A "Culture of Conservatism": How and Why African Union Member States Obstruct the Deepening of the Integration

By Welz, Martin | Strategic Review for Southern Africa, June 2014 | Go to article overview

A "Culture of Conservatism": How and Why African Union Member States Obstruct the Deepening of the Integration


Welz, Martin, Strategic Review for Southern Africa


1. Introduction

Officially launched in 2002, the African Union (AU) is still a young organisation. While it has made some progress, for example, with regard to the implementation of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), the organisation lags behind its ambitions of political, economic and social integration. The establishment of the African Economic Community, for instance, originally envisaged for 2023 by the Abuja Treaty of 1991, is far behind schedule. Similarly, the establishment of African Regional Stand-by Brigades has been constantly deferred in several regions. It seems that the majority of African states does not want the continental integration project to gather further momentum, but wants to maintain the status quo--at least in several policy realms. As a result, a 'culture of conservatism' has emerged and the AU will remain an intergovernmental organisation in the foreseeable future, by and large dependent upon the will of its members, who shape and shove the organisation and sometimes even undermine it. In its current shape, the AU is far removed from Kwame Nkrumah's (and later on Muammar al-Gaddafi's) vision of a United States of Africa.

The reasons for the 'culture of conservatism' and the AU member states' general reluctance to engage in the deepening of continental integration are various. They include an unwillingness to cede sovereignty, an unwillingness of national leaders to give up personal power, a lack of capacities and resources, as well as the fact that regional economic communities, which are developed simultaneously at the sub-regional level, are often more beneficial for its member states than the AU.

2. The Status Quo in a Nutshell

The AU has come a long way since the foundation of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), in 1963. While the OAU was a loose alliance of states that strictly adhered to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference, the AU has since its formal launch in 2002 developed into a stronger institutionalised and diversified structure. This includes a relatively strong Commission, a Pan-African Parliament (PAP) with consultative functions, and several institutions which promote peace and security. Particularly the well-advanced security architecture, comprising the Peace and Security Council, the Continental Early Warning System, the regional Stand-by Brigades, (1)) and the Panel of the Wise, leaves observers with the impression that some progress has been made (Packer and Rukare 2002: 365-379; Ankomah 2007: 10-12; Makinda and Okumu 2008; Akokpari 2008: 85112; Williams 2007: 253-279; Franke 2009; Engel and Porto 2010; Franke 2010: 179-200). Beyond that, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a monitoring process that looks inter alia into the political and socio-economic developments of voluntarily participating states, has been introduced and implemented in several African countries. The South African based Business Day praised the AU in its early days for "present[ing] an opportunity for the continent to shrug off the interlude of denigration that some believe should be the continent's eternal fate" (Business Day, 16 August 2002). Generally speaking, there had been high hopes in Africa and beyond that the continent would move towards peace, stability, and socio-economic development after the AU superseded the OAU.

Contrary to the OAU, a strident defender of national sovereignty and the principle of non-interference in other states' internal affairs, Article 4(h) of the AU's Constitutive Act allows for

the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity as well as a serious threat to legitimate order to restore peace and stability to the Member State of the Union upon the recommendation of the Peace and Security Council (African Union 2000).

As a result of this reorientation, the AU sent peacekeeping missions to Burundi (2003), Darfur (2005), Somalia (2007), the Comoros (2008), and most recently to Mali (2013) and the Central African Republic (2013). …

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