A More Perfect Union: The AU's Failures and Future
Han, Yuna, Harvard International Review
Does the African Union have a future? Founded in 2002 to replace the preexisting Organization of African Unity (OAU), the AU originally championed a "United States of Africa" that would work toward collective security and prosperity. Yet as the AU reaches its half-decade mark, many have critiqued its lackluster performance and questioned its future. Despite repeated calls for a supranational organization modeled after the European Union, the challenges of internal political instability, ideological confusion, and funding continue to diminish hopes for a united body. Is there a place for the AU, with or without a pan-African state? The answer, while not a flat-out "no," does suggest that a revolutionary unification of Africa is unlikely. Instead, as exemplified by recent efforts to organize various diasporas and implement anti-corruption measures, the AU's more immediate role seems to be that of a provider of public goods and a catalyst for reform.
The organization's most fundamental problem is its ideological vacuum. The AU has adopted the vague notion of "pan-Africanism" as its guiding principle, but this term can be used to support opposing goals and priorities. During the formation of the AU, support was divided into two camps: the Casablanca group and the Monrovia group. The Casablanca group argued for extensive unification of defense and economic policies, while the Monrovia group championed a "United States of Africa" that would respect individual state sovereignty. The Sirte Summit, during which the AU was founded, ostensibly echoed the ideology of the Monrovia group. However, key AU figures still support the Casablanca doctrine, leading to contradictory policies on the direction of the organization. Pan-Africanism, as a result, has fallen short of being a full-fledged ideology for the AU. Instead, it has become a catch-all phrase for political expediency.
On a more practical level, the AU lacks the political credibility to be an effective source of power on the continent. Currently, the membership of the AU includes all African states but Morocco, so that even the most egregious violators of human rights, such as Zimbabwe, are represented. Although the AU supposedly only extends its membership to "democratic" regimes, the criteria are far from rigorous. Unlike the EU. it does not require extensive protection of rights or the establishment of rule of law. This undermines not only the AU's commitment to the protection of human rights and democratic institutions, but also the legitimacy of the organization itself.
Furthermore, the AU's lack of funding reduces its relevance as a serious political player. The Pan African Parliament (PAP), which serves as a regional body for popular sovereignty, has not been able to convene as frequently as necessary because of financial shortages. This incapacity has diminished its role in the decision making process. …