Is the African Union the New Voice of International Affairs?


Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire – Africa is in flames yet again. France is involved militarily in its former colonial domain, first by opening the attack on Libya and now assisting the United Nations in forcing Cote d’Ivoire’s defeated president, Laurent Gbagbo, from power in favour of the internationally recognized new president, Alassane Ouattara.

While the West is busy chasing and bombing militants, government forces and unruly presidents, there is a new up-and-coming voice on the international stage – the African Union.

Headed by the South African President Jacob Zuma, a delegation of five last week consisting of the heads of state of Mali, Congo, Uganda and Mauritania, visited Muammar Qaddafi in Tripoli to propose a roadmap to peace in a bid to end the vicious fighting in the country, which threatens to develop further into civil war.

The AU plan for peace calls for four main provisions: immediate ceasefire, opening channels for humanitarian aid for those who need it, protecting foreign nationals and beginning dialogue between the government and the rebels. There is no mention of withdrawing troops or weapons, which is a sticking point for the rebels, but it is a starting point for finding a way out and avoiding civil war. On Sunday, Qaddafi said yes, suggesting that he wants a decisive end to the aerial bombardments by NATO and a settlement to end the fighting with the rebels: Ajdabiya has become symbolic of the struggle for power in the country. But unfortunately, the rebels declined the proposal and the only recourse in the short-term remains NATO bombings, continuing engagements by Qaddafi’s forces and what might be the ultimate collapse of the rebel movement. 

Europe tacitly approved the AU’s initiative. The question that we have to ask then is this: is Africa growing out of the semi-colonial mindset and assuming greater responsibility for itself on the international stage? The AU is seemingly becoming a supranational agent that has the capacity to assert an African position in world affairs – not to mention what this weight might do for the states themselves.

Africa is still a motley crew of partial democracies, monarchies, dictatorships, collapsing and collapsed states. Yet, its role is going to become more important as the center of world politics moves away from the West and further East. The leadership of the AU in pushing for a solution on Libya represents a major milestone for raising its legitimacy as a regional security actor. We must not harbor any illusions that the AU will become as powerful as the EU or NATO in terms of being able to project multi-dimensional capacities anytime soon. However, an enhanced security role in the regional perspective has the potential to vastly improve domestic political stability in African states. The resolution in Libya calling for dialogue between the government and the rebels is indicative of a possibility that democracy may be deepened in the long run, producing a more tolerant and stable political environment that will only benefit security in the long run as well.

Ultimately, we are seeing a new confidence to the AU. It is working alongside international organizations to overtake security in Libya. The road will be long, it goes through painful processes of capacity-building and stability promotion on the state level, but it is possible to say that the AU is reaching a new quality in terms of leadership. Its job will be to provide multidimensional solutions to African problems – that role is only going to deepen.

Photo CreditUnited Nations Photo