Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

African Union: New Organisation, Old Ideological Framework

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

African Union: New Organisation, Old Ideological Framework

Article excerpt


On being launched formally in Durban, South Africa, in July 2002 the African Union (AU) was declared a different institution from what was known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU). It heralded, according to its founders, a united, free and democratic Africa poised to see an end to civil wars, state-sponsored terror, torture and genocide, and to the denial and violation by member states of civil, political and human rights. But Africa's new grand project, that is the AU, retains and uses as a guide to its action and policy the OAU's ideology. At the core of this ideology is the familiar set of rather pious but incoherent principles and/or slogans that have helped to hold the continent together. These are unswerving solidarity among the organisation's members, sacrosanctity of the constituent states and their geographic boundaries, defence of their national sovereignty, and non-interference in member states' domestic affairs. The credo has, however, lent legitimacy to the rulers' genocidal acts, human rights abuses and denial of democracy to African peoples. The AU is thus at the outset constrained by this ideological framework in its task of transforming Africa that has so far been no more than an ensemble of disparate state systems, and an edifice embodying autocracies and quasi-democracies with varying political orientations and programmes.


Hailed as Africa's second revolution, the African Union (AU) was formally launched in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa, as a replacement for the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Yet the triumphal speeches delivered at this occasion did not disguise the fact that there would be no departure from the OAU's ideological framework. Rooted in the Pan-Africanist political philosophy with its realist/statist conception of Africa's destiny, the framework emphasises solidarity among member states, the sacrosanctity of the African state and its present geographical boundaries, defence of members' national sovereignty, and the struggle for a place within the present community of nations.

Whether by default or design, these principles defined and shaped the role of the neo-colonial state in Africa, assigning it a vanguard role. The state in post-independence Africa, therefore, remained the Leviathan that it had been since the continent was colonised and the sole hegemonic force, determining what ought to constitute national interests and societal values. Imported into Africa by the European colonisers, this public force was to replicate the classic European state that evolved as a sovereign to which all human beings and phenomena within the bounds of its territory were subordinate. Endowed with sovereignty, therefore, such a state was able to "increase its power and to override the human beings' individual rights". (1)

The prime casualty of this inherited Leviathan was the nascent democracy that had been won through the destruction of colonialism. Protected by this juggernaut, the new rulers declared soon after independence pluralism as a breeding ground for national disunity, secession and tribalism. What followed was de-democratisation programmes involving the banning or breaking up of rival political parties and autonomous civic organisations. Thus the all-encompassing Pan-Africanist ideology lent legitimacy to construction by the 'new rulers' of authoritarian corporatist state systems in their newly independent countries. This witnessed the disappearance or weakening of autonomous civic organisations, hence the loss of emergent alternative power centres unleashed by the independence struggle. However, the speakers at the Durban summit made it clear that Africa was not being de-constructed. Nor did they suggest that the transformation of the OAU into the AU amounted to a reconstruction or remaking of Africa. Africa was in fact to survive this change of name.

This article argues that the OAU's ideological framework that is to guide the AU constitutes a hurdle that the latter would have to overcome if it is to transform Africa. …

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