John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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IIGG Report on the African Union

by John Campbell
October 7, 2011

A peacekeeper from the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) armed with a rocket launcher takes up position near the main Bakara Market as they battle against Islamist insurgents in the capital Mogadishu May 22, 2011

A peacekeeper from the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) armed with a rocket launcher takes up position near the main Bakara Market as they battle against Islamist insurgents in the capital Mogadishu May 22, 2011. (Omar Faruk/Courtesy Reuters)

Events this year have raised questions about the effectiveness of the African Union (AU). There was the post-election crisis in Ivory Coast, (President Ouattara vociferously criticized the AU at an on-the-record meeting last month at CFR); and the AU’s initial intransigence over recognizing Libya’s new government. Then, too, there are the long-standing problems associated with Zimbabwe, Somalia, and the Great Lakes region. On the other hand, the African Union has been assiduous in countering overt military coups and it has deployed peacekeepers in numerous trouble spots.

In his new working paper on the Africa Union released by the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the CFR, author Paul Williams analyzes both the achievements and the shortcomings of the continent-wide organization. Notably, he does not measure the success or failure of the organization by international expectations, but by the explicit intentions of the African Union based on its founding documents.

In Williams’ own words:

The AU faced major obstacles during its first decade: its practical achievements fell short of its grandiose declarations of intent; its small number of bureaucrats struggled to keep the organization working effectively and efficiently; and its member states were often divided over how to respond to Africa’s conflicts.
These deficiencies stem from three problems. First, the AU attempted to refashion the continent’s peace and security architecture at a time when crises and armed conflicts engulfed much of Africa. Local governments and external donors were thus forced “to build a fire brigade while the [neighborhood] burns.” Second, the AU took on formidable conflict management challenges without possessing any big sticks or many tasty carrots. It thus lacked sources of leverage crucial for resolving armed conflicts. Third, AU reform efforts became entangled in broader debates about the appropriate relationships between the United Nations and regional organizations.

Ultimately, Williams’ sees the African Union as a potential partner, and one that should be nurtured given the United States’ strategic and moral imperatives on the continent.

On another note, the paper also does one of the best jobs I’ve seen describing the various parts of the organization and their functions.

Read the report here.

H/T to Asch Harwood

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