• Explainer: The African Union

    Explainer: The African Union

    The African Union (AU) is an intergovernmental organization made up of 55 African member states. The AU consists of 9 departments: ​​agriculture, economic development, education, infrastructure, political affairs, health, women and youth, civil society, and legal affairs. Likewise, the organization has several decision-making agencies that are dedicated to legal, judicial, and human rights matters. 

    The AU summarizes its vision as “An Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.” The Union has its own Constitutive Act, which outlines its aims, rules, and procedures. 

    Origins and Functions

    The AU was established as a successor to the now-defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was created in 1963 to build a united and free post-colonial institution for the continent. The OAU supported collective solidarity against colonial legacies to protect the sovereignty of its member states. However, as the organization and its goals became more established, the institution recognized the need to shift attention from decolonization toward “cooperation and integration of African states to drive Africa’s growth and economic development.” 

    The creation of a globally-recognized institution of African nations such as the OAU was quite noteworthy at the time given the historical context: the racist belief that former colonies couldn’t and shouldn’t be allowed to govern their own affairs was still rampant. At the same time, previously colonized states were marginalized from international institutions like the United Nations. Thus, the creation of the OAU and other postcolonial organizations provided an extremely necessary and powerful forum for voices that were otherwise being silenced.

    In July 2002, the OAU decided to continue its work through a new union and, thus, the AU was born. The new organization pursued solidarity among African countries by protecting their sovereignty, in addition to promoting international cooperation and policy harmonization. One way that the AU is promoting these goals is by developing economic policies and planning to establish African financial institutions, such as the African Central Bank. 

    Pan-Africanism and Anti-Colonialism 

    The founding ideals of the OAU, and later the AU, were formed as a response to the colonization and exploitation of the African continent and peoples. The socio-political philosophy that the Union embodies today is known as Pan-Africanism. This term describes the idea that unity and solidarity of all African peoples is needed to defeat the beliefs that made way for the racism and marginalization, and the history of slavery and colonialism. 

    Pan-Africanism began to gain traction in the context of global affairs in 1900, when Henry Sylvester-Williams, often referred to as a founder of Pan-Africanism, arranged for the first meeting of the African Association formed in London. The meeting involved several Black representatives of the African continent, as well as prominent African-American figures such as intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, who went on to lead subsequent Pan-African conferences.

    Pan-Africanism has been advocated for strongly since its emergence in the late 19th century in order to propel anti-colonialism and its impacts. Today, the AU seeks to accomplish the goals of solidarity and economic progress that Pan-Africanist philosophies consist of, however, debates on the issue often blur plans or procedures for a concrete path to that vision. It isn’t uncommon that AU meetings often take “political slants” and entertain discussions fall short 

    Presently, a popular model for achieving the vision of Pan-Africanism is mobilization across the continent’s borders. Proponents argue that solidarity and economic progress may be harnessed through the “free movement of people, goods and services.” Nonetheless, leaders of the African Union must devise a clear and responsive methodology for its member states to follow, and emphasize the Pan-African focus on the unity of African people, rather than the division of the continent’s artificial borders. 

    Jurisdiction 

    With its 55 member states, the AU Constitutive Act mandates that the “Assembly composed of OAU Heads of States and Governments” can govern decisions and policies that the AU approves “to ensure compliance [from] all Member States.” The act also allows sanctions to be imposed on member states who do not comply with or carry out orders from the Assembly. 

    These sanctions have been enforced, such as when Egypt was sanctioned by the AU Peace and Security Council in 2013 due to a military coup. Given that Egypt was one of the AU’s top financial contributors, the decision to sanction Egypt demonstrated the AU’s commitment to comply with its own procedures.

    Issues & Instability within the AU

    In 2017, with a total budget of $439 million USD, 74% of the AU’s funding was supplemented by external donors. The AU has claimed it intends to reduce its dependence on foreign funding, yet its financial reliance on external donors has actually been increasing, with its most recent emerging donors including China, India, South Korea, and Turkey. According to the European Centre for Development Policy Management, relying heavily on external donors can influence the organization’s “potential for institutional development, its agenda-setting, and the choices of what gets funded and implemented.” 

    While member states had to increase their contributions to the Union, peace and security programs continue to be heavily financed by external actors, which likely has an effect on the Union’s agenda. However, the quality of aid programs has remained fairly stagnant and proven itself as not enough incentive for member states to increase their contributions.

    Additionally, there have been several claims of corruption, theft, and nepotism within the organization, despite the establishment of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) in 2003. With only 80% of the organization’s members ratifying the treaty, there remains very limited information on how far the Convention has been effectively used and followed by the AU. 

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    Lara Yacoub

    Lara Yacoub

    Lara is originally half-Syrian and half-Egyptian, but grew up in Mexico City and Calgary, AB. She moved to Vancouver in 2019 to pursue a degree in International Relations at UBC. Ever since moving, she has fallen in love with the city, and in her free time enjoys scouting out the city's numerous restaurants, hidden gems, and beautiful beaches.

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