Article written

  • on 10.09.2014
  • at 01:00 PM
  • by Kevin Hind

In defence of the African Union 0

It’s easy to take pot shots at the African Union – and frankly, these can be well-deserved. But it’s a mistake to write the organisation off entirely. In fact, it does plenty to justify its standing as Africa’s only continental institution. For all its faults, Africa is better with the AU than without it.

The African Union (AU) gets a lot of flak. Critics often argue that it is slow to respond to security threats; that it prioritises power over justice; and that it fails to adequately represent the needs of this continent’s 1,11 billion citizens.

The continental organisation is often dismissed as a talk shop for tyrants, or depicted as an ineffectual, lumbering bureaucracy that worries more about per diems than it does about Africa’s most pressing political problems.

There is merit to some of these critiques. But they don’t tell the whole story, and they leave out the good bits. It is time to give credit where credit is due, and to recognise that – as imperfect as it may be – Africa is in much better shape with the AU than without it.

First we must acknowledge that the AU operates under several massive constraints, which greatly limit the scope of its ability (if not its ambition, so often couched in the lofty rhetoric of pan-Africanism).

Firstly, it faces an immense financial challenge. Africa is the poorest continent, and also the continent most afflicted by violence. Yet the AU’s budget in 2014 is just US$308 million (to put this in perspective, the United Nations’ budget is US$5,2 billion). In the context of the challenges that the AU is supposed to address, this amount is wholly inadequate. Member countries are intended to contribute to the AU, but while countries such as South Africa and Nigeria pay more than their fair share, many struggle to meet their financial commitments. Still more funds must be raised from international partners.

Why does this matter? Because successful interventions – be they medical, humanitarian, military or police – are expensive. For example, the United Nations (UN) estimates that US$600 million is necessary to contain the spread of Ebola (the AU has so far contributed just US$1 million from its humanitarian fund), while there is an US$800 million shortfall in the international fund to prevent famine and relieve suffering in South Sudan.

Peacekeeping is particularly expensive. The latest budget for Monusco, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is US$1,4 billion. It’s all very well to strive for African solutions to African problems, but the truth is that Africa simply can’t afford to address major crises on its own. Nor should it. The developed world, with its long history of interfering in Africa’s affairs, often with disastrous results, must bear some responsibility – and not just when the interests of the major powers are at risk.

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