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Today, the African Union (AU) is an entity that continues to promote peace and integration on the continent to enable its effective involvement in the international economic policy issues. It plays a crucial role in addressing multidimensional economic, political and social problems. The advent of the African Union is outlined as an event of great magnitude in the institutional evolution of the African continent. In 1959 the first president of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah, the ideological father of the union, stated “in Ghana we consider our autonomy as meaningless unless we are able to apply the freedom that goes with it to support other African nations to become free and independent, to release the entire African continent from foreign domination and ultimately instituting a union unifying all African states” (Packer & Rukare, 2002). The African union was formed in 2002, and it is composed of 53 member countries, and it is based on the European Union model. The members include all independent states except Morocco, which left the union after most members of the AU recognized the Sahrawi Arab Republic. However, South Sudan is the newest member of the union to join the union in 2011. The member countries work diplomatically with each other irrespective of race, religion and geographical location in order to develop political, economic and social situation of approximately 1 billion people residing on the continent (Packer & Rukare, 2002). Furthermore, the union strives to protect and uphold the African rich culture that has existed for more than one thousand years.
History and Establishment
The African Union originated from the union of African states, a short lasting union that unified 3 West African states. In an attempt to unite Africa, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was instituted in 1963. The union remained to be a collective voice for the African continent until 2002. The envisioned purpose of the OAU was to promote the unity, peace and solidarity of the African nations during the time of the movement for independence. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) also ensured that all Africans enjoyed basic human rights, experienced quality living standards and settled the disputes between the member states. The organization African unity was formed in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All African states committed to working together to promote and intensify their efforts and cooperation in order to achieve a better life for the people of African continent (Carbone, 2002). Nonetheless, the initial 32 members of OAU were considered to be bureaucratic talking shop with a limited power. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) tried hard to enforce its resolutions, and lack of armies made it impossible to intervene in civil wars and help countries struggling against colonialism. Furthermore, the policy of non-interference with the affairs of member countries further restricted the operation of the OAU thus preventing achievement of its goals and objectives (Carbone, 2002).
Consensus was difficult to achieve within the organization. The French colonies in North Africa, the pro-socialist and pro capitalist factions during the Cold War, all had their own agendas, which made it difficult for the member countries to reach an agreement even on the fundamental issues. However, irrespective of the difficulties and challenges faced by the organization, the OAU still provided a forum that allowed member countries to embrace harmonized positions on issues of common concern. For instance, though the OAU committee for the liberation of Africa, the union worked together and succeeded in forging a consensus in support of the liberation struggle against the apartheid policy in South Africa (Carbone, 2002).
Nonetheless, the idea of attempting to unify Africa resurfaced in the mid-1990s under the leadership of Muammar al-Qaddafi, a strong proponent of the African unity. After a number of conventions, the African Union was finally formed in 2002. This was after the dissolution of the OAU due to its continued criticism since its inception (Carbone, 2002). Although the OAU gave weapons to the rebels thus successfully eliminating the colonialists, the organization could not eliminate the abject poverty that had been striking Africa for decades. Furthermore, its leaders were corrupt and little concerned with the welfare of the African people.
It headquarters are located in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As a result, the Sirte Extraordinary session of 1999 resolved to establish the African Union (Africa Union, 1999). The declaration to institute the African Union was followed by a Consultative Act of the African Union in 2000. A year later, the Lusaka summit established the roadmap for the implementation of the African union. In the mid-2002 in Durban, South Africa, the African Union was officially launched by the first president, Thabo Mbeki. The main aim of the organization was to enhance the objectives to secure democracy, human rights, and sustainable economies and end the intra-African conflict that had plagued the continent. Its official languages include Arabic, Portuguese, French and English. However, many documents are also printed and documented in Swahili and other local languages. The leaders of the union work together in order to promote peace, human rights, education, health and economic success on the continent (African Union, 2007).
Administrative Bodies of the AU
Heads of states of each country form the AU assembly. The heads meet two times a year in order to discuss the AU budget and major goals related to peace and development. Current the president of the union is Bingu Wa Mutharika, president of Malawi. The parliament of the African Union is composed of 265 officials and it is the legislative body of the union. Its headquarters are in Midland, South Africa (African Union, 2007). The court of justice works with the member nations to support and guard fundamental human rights of Africans. In addition, the union has a number of official bodies that have an important influence on critical issues. Among them are: Executive Council, Economic and Cultural Council, Peace and Security Council, Human Rights Institution and specialized technical committees. These bodies play a crucial role of addressing the pressing challenges faced by the union.
Main Issues Adapted by African Union
Environment of Peace and Security
Since its inception, the African Union has adapted a number of initiatives that are geared towards achieving its goals and objectives. One of the issues entails the creation of an environment of peace and security. The good governance and democratic ethos embedded in the constitutive act have been strengthened by the need to establish peaceful and secure as an aiding condition for promotion of good governance (African Union, 2002). Since the initiation of the Union in 2002, the continent was ridden by a number of waves of conflict in different nations such as Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivore, Somalia, Central Africa Republic and Zimbabwe. The anarchy and party-political uproar inspired by the conflicts threatened the social, economic and political sustainability of Africa (African Union, 2007).
The African Union unequivocally acknowledged that the importunity of the conflict in the region essentially undermines its broad agenda of development, peace and democracy. As a result, the union adopted a proactive approach that aimed at resolving these conflicts. The approach emphasizes on early response to developing conflict situations and investment on the process of active arbitrations on a day to day basis using the instrument of special envoys and representatives. The approach further stressed for comprehensive coverage, so that conflicts are not isolated or treated with indifference. In order to strengthen the peace and security framework on the continent, the African leaders adopted a protocol related to the establishment of Peace and Security Council of the union that reinforced the scope and capability of the African Union instrument for conflict prevention and management (African Union, 2007).
The new security architecture in the union entailed the formation of Peace and Security Committee to work at three levels: ambassadorial, ministerial and summit, with the main responsibility of establishment of overall peace and security on the African continent. The adapted protocol was supported by the modalities and guidelines that facilitate common defense and security, and a general framework to combat and control terrorism, flow of small arms and illicit light weapons. Furthermore, the new AU Peace and Security Architecture provides for the strengthened partnership with all relevant international actors, regional and sub –regional, international organizations and non-state actors. The architecture further indicated a new modality of establishment of institutional structures that support the AU agenda for security, peace and development.
The main goal of the African Union is to promote collective security, defense and stability of its member countries. The democratic principles of the union have reduced unfair elections and level of corruption over the years. The AU strives to prevent conflicts between African nations and within nations. As a result, disputes that arise are quickly arbitrated and mediated in order to avert a conflict thus promoting peace and security. The union imposes sections on disobedient nations and withholds economic and social benefits. Furthermore, the union cooperates with other international unions such as UN in order to enforce its resolution relating to peace and security issues such as terrorism, crimes and genocides. In addition, the African Union conducts military interventions through AMISOM, a peacekeeping mission troop that has effectively restored peace, political and social order in such countries as Comoros, Burundi and Somalia. Although such a mission has been criticized for being underfunded, untrained and undermanned, a number of member nations such as Mauritania, Madagascar and Niger have been suspended from the union after coup d’?tats and other political events affecting the stability of the nations. This forms a strong indication of the union’s commitment to peace and order throughout the continent (Africa Union, 2002).
Internal Governance Agenda
The AU has been concerned with the Constitutive Act which provides for the creation of the instructional structures that support the process of transformation. The AU recognized that authority, corruption and impunity and abuse of human rights keep Africa in the situation of conflicts thus undermining efforts aimed at promoting sustainable development. The AU strives to build an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa (African Union, 2002). In order to translate such a vision into concrete goals, the AU has promised the realization of people`s social, human, civil, cultural and political rights. This entails participation of people in processes that affect their life through democratic and smooth elections. As a result, the AU has been instrumental in the promotion of democracy, peace and stability in different countries, especially war-torn countries such as Sierra Leone.
African Court of Justice
To support the rule of law and justice in Africa, the African court of justice and human right has been instituted in order to fight against the impunity that has been characteristic of African politics. Previously, leaders could execute citizens through extra-judicial killings without being punished. However, the court will compel the political elite to answer for their actions of commission or omission as opposed to the current practice where former African leaders escaped justice due to lack of legal institutions to bring them to justice. The African Union hopes that the court will engender some restraint on the excess of some African leaders thus curbing the culture of warlordism that forms the root of civil wars in Africa. Precedence was laid at the Banjul Assembly with the case of Hissen Habre, the former Chadian leader.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Africa Union
The presence of a comprehensive organization uniting countries of the African continent has led a number of advantages. The African Union has improved people`s life in Africa. The union has continually strived to support good governance. As a result, improved educational and career opportunities were provided to the ordinary citizens. The union promotes numerous programs that focus on health, food, water and housing especially during in times of disasters. Furthermore, the union sponsored studies explore such issues HIV/AIDS, malaria, famine and crime, and through its legislative body, the union champions enactment of a resolution that promotes the standards of living of people in African (African Union, 2007)
The Union plays a crucial role towards improvement of the governance, finances and infrastructural development on the continent. The union has supported different agricultural, transportation, technological and environmental projects that enhance the development of the continent. Through its economic policies, the union supports free trade and customs unions that enhance business activity on the continent. Furthermore, tourism and migration are promoted through the establishment of peace and security between nations. In addition, the union is aimed at enhancing both human and environmental health in Africa (African Union, 2007). The African Union has enabled Africans to speak with one voice while responding to issues of international concern, an aspect that enables the continent to have a significant influence on international matters. Furthermore, diplomats of the African Union advocate for global change of policies that impact negatively African nations.
The African continent is not a monolith, not in the economic system, religion or languages. As a result, it is usually difficult to create a cohesive force from widely disparate populations. The AU lacks a common voice on various issues affecting the continent. The member countries are often divided on a policy issue in regard to interest of individual states. As a result, formulation and implementation of essential policies guiding the development of the continent tend to lag behind. Furthermore, nations remain divided into those supporting western and those supporting eastern countries` ideologies (Paterson & Adebajo, 2013). As a result, conflicts of interests often ensue. This limits the ability of Africa to resolve its international affairs. Furthermore, heads of the states which form the assembly and who have key responsibilities to promote justice, fairness and support human rights tend to champion oppression of their own citizens thus creating the illusion of the essence of the union. It is apparent that extra-judicial killings and violation of human rights continue, irrespective of the measures implemented by the union. As a result, it is usually difficult to reach a consensus on actions to be taken against dissident nations (Paterson & Adebajo, 2013).
In conclusion, it is apparent that though Africa faces numerous challenges, the African Union through its constitutive Act and other various actions, declarations and instruments is determined to meet the aspiration of African people to have a peaceful, secure, healthy and well governed continent that would enable the inhabitants to lead peaceful and fulfilling lives. Although the AU has played a crucial role in promoting peace, security, good governance and sustainable international relations, in order to form a sustainable African continent political will and commitment are required from its leaders, while active support is required from people.
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African Union. (2007). Vision and mission of the African Union. Retrieved August 2, 2007, from http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/AboutAu/vision_mission.htm
Carbone, M. (2002, September). From OAU to AU: Turning a page in the history of Africa. The Courier ACP-EU, 194, 30-31. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://ec.europa.eu/development/body/publications/courier/courier194/en/en_030.pdf
Packer, C., & Rukare, D. (January 01, 2002). The new African Union and its Constitutive Act. American Journal of International Law, 96, 2, 364-379.
Paterson, M. & Adebajo, A. (2013). The African Union at ten: Problems, progress, and prospects. Cape Town: Centre for Conflict Resolution.