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Where is The Voice of The African Union?

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on March 28, 2011

The African Union feels completely ignored by World bodies in the quest to restore peace in conflict ridden Libya, the AU commission chairman Jean Ping has said.

Speaking in an interview with a journalist last Friday, the AU Commission Chair said efforts by AU to intervene in the early days of the Libyan crisis were curtailed by the UN Security Council and since then the regional body has been left out of peace talks on Libya.

All our programmes which I mentioned to you were stopped by the decision of UN Security Council. We were supposed to go to Libya on the 18th in Tripoli and on the 19th to Benghazi. Then the decision of the Security Council came. We asked permission to go too they say don’t go. So we stopped going there,” he said.

He said a meeting was scheduled in Paris with the AU but nothing has been heard ever since, even though ministers of western countries on their own have made attempts to resolve the crisis in Cairo.

Nobody talk to us; no body consult us” he lamented.

Asked if the AU has been ignored in the UN, his answer was blunt: “Totally, totally,” he said.

He vehemently disagreed with the assertion that the AU has lost its respect and power to arbitrate because individual countries have been compromised in their support for Libya and its leader Muammar Gaddhafi.

Where is The Voice of The African Union?

By Wangari Maathai

Many Africans, in both north and south, have for years moved in darkness, fear, and desperation.

As the world discusses the protests and battles sweeping North Africa — most recently in Libya — where is the African Union (AU)? Numerous multilateral bodies have called for respect for human rights and an end to state-sponsored violence, including the European Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations.

In discussing the situation in Libya, US president Barack Obama did include the AU in a list of partners for finding a solution. But, by and large, the voice of the AU has been faint and largely ignored by the international media.

Surely the AU should have been among the first international organisations consulted as internal conflict engulfed AU member states in North Africa. Why wasn’t it? If such conflicts were taking place in Europe, surely the EU would be central to a resolution.

One problem the AU faces, along with many African nations, is that it is not financially independent. It must seek funds from the EU, the US and others, including some of the wealthier member states despite their records on undemocratic governance and human rights violations. Libya, for example, is said to provide at least 15 per cent of the AU’s overall budget. In 2009, Libya’s now-embattled leader, Muammar Gadhafi, was elected to a one-year term as chairperson of the AU.


This dependency hampers the organization’s effectiveness in many ways. It constrains its ability to have an independent voice and could account for the AU’s relative silence on the situation in Libya, despite the threat of another protracted civil war in Africa.

Even when the AU has offered support to member states — as during the violence that followed the 2007 elections in Kenya — it couldn’t provide the financial resources that might help bring about peace; that had to be left to other countries.

Another problem is that the AU has neither an army nor a peacekeeping force, so it cannot intervene militarily to protect citizens. It also has relatively little influence on national armies.

The US could apply pressure on former president Hosni Mubarak and Egypt’s army by threatening to cut off the $2 billion in aid it provided. The AU has no such leverage over recalcitrant leaders. It can only use persuasion, which can easily be disregarded, as demonstrated by the stalemate and increasing violence in Ivory Coast following disputed presidential elections in 2010.

On February 23, Jean Ping of Gabon, the chairperson of the AU commission, did express ‘great concern’ about Libya, condemning the “disproportionate use of force against civilians” and the number of lives lost. He reinforced the AU peace and security council’s call for an immediate end to repression and violence.

In the eyes of many observers, however, the AU statements came too late and were largely overlooked. No doubt the AU is still working behind the scenes, and the chairman, president, and relevant committees are in communication with leaders in North Africa, as well as the international community. But, unfortunately, the AU’s voice is largely ignored in the world at large and within affected countries.

At the same time, many Africans, both in the north and south, hope that the AU will serve as a beacon against which every African state measures itself. But such hopes have foundered: many AU members remain below the standards that most of their citizens expect, and the AU cannot demand greater democracy than a critical mass of its members are willing to practice.

The AU has set benchmarks that would require the expulsion of members that don’t meet them, such as expanding democratic space and respecting human rights; pursuing equitable and sustainable human development; and combating poverty. Members of the AU are also required to practice good, transparent governance and root out corruption. But many of these principles have been ignored by member states.

It is clear that the changes the peoples of North Africa are demanding won’t be realised overnight, and they will have to accept that real change is slow. It will take time to build the institutions that provide checks and balances on executive power, including independent parliaments, judiciaries, armies, and police. these are often the first casualties of poor governance.

Many Africans, in both north and south, have for years moved in darkness, fear, and desperation. The AU could be the lighthouse that vanquishes this darkness — and a leading, credible international voice and presence, too. But enough of its members have to want to be this beacon, in action and not only words.

There is going to be change throughout Africa. Whether the AU and its member states can lead it, or will simply follow their citizenry, is the challenge.

(The writer is the 2004 Nobel peace laureate)

3 Responses to “Where is The Voice of The African Union?”

  1. Joyce B. said

    Thank you. I would like to share this letter written to Jean Ping, Chairperson of the Africa Union Commission, expressing dissatisfaction with the AU’s (mis)handling of the Libyan crisis:

    ‘It is clear that there could be no misunderstanding as to what a No Fly Zone entailed, since in a widely reported address to a US Congressional Committee, on March 1st 2011, the US Defence Secretary warned that a No Fly Zone would “require first destroying Libya’s air defence forces” and went on to call it a “big operation in a big country.”
    ‘Therefore there was no ambiguity. The UN Security Council Resolution 1973 spelt military action against Libya, a sovereign state and member of the African Union…
    ‘By choosing instead to put out a press statement on the 17th of March 2011 about an “Ad hoc High Level Committee” which had been agreed a week earlier on 10th March 2011 in the Peace and Security Council’s 265th meeting whilst the UN Security Council deliberated and voted in Resolution 1973, the AU demonstrated that it had been dazed into impotence by the crisis. It fiddled at a crucial moment while Libya burned…
    ‘As the Libyan defences are degraded with each bomb dropped we are witnessing the destruction of a sovereign state with the risk that it becomes a haven to anarchists and terrorists as did happen in Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. An eventuality which will further destabilise Libya, bring more insecurity to its citizens likewise worsen the peace and stability of the region, infringing further on the AU’s objectives of Article 3 in the Constitutive Act.
    ‘In the light of this view and other points highlighted herein, I conclude that the AU, with respect to the Libyan situation, has completely failed in managing the crisis; it has failed to prevail in both its diplomacy with Libya and the world beyond Africa’s shores. Lastly, and on the point which churns my insides, the African Union has like the defunct Organisation of African Unity demonstrated a complete inability to take ownership of and resolve its problems. It has simply failed to step up to the plate and demonstrate African self-reliance, as mandated by Article 4 subsection (k) of the Constitutive Act, when was most needed. Quite simply and sadly, your excellency it is my view history would record that at this point in time, the African Union dismally failed to provide leadership.’
    Jimmy Kainka echoes the same sentiments by expressing disappointment at the AU’s handling of the Ivoirian and Libyan crises:
    ‘If we move on to the north of Africa and take a look at Libya, we have unbelievable nightmare happening right in front of our eyes. Where is the AU? So many presidents from different nations have spoken on the events in Libya, Ban Ki Moon (UN Secretary General) has made several media appearances to state the stance of the UN on the issue. So what about the AU? If the AU is not in a position to solve African problems, then who will? Libya has moved from having its leader (…and yes, the former AU chairman) killing his own people to having Western troops in the name of saving Libyans – more Libyans may now die in the hands of foreign forces.
    ‘Where are the Leaders of Africa? Who in Africa has ever gone to kill people in France or USA or UK? Where is the African Union? I heard of the many meetings that happened before the “no fly zone” was imposed on Libya, there was even a consultation with the Arab Leaders. Does anyone know if AU was consulted and what they voted for? While you (AU) are mulling over your existence, why not also consider pulling out of the UN en masse as the UN is really a Western Union. By pulling out AU would stop providing the UN with cover.
    ‘My biggest question is, if the AU made numerous visits to Ivory Coast, to “try” and resolve the situation there, why are they not helping the people of Libya? I have watched children being killed and everyone keeps saying “there are always casualties when there is war”. Why should a child be sacrificed for democracy or oil or chocolate or whatever it is that is going on there in Libya and Ivory Coast? AU, where are you? Libya needs you, Ivory Coast has not been sorted out, what are you doing? If events like these are too big for you, then why do you exist?’
    On the other end of the spectrum, Rosebell believes that the much vaunted ‘African solution’ to the current crises propounded by the likes of Yoweri Museveni is a mirage:
    ‘The West may be wrong in the way they conduct the intervention in Libya but President Museveni together with his group of mostly African dictators cannot be trusted to bring a solution fast enough.
    ‘When Gaddafi was declaring genocide on his own people saying he would ‘cleanse Libya house by house’, no one stood up to him. When we heard stories about Gaddafi ferrying young Africans into Libya to work as mercenaries, which escalated racist attacks on African immigrants, no African president came out to call for investigations. So many Africans stuck in Libya including Ugandans have been at the mercy of aid groups and some few government rescue missions.
    ‘Let’s now forget for the last four months, this group of men who rule the continent have failed to resolve the situation in Ivory Coast which we may as well say has slipped back into a civil war. So far more than 400 people have died in Ivory Coast and all they do is hop on planes meet in Addis Ababa.
    ‘No wonder we have heard no calls on the AU from Libya’s opposition…
    ‘Africans want an African solution but current leaders like President Museveni who stifle freedoms in their own borders will not deliver us the much needed African solution. And that’s what North Africa has realized and therefore moved to rid their countries of these leaders. Like Desmond Tutu has stated, Libya wouldn’t be seeing these strikes if African leaders were answerable to their peers and populace. But which of Gaddafi’s peers would have kept him in check? Museveni, Biya or Mugabe?’
    The Chia Report responds to those who are against intervention in Libya on the grounds that this would most likely create a chaotic power vacuum in Libya:
    ‘I have been asking myself why many oppressors across the world, including miscreants like Gaddafi and Paul Biya of Cameroon, invariably get sympathies from the very ones they oppress. This concern is more often than not encapsulated in the following question: who will fill the vacuum (after Biya/Gaddafi…)? My all time favorite is “what next”?
    ‘It is pitiful to look at the almighty Gaddafi ranting that “my people all love me”. There are certainly many Libyans who would die for Colonel Gaddafi. But can Gaddafi and the Biyas of the world understand that it is not about love? Better still, can they grasp that love is not a one way street? Can they grasp that walking away from power and having others give a shot at leading is the greatest love there is to share with their kids and other fellow citizens?…
    ‘The question of religious identity resurfaced on December 3, 2010, when the Ivorian Constitutional Council, in opposition to Electoral Commission’s results, declared Laurent Gbagbo president by invalidating the votes of some 600,000 people in the northern, mostly Muslim, regions of the country.
    ‘Laurent Gbagbo and his wife, Simone, are both declared born-again Christians who are not shy about sharing their faith in a political context. On Simone Gbagbo’s website, religion is said to have an important place in the former first lady’s life and political commitment…
    ‘One Ivorian native netizen posted a message on American politician Sarah Palin’s Facebook page in December 2010, in which he urged American Christians not to let US President Obama standby without supporting the Gbagbos: “Will Americans idly sit on the side and watch their President humiliate Laurent Gbagbo and Simone Ehivet Gbagbo, a Born-again Evangelical Christian couple and throw them out of office or watch some Muslim rebels invade their palace and kill them with the conspiracy of the international community?’
    Sacha Project, a blogger who resides mainly in Abidjan, wrote a post… referring to French daily Le Monde’s editorial of the same day entitled, ‘The future of Africa is playing out in Côte d’Ivoire’, in which the author compares Côte d’Ivoire to the Spain of 1936 under Franco. Sacha Project believes that the comparison has a lot of merit: ‘Like in the Spain of 1936, a state is threatened by an armed minority which refuses a lawfully elected president (…). Gbagbo is not Franco, Gbagbo is not a fascist. Yet the ideas of the Ivorian Patriotic Front (FPI) are. Franco didn’t consider himself fascist, but ‘nationalist’. Gbagbo considers himself a ‘patriot’. Yet the excessive xenophobic nationalism, Ivorian identity and its eulogists, media manipulation, and Simone Gbagbo’s religious speech which considers her husband’s power as quasi-divine, these are elements of an Ivorian style fascism.’
    In a guest post on the Cassava Republic blog, historian Max Siollun challenges Nigerian writers to make Nigerian history more interesting to readers:
    I was literally heartbroken when not too long ago, a Nigerian acquaintance of mine (born and raised in Nigeria) told me that she thought Herbert Macaulay was a white American. She could recite (in chronological order) most of the post-World War II American Presidents, but she had no idea that Herbert Macaulay was a Nigerian. She was shocked when I told her that Macaulay was to Nigeria, what George Washington was to the United States of America.
    ‘Why do so many Nigerians know so little about their own country’s history? The federal government must take much responsibility for this. Nigerian history is not intensively taught in schools largely because after the civil war, the federal government tried to brush the country’s past under the carpet in order to foster reconciliation….But the government is not entirely to blame… We writers must also share the responsibility….We writers must present Nigerian history as something more than a mechanical rendering of dates and facts…
    ‘Dry, ponderous academic style renditions of Nigerian history will not do. In my writing, I have tried to dramatise the historic events I write about and bring the characters to life, so as to capture the reader’s imagination. The reader momentarily suspends the belief that what they are reading is in fact….fact! We must. To interest readers in Nigerian history, we must turn our national characters into “stars” and, in the popular vernacular of the Iraq war, ‘sex up’ Nigerian history. That is the challenge for me and other writers…’

    • addisabram said

      Thanks for sharing, very sad, indeed — another genocide in the making…. The UN secretary general expressed particular concern and alarm about reports that pro-Ouattara forces may have killed over 1000 civilians in the town of Duekoue (Western Ivory Coast). Is it another ethno-religious conflict? It’s surprising and worrisome that the AU rushed to recognize Outtara’s victory. It was a big mistake!

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