Op-Ed on AlJazeera on the AU Summit

AU Summit: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/01/au-summit-too-little-too-late-201412164643828344.html

Testifying to the interventionist mandate of the AU, the union has responded – albeit too little, too late – to many of the crises in Africa with mixed degrees of success. Counterfactual analysis would better offer the prism through which we can see the limited successes of AU, by raising hypothetical questions such as, what would have been the situation in Somalia and beyond without AMISOM? Did the mediation effort following Kenyan elections contributed to the relative stability in Kenya? What would be the fate of the relation between South Sudan and Sudan without the AU mediation?

To its credit, the AU has been active in its timely declaration against any form of unconstitutional changes or extensions of mandates to govern. What is more, the AU has been highly involved in monitoring elections in Africa and subsequently, in mediation efforts when post-election violence occurred in several African countries, relatively successful in Kenya (2007), Zimbabwe (2008) and Cote D’Ivoire (2010).

Furthermore, its efforts set a trend that it is now unthinkable to have any mediation in Africa without the active involvement of the AU. The international community has outsourced this responsibility by means of mediations through high panels and envoys including South Africa’s former president, Thabo Mbeki. Despite the challenges Africa is facing, the composition of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 2014 exhibits what one may call the “generational progression of democracy”. With each passing decade, the numbers of democratically elected leaders in Africa have increased. As reported in the 2013, Mo Ibrahim Index, 94% of Africa’s population lives in countries that have demonstrated improved aspects of governance.

But among the new development is that a decade after declaring “African solutions to African problems”, Africa has now become the backyard for interventionist France and NATO. By not demanding democratic reform of governance in countries facing serious crises and some of them ruled by one person for more than three decades, the AU by de fault helped the external military intervention. Surprisingly, the AU has increasingly endorsed the intervention of France in Africa. While useful in the short-term, by draining self-reliance in peace and security, unless replaced by an African intervention, these interventions are in the long-term counter-productive.

Facing a debilitating gap between early warning and early response, institutions such as the African Standby Force are far from achieving a “standby” position and have remained standing without deployment. The Panel of the Wise is yet to show its wisdom in preventing conflicts ahead of escalation. In conceding its failure to operationalise the African Standby Force and to respond on time to the situation in Mali and the CAR, a lapse that compelled France to intervene, the AU has decided to embark on a new transitional arrangement in the form of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises. The gap between early warning and early response stems from institutional and political problems. A coming together of leaders with high Pan-African inclinations exudes confidence and understanding that led to swift intervention through mediation or deployment of troops. Unlike previous times, currently leaders of Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and Kenya are overwhelmed with domestic political and judicial challenges. Already embroiled in regional conflicts in DRC and South Sudan, leaders of Rwanda and Uganda cannot enjoy the confidence of their peers. The existence of the institutional capacity for rapid response by and in itself will not fill the political void necessary for quick decision to make use of early warning and deploy forces. Leaders from Ethiopia and Senegal are new in the process of consolidating their Pan-African credentials. Without committed Pan-African political leadership, early response will remain elusive. Thus, at the centre of the low success of AU remains the low Pan-African commitment of its member states and their leadership. AU can stretch its hand as long as its member states allow it.