2013 : Annus horribilis for the African Union?

17 January 2013

The year 2013 should ordinarily generate excitement for Africans and the African Union,as this institutionwill celebrate on 25 May 2013 the 50th anniversary of the founding of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).


The AU has adopted the theme “Pan Africanism and African Renaissance” as a rallying cry for the January and June Summits this year. While this theme is apt, the year 2013 had started on a bad note for the African Union foreign policy system. Looking at the AU’s executive council agenda, including matters to be dealt with by Summit, conflict situations are to receive the urgent attention of the AU.

However, these summits should not have been about crisis management situations. Ideally, they should have been about continuity from last year’s summits, which focussed largely on the crucial, but still poorly anchored agenda of deepening trade integration on the African continent.

However, conflicts continue to fester in various parts of the African continent, with some having reached full-scale war. The year 2013 might turn out to be the annus horribilis for the AU. A continent-wide tour de force is revealing of my scepticism.

The situation in Mali has taken on a dimension that is far beyond the collective abilities of the African Union with the President of Mali, Diancounda Traoré requesting the French government to intervene militarily in order to save the capital of Mali, Bamako from falling into the hands of Islamist rebels from the North. Similarly, another phantom-state, the Central African Republic (CAR) also requested the French government to save the country from falling into the hands of rebels.

In both cases, France obliged by sending additional military personnel to Bangui in order to protect the government of President François Bozize from collapse. States in the region, including Cameroon and Gabon have all sent their men in uniform to create the conditions for stability as the situation in CAR could potentially destabilise the fragile equilibrium in Paul Biya’s Cameroon and Ali Ben Bongo’s Gabon.

In West Africa, the transition in Côte d’Ivoire has not been smooth and the year 2013 is likely to be a Litmus test for how effectively the regional players and the United Nations can keep the peace under a tense political situation.Nigeria, while promising, is battling Islamic fundamentalism in the shape of Boko Haram.

Looking east, in one of the most dangerous regions, the Horn of Africa, the international community has been able to deal with rapacious piracy in the Gulf of Aden. There is a government in Mogadishu, but the inability of the state to control its territory creates condition for militia to operate in various parts of the country.

The regional economic hegemon, Kenya a country that ought to serve as a guarantor of stability and prosperity is facing a patchy road ahead with political violence rearing nastily ahead of the elections in March 2013.

If South-Sudan and Sudan had been able to reduce tensions markedly toward the end of last year as a result of Ethiopian-led mediation, the independence of South-Sudan has also generated internal political challenges. Allegations of human rights, including corruption abound and this undermines the prospect of Juba in its path toward democratic governance and consolidation.

The countries of North Africa, including Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are still in some form of interregnum after the Arab spring three years ago. Expectations about democratic governance and human rights have been met only partially, and the potential for violence still remain going forward.

In Southern Africa, the situation in Zimbabwe is still in limbo, with scheduled elections less likely to take place in March this year as initially hoped.

This uncertainty raises the spectre of violence in the country.South Africa is a country that is supposed to be a beacon of stability and diffuser of norms. But the difficult economic situation has led to paralysing strikes in the mining and farming sectors, posing potential dangers for the investment climate in the country.

The net effect resulting from the difficult political situation in South Africa is that Pretoria could deflect its attention away from its African Agenda of creating a stable and prosperous Africa. While Angola had been experiencing spectacular double digit resource driven economic growth over the past decade, the oil boom is unevenly shared with widespread inequalities and new social fractures emerging.

In the main, these widespread challenges in Africa’s driver states and smaller ones undermine the development of the African continent. Africa is emerging as a new frontier of growth as a result of residual external factors, but also the modest achievements in democratic governance and economic growth. However, African policy-makers and civil society should be on guard to avert a year that could turn out disastrous.

Alfredo Tjiurimo HENGARI is Head of the South African Foreign Policy and African Drivers Programme at the South African Institute of International Affairs, based at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.



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