African solutions to African problems
12 Apr 2013|

 The 17th Ordinary African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. African security issues are likely to account for a large proportion of Australia’s work on the Security Council and beyond Australia’s two year term, it must be recognized that a more secure Africa is in the long-term interests of Australia.  In recent years Australia has begun to engage at greater levels with the African continent, especially in terms of trade and investment. A more secure Africa will be a more prosperous Africa. It’s thus vitally important to understand and promote further discussion on the role of African organisations in addressing African security conundrums and international support for them. A good place to start is on a continent-wide level, with an examination of the African Union.

A United States of Africa was a lofty dream of many, including Kwame Nkrumah who had a vision of a continental government and more recently Muammar Gaddafi, who had aspirations to be its king. However, many African governments were wary of ceding too much of their authority to a central organization and a compromise had to be reached. The desire to unify such a huge and diverse continent was bound to involve significant challenges. But a more united Africa has the potential to achieve greater security for African populations.

The African Union (AU) was established in 2002 amidst the euphoria of an African renaissance and renewed hope in the ideology of Pan-Africanism. It was the product of the combined vision and effort of several leading African states to form a supra-national organisation for the continent, which could provide ‘African solutions to African problems’. It’s composed of the fifty-four states of the African continent and has its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The AU replaced the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was viewed by many as merely a ‘talk shop for African dictators’. The fundamental flaw of the OAU was the fact it was founded on the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of member states.

While the OAU had been primarily concerned with achieving the independence of all African states from colonial rule, the AU was established to tackle the current problems plaguing the continent; poor governance, political instability, insecurity and conflict. The AU was created to have fundamentally different principles, ideals and organs to its predecessor and therefore, hopefully a fundamentally different role on the continent.

The AU was inspired by the emergence of an increasing number of democratic African states and the realisation that combined African intervention was required to address the endemic problems of the continent. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda was viewed as a significant motivating factor behind the recognition that an effective supra-national organisation for the continent was needed to develop African prevention capacity to prevent further atrocities on such a magnitude. As former AU Commissioner of Peace and Security, Ambassador Said Djinnit stated: ‘Africans cannot….watch the tragedies developing in the continent and say it is the United Nations responsibility or somebody elses’s responsibility….We cannot as Africans remain indifferent to the tragedy of our people’.

The most important principle governing the AU is Article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act , which grants; ‘the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity’.  This is a significant departure from the OAU’s principle of non-intervention and shows a willingness to take action to defend the security and wellbeing of African populations. The Peace and Security Council is the organ of the AU responsible for ‘the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts’. It’s described in the Constitutive Act as a ‘collective security and early-warning arrangement to facilitate timely and efficient responses to conflict and crisis situations in Africa’.

The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is viewed by many commenters as having been a relative success story. Somalia has for over two decades represented the epitome of a failed state, embroiled in clan based warfare and the rise of Islamist militants. AMISOM, composed primarily of Ugandan, Kenyan and Burundian troops, was established in 2007 with funding from the European Union and the United States.  Its mandate is to secure and stabilize the country, enable humanitarian activities and protect government institutions. The mission’s mandate was extended this year, until 2014 by the UN Security Council.

The Islamist militant group, Al Shabaab, was the greatest threat to the transitional government’s authority in Somalia and to security in the country at large. At times the group appeared capable of taking over Somalia, with the government’s hold on power confined to a few city blocks in Mogadishu. But the tide has turned. According to recent reports, Al-Shabaab has now been pushed out of the main towns of Somalia and only has a presence in rural areas in South and Central parts of the country. In a speech thanking the Ugandans for their role in AMISOM, the new President of Somalia, elected last September, declared to the Ugandan media, that ‘Al-Shabaab has been defeated’..

While Somalia isn’t out of the woods yet, it’s an example of what can potentially be achieved by AU missions. It shows that countries which have a direct interest in a secure and stable Somalia are more likely to achieve it. As one Ugandan Colonel said; ‘if Somalia is unstable, Kenya is unstable, then, we are unstable, first and foremost’.  A military mission composed of troops from neighboring countries possesses a greater incentive to achieve its mandate. There are countless examples of Africa’s civil wars spilling over into neighboring countries and destabilising whole regions.

The United Nations can’t impose security on Africa, but it can help it to develop the capacity needed to solve its own problems. The African Union is the future of security in Africa; a more united continent will be a more secure one.

Sabrina Joy Smith is a PhD candidate with the Centre for the Study of the Great Lakes region of Africa at the Institute for Development Studies and Management, Belgium. She is currently based in New South Wales. Image courtesy of Flickr user Embassy of Equatorial Guinea.