The African Union’s (AU) move to declare the year 2014 as a “Year of Agriculture and Food Security” reflects its desperate desire to go beyond the complex web of political crises that have long tied its hands.
Embroiled in a series of deadly conflicts, the AU is finding it difficult to maintain law and order on its soil. This perceived lassitude has prompted world powers such as France, Germany and the United States to want to step in—at last. These arrivals should indeed give the AU the much needed support to implement its ambitious project to silence all guns by 2020, but will it?
Created in 2001 to replace the Organization of African Unity, its predecessor, the AU has been seen by some analysts and commentators as an important tool for African solutions to African problems. Over the past years, it has championed some of the most important causes on the continent including addressing poverty, hunger, malaria, and armed conflicts. Among these issues, armed conflicts, mainly fuelled by undemocratic and military regimes, are becoming insuperable.
In the Somali crisis, for instance, the armed conflict started in 1991 when then military leader Maj Gen Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled. The ensuing clan rivalries for influence created a power vacuum that left the country in tatters. Attempts by the international community to quell the bloody crisis in the 1990s failed, and the crisis continued to represent a perpetual danger to neighbouring countries.
The intervention under the auspices of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) from 2007 of the Ethiopian, Kenyan and Ugandan forces, to name but a few, helped to reclaim a country that had hitherto been lost to Al-Shabaab, the Islamic guerrilla. But it has been long since Al-Shabaab started taking the war to the soil of participating countries.
Add to that the entanglement of the AU in the Malian crisis, its entrapment in the Central African Republic (CAR) civil war maze as well as its heavy involvement in the DRC crisis; you get a diffident and agonizing institution!
The difficult signature of the South Sudan ceasefire on January 23, 2013 brokered by the seven-member East African bloc—the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—after several weeks of deadly clashes between Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar is a grim reminder that the AU can no longer crow with pride.
For sure, the AU’s recent efforts in peacekeeping operations can be interpreted as a strong indication that it is no longer comfortable with the back seat it has often occupied in world affairs. Unfortunately, however, there are also concerns that these efforts are far from silencing the guns as they are almost always reactionary and at best devoid of foresight.
A close look at the current conflicts indicates that they are symptoms of a much deeper malaise that should have required more proactive AU’s role: Erosion of political and civil rights, authoritarian tendencies, leadership deficits, and the lack of check and balance in governance issues.
In Somalia for instance, Mohamad Siad Barre reigned from October 6, 1919 – January 2, 1995 as a complete dictator who banned political parties, incarcerated opposition leaders and installed a one-party government. These missteps that led to the Somali chaos till today went largely unnoticed if not ignored.
Both the Mali and the CAR crisis came as a result of clear leadership deficit and the erosion of human rights that were left unchecked for too long. Presidents of both countries governed their countries as conquered territories giving the international audience the façade of democracy they never desired for their people in the first place.
Then comes the crisis of South Sudan that is largely seen by some commentators as an outgrowth of the president’s authoritarian tendencies.
There other less honourable AU’s steps that are driving coach and horses through its manifest desire to silence all guns by 2020. For instance, its move to shield members of the club such as Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and Uhuru Kenyatta from the ICC’s prosecution has tarnished its credibility as a reliable institution.
Indeed this move is rarely a sign of hope for a continent where scores of people are in desperate need of protection from human rights abuses generally attributed to the growing trends of armed conflicts that are becoming more and more unpredictable, unavoidable and deadly.
Whether the guns will fall silent by 2020 will depend largely on how well the AU will advocate for a renewed emphasis on human rights and the principles of democracy and governance among its member countries.
Mr Tchinsala is a Ph.D candidate and a Fulbright Scholar in Education at the Southern Illinois University, USA