This is a special issue on the African Union (AU), published in the year when our continental Union is celebrating ten years of its existence. The articles included in this issue are not focused on mere birthday praises and wishes, however. They contain frank descriptions and discussions of problems, policies and procedures. They do acknowledge improvements and successes, but they also deal with challenges and failures.
There have indeed been successes and failures. This is very understandable, since ‘unity’ can never be just a simple, straightforward ideal. It is always challenged and complicated by the realities of diversity and disunity.
Unity, and particularly African unity, has been the main ideal not only of the AU over one decade, but also of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), over almost four decades. In fact, the name of the original Organisation proclaimed the conviction that the unity already existed. The Organisation was not established as one aspiring for or towards African Unity, but as one entrusted with guardianship of African Unity. In spite of such optimistic idealism, however, the Founding Fathers were very realistic about phenomena and forebodings of disunity. They headed their list of purposes with promoting unity and solidarity, and coordinating cooperation (OAU 1963: art. II), but they also established a Commission of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration (OAU 1963: art. XIX). Mainly due to observance of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs (OAU 1963: art. III), however, it had to be admitted thirty years later that ‘the Commission has been virtually dormant since its establishment’ (OAU 1993:5). Then, in 1993, the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution was established. This signalled ‘Africa’s determination to solve its own problems’ and its commitment ‘to work together towards the peaceful and speedy resolution of all conflicts on the continent’ (OAU 1993:2). This Mechanism brought about more action, but was still bound by the principle of non-interference. It was equipped with an Early Warning System and was especially focused on conflict prevention.
From its establishment in 2002, the AU seemed to have more clout to intervene when conflict threatened or happened. In its Constitutive Act the principle of non-interference in internal affairs was applied to member states among themselves, but the immediately following principle was ‘The right of the Union to intervene in a Member State … in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity’ (AU 2000: art. 4(g) and (h)). A further principle was ‘The right of Member States to request intervention from the Union in order to restore peace and security’ (AU 2000: art. 4(j)). The same principles were endorsed in the Protocol for the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the AU (AU 2002: art. 4(f), (j) and (k)).
The shift of focus from prevention to intervention inevitably brought about a change in the reactions from member states. In a prevention-oriented organisation sufficient consensus may usually be attained; but in an intervention-empowered union, differences of opinion and/or commitment can often be expected. Several cases in which AU intervention was challenged by differences among member states and/or different approaches from abroad are discussed in the articles of this issue.
We are sure, therefore, that the contents of this special issue will not only present useful case study information, but will also prompt our thinking about unity – and diversity. After all, whenever unity is envisaged between individuals, groups, countries, regions or continents, the choice between diversity-overruling unity and diversity-friendly unity is of crucial importance. And on a continent where ownership of a talking-things-out approach is claimed, differing opinions should never be disregarded. Having said that, however, we have to bear in mind that our continental union and all of us are so often caught up in an urgent situation where there is simply no opportunity for time-demanding talks before pivotal decisions have to be risked.
Being concerned about and committed to unity – at all levels, from local to continental (and global?) – is clearly a difficult and demanding undertaking about which volumes can be written. We know that what is published in this issue is only a small contribution to a vast field of overwhelming challenges and far-reaching opportunities, but we publicise it as relevant research and recommendations. We trust that it will equip and inspire readers to fulfil unifying roles, whether in modest micro or major macro capacities.
For the next decade and the further future, we wish to express our gratitude for having a Union promoting continent-wide unity, and the hope that our Union will attain and maintain as much African unity as achievable. We wish our Union of 54 member states all the necessary understanding, compromising and cooperating towards acknowledging both one-ness and many-ness, both inclusiveness and independence. We trust that, precisely in Africa, a vibrant unity should be achievable – a unity that is not imposed, but talked out; not dictated, but desired. Such a unity will however require an African solution to the global problem of self-centred and/or own-group-centred leaders (and followers). But if African solutions in this regard – both bottom-up and top-down – could indeed be developed and implemented, wouldn’t that be a remarkable thing the African village could show-case to the global village?
- AU 2000. Constitutive Act of the African Union. Lomé, African Union. Available from: <http://www.au2002.gov.za/docs/key_oau/au_act.htm> [Accessed 15 September 2012].
- AU 2002. Protocol relating to the establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. Durban, African Union. Available from: <http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/organs/psc/Protocol_peace%20and%20security.pdf>
[Accessed 15 September 2012].
- OAU 1963. OAU Charter. Addis Ababa, OAU. Available from: <http://www.au.int/en/sites/default/files/OAU_Charter_1963_0.pdf> [Accessed 15 September 2012].
- OAU 1993. Resolving conflicts in Africa: Implementation options. OAU Information Services Publication – Series (II) 1993. Addis Ababa, OAU.