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In terms of Africa’s decolonisation and integration the OAU and the AU have a mixed score. It is important to allow time for some of the AU’s policies to start biting.

My career in international development has been diverse and deeply enriching. Over the last decades, I have worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have had the privilege of working in more than five countries within the continent. This has only been possible due to the unrivalled capacity of education and the desire of many to do good around the world, but particularly in Africa.


In fact, ever since I was a child I dreamed of working for the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), because my dad worked for the Organisation before its creation and after, until his death in 1987 at the young age of 50. I remember following him throughout his national and international trips when possible, as I was still too young then and still going to school, and getting more and more interested in the fate of this wonderful continent. My father was a senior officer of the OAU and at the time of his premature death, in charge of the ESCAS department which stands for Education, Science, Culture and Social Affairs.

I remember having vivid discussions about the OAU and its impact throughout the continent. He wrote several articles and reports about what the OAU should and would do but sadly many of the things he talked about have not happened, but why? He was very keen to see young people like me involved in the faith of the continent, indeed my path to greater involvement was unusual. During my summer holidays, I emptied ashtrays in the interpreters’ booths, cleaned desks, refilled water jugs and sorted paper out in the organisation’s library. The following summer I was promoted to assist and distribute documents to conference participants. That was his way and vision; he always felt that changes for Africa must come from the bottom. His experience with me was a good testimony to that assumption, an assumption that is still alive in me today.

I remember my dad talking about his big project i.e. the work behind the preparation of the successor to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was created in 1963 to eliminate the last vestiges of colonialism in Africa. When discussing the OAU in depth, I remember him telling me that most of the projects that they were working on were geared towards the future but the priority then was only about assisting independence movement across the continent.


He talked about the work he was doing for the coming of the African Union. He was talking about a revolution, the renaissance of Africa, with very ambitious goals such as: the promotion of democracy, human rights and development across the continent, including education and inward foreign investment. It was evident that for him, time had come for the organisation to spearhead a new Africa, ready to reform in depth, to confront its ills without taboo and to provide the means to address them. His thunderous ‘L’Afrique de demain’ (‘Tomorrow’s Africa’) is still in my memory.

Every summer I was there in Addis Ababa. The Heads of State and governments of the various nations in Africa met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss issues affecting the Continent. For many years such meetings had been taking place and as I grew up and started to understand things better, I remember starting asking more pertinent questions to my dad. I particularly remember the day my parents ordered my siblings and myself to never to talk about politics to our friends because it was too dangerous to do so. I also remember when a golf park opposite our house was turned into a military camp, where every night after midnight shots were heard – possibly more political assassinations. I remember thinking that there was very little to show for all the millions of dollars of taxpayers' money that had gone into those meetings. What has the OAU and subsequently the AU achieved or got right in Africa since its creation? How effective has the OAU/AU been in tackling problems and all other issues facing the continent? Does the organisation still offer value for money?


The AU has had some reasonable successes through its direct contribution and collaboration with the international community to settling and minimising conflicts in some of the region’s hotbeds, such as trouble spots in the Sudan, resolving post-election violent conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya, and forcing military coup-makers to hand back power to civilian regimes. Unlike the OAU which followed a doctrine of ‘non-interference’ in the internal affairs of member states, the AU has the authority through decisions of its Peace and Security Council to interfere in member states to promote peace and protect democracy, including deploying military force in situations in which genocide and crimes against humanity are being committed.


However, as her older sister the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the African Union (AU) is struggling to resolve the multiple crises facing the continent and to assume its responsibilities. Its weakness was made all too evident when the European Union (EU) and others, prepared Resolution 1973 and its implementation for the Libyan crisis in 2012, that saw the fall of the Gaddafi regime, but the AU was not consulted. An EU delegation went to Cairo, but not in Addis Ababa where the AU headquarters is located, which again demonstrates its impotence. Why can the success of the AU only be counted on the fingers of one hand?

Without the strength of the United States, the civil war in Liberia would not have ended in 2003. The AU showed the same weakness in Sierra Leone. It took Great Britain, the former colonial power, to take things in hand by sending its elite troops to permanently disarm RUF rebels. In the field of human rights, the AU has not made sparks. Its only success story could perhaps be the Darfur, where it managed to get a partial agreement, which eventually led to independence.


The AU looks increasingly powerless and helpless while genocides are being committed against the people on the continent by some despotic regimes. Millions of women and young girls have become refugees in their own country while hundreds of thousands have been murdered, raped and tortured to death while the perpetrators and their associates meet year after year at the expense of the tax payer supposedly to represent them at these meetings. These are the very issues that undermined the OAU and will continue to undermine the AU today. The organisation’s successes will always be over shadowed by the lack of integrity of many of its leaders unless it addresses these issues seriously and is prepared to take bold actions. Kofi Annan wrote a brilliant article in the UK’s ‘Financial Times’ (10/05/2013), in which he talks about how some African leaders are underselling African assets for selfish reasons. For example, he talks about the $75m deal in the mineral-rich Katanga region which goes to the heart of his report’s criticism – namely that the Congolese state lost an estimated $1.36bn in potential revenues between 2010 and 2012 as a result of the alleged undervaluation of the assets. The sum is equivalent to twice the annual education budget of the country, which ranks at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index. All these are issues that require a swift answer if the AU is to start playing the role we all want it to play.

Africa been plagued with post-colonial and neo-colonial issues that cannot be ignored nor dismissed, including the fact that it has also failed to unify its economic institutions for the benefit of the continent, and having thirteen economic unions has not been helpful. In addition, despite receiving vast sums of aid over the years, African countries have never benefited from a co-ordinated initiative such as the Marshall Plan, which saw Western European states re-emerge after the devastation of the Second World War in the 1940s.

Africa’s failed integration failure is found in the continent’s perpetual coup d’états, conflicts and abuse of power, which stand in sharp contrast to the European Union’s (EU) where war has not only disappeared but has even become almost impossible to imagine. This is partly due to old legacies but 50 years cannot and should not be used as an excuse. We Africans had the opportunity to address borders issues which continue to fuel border conflicts but instead we maintained the status quo.

One of the reasons for the AU’s failure to induce gradual changes comes from its own decision not to prevent countries with weaker institutions to become part of the organisation. Indeed there is no standard or criteria for becoming member of such an organisation and that in my view is a huge weakness.


What are the challenges? Well beside all those mentioned above, it could be argued that the process for change is still young because the AU was only established 10 years ago, and a good evaluation of its impact on the continent, will only be possible in the next 10 years. Indeed it is important to allow time for some of its policies to start biting. My argument is that it took Europe approximately eight centuries to build their institutions.

All Africans citizens and some of the leaders are keen to see the continent move forward. But, to be successful, we will have to overcome all the aforementioned hurdles. The Organisation for African Unity was about uniting Africa against colonialism but the African Union is about integration. It is not just a name change, but rather the desire to take the continent to a very different level. The name states its purpose and how it is established. However, with the name come several responsibilities which I hope all African leaders and decision makers will take seriously. They must work together to bring about the changes we have all been longing for. Their efforts must not only be limited to having a common African currency, economic programme, or a common defence policy but it also needs to change the lives of all Africans for the better, including the high level of unemployment across the continent, and especially among the young who are the future of the continent.

*Theodore Menelik-Mfuni (Dr) represents the Ministry of Gender, Family and Children and the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Sports of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the UK; he is also founder of Menelik Education,

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