Making the African Union Work – Back to the Basics (By Babatunde Fagbayibo)

Posted: October 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

There have been many observations on how to reposition the African Union (AU) as the primary vehicle for advancing unity and economic development of the continent. As I always say, if documents automatically translated to success, the AU would be one of the best regional organisations in the world. AU Assembly declarations and policy papers by AU organs and NGOs have all identified some of the technocratic, legal and political measures for enhancing the effectiveness of the AU, but very little has been done in terms of implementing these policies.

The infamous word “lack of political will” continue to be blamed for the inactivation of these principles. This thus begs the question: why then do we waste precious time and resources in articulating principles that will either be flouted or grossly ignored? There is no simple answer to this question as it touches on some fundamental socio-historical, political and economic factors. This article deviates from problematising the complex obstacles confronting the AU and rather focuses on the simple elements of firming the foundation of the organisation.

The key question then is how do we go back to the basics? This idea simply implies that we creatively engage in activities that enhance the understanding and awareness of what the AU is and how we can make it more relevant. Beyond the elitist strictures of the academia, glittering summit venues, and research institutes, it is imperative to take the AU to the people. There is the need to break down the complex policies and strategies of the AU to simple terms for the man or woman on the streets of Kinshasa, Monrovia, Juba, Ouagadougou, Lagos and Maputo. These include the meaning of the AU, its challenges and relative achievements, its relevance to existential concerns, the impact of its frameworks on national sovereignty, and its future goals.

The importance of building a critical mass of followership cannot and should not be underestimated. As an organisation that has weak structures and foundation, the AU can only drive its legitimacy through wide support of the African populace. The popular understanding of the AU will go a long way in creating a support base critical for influencing and pushing national governments to fulfil their commitments to the organisation. If national citizens become fully aware of the potential benefits of the AU, and the negative implications of its inefficiency on their existential concerns, such citizens are likely to become more active in driving the demand for its empowerment.

How then do we popularise the AU? To match their rhetoric with actions, African leaders have to begin the process of enhancing the symbolic presence of the AU in their respective states. This requires simple efforts such as placing the AU flag alongside national flags, placing AU symbol on national ID documents, incorporating the study of the AU into the curriculum, explaining national programmes within the context of AU policies, engaging the media on strategies of increasing the awareness of the AU, providing strategic support to organised civil society involved in promoting the AU, and the creation of national units solely dedicated to the AU agenda.

The private sector can also play a critical role in this respect. This sector should partner with the AU in the following tasks: sponsoring of scholarships, provision of loans and grants, youth empowerment, and partnering with national governments on policies that can better enhance the awareness of the AU.

The AU cannot afford to fail in its quest for enhancing and repositioning Africa for the challenges of the 21st century. In this regard, it requires all the support it can get to achieve this task. The deficiencies of the organisation, mainly a result of the lack of political will on the part of national governments, therefore require nuanced ways of thinking and doing. Securing the support of the African populace is a very important element. It simply implies that the organisation is not just the “African Union”; it is more importantly, the “Union of the Peoples of Africa”.

You can follow the writer on twitter @BabsFagbayibo

  1. Adeola Adewole says:

    Good observation I must say but the truth is that must of our leaders in AU or position of power in Africa are more concerned about their pockets and not about advancing Africa to the next level. The greatest problem in Africa is lack of leadership…until we have true leaders with visions Africa will only remain a continent of Hope with no developments to show. Corruption is the reason Africa is dying.

  2. sunmi odusanya says:

    In my opinion, the position of the AU and the state of most african nations today is just a reflection of the people we are. We have no love for ourselves let alone our sovereignty. To really be able to make a change, we must as a people care for the cause and see it as something worth preserving. If we took out all the leaders today and replaced with a fresh set, my guess is we’d still be singing the same song.

  3. David Nnanna Ikpo says:

    I quite agree that the existence of a thing is merely a facade and distraction if it does not move from the banks of theory to the limitless ocean of practicability. A lot could be achieved with the aims, goals and policies of Africa’s consensus to move on, far beyond the eloquence of academics and research. The latter two are salient. Undisputed. But Sir Tunde’s view I support. The possibilities are endless with a little-less talk, more political will and more action. Great work sir Tunde. Refreshing too.

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