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Fifteen years and the African Union is still an illusion

Monday February 19 2018

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With the passing of years, many of our African independence presidents mutated into brutal dictators. The guardians had become poachers. This sad turn of events forced the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to become a white elephant.

Our approach to malfunctioning institutions is not very practical. When things do not work, we do not repair or close them down. We rename them and hope for the best. Thus, in 2002 we renamed the OAU and it became the African Union (AU).

The AU aimed at bringing about an integrated, prosperous, sustainable and peaceful Africa; a force to reckon with in the modern world.

Last week I had a good sit-down conversation with Melvin. He is an out-of-the-box third-year commerce student. He represents the young, artistic and entrepreneurial mind for whom Kenya is too small. He wants Africa! And business in Africa.

I asked him many questions. I wanted to see and write through his eyes. He inspired most of the ideas in today’s piece.


The African Union was supposed to integrate African states into a unity that can play a more relevant role in the global economy whilst still devising ways to deal with the social, economic and political issues that surrounded Africa and the world.

Africa was to finally be in one accord with itself. Determined to proclaim its position as the most promising. But unfortunately, anyone can tell that that is not the case on the ground.

Fifteen years since the birth of the AU and we still stumble upon the atrocious menaces of moral and social decay that has now been normalised. Corruption and injustice seem to be just normal. In Africa, only the poor goes to jail.

This is why the AU is rarely ever heard around despite the fact that it is our Union. Many times, when we felt like our rights were being infringed, we heard nothing louder than silence from the AU.

Oyoo Sungu says that “six countries — South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya — pay for about 65% of the AU’s membership revenue.” The other 35 per cent is erratic and insufficient. “The AU’s marble and glass headquarters located in Addis Ababa was put up by the Chinese government at a cost of $200M in the year 2012 and dubbed a ‘gift to the people of Africa’.”


It has become a vicious circle. Members do not contribute as they do not see much sense in it, and the AU cannot perform for they have insufficient means.

African states want a good egg and bacon breakfast, but they are not willing to light up the fire and kill the pig. So, we have unappealing raw eggs, and end up taking the cereals offered by the US or the German sausage, the French toast or the Spanish omelette.

A Union with the mandate to step in and intervene in situations that undermine the development and the growth of African nations, but with no financial means is merely an illusion of what most people hope would be truth.

Where was the AU when communities were massacred, raped and tortured? How did they look after refugees or internally displaced persons?

Why should UN bodies intervene directly to resolve regional crisis instead of supporting, funding and building capacity in regional organisations? Is there a genuine desire to resolve the crisis or simply shine and justify huge budget allocations?


The African Union has conducted regular meetings every year now for fifteen years, yet it seems incapable of unifying Africa’s economic landscape for the greater part of the continent.

How can a union be so invisible that it is impossible to even tell whether it is trying? The AU was the fastest to the birth of a prosperous, fair, interconnected and collaborative continent with a strong bargaining power.

What has happened? And why do we hear less and less from the African Union? It may even worsen now that the AU’s host has suspended constitutional guarantees and freedom of expression.

It was time to end. Melvin asked me: Will the AU help its host to restore sense and sanity? Could the AU become relevant, even for its host’s sake?

The solution to Melvin’s dilemmas is on both the AU’s leadership and the commitment of its members. African countries must be ready to foot the AU’s bill. Only then will it become a relevant, efficient and truly independent institution.

Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi