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Principles of the African Union

With a view to achieve the above stated objectives, the Constitutive Act of the African Union and the Protocol for its amendment provide eighteen (18) principles in accordance with which the Union shall conduct its functions. Article 4 of the Constitutive Act and Article 4 of the Protocol provide that the Union shall function in accordance with the following principles:

  1. Sovereign equality and interdependence among member states of the Union;
  2. Respect of borders on achievement of independence;
  3. Participation of the African peoples in the activities of the Union;
  4. Establishment of a common defense policy for the African continent;
  5. Peaceful resolution of conflicts among member states of the Union through such appropriate means as may be decided upon by  the Assembly;
  6. Prohibition of use of force or threat to use force among member states of the Union;
  7. Non- interference by any member state in the internal affairs of another;
  8. The right of the Union to interfere in a member state pursuant to the decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity as well as a serious threat to legitimate order to restore peace and stability to the member state of the Union upon the recommendation of the Peace and Security Council;
  9. Peaceful co-existence of member states and their right to live in peace and security;
  10. The right of member states to request intervention from the Union in order to restore peace and security;
  11. Promotion of self-reliance within the frame work of the Union;
  12. Promotion of gender equality;
  13. Respect for democratic principles, human rights the rule of law and good governance;
  14. Promotion of social justice to ensure balanced economic development;
  15. Respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity and political assassination, acts of terrorism and subversive activities;
  16. Condemnation and rejection of  unconstitutional changes of governments;
  17. Restraint by any member state from entering into any treaty or alliance that is incompatible with the principles and objectives of the Union;
  18. Prohibition of any member state from allowing the use of its territory as a base for subversion against member states.

The above list of the principles of the African Union is a combination of those principles which were also that of the OAU and those which appear for the first time with the coming into picture of the African Union.

The first and second principles of the African Union are repetitions if what has been in the legal regime governing the OAU. The rationale towards these principles is self explanatory. As the issue of sovereignty is deeply embodied in colonized Africa, there is a real demand to function in a way that pays enough emphasis to the sovereign equality of member states of the Union.

With this sovereign equality, there exists the interdependence between and among African states. The issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity is deeply intertwined with the international law doctrine of uti possidentis. This is what is reflected in the second principle of the African Union. In the quest of their sovereignty and territorial integrity, member states of the Union should respect their boarders which they inherited from the aftermath of colonialism in Africa. It is a bare fact that the process of delimiting the boundary between African states has been arbitrarily done by European super powers. This has separated families to be citizens of two or more different countries. Be it what it may, it is a wise step to sustain the status quo not to create unending boarder disputes between African states.

The third principle that pays due respect to let African peoples participate in the affairs of the Union seem to be the a latest incarnation of the motto of the founding fathers of the OAU i.e. ‘African solutions for African problems’. With a view to function in accordance with this principle, the Pan-African Parliament was formed to be one of the organs of the African Union.

We can name a common denominator to the fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth principles of the Union. They are generally directed to let member states of the Union resolve their disputes in a peaceful manner. The basics of these principles may be considered as reiterations of what is provided in the United Nations Charter as regards to the way states should resolve their conflicts.

The seventh, eighth, tenth and sixteenth principles of the Union can form one category. A major point for which the OAU has been blamed much is its ‘hands-off’ approach in the internal problems within its member states. The African Union is historically indebted to rectify this problem. That is why it firmly establishes the right of the Union to intervene in a member state in cases where war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity as well as a serious threat to legitimate order to restore peace and stability are being committed. While doing so, the Constitutive Act prevents any member state, acting individually, from intervening in the internal affairs of another state.

Magliveras and. Naldi, said the following in: “It could be argued that the condemnation and refection of unconstitutional changes of government (i.e. the sixteenth principle of the African Union) is incompatible with the principle of non-interference by any member state in the internal affairs of another [the seventh principle of the African Union]. Although it would appear to say that in this instance it is not actually member states themselves that condemn and reject unconstitutional governments but rather the Union itself.”

Hence, it has to be taken with due concern that the existing legal regime with in the African Union does not entitle member states to take the measure of condemnation and rejection acting on their own capacities. Rather, this could be done based on the rules of procedures of the Assembly of the African Union. As it is clearly stated in the eighth principle of the Union, it is only pursuant to a decision of the Assembly that the Union can intervene in the internal affairs of a member state.

While reflecting on the aforementioned principle, one author said the following: the fact that intervention will require a decision by the Union’s Assembly of Heads of State and Government arguably raises the risk of inaction. Indeed, the history of African leaders’ reluctance to involve the OAU in an internal conflict for fear that it would do the same in the event of conflict in their own countries confirms this risk.

Though the above stated criticisms do not seem to be groundless, the framers of the Constitutive Act of the African Union preferred to take an optimistic position in that respect. The manifestation of this optimistic understanding is stated in the tenth (10th) principle of the Union that expects a member state to request the Union to intervene in its domestic affairs with a view to restore peace and security.

The eleventh and fourteenth principles may be commented on a commingled manner. The eleventh one promotes self-reliance within the framework of the Union while the thirteenth principle promotes social justice to ensure balanced economic development. One critical challenge that the African Union is determined to solve is enabling Africa to stand out being competitive in the globalized world economy. In pursuance of this goal, we should design a means by which Africa can be self-reliant on its own rather than exclusive dependence on external assistance of which the economy is the prime concern. The twelfth, thirteenth and fifteenth principles may be treated in one cluster. One ground of condemnation against the OAU was lack of proper concern for human rights. Issues like democracy, human rights, rule of law and good governance were relegated as domestic affairs of member states. Now the African Union has got the mandate to be highly involved in such issues. 

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