CASTELLANO DA SILVA, Igor (2013). “From OAU to AU: 50 Years of African Continentalism”. Mundorama, n. 67, March, 2013. http://mundorama.


From OAU to AU: 50 Years of African Continentalism
by Igor Castellano da Silva1 Last year, the first decade of the African Union (AU) was celebrated. This year, the extinct Organization of African Unity (OAU) project is remembered with the symbolic 50th anniversary of concrete continentalism in Africa (pan-Africanism in its institutional version). It is surely a time to celebrate the initiatives but also to review the principles that guided the new continentalism in opposition to its older version. Moreover, it is likewise important to critically evaluate the new scheme, its advances and the challenges that still block this project of continental cooperation and autonomy. As anywhere in the world, African projects for integration have always been situated in a dialectic relationship between micro-nationalism and macro-nationalism (Thiam, 1965). Micronationalism is connected to the nation-state and to the basic need to defend its sovereignty. This is even more present in the African case, where historically the sovereignty has been mostly based on juridical terms (Jackson & Rosberg, 1982) and guaranteed, since independence, to governments with a huge lack of capacity to extend their power throughout the territory (Clapham, 2005). Macro-nationalism is another name given to the pan-African project, related, since the struggle for continental independence, to the necessity to reunite efforts against colonialism (later, still present largely in Southern Africa) and neo-colonialism (this, at least, in political discourse). Paradoxically, the early concretization of pan-Africanism (the OAU of 1963) was constructed to favour the micro-nationalism and state sovereignty of old colonial boundaries in opposition to the federalist project of a United States of Africa – supported largely by Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s national leader. The OAU was, as a result, a political forum that guaranteed the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, with the exception of issues related to the anticolonial struggle – in Southern Africa this fight was also largely opposed to white minority rule in Rhodesia and South Africa. Besides this restricted scope, the failure of OAU to respond to external pressures in the postCold War (political and economic liberalisation) and its reluctance to commit to solutions to security problems that could violate state sovereignty brought about the necessity of a huge reform programme that would reinforce macro-nationalism. As in the origins of panAfricanism, this new plan was also ontologically based on a (at least modest) counterpoint against external interference and dependence. Africans tried to produce a more autochthonic solution to African problems in the wake of the failure of some international interventions (Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, Sudan) and the lack of global response to African crisis (Rwanda, DRC). Thus, this new project was a plan for renewed autonomy in order to reduce dependence and to boost an African Renaissance in economic, political, cultural and security terms. This also happened in an environment of competition among aspirants to regional powers, as Senegal

PhD student at the International Strategic Studies Doctoral Program of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil, attached to the Brazilian Centre for African Studies - CEBRAFICA). He is also a researcher at the South American Institute of Policy and Strategy (ISAPE). Currently, he is a PhD fellow at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, funded by CAPES, Brazil.

it also needs more rigorous efforts for implementation. namely in cases of genocide. such as the Assembly of Heads of State and Government. based on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) project for reduction of underdevelopment. However. changing its principles "from non-interference to nonindifference" (Mwanasali. 2008:41). Indeed. to the involvement of African civil society organisations" (AU. More than these institutional characteristics. p). The African Standby Force (ASF). in an African way. Even Gaddafi's Libya joined the game to establish its position as a source of investment for Africa and projects of monetary integration all based on a perception of a supranational integration that almost plagiarized Nkrumah's idea. AU. whose voice is to be heard mainly through the Economic. Nevertheless. 4 (h. 2012:6). When OAU relied almost entirely on its Assembly of Heads of State and Government as a centre for deliberation. This more decentralized structure was accompanied by a "greater recognition given. rules and procedures and the efforts towards their implementation. which proposes a relation between Africa and the external world on a more equal basis. intra-African commerce still represents only 10% of total African trade (Shaw. and the idea of Strategic External Partnerships. The programme was based on four pillars (Landsberg. the Continental Early Warning System and the Panel of the Wise complement the structure. the more ambitious the project is the more it needs political and executive commitment for its accomplishment. Furthermore. 2008:7). the judicial court and the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) (Landsberg. 23). shared by different sources of authority. within the institutional framework of the AU. it established an intervention regime. If AU offers a wider plan than OAU did. based on the 2002 Protocol and on a Council which carries the UN model. behind this more complex and broader institutional structure. an initiative for the promotion of peace through democracy and governance on voluntary and self-imposed terms. solve the main African problems. the Governance regime. 2007:9. The other complementary pillars are the Development paradigm. 2013). In opposition to the OAU. this latter idea was ultimately embraced in the Accra Declaration of 2007. Moreover. 2000:Art. unconstitutional changes of governments and when local conflict threatens regional stability (AU. in terms of commerce. 2003). This regime recognized an unprecedented option for intervention. despite the outstanding growth in the trade relationship within the continent in the last decade. but also one that would comprise important advances in relation to its predecessor OAU. currently there is an imbalance between a complex set of norms. The new AU was crafted to boast a much broader approach and structure. this pillar bears the greatest innovation in the principles of the AU continentalism. j. despite the criticism of it as an elitist project. in practical terms the winning project was almost the one originally proposed by Thabo Mbeki: that of a more gradual integration.did not want to be on the back of the previous South African-Nigerian-Algerian project of the Millennium Partnership for African Recovery Programme (MAP). For instance. there was still the very same perception that the continental integration could. The first and most important was the Peace and Security element. AU dissolved its decision-making processes. investment in infrastructure and protection of human development. . if the objective of unity is commonly shared. However. This institutional structure has a notorious complexity and a progressive character not only in relation to earlier African integration initiatives but also vis a vis many other regional integration processes worldwide. human rights crisis. 2010:84). Social and Cultural Council (ECOSSOC) and the PAP (Murithi and Ndinga-Muvumba. 2012:3). AU has a much broader structure of decision compared to its predecessor. with annual growth rates of more than 20% (UNECA. based on the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

This reality is added to the fact that the legal structure of RECs usually do not give full reference and submission to AU organs and that they often sustain different interests and positions regarding African issues (Mwanasali. the programme offers a possibility for the continental exceptional economic growth to be accompanied by social development and. then. As a consequence of this profile. Finally. labelled by the AU as Regional Economic Communities (RECs). 2006). and considered one of its bases. the major commitment had to come from external actors. which seem to be increasingly eager to both maintain and expand geopolitical and economic presence in the continent. for the African countries to lead the process (establishment of policies and priorities). 11). creating what some considered a “cacophony of geographical criteria” (K onaré. 2008:54). The lack of implementation is. overlapping memberships in these mechanisms. the AU is improving its commitments with peacekeeping (i. Darfur and Somalia) and efforts for the creation of an ASF (composed of five regional brigades). criticism is directed at its over-reliance on a free-market orientation for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and on the North-South partnership. Some observers highlight the lack of resources to finance AU’s peace activities. Moreover. another perception is that the RECs have already created a bureaucracy and a group of interests which are not prepared to cede power to a younger continental and centralized project. In fact the experiences and gradual mechanisms of integration of the RECs could be seen as good models for a more solid continental project. 2007:12) . However. even almost non-existent” (AU. 2005:8.57. If in some cases a common position was reached. to such an extent that "the continent is bound to experience a major implementation crisis over the next few decades" (Landsberg. Libya. 2010:1). has been very poor. more importantly. 2012:14). 2012:4-5. It is the still present competition with micro-nationalism. others stress the operational limitations of the ASF (Mwanasali. despite the wide scope and multiplicity of the projects it sustains. NEPAD suffers from the lack of commitment of traditional donors and the downward trend of western FDI inflows to Africa after the 2008 economic crisis (UN. The problem is also qualitative. The situation is aggravated with the multiple. IISS. related to the regional projects of integration. With this complex reality of global competition for the continent and Africa’s difficulties to execute collective decisions . it was not able reach concrete African-led solutions for recent crises in Ivory Coast. to the detriment of a more bottom-up approach that would offer priority to intraAfrican economic cooperation. on the other. UN. a situation which usually relates to capacity and funding constraints and the slow pace of approvals (Nkuhlu. NEPAD still presents some difficulties in the implementation of programmes and targets. However. It is regionalism. South-South partnerships and the role of the State to simulate investments. In terms of the Peace and Security regime the difficulties are even more exposed. If. Mali and DR Congo. and it may also be associated with the difficulties of implementation. The reforms sustained by AU are sometimes direct challenges to the stability of national governments and regimes that are neither committed to a project of state-building (diametrically opposed to patrimonialism) nor of social empowerment (the main purpose of a continental development programme). Besides the implementation crisis there is another blocking factor that obstructs deeper continental integration. partially related to the lack of interest of some national leaders to perform the continental programmes and priorities. and between them and panAfrican Organisations.e. on the one hand. some analysts foresee this problem to continue in the future. 2012:3).As far as NEPAD is concerned. as “coordination among the RECs. there is another element that struggles between pan-Africanism and nationalism. 2008:54.

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