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Author(s): Tim Murithi
Source: African Affairs , October 2012, Vol. 111, No. 445 (October 2012), pp. 662-669
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal African Society
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African Affairs, 111/445, 662-669 doi: I0.i093/afrafads058
© The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal African Society. All rig Advance Access Publication 26 August 2012
The Author 2012.
Tim Murithi*
As the African Union marked its tenth anniversary on 9 July
2012, it was still recovering from one of its most public disagreements. At
the heart of this disagreement was the AU’s interpretation of and commit
ment to good governance and humanitarian intervention. Sparked by the
uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and the contested November
2010 elections in Côte d’Ivoire, these issues came under intense debate.
The NATO-led intervention in Libya – the AU’s backyard – caught the
organization unaware and divided its members on whether the military in
cursion, under the rubric of the UN doctrine of the ‘responsibility to
protect’ (R2P), was warranted. Similarly, the earlier crisis in Côte d’Ivoire
and the involvement of the UN and France led to criticisms of the AU’s
failure to respond in a unified and coherent manner.
The key issue of debate was whether the AU should act as a bulwark
against external intervention and become the primary agent of humanitarian
intervention and democratic consolidation on the continent, or whether this
role should continue to be usurped by foreign actors who are often perceived
to pursue their own strategic self-interests. South Africa, which was involved
in the AU efforts to mediate the crisis in both Libya and Côte d’Ivoire,
adopted a strategic position premised on moulding the leadership institutions
of the African Union, with a view to making it a more effective and profes
sional regional organization. Arguing that the AU Commission, and by exten
sion its membership, was slow and indecisive in addressing the two crises,
South Africa attempted to take over the leadership of the Commission
towards the end of 2011. It did so by proposing its former Minister for
International Relations and Cooperation, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as the
Southern African Development Community (SADC) candidate for the pos
ition of Chairperson of the AU Commission. This was an unprecedented
*Tim Murithi ([email protected]) is a Research Fellow at the Centre for African
Studies, University of the Free State and Head of the Justice and Reconciliation Programme
at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa.
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move, and a direct critique of the existing chairperson, Jean Ping of Gabon.
The subsequent vote to elect the Chairperson was conducted through a
secret ballot so the exact break down of the voting pattern is difficult to
discern, but initially the incumbent Ping received sufficient votes to prevent
an outright majority for Dlamini-Zuma. However, in July 2012, Dlamini
Zuma secured the support she required to be crowned as Chair at the
Summit of Heads of State and Governement. The very public disagreement
over who should lead the AU revealed two competing notions of the nature
and character of the organization. At the heart of this debate lies the question
of whether the AU should make a robust transition towards becoming an ef
fective norm entrepreneur as far as the ideals of peace, security, democracy,
and development are concerned.
This Briefing provides an assessment of the AU’s achievements to date. It
focuses on the Union’s attempts to become a norm entrepreneur, particularly
in the areas of peace and security, democracy, and human rights. It also assesses
the organization’s achievements in terms of establishing itself as ‘a voice of
Africa’ and concludes that the project of Pan-Africanism has made some
progress under the AU, but that the dream of African unity remains unfulfilled.
The AU as a norm enterpreneur: from Pan-Africanism to regional integration
An endeavour to re-animate Pan-Africanism was the directing force
behind the establishment of the African Union.1 Pan-Africanism is an
invented notion, but with the purpose of addressing Africa’s insecurity
and underdevelopment.2 The ideal of African solidarity was first institu
tionalized in the form of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in
1963, and subsequently re-articulated in the establishment of the AU in
2002. It continues to act as the animating drive behind the AU and its
commitment to regional integration. However, the first ten years of the
AU reveal that the Pan-Africanist project remains predominantly a
top-down affair with elites from across Africa crafting and moulding the
institutions to govern the continent, often without sufficiently consulting
their publics. That said, there are social movements developing across
African borders, which are also fuelling Pan-Africanism from below.
In the ten years of its existence, the AU has attempted to play a contin
ental role as a norm entrepreneur, understood here as a normative leader
who encourages others to uphold a range of norms for the improvement
of the livelihood of people within their jurisdiction or authority. The AU
1. Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood, Pan-African History: Political figures from Africa and
the Disapora since 1787 (Routledge, London, 2003), p. vii.
2. Timothy Murithi, The African Union: Pan-Africanism, peacebuilding and development
(Ashgate, Aldershot, 2005).
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has sought to advance norms related to peace and stability and tion as a collective security regime. The AU Constitutive Act asc the Union the right to intervene and a responsibility to protect tions of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. In norms and policy this means that African countries have to agre their sovereignty to enable the AU to act as the continental guar protector of the security, rights, and well-being of the African peop African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) was established as a
legal institution of the Union through the ‘Protocol Relating to the
Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union’ in
2002, and in this sense the AU has undoubtedly led in promoting the
norms of peace and security on the continent. Currently the AU is
seeking to operationalize these norms through its peace operations in
Somalia, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM, launched in
2007), its Electoral and Security Assistance Mission to the Comoros
(AU-MAES, launched in 2008), and its contribution to the Joint AU-UN
Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID, launched in 2007). In addition,
Union personnel contributed towards stabilizing the situation in Burundi,
through the AU Mission in Burundi (AMIB) from 2003 to 2004.
Promoting governance and development norms
Similarly, on issues relating to governance the AU has sought to establish
norms to guide the behaviour of its member states. In particular, the
African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance is a
seminal document, which has been ratified by the required fifteen member
states and is accordingly a living document that outlines a range of provi
sions on how countries can improve their governance. The challenge is to
ensure that these norms are actually adopted and implemented.
African countries have consistently expressed their desire to regain
control of their economic development policies, in order to improve their
citizens’ access to education and health care. The Structural Adjustment
Programmes (SAPs) and so-called Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers
(PRSPs) promoted and enforced by the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) and World Bank have had a negative impact on development.
Both the IMF and the Bank have admitted that these programmes did
not achieve the desired results, while the United Nations Conference on
Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that IMF/World Bank
policies led to a 10 percent decline in economic growth in Africa.3
3. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), ‘Trade perform
ance and commodity dependence’ (UNCTAD, Geneva, 26 February 2004).
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The AU’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)
should be understood in this context. NEPAD was conceived as the
means to enable Africa to accelerate its active participation on equal
terms in the international economic sphere, and was endorsed by the
Group of Eight (G8) in June 2002.4 The key objectives of NEPAD
include developing a viable Pan-African market economy, through infra
structure development and the promotion of intra-African trade, as well
as improved access to education, training, and healthcare.5 NEPAD has
now been fully integrated into the AU with a Coordinating Agency based
at the Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.
At the African Union’s Assembly in 2002, held in Durban, the
Declaration on the Implementation of NEPAD was adopted. It included
a more specific ‘Declaration on Democracy, Political Economic and
Corporate Governance’, which also established the African Peer Review
Mechanism (APRM). The objectives of the APRM are to enhance
African ownership of its development and governance agenda, to identify,
evaluate, and disseminate best practices, and to monitor progress towards
agreed goals. Member states are invited to join the APRM to participate
in a self-monitoring programme with a clear timeframe for achieving
certain standards of inclusive governance, premised on a commitment to
accountability through peer pressure. However, as with many good inten
tions both NEPAD and the APRM have fallen short when it comes to im
plementation.6 The G8 (now the G20) have not lived up to the
development promises that they made in 2002 in terms of approaching
Africa as a partner rather than a patron, while critics of NEPAD argue
that the programme cannot succeed because it tries to integrate Africa
into a global framework of neo-liberal laissez-faire economics, which is
part of the reason why the continent found itself in such a difficult eco
nomic position in the first place.7 In addition, African governments have
only paid lip service to the APRM, due to its intrusive approach to do
mestic governance issues.
4. Godwin Dogbey, ‘Towards a strategic vision for a continent in distress’ in Olubenga
Adesida and Arunma Oteh (eds.), African Voices, African Visions (Nordic Africa Institute,
Stockholm, 2001).
5. New Partnership for Africa’s Development, ‘The African Peer Review Mechanism’
(Base Document, Sixth Summit of the NEPAD Heads of State and Government
Implementation Committee, NEPAD/HSGIC/03-2003/APRM/M0u/Annex II, 9 March
2003, Abuja, Nigeria).
6. Ayesha Kajee, ‘NEPAD’s APRM: a progress report, practical limitations and challenges’
in South African Yearbook of International Affairs (South African Institute of International
Aifairs, Johannesburg, 2004).
7. George Monbiot, ‘At the seat of empire: Africa is forced to take the blame for the devas
tation inflicted on it by the rich world’, The Guardian, 25 June 2002 <> (1 July 2012).
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The AU as an international actor: the voice of Africa
The continental body has a dual role of forging unity among its states and advocating their interests internationally. During its years of existence the AU’s role as an international actor has bee cated by the difficulty of promoting consensus among African s then maintaining that consensus in the face of often divergent interests. The Africa Group at the UN General Assembly works consensus on key issues of Pan-African interest, such as develo trade, debt cancellation, infectious diseases, small arms and light
weapons, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, climate negotiations,
trans-national crime prevention, and the election of Africans to various
UN activities and bodies.8
In March 2005, the AU issued a declaration known as ‘The Common
African Position on the Proposed Reform of the United Nations: the
Ezulwini Consensus’, which highlighted issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS
and security, poverty, debt, environmental degradation, trade negotia
tions, the responsibility to protect, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding.9 In
addition, the AU issued a position on UN reform and in particular on the
reform of the Security Council by noting that ‘in 1945, when the UN was
formed, most of Africa was not represented and that in 1963, when the
first reform took place, Africa was represented but was not in a particular
ly strong position’.10 It continues that ‘Africa’s goal is to be fully repre
sented in all the decision-making organs of the UN, particularly in the
Security Council’.11 The Common Position enumerates what ‘full repre
sentation’ of Africa in the Security Council means by demanding ‘not less
than two permanent seats with all the prerogatives and privileges of per
manent membership including the right to veto’ and ‘five non-permanent
On paper, the AU was attempting to establish and maintain a common
position, but in practice some countries, including South Africa, broke
ranks with the Ezulwini Consensus and sought ways to ascend individually
8. See the statement of the Africa Group at the 11th UN Congress on Crime Prevention
and Criminal Justice, 18-25 April 2005; the statement of the Coordinator of the Africa
Group to the Chemical Weapons Convention, April 2003; and the Africa Group position
statement to the UN Climate Negotiations, August 1997. Controversially, in May 2004, the
Africa Group submitted and successfully achieved the election of Sudan to the UN
Commission on Human Rights, see Economic and Social Council, press release ECOSOC/
9. African Union, ‘The Common African Position on the Proposed Reform of the United
Nations: the Ezulwini Consensus’ (EXT/EX.CIV2 (VII), African Union, Addis Ababa, 7-8
March 2005).
10. Ibid., p. 9.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
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to become permanent members of the Security Council. This in effect
undermined efforts to demonstrate African ‘unity of purpose’. It was not
the first time this had happened: time and again African countries have
shown that they are unlikely to vote as a collective on matters before, or
pertaining to, the Security Council – a clear indication that member states
are not respecting the AU as a norm entrepreneur. Governments generally
tend to adopt positions that best serve their interests, or positions that
enable them to receive certain benefits from more powerful countries that
‘pick and choose’ which countries they want to work with. Malawi’s move
to deny President Omar Al Bashir of Sudan access to the AU Summit, due
to be hosted in Lilongwe in July 2012, is a case in point. Explaining
Malawi’s reasons for taking this stance, President Joyce Banda stated that
her country’s commitment to its donors, notably the United Kingdom as
the largest bilateral contributor, and its desire to uphold the ICC’s Rome
Statute, would not allow it to host Bashir, an alleged war criminal. The AU
Commission subsequently took the decision to relocate the Summit to
Addis Ababa, rather than submit to Banda’s injunction. The logic of na
tional self-interest and political realism can thus be seen to have prevailed
among African countries, as well as member states at the UN.13
The A If s discontents
Those who are discontented with the African Union acknowledge the
formal existence of unity, but fault the genuineness of its Pan-African
commitment and its achievements. This is evident at several levels. While
the political and business elite, as well civil society actors, who work
across borders, are often supportive of Pan-African interaction and soli
darity, the vast majority of citizens across the continent do not know that
the AU exists. For this silent majority, Pan-Africanism is not yet a lived
experience. Stringent visa restrictions, for example, remain in place,
making a mockery of the notion of unity as citizens from African coun
tries are deported from other African countries. Freedom of movement to
and from the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, in par
ticular, should not be constrained by visa restrictions on African citizens,
and the AU leadership should commit in principle to removing visa
restrictions on the travel of African citizens across borders.
At its inception the AU waxed lyrically about its commitment to reach
ing out and engaging civil society. Its founding document, the
Constitutive Act, is unambiguous in its commitment ‘to build a partner
ship between governments and all segments of civil society’ and to
13. Currently there is no systematic analysis of the history of the voting record of the
Africa Group.
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promote the ‘participation of the African peoples in the activiti Union’.14 However, ten years on, it is clear that the AU has mai lip service to empowering African citizens to engage and influen states.15 This is particularly evident in the difficulties faced by civil society organizations that seek to engage the AU in Addis A well as its liaison offices around the continent.
The regional economic communities (RECs) are another issue where
genuine Pan-Africanism is challenged. The RECs have often positioned
themselves as countervailing focal points for collective action and the AU
has yet to ensure effective coordination, particularly on issues pertaining
to peace, security, governance, the rule of law, citizen participation, and
development. The AU and the RECs need to increase their level of inter
action and communication in order to ensure effective coordination and
collective action.
The AU has also faced criticism for being lethargic and slow in
responding to crisis and conflict situations across the continent.16 This is
due to the administrative bottlenecks that constrain the emergence of a
culture of professionalism and efficiency, particularly within the AU
Commission. These administrative challenges also undermine the morale
of AU staff in its various offices around the continent and ultimately
affects the AU’s ability to engage member states, African citizens, and
partners effectively.
In the pursuit of its peace and security interventions the AU has not
always seen eye-to-eye with the UN, the International Criminal Court
(ICC) or NATO. The UN Security Council’s referral of the President of
Sudan to the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and
genocide in Darfur in 2009 precipitated a tense stand-off between the AU
and the ICC, which is yet to be resolved. In the interest of peace and se
curity, it is essential that the relationship between the AU and these key
international organizations is improved.
At its tenth anniversary, the African Union remains, at its core, a dispar
ate collection of nation states that recognizes the value of collective action
and solidarity on a range of regional and international issues. The AU,
14. African Union, Constitutive Act of the African Union (African Union, Lome, 2000),
15. Mammo Muchie, Adam Habib, and V. Panayachee, ‘African integration and civil
society: the case of the African Union’, Transformation: Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa
61, 1 (2006), pp. 3-24.
16. Sadiki Koko and Martha Bakwesegha-Osula, ‘Assessing the African Union’s response
to the Libyan crisis’, Conflict Trends 1 (2012), pp. 3-15.
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since it holds primary responsibility for establishing and operationalizing
the continent’s peace and security architecture, has become the leading
norm entrepreneur on issues pertaining to peace, security, democracy,
and development on the continent. However, this role is tempered by the
primary character that continues to define the constituents of the
Westphalian system, namely the self-interest of nation states and the per
sistence of political realism in their day-to-day interactions. A decade
after its establishment, the AU is only just beginning to assert its voice in
the international system. Even though the AU is not always taken serious
ly by its interlocutors and powerful countries in the global north, it is
laying the foundation to empower its member states to play a more pro
active role in international relations. The AU has emerged as a home
grown initiative to take the destiny of the continent into the hands of the
African people. However, there is a long way to go before the AU’s role
as a norm entrepreneur is actualized and its vision and mission realized.
The injunction that the great Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah
bequeathed to subsequent generations continues to animate the African
Union and is still valid: ‘Africa must unite, or disintegrate individually.’17
17. Kwame Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite (Heinemann, London, 1963).
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