By Jessica Edgson
Why is the United Nations the first thing that pops into people’s minds when thinking of peace-keeping during times of war? Why is it that when the African Union is mentioned, people seem to draw a blank? Are they doing enough within Africa for the general public to pay them any attention? Or do most people just not care enough about what is happening in Africa? So this is the short and bite-sized history of the African Union and what they are actually doing.
If you’re about to turn the page to a more interesting article, just remember that this applies to you and your continent. Rhodes University has a vast mixture of students from different areas of Africa and this is about what your union should be doing for you.
The idea for the African Union (AU) was born on September 9, 1999. The Organisation of African Unity wanted to form a union to speed up “the process of integration in the continent,” enabling it to “play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems, compounded as they are by certain negative aspects of globalisation.” In basic terms, the AU was established to sort out the problems left behind by colonisation, as well as to boost the political and economic situation in Africa, so that one day the continent might be able to compete properly on the international stage. It is apparent that the AU started out with necessary and noble intentions.
In 2004, the AU received a lot of criticism when, at a meeting held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, heads of state attached to the AU refused to get involved in the rising crisis in Zimbabwe. The head of the AU at that time, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, defended this by explaining that Zimbabwe was not at war and therefore it was not the Union’s place to step in. Speaking to the City Press in Maputo, Chissano said, “We still have confidence in the Zimbabwean people and that they know how to best solve their own problems. They have been living in more difficult times in the past and they were able to triumph. During those difficult times, as when the country was in a war situation, African leaders did not interfere and the region also did not interfere much, except for engaging in persuasion.” The AU also criticised Western governments for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe because they felt it would only hurt those living in poverty and not help the overall situation.
Recently, criticism of the AU has been extended to their involvement in Darfur. On August 25 this year, Sudanese security forces attacked a camp of Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP). The AU and the UN have combined efforts to protect these people but, according to news24, at least 25 people were killed. With riots breaking out and security forces becoming more aggressive, questions have been raised as to whether the AU has done enough to keep the peace. According to news24, a rebel commander of the Sudan Liberation Army criticised the AU and the UN for delivering roughly only a third of the 26 000 troops they said that they would provide.
Criticism of the AU is littered over the Internet and it is becoming clear that many people are not happy with their limited intervention in times of crisis. Maybe if more people became aware of the existence of the AU, more pressure would be placed on a union that was formed with the purpose of preventing crisis in Africa and uniting our states. It is time that students at Rhodes get more interested in the political atmosphere in Africa, because we are its future generation.