A Weak African Union for 53 Member States

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Equatoguinean Teodoro President Obiang and African Union Chairman Jean Ping at the African Union Summit in Malabo. Photo from Embassy of Equatorial Guinea

2011 was a tumultuous year for the African continent with revolutions, attempted coups and violent political crises. Unfortunately the union of 53 African states that has as its mission to help strengthen regional peace and development has proved its own shortcomings in dealing with these situations.

The African Union, created in 1999 after the dissolution of the Organisation of the African Unity, was unable to solve the Côte d'Ivoire post-electoral crisis, offered late support to popular movements of the Arab Spring, and its position on Libya was primarily determined by the late Colonel Gaddafi's influence on the organisation.

All this has led many African citizens to distrust whether the Union is really able to fulfill its mission [fr]. This much is clear studying critical blogs from commentators across the region. On the blog Cry Me An Onion, Patrick-Bernard is unequivocal in his post “Let's Get Rid Of The African Union“:

In light of the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Kenya, Madagascar, RDC, Libya and many more in Africa an institution that should be boycotted and toppled down to the ground is the African Union. The embarrassing Ali Baba gang of 53 thieves is useless in solving any or all the conflicts in Africa or finding any unifying consensus. (…)

In the unfolding crisis in Mali, the organisation currently appears to be faring no batter. Although worrying reports are coming from the Northern part of the country, now ruled by Islamist group Ansar Dine, the African Union failed to mobilise the United Nations Security Council to back a military intervention with troops from the countries of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS). On a France-based blog of a Touareg association, Temoust.org [fr], it is explained:

(…) sur le dossier du Mali, les arguments avancés par Ramtane Lamamra (photo), le Commissaire de l’Union africaine pour la paix et la sécurité, pour un soutien de l’ONU à une intervention militaire dans ce pays n’ont pas convaincu les 15 membres du Conseil de sécurité. (…) L’UA reste très imprécise ; combien de soldats seront envoyés sur place, à combien se chiffre cette opération, quelle sera la mission de cette force militaire ?

… in the case of Mali, the arguments advanced by Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, have not convinced the 15 members of the Security Council to support a UN military intervention in that country (…) The African Union is still very unclear; how many soldiers will be sent there, how much will the operation cost, what will be the mission of this military force?

Limited Means

In spite of this assessment, it is important for the 1 billion inhabitants of the 53 African member states to be represented and see their interests protected by a strong, inclusive regional organisation, in a globalised world. Such ambition requires means which the organisation currently lacks.

In 2012, the budget proposal presented by the African Union Commission reached $274 million USD. It is a pittance compared to the 147 billion EUR of the European Union. Moreover, even such a budget is likely not to be secured by the organisation, since only 5 among the 53 member states [fr] actually pay their annual contributions (Libya, Egypt, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria).

Furthermore, according to African Union Chairman Jean Ping himself in 2010, 77% [fr] of the operational budget, which serves to implement and sustain programs such as military force deployments, come from foreign counterparts, like the European Union. Knowing this one can understands how limited the pan-African organisation's breathing space is.

As the continent continues to suffer from strife, it appears unlikely in spite of noble goals that the African Union will offer much respite.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.


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