Although there are many internal and external reasons for the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, it can be capsulated in what Emperor Haile Sellassie stated then.
He said “task on which we have embarked, the making of Africa, will not wait. We must act, to shape and mould the future and leave our imprint on events as they pass into history.” “[w]e are determined to create a union of Africans. In a very real sense, our continent is unmade; it still awaits its creation and its creators.”
50 years is more than the life expectancy of many Africans. The question is what has been achieved in the last fifty years? Where is Africa now?
In the post-independence period, the people of Africa were ruled by brutal military dictators who were engaged in proxy wars and conflicts like Idi Amin, Mobutu, Bokasa and Mengistu Hailemariam and many others. These leaders were different both in caliber and mission from those who founded the OAU. That is why the years of the 1970s and 80s and even 90s were described as lost decades. However, despite a great deal of optimism of peace divided, Africa Civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Central African Republic and Guinea Bissau; genocide in Rwanda; state failure in Somalia; and secessionist movements in Sudan became real challenges to the new and old African leadership, demanding urgent attention and action. African conflicts became more intra-state and less inter-state with localized manifestations and coverage, rather than civil wars that engulfed an entire country. To meet the various African challenges, the institutional transformation of the OAU to the AU. This required the amendment of the OAU Charter in order to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the OAU. It is the change of circumstances inside and outside Africa that convinced the leaders of Africa to adopt the AU Constitutive Act whose main objective was to shift the mission and vision of the OAU, from an organization of anti-colonial solidarity and anti apartheid organization, to the more interventionist and integrationist AU.
Certainly, in spite of many positive developments taking place in many African countries, and despite the fact that the African Continent is the cradle of mankind and the birthplace of humanity, it cannot be denied that many African countries also now find themselves in a depressing state of affairs where millions of Africans are suffering from HIV/Aids, lack of food, clean water, basic health care services, lack of many other survival requirements and basic needs as well as lack of good education etc.
Although Africa is one of the richest in mineral and oil resources and the outflow from Africa in terms of the value of mineral, oil and other resources (legally and illegally) is estimated to be about $ 400 bn per year, many African countries are aid dependent so much so that some governments cannot survive without external aid. Despite the fact that we have spectacularly beautiful continent, yet many ordinary Africans as well as many African scholars and intellectuals are desperate to migrate to other continents taking hazardous journeys? Although there are multiple answers to such a problem, we nonetheless feel that first and foremost, the lack of strong, committed, dedicated and selfless leaders with a vision that are loyal to the people of Africa remains a major obstacle to the future of Africa. In the current African leadership, there is much rhetoric and little substance and action to tackle Africa’s chronic socio-economic and political anarchy and technological underdevelopment.
Despite what many optimists say about Africa, the fact of the matter is that Africa has many complex and diverse problems that cannot be solved by declarations, slogans and resolutions alone. Many critics argue that democracy in Africa has not so far been deeply rooted and sustainable. Nor has it delivered food and dignity for the people of Africa.
There is now an increasing awareness and recognition that many of the problems emanate from poor leadership. They have failed to empower their people to embark on meaningful and sustainable development initiatives and for not creating the conditions to realize their creative potentials. We cannot have an Africa with dignity as long as there is no or only little trust and confidence between African leaders and their own peoples at home. Much to our regret, it is alleged that many African leaders are more frightened about criticisms made by Western leaders and journalists than even constructive criticisms coming from their own scholars and intellectuals as well as their own people. We cannot have an Africa with dignity in as long as some Africans are more loyal to promote the interest of foreign powers than their own people. It is true, the participation of the people of Africa is crucial for Africa to transform. But it should not be a sham participation. Participation without real competition and contestation is meaningless.
The poor, marginalized, including women and other social forces in many African countries are loosing hope in their political leaders who tend to be obsessed with their own power and security than the security of their people. They tend to promise a lot but deliver very little. New elections do not also seem to bring about fundamental change to improve governance and the living conditions of the vast majority of Africans. What is often forgotten is that those who make reforms impossible make revolution inevitable.
So our appeal to African leaders after 50 years of establishment of the OAU is to commit them to serve the interest of the people of Africa. If their main interest is to genuinely serve their own people, African leaders must practice what they preach in the AU halls and move from rhetoric to implementation. We should also stress that we are also not happy the way some African opposition groups behave and act. At times they are also part of the problem. They seem to be obsessed with coming to power at any cost than transforming the nature of politics in their respective countries.
What can AU now do? The answer is simple. OAU/AU is a reflection of Africa and a mirror of the strength and weakness of member states. AU cannot exercise powers that are not delegated by its members. If Africans leaders are not genuinely committed to implement the declarations and resolutions they themselves have approved, the AU cannot do it for them. One should look at the euphoria generated about NEPAD more than ten years ago. It was anticipated to be the economic blue print of African economic and development policy. But where is it and what is the status, role and influence of NEPAD in 2013 after ten years? There are too many empty declarations and resolutions and too much focus on manufacturing slogans and good feel advertisements. A good law or norm is as good as it is implemented. Hence, it is time to move on from rhetoric into action and implementation. Although, there are good reasons to recall and celebrate, there are huge challenges ahead that Africa and AU should overcome and lots of work to be done.