African Union: Will We Ever See An Africa United to Fix Its Many Problems?

By Joseph Kaifala Published June 10, 2014

Fifty years ago, on May 25, 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), predecessor to the African Union (AU), was founded by African leaders who were interested in unifying the newly independent countries on the continent for the advancement of their common interests. Among the founding fathers was Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana, which was also the first African country to gain independence in 1957. The OAU was replaced by the AU is 2002 by a new treaty known as the Constitutive Act of the African Union. All African countries, except Morocco, are members of the AU. Morocco is not a member because it opposes the membership of Western Sahara, a territory south of Morocco that is currently pursuing self-determination.

At the first submit of the OAU in 1963, Dr. Nkrumah challenged his fellow leaders to create a union stronger than the United Nations or the United States of America. Nkrumah’s idea of African Unity was one “united not only in our concept of what unity connotes, but united in our common desire to move forward together in dealing with all the problems than can best be solved only on a continental basis.”

But 50 years later, it is this very idea of continental solutions to continental problems that Africa has failed at woefully. There is no African problem (there are no shortages of problems) for which the continent has unilaterally found a solution without outside assistance either monetarily or politically. The lowest denominator is that the continent can’t sometimes even agree on a unified condemnation of gross human rights abuses on the continent that seem so obvious to the rest of the world.

One of the core principles of the OAU Charter was the noninterference into the internal affairs of other member-states, but that limitation was remedied by the Constitutive Act, which grants the AU right to intervene in member-states in respect of grave circumstances such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The Constitutive Act also rejects impunity and signals respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law, and good governance on the continent.

At the launching of the AU in South Africa in 2002, there was renewed hope on the continent that African leaders were ready to transcend previous political limitations in order to pursue democratic systems, the rule of law, peace, and security. But more than a decade since the new organization was born and 50 years since the OAU was conceived, Africans continue to face perhaps even worst hardships, oftentimes from their own leaders.

There is no lack of resources in Africa, but think of a wretched statistics anywhere, and the continent will be at the brunt end of it. In my lifetime, Somalia is still fighting for viability as a state both from political and geographical limitations, Sudan remains a menace even after it split into two, the world now refers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as the rape capital of the world, the Niger Delta remains an impoverished place even when its abandoned people swim in valuable oil resources, Boko Haram is succeeding in destabilizing Nigeria by killing innocent school children, all in the name of hatred for Western Education. And where else in the world could a rag-tag militia kidnap more than 200 of their daughters and hold them indefinitely without immediate and viable intervention by the continental body responsible for collective peace and security! In Mali and North Africa, Al-Qaeda remains an ark angel of death; in the South, the African National Congress (ANC) is derailing the purpose of Mandela’s struggle; the Central African Republic (CAR) is now ruled by rebels. Overall, in the 21st century, Africa is one of the only few places where coup d’états remain a method of political change. And at sea all around the continent, pirates and drug dealers have found new waters.

But Africa cannot continue like this, because all around the young generation is yearning for peace and security. We are cognizant of better lives elsewhere and we demand action beyond vain resolutions and condemnations. The founding document of the AU seems to contain everything the continent needs to advance the pursuit of democracy, peace, and security on the continent. As Dr. Nkrumah admonished your predecessors 50 years ago, let us face the next decade with seasoned leadership and commitment because, “if now that we are independent we allow the same conditions to exist that existed in colonial days, all the resentment which overthrew colonialism will be mobilised against us.” We have seen manifestations of this prediction from Tripoli to Cairo, and this is just the beginning.

Africa has long been a pariah of underdevelopment, and it is high time our leaders started work towards providing people with the human dignity they deserve. Our leaders cannot continue to defend dictators and war criminals who cry Western imperialism while in their backyards our defenseless brothers and sisters are raped and murdered. It is only when we achieve these goals that we shall avoid what Dr. Nkrumah described as ‘mocking the hopes of our people.’ “With our united resources, energies and talents we have the means, as soon as we show the will, to transform the economic structures of our individual states from poverty to that of wealth, from inequality to the satisfaction of popular needs,” he said. This is the new Africa this generation of Africans demand going forward.

About the Author

Joseph Kaifala is founder of the Jeneba Project Inc. and co-founder of the Sierra Leone Memory Project. He was born in Sierra Leone and spent his early childhood in Liberia and Guinea. He later moved to Norway where he studied for the International Baccalaureate (IB) at the Red Cross Nordic United World College before enrolling at Skidmore College in upstate New York. Joseph was an International Affairs & French Major, with a minor in Law & Society.

He holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, a Diploma in Intercultural Encounters from the Helsinki Summer School, and a Certificate in Professional French administered by the French Chamber of Commerce.

Joseph was an Applied Human Rights Fellow at Vermont Law School, where he completed his JD and Certificate in International & Comparative Law. He is recipient of the Vermont Law School (SBA) Student Pro Bono Award, Skidmore College Palamountain Prose Award and Skidmore College Thoroughbred Award.

Joseph was a 2013 American Society of International Law Helton fellow. He served as Justice of the Arthur Chapter (Vermont Law School) of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International. He is a member of the Washington DC Bar.

This article was orginally published in PolicyMic.

Image credit: Memorial to Kwame Nkrumah in Accra by Edward Kamau.

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