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The Rationale for the Establishment of the African Union

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The Rationale for the Establishment of the African Union

 

The rationale for the establishment of the African Union is not something that is alien to what has been stated hereinbefore. It is a cumulative effect of the urgency to rectify the downsides of the OAU and build a new paradigm of African integration and solidarity that can enable the continent as a whole to coup up with the challenges of the day.

 

It has to be recalled that the idea of African unity was there even before the realization of the OAU. Elaborating this point, Baimu stated that despite the creation of the OAU, some African leaders, particularly Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, felt that Africans needed a stronger union than the one that had been realized in the OAU. Kwame Nkrumah is known for this famous speech that “Africans must unite or disintegrate individually”. In pursuance of this idea, he made an impassioned speech on the eve of the founding of the OAU, in which he argued for a union government of African states with a common market, currency, monetary zone, central bank, system of defense, citizenship, foreign policy and continental communication system.

 

The aforementioned proposal failed to be realized in those days. In fact, it evoked suspicion and animosity from a substantial number of African heads of state as they were jealous of their hard-fought independence and recently acquired presidential status for the sake of a continental union. Whatever the reason may be, the idea of African unity had to The wait for another period with comfortable economic and political factor propelling for its reality. This period began to come as of the 1980 due to multifaceted factors that urged Africa and Africans to come up with a firm integration and solidarity between and among themselves. Several reasons might be mentioned as pushing factors to African unity of which the major ones are discoursed below.

 

The first factor could be the fact that the challenges that Africa began to face as of the beginning of the 1980; were no longer the same as those of the 1963s. Eradicating colonialism and establishing the independence of African nations had been virtually completed except for the continued struggle in South Africa. The objectives and principles of the OAU were basically targeted at securing the process of decolonization. In the 1980s, this target became less important, if not totally not important, than it used to be when the OAU was founded. Hence, Africa is now in a state of a different scenario which demands a different solution from the one proposed by the OAU machinery. The OAU, as it has been stated in the preceding parts, deserves a credit in accomplishing its number one target. But, it has already become less important that paves the way for the creation of a new Pan-African body, the African Union.

 

The second pushing factor for the birth of the new African Union is the political global changes in the beginning of the 1990s That mainly characterized by the end of the cold war and the town fall of the Soviet bloc. This global change was not corroborated by a response form the side of Africa, despite the vital influence it had on the continent.  El-Ayouty, described this scenario by saying “With the end of the cold war, the world completely changed. Africa and the OAU, however, did not”.

 

The complete change in the global political order affected Africa in many ways. During the cold war, the two super powers, the USA and The USSR, were in a state of competition in most part of the world. They tried to assume leading roles in promoting their own ideologies and thereby assisted a country or a region which came to form a group within their spheres of influence. But the end of the cold war heralded the collapse of the USSR; the order of the game has begun to change.

 

While explaining the situation in Africa in his article entitled, ‘an OAU for the future: an assessment’, Yassin El-Ayouty said the following:

 

In the process of playing the friendship and cooperation game with either the East or West, Africa incurred the following hazards: It did not rely effectively on the OAU for conflict resolution; several of its states became pawns in the superpower chess games, the civil wars in Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad and the Sahara were allowed to go on without African solutions, the motto of “African Solutions for African problems” become a hollow slogan…

 

Thus end of the cold war posed a threat that was different from what it had used to be there during the cold war. The end of the cold war heralded the dawn of the new era of globalization in which Africa has become increasingly marginalized and struggled to define its place and role in the new global system. The challenge has now become different. Rather than playing El-Ayouty’s chess games  on African soil, the great powers increasingly declined to assume leading roles in promoting peace and development in the continent. This forced Africa and Africans to reconsider the slogan That had been used at the founding of the OAU i.e. “African solutions for African problems”, which sang truer than ever before and dictated more by necessity than inclination.

 

The Durban Declaration of the first ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union shares the above sated pushing factor for the realization of the African Union. The Declaration states the following:-

 

[I]n 1990’s, when the world was undergoing fundamental changes with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the redefinition of the global power relations, the OAU moved quickly to assess African’s place in the new environment and charted a course for itself, aimed at stemming its marginalization and ensuring its continued strategic relevance and to address the challenges of development and of peace and security in the continent.

 

The global change forced Africa to strive for its continued relevance. To that end, an incumbent was created on Africa itself to consider a new political and economic order securing “African solutions for African problems”. The famous speech by Kwame Nkrumah that states “Africa must unite or disintegrate individually” became more relevant.

 

The third pushing factor for the establishment of the African Union that is worth being noted here is the economic situation that was getting worse and worse in Africa. This may be considered as a sign of Africa’s marginalization in the world order of the day. It has been commented that ‘the economic crisis in the continent has now become literally a matter of life and death and has to be dealt with. In response to the economic challenges, the OAU came up with the Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community in 1991. As it has been stated under 1.1.1, the coming into force of the Treaty suggested the emerging need to come up with an institution that would combine OAU’s political nature and AEC’s economic character. This paved the way for the realization of the African Union.

 

The final pushing factor that contributed to the coming into feature of the African Union was the in-built weaknesses of the OAU. As it has been stated above, Africa is was supposed to really implement the slogan “African solutions for African problems”. This, however, was not possible within the existing framework of the OAU. Experts agreed that the OAU charter needed revision, most specifically with regard to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference. These were among the basic principles of the OAU Charter and their contention was not a simple matter. However, Africa was in a state of necessity to enable the regional organization to take measures in internal affairs of member states. Explaining this dilemma, Thabo Mbeki, the then President of South Africa, said the following on 5 December 2003. “there is recognition of the absolute sovereignty of the African sates. In spite of the sovereignty, we must be our brother’s keeper and strive to end poverty in our continent. We must think for ourselves and not allow others think for us”.

 

Among other things, Africa was forced by the aforementioned factors to come up with a re-invented notion of Pan-Africanism which would not limit itself in defending the rights of African states against external interference but to devise a scheme not to let Africa continue as a safe heaven for undemocratic leaders who assume power by virtue of an unconstitutional manner. The order of the day demanded Africa to firmly get together than ever before and solve its problems by its own. All these led to the birth of a new form of Pan-African alliance through the African Union.

 

Discussion Questions

 

  • What was the role of globalization in forcing Africa to redefine its strategies of integration?
  • Why do African leaders prefer to come up with a new entity i.e., the African Union rather than the OAU?
  • Is the African Union entirely new and different institution, or is it a continuation of the OAU? Why?
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