Friday, May 22, 2015

The Imperative for change from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU): A more responsive paradigm

By Baba Sillah

The transition from the OAU to the AU did not only come as a matter of time but also as a matter of recognized necessity. The OAU had faced serious structural challenges which impacted negatively on its ability to function effectively and efficiently. There was not an OAU Commission that could make clearly enforceable decisions as the AU has today. More importantly, there was a greater need for effectively addressing the new social, political and economic realities in Africa and for fulfilling the peoples’ aspirations for greater unity in conformity with the objectives of the OAU Charter and the treaty establishing the African Economic Community. Revitalizing the continental organization to enable it take on a more robust and proactive role in addressing the needs of the people; eliminating the scourge of conflict; partnering in meeting global challenges; and harnessing the human and natural resources of the continent to improve living conditions while proving necessary also seemed long overdue.

The structural and functional challenges that the OAU faced sometimes appear understandable because of the fixation of many African leaders at the time with the protection of their countries mostly; newly won independence and securing their territorial limits. However, one of the most significant challenges to the OAU was the imperative of good governance. Many leaders on the continent placed too much emphasis on territorial integrity and non-interference into their countries body polity than the wellbeing of their populations, as an obvious result routinely disregarding the rights and welfare of the peoples for whom the territories in fact exist.

This conceptual framework lacked the foresight to address the real needs and demands of the peoples of the continent and could not long survive. Therefore, it dawned on African Leaders at the 37th OAU Summit in Lusaka, Zambia that there was a need for a departure to a new framework which could revive the continent and address in a comprehensive manner its perennial, contemporary and emerging challenges (The adoption in Lome, Togo of the Constitutive Act of the AU in terms of the Sirte Declaration of 9 September 1999 was the highlight of the 2000 OAU/AEC Assembly of Heads of State and Government and a watershed for continental governance).
The adoption of an historic document which was to become known as the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) was a resultant effect of the compelling need for a better conceived and more people-centered approach to continental governance based on the tenets of democracy and good governance.

Nonetheless, while NEPAD expressed goals; Declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance have committed participating Member States to an African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) –which seeks to promote adherence to and fulfillment of its commitments, and to ensure among other things , the rule of law, the equality of all citizens before the law, individual and collective freedoms, the right to participate in free, credible and democratic political processes, and adherence to the separation of powers, there still remains some seriously challenges on the continent considering both the persistence of coups d’├ętats and the bypassing of the democratic and constitutional means of obtaining political power.

The use of terror to press selfish demands such as the case in Mali and Guinea Bissau which have witnessed West Africa’s latest cases of coups d’├ętats have impressed more on the minds of the speedily multiplying African population, the need not only for strong continental security response machineries but also for improved and responsive systems and approaches for dealing with the challenges of health care delivery, education, the rights of women and girls, youth empowerment among others.

The menace of Malaria by itself poses a serious challenge to the continent and takes a huge toll on the populations of African countries each year. It is worrying for the African Leaders Malaria Alliance that Malaria affects approximately 200 million people annually on the Continent and costs Africa at least US$ 12 billion annually in direct cost to development.

As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the OAU/AU on May 25, we must bear in mind that we have got yet another platform not just to make grandiose speeches and indulge in the pomp that traditionally attends celebrations of the sort but as a time to soberly review the achievements that we have made as a continental body and the hurdles that remain, and seek to renew our commitments (in practicum) to the framework of the New Partnership for African.

We must work assiduously to promote and uphold Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance. We must ensure that the rule of law prevails; we must work towards improving the quality of the living standards of our citizens, we must never seize from protecting the individual and collective freedoms of our peoples, we must ensure free, credible and democratic political processes, and protect the separation of governmental power, it is only by doing and ensuring these things that our people will become stronger thus the continent.

Baba Sillah is a Liberian political analyst. He works at the Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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