AU: From Rubber Stamp to Agent of Change

The African Union has recently been finding itself in the news. First there was the launching of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which would in time see the signatory countries reaping billions more into their growth domestic products (GDPs).

Then there is the recent agreement that Ethiopia and 44 of the 55 African countries signed. It is the Continental Free Trade Area – the largest trading bloc of its kind in the world only after the World Trade Organisation (WTO). With such strides being made, it is time that we begin to see the organization more than the rubber stamp it has for long appeared to be.

The African Union was born as a pan-African organization whose goal is to propel a united continent towards peace and prosperity. It supports political and economic integration among its member nations. It aims to boost development, eradicate poverty and bring Africa into the global economy.

It was in the early 2000s that it succeeded to the Organization of African Unity (OAU). In its later years, the OAU – which originated in the decolonization struggles of the early 1960s – had been criticized for becoming a mere talking shop. Thus the AU has emphasized the promotion of unity among African nations, democracy and good governance. Its peacekeepers have intervened in conflicts, including in Burundi, Sudan and Somalia.

Conceived by the then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as a “United States of Africa”, its structure is somewhat modelled on that of the European Union (EU). The AU inaugurated a pan-African parliament in March 2004 – one of a number of proposed institutions. The body debates continent-wide issues and advises AU heads of state.

There are also far-reaching plans to set up a human rights court, a central bank and monetary fund, and by 2023 an African Economic Community with a single currency. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NePAD), an anti-poverty, economic development program that the AU oversees.

The AU has indeed championed many economic, social, political, environmental and security successes. And it has forged a united front for African countries once divided by domestic and international challenges. But it has not been without its challenges.

It has many obstacles that it needs to overcome to become a self-dependent continental organization. For its members are poor, dependence from the United States, China, the European Union and the United Kingdom can be very difficult. Even its headquarters in Addis Abeba, built at the cost of 200 million dollars, is financed by the Chinese.

There are ways to gradually create a means of self-dependency though. The AU needs to create strong institutions in its member countries, such as international standard banks, business corporations, hotels, factories and academic institutions, just to mention a few.

Besides the efforts to become financially independent, the AU faces massive problems in the near and far future. There is Africa’s exploding population, the lack of freedom of expression, bad governance, shortage of skilled force and illicit financial flows.

Perhaps the most pressing of these issues is the population growth rate of Africa. The United Nation predicts that half of the forecasted growth in the world between 2017 and 2050 will likely occur in Africa.

There will be 300 million Nigerians, 214 million citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo, over a 168 million Ethiopians, close to 135 million Tanzanians and 102 million Ugandans by 2050. Such population growth spurts will exasperate resources and hamper economic growth, especially as they will be coupled with global warming that is giving way to rising sea levels and the expansion of the Sahara desert. All of this will be recipe for conflict, leading to a straining of relations between nations and thwarting of the vision of “union” that the AU has for long dreamed of.

The best means to address these massive challenges is to be proactive.

Population growth has no easy fix. But, there are strategies to control this booming population growth. Promoting better universal education, and universal family planning will be the right strategies. This can be coupled with providing tax, education and land benefits for fewer births, and developing long term strategies to control population.

Of course, the AU can only be empowered to take such crucial steps if it addresses the problems that have hampered its members for such a long time. The organization must be a staunch supporter of political rights. Even if such a move can get it in trouble with government officials, the governed would stand by the institution. There is a lot of lesson to be taken in the AU’s call for Yahya Jammeh, former president of Gambia, to resign after his defeat in an election last year.

The AU ought to also be a player in the sectoral developments of nations. It needs to take a closer look at the public health administration, finance, agriculture, environment, youth development, education, and gender affairs, just to mention a few.

This can be by forming a public service supervisory committee which comprises of experts from various academic and professional fields with the capability to supervise governmental organizations’ achievements and shortcomings. Based on their assessments, they should be able to recommend possible solutions for future corrections. Such follow up in the tools that most contribute to the development of human capital ought to be one of its ultimate duties.


By Belay Abera
Belay Abera is a public health professional and researcher. He could be reached at

Published on Apr 06,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 936]



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