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Is there unity in the African Union?

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Is there unity in the African Union?

The African Union’s motto is “A united and strong Africa” is a noble one, but do they live up to that? The question of whether there is unity in the African Union is a burning question in the minds of many.

Well, I did some research and I can proudly say that the answer to this complex question lies in this article. With some referring to the AU as a united front and others calling it a toothless bulldog, it can get confusing. Very quickly, we’ll be uncovering the truth, but before we get into that, let’s start from the very beginning, which would be, what is the African Union?

Brief background of the African union

The African Union or AU, as it is so often called was formed in 2002 after the formation of the European Union (EU) which was formed in 1993. It was established after the fall of the colonization in most African countries.

AU was originally known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) which was set up in 1963. Its headquarters is located in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. The African Union is an association that consists of 55 member countries with the most recent member (Morocco) joining in January 2017. These countries all have at least one thing in common- they are all located in the African continent. The member states are divided into five geographical locations:

Central Africa
Western Africa
Eastern Africa
Northern Africa
Southern Africa

So why was the African Union set up?

Reasons for the establishment of the African union

According to the AU, the union was established for the following reasons. To:

Achieve greater unity and solidarity between African countries and their people
Promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its people
Promote peace, security, and stability, on the continent
Promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments
Establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations
Accelerate the socio-political and economic integration of the continent

The list does not end there. There are other objectives that the union hopes to achieve, but it is glaring that establishing a strong bond within the African countries is at the top of their goals. Finally, let’s dissect the issue of unity in the AU.

Is there unity in the African Union?

Probing whether the African union is united or not may prove to be a very fruitful venture. After all, the major purpose of establishing the African Union in the first place was to encourage unity and solidarity among the African states.

Some would affirm that there is indeed unity in the African nation, while others would counter that view and say that there is no sort of unity whatsoever. I’m going to be weighing both of these views (Yes, there is unity and no, there isn’t unity) before I finally give you my verdict on whether or not there is unity in the African Union.

Yes, there is unity

The first argument strongly supports that there is unity in the African Union. The people who have this opinion could say that there is unity in the African union because somehow, they have managed to put heads together and improve the level of peace and security in the continent. It may not be perfect, but one can easily spot their achievements. The peacekeeping missions, political dialogues, and so many others.

The African Union has made also made tremendous progress in terms of cementing the relationship between African countries. Since its formation, the African Union has acted as a platform that serves to foster unity among its members. All these are laudable feats that cannot on a regular day be achieved without some sort of unity among the member states of the union.

To encourage an increased sense of unity, the non-interference clause which was issued to restrict interference in the internal affairs of African member states was changed into something called the Sirte declaration. The non-interference clause proved to be a mistake that strained the unity of the union since it prevented interference in the activities of member states even when it involved “grotesque violations of human rights in the post-colonial period”.

Thankfully in September 1999, The Sirte declaration was issued and it states “As we prepare to enter the 21st century, and cognizant of the challenges that will confront our continent and people, we emphasize the imperative need and a high sense of urgency to rekindle the aspirations of our people for stronger unity, solidarity, and cohesion in a larger community of people transcending cultural, ideological, ethnic, and national differences”

The ideology of Pan-Africanism is also another reason to believe that the African Union is united. Pan Africanism according to this definition is “the idea that people of African descent have common interest and should be unified”. It is, in other words, a radical movement that cuts across African countries and encourages the idea of a unified African Union not minding the obvious heterogeneous nature of the African continent.

One could also propose that African Union is united because they have managed to retain its members without little or no pulling out except in the case of morocco. Morocco initially withdrew from the OAU in protest of the organization’s recognition and admittance of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The problem is that Morocco had long contended with the territory before then. 33 years after their exit from the association, Morocco decided to return resulting in the completion of the incomplete jigsaw puzzle.

No, there isn’t unity

Another school of thought might argue that there is no unity in the African Union. The reason is that they strongly believe that Africa can’t be united politically. They admit to the fact that Africa is largely united in the aspect of culture and values but still insist that this is where the promise of a united front ends. These critics describe the African Union as a “toothless bulldog” which automatically translates to the fact they are all bark and no bite.

One of the major challenges faced in the African Union that seems to introduce disunity is the issue of diversity in language. There is some level of rivalry between the Anglophone (English-speaking countries) and the Francophone (French-speaking countries).  Critics seem to reject any possibility of continental political unity in Africa because of the division between the Anglophone and Francophone Africa.

An attempt was made to introduce a single uniform language to Africans, but it is common knowledge that Africa has one of the most varied languages among other continents. This makes the vision of imposing a single language in the favour of encouraging continental unity a fruitless mission.

Another factor that causes disunity in the union is funding. It is believed that Nigeria and South Africa are known to pool most of the funds in the union while some other countries fold their hands and watch. As we all know, funds are very important and disunity, when it is time to pool resources together, can be a big problem. So what do I think about all this?

My thoughts

I feel that the African Union has mostly lived up to its name. Yet, it seems that there is an element of apparent disunity. In this article, I’ll call it a “vague unity”. I say that there is a sort of vague unity in the African Union for many reasons. For one, every country in the union is there to pursue its interest. Also, the countries in the union usually agree on matters only when it favours them.

Even though some critics attack the African Union for talking more than they actually act, I still believe that they are an effective rallying point for African countries. This way, these member states can efficiently come together to strategize on the way forward regarding important matters concerning them.

In summary…

The African union displays unity in the following ways:

A solid Pan-Africanism movement
Establishment of the Sirte declaration
Progress in peacekeeping missions through the peace and security council

Yet, it may seem that the African Union may not be united because of the following reasons:

The division between Anglophone and Francophone countries
Imbalance in funds generation
A visibly varied country in terms of culture, values, and tribes

Conclusion

It is common sense that a united union is one of the greatest defenses that the African Union and any group at all can have. After all, that is why it is called a union in the first place. You can liken a united union to a three-fold cord: it is not easily broken. To achieve the noble goal that the African Union has, it is paramount that they maintain a united front.

The African Union may not be perfect, but they certainly deserve the accolades they get because of their achievements, particularly in the area of peace and security. These achievements were made possible through the establishment of the Peace and Security Council which intervened in matters regarding conflicts threatening the peace of African nations.

Granted, the African Union has come a long way from the days when it was still OAU up until now. Still, I believe that we can do so much more as a union in terms of coming together to achieve a common goal instead of pointing accusing fingers at one another. As the popular saying goes “United we stand, divided we fall”. That statement in my opinion could not be truer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is the African union a member of the united nation?

Yes, The African Union is a part of the United Nations. The United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) was set up on 1st July 2010 by the UN General Assembly resolution. The primary aim was to enhance the partnership between the two organizations. The UN-AU partnership has served to promote peace and security in African nations. This strategic relationship has also ensured that African nations have an audible voice especially when it has to do with matters of international relevance.

2. What is the difference between AU and OAU?

AU was a replacement for OAU. The African Union was officially launched in 2002 to take over the activities of the OAU. While OAU was initially intended to be an association of African leaders, AU was established to be an association of African people.

3. What is the essence of creating the African Union?

Some may wonder, why was the African Union created? Well, the primary reason why the African Union was created is to “promote the unity and solidarity of the Africa states”. Nothing else is more important than that because it is through unity and solidarity that other goals of the union can be achieved. Some of these other goals are to:

Promote and defend African common positions on issues of interest to the continent and its people
Promote peace, security, and stability, on the continent
Promote and protect human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other relevant human rights instruments
Establish the necessary conditions which enable the continent to play its rightful role in the global economy and in international negotiations
Accelerate the socio-political and economic integration of the continent among others
4. What are the constraints of the African Union?

There are so many factors impeding the growth of the AU. Some of the most common ones are terrorism ravaging the peace of African states, conflicts, and poverty which limits the number of resources available to the African states affected. Other limitations are:

Corruption
Lack of infrastructure
Inequality
Poor medical care
Unemployment
Illiteracy
5. How many countries have withdrawn from the African union?

Morocco withdrew from OAU in 1984 due to the organization’s acceptance of Western Sahara (a region that Morocco had been claiming for years). They were eventually readmitted into the fold in 2017, 33 years after the incident. They are the only known country that pulled out and even so, it was from OAU and not AU.

 

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