At its formation in 1963, it used to carry the name Organization of African Unity (OAU) but in the year 2002, the OAU gave way to African Union (AU).
Although the AU launched some few changes after the adoption of the new name, the core mission/functions and the structure of the continental body did not undergo any significant transformation. The changes or the transition from OAU to AU, at best, can be described in the context of the proverbial leopard that falls in the stream with its body soaked wet but its spots still stay the same.
Obviously, the AU, like its forebear—OAU—is woefully detached from reality. Painstaking dissection of the historical or genetic entrails of the African organization in general—whether its predecessor or the current AU—clearly reveals traces of dictatorial DNA everywhere. It is why the “prehistoric” label that disdainfully used to describe OAU as “dictators’ club” was a fitting description back then as it is also true today with AU. Simply put, if there is any difference between OAU and AU, it exists only in the name change.
The leopard can never change its spots no matter how long it stays in water. In a shameful display of its dictatorial traits during an apparent military takeover to take down the dateless dictator Bob Mugabe, the AU led by its current President Mr. Alpha Conde of Guinea berated the Zimbabwean army for disrupting the so-called constitutional order in their country. So in response to the recent politico-military impasse in Zimbabwe, Mr. Conde thinks “It is a shame that [President Mugabe] is leaving through the back door and that he is forsaken by the parliament.”
Why not “back door exit” for a liberation leader who has callously turned the once-promising southern African nation into an un-liberated land of penury? Given Zimbabwe’s sociopolitical or constitutional disorder created during dictator Mugabe’s misrule, it is hypocritical and disingenuous at this point to worry about which side is appropriate exit door for the shameless 93-year-old former freedom fighter to take into oblivion. Like many egoistically entrenched “life presidents” still lurking and tormenting the African continent, Mugabe doesn’t deserve golden parachute to come down to earth in view of the messy mess he has left in Zimbabwe over the years. The AU is unapologetically out of touch with contemporary realities; and as usual, tacitly complicit in the dictatorial and blatant human rights abuses in countless African countries.
If the AU sincerely believe in true constitutional order based on the
consent of the people, the organization would have long time ago reined in the human rights abusers and the one-party dictators such as Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Uganda’ Museveni, Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, and many others. But all these aforementioned despots are unfortunately full members of AU. So, there are credibility/ethical issues here when the AU raises grave concerns or cries foul whenever there is a military coup against a dictatorial government in Africa. Recent example was the palace revolution that had taken place in dictator Mugabe’s “Animal Farm” in Zimbabwe.
Ironically, the AU prides itself as the leading intergovernmental institution in Africa whose primary missions, among others, are “To promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance” and also “To promote and protect human and peoples' rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instrument.” (see: AU Charter). Yet, closely looking at the track records of many African leaders/members of the OAU/AU, it is quite daunting a task trying to make a constraining case in favor of the AU’s guileless commitments toward a government anchored in genuine constitutional order.
It is an act of shameful and self-centeredness for Mr. Conde, the current president of AU, to lead the pretentious effort as if the Union is unvarnished champion of constitutional democracy in the face of Zimbabwe’s military uprising. How does the AU “promotes democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance …and protects human rights and people’s rights”? Certainly promoting democratic principles is not through lip-service or high-sounding abstract concepts, but candid and pragmatic outreach? At any rate, AU is simply not morally credible continental body capable of standing up to the wiles of African dictators and other human rights offenders.
As we speak now, the Equatoguinean dictator Obiang Nguema’s police has since September 16, 2017, arrested and detained without charge of a prominent journalist/cartoonist Ramon Esono Ebale. The main reason for the arrest is his critical cartoon depictions of the government’s oppressive leadership. But, according to many authoritative media sources, the government of Equatorial Guinea has planned to file “counterfeiting and money laundering” charges against Mr. Ebale in a cynical attempt to undercut any potential argument that dictator Nguema is suppressing freedom of speech. Mr. Nguema’s abysmal record is legendary. The crucial question is where is the AU in all these human rights brutalities perpetuated in many African nations?
By virtue of their shared cultural/national backgrounds, African dictators have taken undue advantage of their own people for far too long. The AU scarcely makes any honest and practical effort to curb these human rights atrocities till when the military steps in to try to restore proper constitutional order as playing out in Zimbabwe. You bet, Zimbabwe is now better off with dictator Mugabe gone than if he were to be around or succeeded in turning his country into dynasty.
Let it be known that African military establishment has no business staging coup in freely elected constitutional democracies such as Ghana, South Africa, Benin, Botswana, Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Mauritius, and few others. If the AU is sincere and not out of touch with realities, the preceding open and competitive democracies are those that need attention and protection against military take-over at all cost. However, if a particular leader assumes political power in his/her country and turns the system into one-party constitutional order as Mr. Mugabe did, then the military has every right to come in to right the ship before returning into barracks.
Yes, Africa belongs to Africans, including each country’s armed forces, too. The Zimbabwe military has done the right thing; may be, it is a wake-up call to Nguema, Biya, Museveni, and many other authoritarian regimes in Africa.