THE AFRICAN UNION AND DESPOTS IN THE CLUB

Originally published October 8, 2011

CURRENT political upheavals on the continent are a test of relevance for the African Union (AU), and its reaction to it would certainly raise concern.

The concern will be over whether, as a body, they are interested in upholding the interest and well being of the general citizenry of the continent, or are committed to maintain the status quo; of protecting the collective interest of members of the “Club”.

With the re-organisation of the Body from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to AU and the establishment of a Peer Review Mechanism, it was expected that the AU would work to blunt the rule of despots in power on the continent, and to prevent their rise in favour of protecting the well-being of the ordinary citizens of the continent.

However, its reaction and steps taken so far towards resolving the ongoing political upheavals on the continent does not pass the scrutiny of the people of Africa. The fact that we lack the resources, and sometimes the know-how to clean up the mess that is usually left behind by these desposts, should make us proactive in strengthening bodies such as the peer review mechanism of the AU to deal with the rise of despots on the continent.

As a continent, we should avoid the laid back attitude of not having answers and solutions to our political challenges; to prevent the international community from intervening, sometimes unduly, in our affairs to deal with our political mess. Such interventions have not always been beneficial.

The AU’s lop-sided approach adopted while “negotiating” settlements during the recent political stalemate in member countries such as Ivory Coast and Libya could be perceived as a continuation of its “old attitude”.

In the past the OAU became irrelevant to the general populace because of the blazing support our national leaders extended to their failing colleagues, to the detriment of the political and economic well-being of the ordinary citizens of the continent.

In spite of major political developments in the world, like the demise of socialism as a world system and the complete eradication of colonialism from the continent, the map of Africa continues to show that a significant proportion of our people are still reeling under the rule of neo despots and dictators, some of whom transitioned from the OAU.
The AU should therefore, realise that their relevance is being carefully measured by the people of Africa. What is especially under scrutiny is the function of their Peer Review Mechanism in dealing with the failings and excesses of their colleagues. Is the attitude going to be as of old; propping up club members with “messianic” tendencies?

For the last half century or so, not a single country on the continent has been spared the agony of unthinkable atrocities under despicable leadership. Heinous acts against our people are in our memory. We remember vividly, when women and mothers were stripped naked and beaten on the streets; when properties were confiscated without justification; we remember across Africa what befell political opponents; those of our friends, neighbors and our children who were suspected to be standing for the truth were taken forcefully from bed and have since not been seen; those fortunate to have been kept alive in prison came out maimed for life. On account of their selfish interest, anarchy and bloodshed continued to saturate the land.

These despostic leaders have stolen the wealth of the nation; making themselves richer than the nation. The irony, they go globetrotting with bowls in hand begging for scraps from the table of the rich and taking loans for our children to “slave” throughout their lives to pay.

While their children get education in Ivy League schools in the metropolis of advanced countries; our children sit under trees to receive the sham of what may be considered as education. We are made to live in the filth and squalor, diseased and “ignorant” while we labour to keep these leaders and their cronies living in opulence.

After 50 years or so of independence, the living circumstances of the vast majority of people of Africa remain very abysmal. This is in spite of the fact that we remain endowed with massive natural resources. Even more pathetic is the absence of any meaningful integration of the economies of member nations. This is the Africa you have presided over all these years, and the least we expect from the AU club members is not to depress us if you cannot impress us.

The youth of Egypt and Tunisia, like the storms, have blown off the veil and exposed what has been the bane of the continents aspiration; what has been stifling the development agenda of the people – corruption by the leaders of our nations. With the old severely battered excuse of our colonial past no longer tenable, in the explanation for such situation, isn’t it interesting that any street march now portends the overthrow of governments? Whose fault?

With the rising of a new day on the continent, we expect the AU to support the wind of freedom that is being expressed by the ordinary citizens, not to stifle it; the democracy that is now gaining grounds should not be leashed but led out of the door. This approach of popular uprising sweeping across parts of Africa is better than the option of raising “guerrilla” armies to fight to “free the people”.

If the AU ever hopes to gain acceptance and credibility before the people of the continent, it will have to respond to the desire of the people to have better leadership than has hither to been offered by the continent’s politicians: a more strengthened Peer Review Mechanism, acting in defence of the people and their interest.

The AU must work towards the eradication of political intolerance, corruption and the unproductive partisan politics of “we and them” which clouds good reasoning and judgements and banishes segments of available human capital to the doldrums, this must give way to one that embraces and inspires all. The AU should as a matter of urgency, encourage
countries that have not acceded to the African Peer Review Mechanism to do so to strengthen good and accountable governance in Africa (APRM). Countries that have acceded must in addition to their signature demonstrate commitment to the four thematic areas of the APRM.

What the upheavals are demanding is rebirth and rethinking on the part of political leaders, so that creative solutions could be found to the endemic problems confronting our people. Instead of investing in arms and ammunition to protect despots, the nations of the African continent would rather; the money is spent on promoting science and technology which is key for turning around the economies of these nations.

We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that the kind of education currently being offered on the continent can lead us out of poverty and deprivation. Education is not merely the ability to read and write but to master and apply information as a key to creativity. Education must offer free access to knowledge which is essential to human dignity and a pre-condition for equal access to power.

It is about time the continent rose to the occasion and stood on its own feet. Rather than always looking up to donors to dole out resources to cushion our budgets or deal with economic and other challenges, let’s get a bit more dignifying and determine to work ourselves out of poverty, as is being done by the Asian countries. They are our peers in terms of how long we have been independent, but we play second fiddle in terms of advancement. Let their push towards
development motivate us to think that it is possible for us to also make it as an advanced continent.

Africa is not poor because of lack of resources; we are poor because we lack good governance and visionary leadership which constitutes the basis of prosperity and peace.

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