African Union: From Non-Interference to Non-Indifference

Article excerpt

Gradually, a radical rethink of how Africa should conduct its affairs is taking root in the hallowed halls of the African Union. In the first decades of independence, the African Union's predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), sat still while horrendous things happened in other member countries--all because of the OAU's "non-interference" policy. A complete sea-change is now the order of the day in Addis Ababa, the seat of AU. Baffour Ankomah reports.

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Those who have not already written it down in your dairies, please write these two words down in bold type: Non-indifference. It is the new creed in Addis Ababa, headquarters of the African Union, and its major champion is none other than the AU Commission chairman, Prof Alpha Oumar Konare, the former president of Mali.

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Konare is passionate about "non-indifference". "We have to assume our principle of non-indifference, [defined as] the courteous and united interference [in member countries]. "If we cannot tell the truth, we are heading for disaster," he told the opening ceremony of the 10th ordinary session of the AU's Executive Council (made up of African foreign ministers) that preceded the heads of state summit in Addis Ababa (29-30 January).

Konare denounced the "usual silence" that greets conflicts in Africa, and added: "We cannot be content with observing and issuing communiques. We should resolve security problems to stop the mess and waste".

Most people in the hall agreed. Days later, the tough-talking Malian put "non-indifference" to the test when he sent a hard-hitting letter to the ailing Guinean president, Lansana Conte, criticising him for "disproportionate use" of military force in putting down a political unrest that has rocked Guinea for the past several weeks.

Writing in his capacity as AU commission chairman (the equivalent of secretary general), Konare told him: "I strongly condemn the disproportionate use of force against civilian population that has led to huge loss of lives." (See box on p98). A few years ago, Konare would not dare write such write such a letter to the head of a member country.

But Africa is changing, and sadly, Konare's term as AU commission chairman is coming to an end. Insiders say he doesn't want another term, leaving the ground open to what one African ambassador in Addis Ababa described as "horse trading and quiet lobbying" for his successor.

"It is an issue that is going to preoccupy us extensively because nobody has offered a candidate. Nobody has seriously said they are interested," the ambassador said.

The AU Permanent Representatives Council (PRC), made up of African ambassadors accredited to Addis Ababa, met before the heads of state summit to consider the ground rules for electing Konare's replacement (if there will be a replacement). The Malian might well decide to change his mind and go for another term.

One diplomatic source explained: "This [election for Konare's successor], will be a very serious matter between this summit and the second summit of this year [to be held in Ghana, from 25 June to 3 July]. The element of horse-trading where you have countries quietly lobbying for their candidates is very prominent. I think Konare has made it clear that he is not standing. He has made it clear that the African leaders will have to look for another candidate."

It was reported during the summit that AU leaders had already been considering another term for Konare, who has held the post since July 2002 when the OAU officially metamorphosed into the AU at the Durban summit in South Africa. But if he does go, his place is likely to be taken by the former Mozambican president, Joachim Chissano, a man much-liked across the continent. He is already touted as a strong contender.

Whether Konare stays or goes, the AU will still be saddled with its internal contradictions. …