Occasionally, African leaders converge in Addis Ababa Ethiopia to take stock of our success after abandoning our epic journey to the Promised Land that marooned us in the desert.
The African union (AU) faces many challenges that are unique compared to successful regional organization(s) like European Union (EU) which has had remarkable progress. This begs the question, why AU hasn’t made similar progress? However, experts fail to realise that while the two blocs have similar goals, AU has several disadvantages compared to the EU.
The EU is situated in a stable and prosperous region with established members and uncontested states. The same cannot be said of AU, which is located in the most unstable and war-torn part of the world. Many African states are engaged in civil conflicts - war and violence is a daily occurrence. Many states are unstable, with governments either unable, unwilling or encouraging violence in some cases like Darfur.
The AU faces problems of recruitment since the criteria for membership is based on being within the region as opposed to having to meet certain economic or political goals such as it is in the EU. Majority of EU nations are democratically and economically free, many countries in Africa are under authoritarian rule.
It can logically be inferred that an institution such as the AU, with its ability to intervene in the affairs of sovereign nations, and its democratic institutions, would be a hard sell to the authoritarian regimes that exist in Africa as dictators tend to dislike having power taken out of their hands.
Also, poverty levels among AU nations presents a huge challenge with the number of persons living under the poverty line staggering. Of the 177 countries reviewed in the United Nations Human Development Report 2021, 25 African nations ranked lowest. While it is true that countries like South Africa have met relative success, many countries have made no progress, with the economies of some actually declining in the last 30 years.
Funding AU has been difficult because its member-states are in abject poverty. This impoverished berth is being blamed on colonialism, unequal trade norms with the economic north and on practices by the IMF such as the disbursement of massive structured loans that our countries had little hope of being able to repay and yet are expected to make interest payments on.
African economies are generally narrow with the lowest GNPs in the world based on the export of single goods like tea, coffee or oil, on the international market. This obviously makes their economies tenuous and vulnerable to fluctuations. Integrating economies of various African states and then increasing their involvement in international trade whilst attempting to safeguard them from the negative aspects of globalisation is a daunting task to say the least and constitutes a challenge.
One cannot outline the challenges AU faces without mentioning the unprecedented health crisis of the HIV/Aids in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa solely accounts for 60 per cent of people with HIV, equaling a total of 26.8 million people. In 2022, 2.4 million people died from Aids.
This crisis has reached unprecedented levels that AU and the world must manage. The burden of caring for those infected weighs heavily on the already strained AU budget. Clearly, the African Union faced unique problems in its early stages and the strategy to counter these challenges will determine whether it survives or fails.
However, AU remains relevant for many reasons. Since peace and security should be promoted in as many regions as possible, it would be prudent to look at the options available in regard to the African region. With peace and eventual integration into the global economy as the goal of our relations with Africa, our best option to achieve this is to support the AU.
The saying "An African solution to an African problem" is very apt in this situation. Through DR Congo, we have seen that intervention by foreign troops in Africa is an enormous undertaking that is met with some resistance from the people in Africa due to the history of Africa under the yoke of colonialism. This is not to say that no foreign troops should ever be deployed to stabilise this continent, but foreign efforts should only focus on supporting AU in its initiatives rather than supplanting it.
African institutions (economic and political) must be strengthened to deal with the problems facing Africa. Therefore, industrialised nations should avoid being engaged militarily and financially in Africa for a drawn out and extended term but must provide support to the AU in the terms of resources and knowledge.
To quash the burden of managing African affairs for an extended period, the 'First World' must ensure that AU not only has the mechanisms to deal with the current problems, but also problems that may resurface in future, such as integration into the global economy.
The AU remains a good strategy through which the world can deal with the single greatest health problem of our times- the spread of HIV/Aids. The Union can be used as a mechanism, within the auspices of the international aid community, to help stem, and eventually reverse the tide of the epidemic. HIV/Aids is not an African problem, but a human one, and as human beings, we cannot with good conscience neglect this issue.
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The writer, Dennis Onyango, is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya.