The African Union (AU) is an international organization that was officially established in Durban, South Africa, on July 9, 2002, as a replacement for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which was founded in 1963 and disintegrated in 2002. At the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the 20th-anniversary celebrations were marked by various events and activities, including a virtual summit held in February 2021, a launch of the AU passport, and the unveiling of a statue of former South African President Nelson Mandela, a symbol of African unity and freedom. The African Union (AU) comprises 54 independent states in Africa and Western Sahara and its goals include good governance, interstate solidarity, peace, fostering regional integration, and strengthening the voice of Africa in the international arena. One of the most significant achievements of the African Union is the promotion of peace and security on the continent by establishing various peacekeeping missions in countries such as Somalia, Sudan, and the Central African Republic, to mention but a few. Over the years, the AU has also played a vital role in addressing the challenges facing the African continent such as poverty, conflict, underdevelopment, promoting democracy, human rights, and good governance across the continent. However, since the event of the African Union’s 20th anniversary, it is important to take record of its accomplishments (successes), recognise the challenges encountered and make insightful conclusions (valuable lessons) for the years to come.
The successes of the African Union, challenges and lessons learned over the previous two decades are addressed below:
Tackling Health Issues: In 2014, during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the African Union promptly supplied funding, mobilised resources, and sent medical staff to the affected nations. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) was created which significantly improved the African continent’s ability for dealing with the pandemic and other medical emergencies.
Fostering Peace and Security: The AU has made great progress in promoting peace and security in Africa through the establishment of the Peace and Security Council in 2004. This council has been instrumental in preventing and ending situations of crisis or conflicts, by mediating conflicts, and establishing peacekeeping missions. Successful peacekeeping missions have been carried out by the AU in some African countries. Although these missions have made progress, there are still problems, and efforts are still being made to strengthen the peace and security in some of these nations. In Burundi, between 2003 and 2004, the AU sent a peacekeeping mission to Burundi. The mission was named the African Mission in Burundi (AMIB). The Arusha Peace Agreement, which helped put an end to the civil war in Burundi, was facilitated by AMIB, even though its purpose was not entirely fulfilled while it was in operation. In 2013, the AU’s peacekeeping mission named the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA), after a while in the same year, AFISMA was renamed the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and became a United Nations mission. Nonetheless, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), and other regional allies have actively participated in attempts to stabilise Mali and handle security issues. African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the AU’s peacekeeping mission, was established in 2007. The Federal Government of Somalia’s war against Al-Shabaab and efforts to stabilise the nation have been greatly assisted by AMISOM. While the effort is still in process, substantial strides have been achieved in regaining land from Al-Shabaab and boosting Somalia’s security. In Sudan, with the creation of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan and South Sudan (AUHIP), the AU has actively participated in peacekeeping, facilitation, and mediation efforts. The AU has relentlessly laboured to bring the conflicting parties together, encourage dialogue, and negotiate peace treaties. The successful peacekeeping missions demonstrated the organisation’s dedication to maintaining peace on the continent.
Advancing Regional Integration: Regional integration is a crucial tenet of Africa’s sustainable development, and the AU has played a significant role in developing it through initiatives such as the African Continental Free Commerce Area (AfCFTA) is a project that has the potential to increase intra-African commerce, spur economic growth, and generate employment. The 2018 launch of the AfCFTA is a key step towards economic union and is expected to unleash Africa’s enormous potential.
Conflicts and Regional Disparities: Africa is a varied continent with a range of levels of development. It is still a difficult effort to address these inequalities and manage disagreements among the member nations. To foster unity and bridge the gaps between member nations, the AU must promote stronger cooperation, inclusivity, and communication.
The execution/implementation Gap: The AU has created high-level goals and projects, but there is still a problem with execution or implementation. To turn policies into achievable observable results, more effective collaboration, efficient monitoring systems, and improved accountability are required. The national development plans of member states ought to be fully integrated with AU aims.
Financial and Resource Constraints: The AU has numerous difficulties, with financial and resource limitations being one of the most significant. The organisation is significantly reliant on outside funding, which restricts its sustainability and autonomy. Enhancing domestic resource mobilisation, investigating cutting-edge funding options, and ensuring member states’ commitment to upholding their financial responsibilities should all be prioritised.
The Lessons Learned
Adaptability and Resilience: In dealing with continental challenges, the AU has shown both adaptability and resilience. The union has taken advantage of partnerships, adopted technology, and reacted quickly to crises when they developed. This adaptability and flexibility will be essential for the AU’s future engagements.
Ownership and Leadership: The AU has discovered that when member states take ownership and exercise effective leadership, a significant degree of progress is achieved. Active participation of the independent states in decision-making, procedures ensure the national implementation of AU policies, which in turn results in the advancement of Africa.
Integration and Collaboration: To achieve sustainable development, the AU has acknowledged the significance of integration and collaboration among member states. The development of regional economic communities is essential to the AU’s objective. Successful execution of AU policies and programmes may result from improved collaboration as well as coordination between the regional economic communities.
In conclusion, the AU has made significant progress over the past 20 years in advancing African integration and development, promoting peace, security and prosperity on the continent. However, there is still much work to be done. The organization must continue to address funding and governance challenges and work collaboratively with regional organizations and other stakeholders to achieve its objectives.
Dr. Nneka Akwu is a postdoctoral researcher at the North-West University, South Africa. She writes in her personal capacity.