The Tragedy of the African Union


On 18 December, the African Union’s (AU) Peace and Security Council authorised the sending to Burundi of a 5,000 force with the mission to protect civilians caught up in violence that plagued the country since April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza said he would seek a third term in office.

The violence – which has included an abortive coup d’état, regular ambushes on security forces, political assassinations, street battles and even failed mortar bombings on the presidential palace – resonates attacks carried out during Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war.

The decision is unusual; in fact, this move marks the first use AU’s Military powers to deploy Peacekeepers to a member country against its will.

The Burundi Government calls the AU peacekeepers an “Invasion force” and vows to “fight” it: the continental body neither consulted nor sought for the approval of the Government. It’s complicated to understand the root cause of the current crisis given its nature and historical antecedents. One thing for sure is that, it has a political root with a mix of ethnic colorization.

Dr. Busingye Kabumba writes: “At the root of this crisis lies the question as to the proper interpretation of Article 96 of the Burundi Constitution, which provides: The President of the Republic is elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years renewable one time. According to the Opposition, President Nkurunziza is not eligible to stand as a candidate in the 2015 elections, having served two terms as President, since his first election in 2005.

The CNDD-FDD, on the other hand, argues that the first term should not be taken into account for purposes of Article 96 since that election was by the National Assembly and therefore not by ‘universal adult suffrage’. For its part, in a decision handed down on 5th May 2015, the Constitutional Court of Burundi has favoured the latter view of Article 96. However, the Court’s decision has had little effect in terms of resolving the crisis.”

However, what is of interest to me here is the “Military” or “Humanitarian” intervention of the African Union.

Decades [or so]ago, the leaders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) saw the need to undertake some restructuring within the organization in the context of the 1991 Treaty establishing the Economic Community of Africa.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the restructuring was later undertaken on the basis of some ideological and political considerations. In 2000, a Constitutive Act was adopted and entered into force in May 2001. This development saw the birth of the AU, replacing the OAU: the restructuring had taken place!

Article 4 (h) of the AU Constitutive Act to which all Member States are signatory, stipulates that the Union has “…the right 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”. In the same vein, a Member State has “…the right to request such intervention in order to restore Peace and Security”.

The Protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act, which was adopted in February 2003 amends Article 4 (h) by adding at the end of the sub-paragraph the lines “as well as a serious threat to legitimate order to restore peace and stability to the Member State of the Union upon the recommendation of the Peace and Security Council”.

Article 4 (h) of the Protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act now reads: “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 as well as a serious threat to legitimate order to restore peace and stability to the Member State of the Union upon the recommendation of the Peace and Security Council”.


Why the “Right to Intervention” was adopted

The decision by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU who adopted the Constitutive Act of the African Union to incorporate the right of intervention in that Act stemmed from concern about the OAU’s failure to intervene in order to stop the gross and massive human rights violations witnessed in Africa in the past, such as the excesses of Idi Amin in Uganda and Bokassa in the Central African Republic in the 1970s and the genocide in Rwanda in 1994[i].

Some Heads of States and Government went to the extent of deriding the OAU of supervising over genocides and mass killings in Africa.

In his maiden speech to the Ordinary Session of Heads of State and Government of the OAU in 1986, President Museveni of Uganda stated: “Over a period of 20 years three quarters of a million Ugandans perished at the hands of governments that should have protected their lives (…) I must state that Ugandans (…) felt a deep sense of betrayal that most of Africa kept silent (…) the reason for not condemning such massive crimes had supposedly been a desire not to interfere in the internal affairs of a Member State, in accordance with the Charters of the OAU and the United Nations.

We do not accept this reasoning because in the same organs there are explicit laws that enunciate the sanctity and inviolability of human life.”[ii]

President Aferwerki of Eritrea made similar accusations. He maintained that the OAU had failed the people of Africa and the people of Eritrea and was therefore a useless organization.

Interestingly, the “Right to Intervention” instrument has never been invoked until December 18, 2015 (in the case of Burundi) despite palpable evidence of its application in crisis that afflicted such war-torn countries as Ivory Coast, South Soudan, Central African Republic, Kenya, Mali among others. In many of those cases, French troops were put to work.

Interestingly, in the case of South Sudan, It was left to the United Nations to move peacekeepers from Darfur, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and even Haiti, to try to staunch the bloodletting in the oil-rich country.

Indeed, the AU has proved to be a useless organization.

The fundamentals of the new institutional framework of the African Union oblige all member States to observe certain “universal” values and principles among which are respect for human rights, democratic governance, and the condemnation of unconstitutional changes of governments. A member State failing to observe those values and principles could be subject to political and economic sanctions. Article 23 (2) of the AU Constitutive Act states  “…any Member State that fails to comply with the decisions and policies of the Union may be subjected to other sanctions, such as the denial of transport and communications links with other Member States, and other measures of a political and economic nature to be determined by the Assembly.Paradoxically, the AU neither has political nor economic powers.

As to what concern its military apparatus, the United States lavished money on what was described as the “African Peace and Security Architecture,” providing US$ 500 million to train up to 50,000 African troops. British involvement was also substantial, with more than £110 million a year being invested via the African Conflict Prevention Pool for nearly a decade[iii]. Latest checks show that the figure stands at £51.5 million. The Pool is a joint initiative, run by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defense and DFID.

As it stands today, no one can ascertain the status of the “African Peace and Security Architecture” – and the African Conflict Prevention Pool…?

In Article 39 of a recently released AU document, labeled“Agenda 2063” it is stated that “By 2063, Africa will have the capacity to secure peace and protect its citizens and interests, through a common defense, foreign and security policy.” Differences between African states coupled with an impotent AU run far too deep for such policy to materialize: that’s a tragedy.

Redeeming the Image of the AU

In 1963, The AU (then OAU) launched its Financial Independence, but quite shamefully, 72 percent of the AU’s half-billion dollar operational budget currently comes from international donors including China, the United States and the European Union. Only 28 percent comes from Member States. President Uhuru Kenyatta, admits that dependence on foreign financing was a “profound handicap and an impediment to the continent’s momentum”.

To its own advantage, the AU has to review its financing mechanism by involving the private sector.Reviewing the Member States contribution architectureisequally important. Member States financial contributions will have to be proportional to the size of their economy. As former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo suggested, the AU needs to turn to alternatives sources for financing its operations; this includes introducing special levies not only in the tourism and communications sectors as he proposed but also in the mining and minerals and oil sectors.

The AU Commission – the Secretariat of the Union, needs to take a second look at its relation and diplomacy with Member States. It needs to set-up (AU) Permanent Regional Missions (made up of high profile African diplomats) in each of the regional blocs to facilitate the resolution of political disputes and other related concerns in Member States.

For instance, a Permanent Regional Mission in Central Africa could have helped from the unset, in the resolution of the current crisis slapping Burundi in face from. The AU (and of course such international bodies as the UN) ought to do away with the “doctor-after-death” syndrome by taking preventing measures to contain crisis.

The Specialised Technical Committees (STCs) of the AU have to be turned into independent research and advisory entities with the requisite skills to forecast and predict trends in their respective fields and with the responsibilities to provide technical assistance to Member States. For instance, in the event of a disease outbreak such as Ebola, the STC on Health, Labor and Social Affairs will provide both advisory and technical services as to what measure to take in order to contain the disease. The STCs will work in collaboration with National-level bodies such as Government agencies and civil society in the execution of their activities.

Strategically, the AU should institute a prize: “African Nation of the Year” to honour a Member State that has contributed in furthering the cause of the Union.

In order to become more attractive to the private sector, it is in the interest of the AU to undertake reforms aimed at creating transparency in its financial management and set measurable objectives to be met by Member States.

 By Isidore Kpotufe

Isidore Kpotufe is a development Activist and Director of IMANI Francophone, the francophone wing of Ghana-based think IMANI. His views do not represent the institutions he is affiliated with. Follow him on twitter @freeisidore .


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