Sovereignty and the African Union

By Farmer, Leila J. | Journal of Pan African Studies, January 15, 2012 | Go to article overview

Sovereignty and the African Union

Farmer, Leila J., Journal of Pan African Studies


In his book, Africa Must Unite, Kwame Nkrumah argued that complete political and economic independence in Africa was threatened by neocolonialism and only through solidarity could freedom be achieved. Nkrumah recognized that African development depended on cooperation and unity among the newly independent states. Though Nkrumah's vision of a united Africa has not been realized, the argument for a political union has not been forgotten. Muammar Gaddafi, the leader of Libya and the Chairperson of the African Union throughout 2009, has taken on Nkrumah's position. Gaddafi claimed that Africa must "unite or die" and without a political union, the forces of globalization would continue to exploit Africa. The debate for a politically united Africa, however, is still unresolved and there is much opposition to this idea mainly because the contentious principle of sovereignty is at the center of this debate. As such, it is the focus of this paper.

This paper examines way the principle of sovereignty influenced the ideological framework of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU). When tracing the principle of sovereignty from the OAU to the AU it is evident that there has been a significant shift in the manner in which African leaders view this principle. This change is demonstrated by the way sovereignty is entrenched in the AU's Charter and the ideology behind its peace and security institutions. It will be argued that the institutionalization of sovereignty provides the AU with the capacity to address the ideals of Pan-Africanism.

First, this paper provides a definition of sovereignty, which has been drawn from the work of Samuel M. Makinda and F. Wafula Okumu. Sovereignty is not a static term and in their book, The African Union: Challenges of Globalization, Security and Governance, Makinda and Okumu recognize the complex and constantly changing nature of this principle.

Next, a definition of Pan-Africanism is provided and a discussion examining the way this term has impacted the structure of the AU follows. The next section provides an overview of the ideological differences between the Casablanca group and the Monrovia group. By focusing on sovereignty as a dividing point, this section discusses how the debate between these groups shaped the ideology of the OAU and the AU. Using the Charter of the AU, the next section discusses the ideological framework of the AU. Lastly, this paper discusses the role of the AU role in Darfur and how this case illustrates the normative shift in the AU's views on sovereignty.

Shifting Definitions of Sovereignty

Although the principle of sovereignty emerged from Western political thought, it has been adopted by states all over the world as a means of identifying political jurisdiction. The Treaty of Westphalia defined a sovereign state as one with clear borders, having the right to rule over its people and expecting its territorial integrity to be respected while respecting that of other states. (1) This definition has however, evolved. Since the late 1990's the concept of human security has come to challenge this state centric view of sovereignty. As such, sovereignty is no longer viewed as an intrinsic right of states but rather that, this right is derived from the people. This means that a state maintains its right to rule as long as it respects the basic human rights of its citizenship. Makinda and Okumu discuss the complicated nature of sovereignty by separating it into three definitions. The first type of sovereignty they describe is "juridical sovereignty" and it is obtained by states through recognition in the international society. (2) This is a relatively liberal definition as its underlying assumption is that if the international society can confer sovereignty, it can also decide when to withdraw it. For the scope of this paper juridical sovereignty is important in so far as this was the type of sovereignty African states established during the era of decolonization. …

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