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Is the African Union Functional?

After the World Wars, many ideas have been put forward about how the international community can live together peacefully. As a matter of fact, the League of Nations emerged with such an idea, but due to the deficiencies in its structure, it could not prevent the second great war. Afterward, the United Nations was established. It has been understood that this institution is essentially ineffective in many massacres and genocides experienced today. When evaluated over a wide geography from Rwanda to Bosnia, from Arakan to Xinjiang, the thesis that the UN has not fully fulfilled its mission is true.

Another structure established with a similar motivation is the African Union, which has great expectations in the regional context. In this article, we will try to get to know the union a little more closely. After examining its structure, it will be focused on whether it has accomplished its mission.

The Foundation and Structure of the African Union

The African Union (AU) was officially established in 2002, replacing the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was previously established in a similar structure and aims to represent Africa as a holistic structure in the international arena. These institutions, which were born with goals such as ending discrimination against the continent, a united African idea, and continental peace, are aimed to represent all continental countries. With its headquarters in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, it represents members of 55 different countries.

The Union is compared to the European Union in many respects. Like the EU, the African Union has its own founding law. In line with this law adopted in Togo in 2001, the objectives of the union were determined as representing Pan-African thought, integration, human rights, peace, and democracy in all of Africa.

As an intergovernmental institution, the African Union derives its authority, resources, and ultimately its power from its member states. The future plans and programs are determined by the member states and their elected bodies. Despite this, the agenda of regional unions such as ECOWAS is sometimes considered more important than the African Union, and this leads to the opinion that the union is not strong enough. Since this idea has become widespread recently, many countries call on the African Union to reform its structure.

Table: African Union Structure


Executive Council

Technical Expertise Committees and Permanent Representatives Committee

Peace and Security Council

African Union Commission

Pan-African Parliament

Economic, Social, and Cultural Council

Law, Human Rights Bodies

Financial Affairs

Evaluation Mechanisms

Regional Economic Associations

The Assembly is the African Union's top policy-making and decision-making body. It brings together all African heads of state and meets at least once a year. It is here that the African Union's policies and priorities are agreed upon and monitor the implementation of policies and decisions.

The Executive Council meets at least twice a year in regular sessions and consists of ministers (usually foreign ministers, but in some cases other ministries) from all member states. The member state presiding over the Assembly also chairs the Executive Council and serves for one year. The Council is tasked with preparing the agenda for the Assembly to consider. It also promotes cooperation and coordination with other African institutions and Africa's partners.

The African Union Commission (AUC) has the executive function. It plays a central role in the day-to-day management of the African Union, including tasks assigned by the Assembly and Executive Council. The role of the Commission is to assist member states in implementing African Union programs and policies. Commissioners are elected every four years and their positions are renewable once.

Is the Union Successful?

The Union has policies for Africa in many areas. It is controversial how many of the titles ranging from trade to conflicts are successful. Especially in the last period, increasing armed violence and conflicts across the continent have brought the peace and security function of the union into question.

The Lusaka Roadmap was adopted in 2016 to end conflict across the continent. The document outlined 54 practical steps to take. It was hoped that this map, which focused on political, economic, social, environmental, and legal issues, would end the conflicts by 2020. Offering solutions ranging from adequate funding for the deployment of a dedicated peacekeeping force to Africa to preventing the rebels' supporters from accessing weapons, this map has failed.

At the time of the declaration, Africa had a high level of conflict. State and non-state actors waged approximately 630 armed conflicts in Africa between 1990 and 2015. Conflicts led by non-state actors account for more than 75% of global conflicts.

In addition to the fact that the African Union is ineffective in conflicts in many parts of the continent, its attitude towards coups is also questioned. For example, the fact that the union, which did not object to the coups in Egypt and Zimbabwe, took a clearer stance against the coup in Sudan, led to a discussion that there were different standards. The union, which suspended Egypt's membership due to the coup and later gave up, and did not impose any sanctions on Zimbabwe, still keeps the country's membership suspended due to the coup in Sudan.

The ineffectiveness of the union was once again revealed in the events in Libya. This ineffectiveness has two consequences. The first is that more foreign fighters come to Africa than in any other conflict zone, and the other is that countries lease their bases to foreign powers in order to gain economic benefits.

It is a great risk to the independence of the continent for foreign actors to settle in the continent by renting a base and controlling the routes suitable for their interests. Some countries that receive million-dollar revenues from the USA, China, or other powers endanger their independence for the sake of economic interests.

Against all risks, the African Union should reconsider its Founding Law to address principles that limit member states' ability to intervene in conflicts on their territory. This should lay the groundwork for establishing sound legislation, policies, institutions, and mechanisms for long-term stability in such countries. Conflict or coups should be on the field rather than condemnation.

In most parts of Africa, especially in the war against terrorism, governments seek help from foreign powers and call the armed forces of other countries to their territories. In this order, which is established through bilateral agreements, the African Union is usually excluded or kept. It is a disappointment that this large structure, which is in a relatively better economic and social situation, has turned into such a weak and underestimated actor in security. It is not possible for this structure, which is affected by the functioning of the European Union on many issues and takes an example, to take Europe as an example in terms of armed forces. The African reality, which cannot be read through examples like Europol, is quite different from the European theories of non-conflict and peace. The process that turns into armed action in all of the rebellions, border conflicts, and internal turmoil is resolved not through dialogue as in Europe, but again through weapons. It is unrealistic to believe that problems will be solved with European optimism in such an environment. The reality that even the elections are held under conflict in most regions, and that in some countries the losers resort to arms, crosses the solution limit with an idealistic point of view.

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