hoped to help improve good governance among other good intentions. It is important to note that ever since it was launched, the AU has many of its member states under governments that are elected by the people.

This is a far cry from its predecessor the OAU, which at one time had been criticised for being a dictators club. In its heyday, the OAU was composed of military dictators who held sway across most of Africa.

But the current composition of the AU though is not entirely made up of elected democrats; it is a radical departure from the days of the past.

It will be recalled that it was partly due to the mediation efforts of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and AU chairman that Kenya was able to return to normalcy and form a coalition government. That was a big achievement of the AU. This was rare during the days of the OAU.

The AU according to press reports is also willing to deal collectively with the issue of western judges constantly and blatantly abusing the principle of universal jurisdiction against Rwanda Defense Forces officers. African leaders also agreed to hold these indictments in contempt.

It is very refreshing to find that African sates and their leaders are willing to stand together against injustices that are inspired by western imperialism.

Most of the historical injustices against the African people by the western imperial forces were made possible by the disunity of pre-colonial African geo-political entities.

A number of chiefs and kings were willing collaborators in selling off Africans into slavery. If the African states continue to stand together on issues of continental and international importance, a lot will be achieved.

Through the mechanism of the AU, the continent can jointly lobby for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. With permanent seats on the Security Council, many of these injustices against African states would not stand for much.

Thus the AU should be a vehicle for progress something that the OAU unable to realise.

Contact: frank2kagabo@yahoo.com

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