After lengthy discussions at the recent African Union meeting in Sirte in Libya, the continent’s leaders agreed to establish an AU Authority that will replace the AU Commission. This was in keeping with the announcement at their gathering in Addis Ababa in January that the Authority would be established to ultimately give substance to the idea of a United States of Africa.
The rationale behind the Authority, it would appear, is that the AU Commission that is supposed to speed up the implementation of the decisions taken by the various organs of the continental body has not been up to the task. According to an AU Audit Report in December 2007, just about a paltry 10 per cent of decisions by some of its departments had been carried out.
What does this really mean? Does it mean that the Commission itself has been ineffective? Or is this down to the lack of political will among the continent’s leaders to use the AU to do the right thing for Africa? What about the thorny issue of sovereignty? What about the small matter of intervention?
Since the establishment of the AU in 2002 there have clear-cut cases that warranted direct intervention by the organisation. One thing that the leaders agreed to do at the AU’s inaugural summit in Durban was to give priority to human security, as opposed to state security. This means the presence of a state of security, whereby African societies are at peace with themselves, should be paramount.
Article 4(h) of the AU’s Constitutive Act gives substance to intervention. It states: “The right of the Union to intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.” What African leaders are saying is that if citizens of AU member countries are under threat from their governments (as in the cases of Sudan and, until recently, Zimbabwe) or from non-state actors (as in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo where rebels are causing death and destruction), the pan-African body has the right to intervene on the say so of the Assembly of heads of state.
But here lies the rub. African leaders are not too keen on outside interference in their countries when they are the ones responsible for disregarding human rights. Indeed, this issue was the main sticking point at the launch of the AU. Libya and a few other countries were not happy with this article and wanted it expunged. But the majority got their way or so we thought.
Seven months later, heads of state met in Addis Ababa and under the instigation of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, they quietly extended the right to intervene to prevent a “serious threat to legitimate order”. Now you and I know what African leaders mean by “legitimate order”. It means the government in power. But as you very well know, some governments in power are not legitimate. In any case legitimate governments could violate human rights by coming up with spurious arguments about the need for state security. And if the government oversteps the mark, this could lead to the legitimate order coming under “serious threat”. So we already have a problem here.
In any case, there was no the need for the extension of the intervention issue when Article 4(j) already makes this provision: “The right of member states to request intervention from the Union in order to restore peace and security.” Oh well, maybe African leaders were just hedging their bets.
You might not know this, but AU leaders have indeed authorised military intervention to bail out one of their own. It happened in the Comoros last year after a rogue army officer, Colonel Mohamed Bacar, seized control of the island of Anjouan. He had refused to step down after the controversial 2007 election. The AU quickly mustered a force made up of troops from Sudan, Tanzania and Senegal, with logistical backing from France and Libya to kick out Bacar and return control of Anjouan to the central government.
Of course Bacar was not as formidable as Mugabe. His troops, too, were no match for what the AU could put together. The strange thing about this alliance was the presence of Sudanese troops at a time when the AU had failed to rein in militias loyal to the Khartoum government that were causing death and destruction in Darfur. Libya also does not have very good credentials to be part of an alliance aimed at restoring law and order in a trouble African country. The current trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting at The Hague has revealed the extent to which Libya went to help prepare the fighters who took part in the bitter conflicts that the West African region witnessed over the last 20 years.
The French cannot be described as good guys either when it comes to maintaining law and order in Africa. They have been guilty of undermining democracy in Africa if it does not serve French interest. Look at the behaviour of their so-called peacekeepers in Cote d’Ivoire. The first opportunity they had to weaken President Laurent Gbagbo was grabbed with both hands; the French destroyed the country’s tiny air force on the grounds that Ivorian government troops had attacked their “peacekeepers”. But it was clear that this was an act carried out in order to strengthen the rebels in the north, who were receiving tacit support from Paris.
Given this rigmarole over the issue of intervention, the AU should get its act together. After all, the Consultative Act is the first international treaty that actually recognises the right of humanitarian intervention. What is not clear, though, is what form intervention should take. But common sense should prevail here. Is this too much to ask of African leaders?
By Desmond Davies