The African Union and the dangers of a misplaced brotherhood

Last week the African Union ostensibly struck a blow for African sovereignty and unity-or at least that is the impression that our venerable institution tried to project.

Last week the African Union ostensibly struck a blow for African sovereignty and unity-or at least that is the impression that our venerable institution tried to project.

Releasing a statement affirming its’ members refusal to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, they vowed to protect Sudanese President Omar El Bashir.

The ICC appears to have done quite a handful of things to annoy the AU, not least of which appears to be the fact that they are actually doing something concrete.

It is not something the AU is likely to look on with any degree of fondness, especially if such action relates to one of their own.

The AU appears to be especially annoyed that the Court did not seek a ‘political solution.’

That is one of those terms that appears to be useful on the surface but on closer inspection, turns out to be a codeword for endless conferences in which all the participants shun any substantial action whatsoever. Action, of course, is the enemy of politics.

I want to discuss something that may help me make my point about the dilemma the African Union is finding itself in. In 2007, the Peace and Security Council of the Union set up the Panel of the Wise.

This Panel was set up with the intention of supporting the efforts of the Council towards conflict prevention. Some of its notable personalities include former OAU Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim and former Algerian President Ben Ahmed Bella.

The Panel may have a shockingly bad name- let’s face it, ‘panel of the wise’ sounds like a group of wizards in a fantasy film- but it has commendable ambitions.

It is composed of a few ‘highly respected African personalities ’with the aim of advising the Council on matters related to peace and security in Africa.

It may also engage in diplomacy, fact-finding missions or any other actions that may help to further the goals of the Council.

This year, the Panel has chosen to focus on conflicts generated by elections. If you haven’t heard of the Panel of the Wise, don’t be alarmed. Aside from advising the Council, they appear to have been lying low since their inception and you won’t see them on the news.

It probably does not help that they could easily be mixed up with The Elders- another dramatic-sounding Panel set up to promote peace and security, albeit on an International scale.

However whatever inadequacies the Panel might have- to keep my article within a reasonable length, I will gloss over them- one can see the necessity of having it.

It is a symbol of the AU’s stated attempts to promote peace in Africa and engage with conflicts in a pragmatic way.

By employing the expertise of certain highly-respected individuals in this regard, the AU is sending a message that conflict prevention and the promotion of peace and justice are priorities.

And yet the AU’s response to the ICC indictment betrays those ideals. Quite simply, it is suffering from dissonance at an extreme level.

On the one hand, it makes all the right noises about conflict prevention and the promotion of justice and it speaks out on the dangers of impunity. On the other hand, it allies itself firmly with one of the most unpopular figures on the planet.

Whatever problems the AU has with the ICC indictment, issuing such an unambiguous statement in support of Bashir is a move of extreme folly.

It is a triumph of emotion over logic. How exactly is it going to engage with conflicts if it embraces those who appear to be generating them? Is this the AU’s idea of a ‘political solution’?

The African Union is caught between its own lofty rhetoric and its instinct to side with one of its’ own, irrespective of that person’s actions.

It is a dangerous game.
If they had such strong misgivings about the indictment, expressing them without cuddling up to Bashir would have been more constructive. However International Justice is here to stay.

It is unfortunate that the AU has aligned itself firmly on the wrong side of history and justice.

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