Has the African Union come of age?

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THERE was a fear among many Africans that the African Union might follow the same disastrous path as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

For some people, this is a scandalous statement: the OAU, despite its many faults, did serve its assigned purpose. It acted heroically in bolstering the struggle against colonialism.

Yet in placing all its eggs in that one basket, it ignored the vital elements of any organisation: it allowed its members far too much latitude to act as they pleased.

In fact, it could be said to have condoned some of their waywardness.

For instance, I have not heard or read a cogent argument in favour of allowing an OAU summit conference to be held in Uganda during Idi Amin’s violent tenure as military dictator.

The doctrine of “non-interference in member-states’ internal affairs” was taken to extremes.

Obviously, there were hard lessons for the African Union to study when it took over the mantle from the OAU.

Its suspension of the Ivory Coast is a shining example of how much it is determined to be different from the OAU: may such gutsy, no-nonsense intolerance of such political tomfoolery be maintained throughout its existence.

Clearly, if it had not acted so decisively, we would all have thrown up our arms in despair, if not surrender: “Here, we go again…as gutless as the OAU!”

The AU has shown, in the recent past that it is not going to be taken for granted.

For instance, its overall attitude towards Muammar Gaddafi’s proposals for an early United States of Africa was quite emphatic: this was not the time for such grandiose, pie-in-the-sky projects. The ideal is accepted and recognised.

In 2007, Libya hosted a gathering of selected eminent Africans, including journalists and politicians, to drum up support for its project for an early United States of Africa.

I was among the journalists. I came away feeling a little confused: there has never been any doubt that Africans desire more unity than they have enjoyed so far.

But the process must be gradual: right now, the momentum must be towards fighting poverty and underdevelopment.

Neither of the organisations formed by other continents have been without their birth pangs. We must learn from them: the example set by the AU over the Ivorian debacle is highly salutary.

That country appears to be on the verge of another civil war, which the AU and all other organisations — African or otherwise — must fight to prevent.

It is an opportunity for African leaders to show the kind of gumption that many believe most of them lacked at the time of the OAU.

Laurent Gbagbo, the loser, is a nasty throwback to the terrible days of Idi Amin and Jean Badel Bokassa. They thought their rule had the blessing of the Almighty or Allah.

The only way they could be removed was by force.

In the wake of the profound African embarrassment over the debacle in the Ivory Coast, a suggestion has been put forward, seriously: there should be an internationally recognised body to supervise and certify as free and fair all national elections in Africa.

You can hear the shrieks of protest among the extremist pan-Africanists among us: this is neo-imperialism at its worst.

But a look at the recent electoral scenario on the continent must give us cause for pause: only in Guinea was the victor allowed his prize, without risking the lives of his followers — or even his own.

In Egypt, there were protests after the victory of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party — after virtually neutralising all the opposition parties before the poll.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which had won a substantial number of seats in the last election, accounted for none at all this time around.

Nothing can explain this poor performance except the evil hand of Mubarak’s party.

His strategy might be to weaken the Muslim Brotherhood to zero support, perhaps on the grounds it had a hand in the assassination of Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat.

He must know that it might have exactly the opposite effect. The suspension of Egypt from the AU would be something all Africans would shudder at.

But no country should be bigger than the continent — or its unity.

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