Africa Union And The Challenge Of Continental Peace

by Tokunbo Awoshakin

The African Union peace project seems to be an attempt to replicate the European experience which is based on complex institutional linkages between states and between them and regional and sub-regional organizations. The A.U. in theory seeks to follow the E.U. that has a plethora of monitoring institutions, an explicit commitment to human rights and good governance, and a major role for civil society.

Commenting on the establishment of the African Union and the challenge of peace and security in Africa, United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, warned that if Africans wanted to follow the example of Europe after World War II and build a union, they would have to resolve their conflicts. (African Union Summit, 2002)

True. Sustainable peace and security order across Africa requires the establishment of a ‘security community’ in Africa, that is, a community that transcends international boundaries in which the settlement of disputes by anything other than peaceful means is unthinkable.

To be sure, the biggest obstacle to the realisation of the African Union project of peace and economic growth is incessant conflict within several African nations and between and among nation states. (Burton, 1996). Similarly, so is the issue of regional or hegemonic power. Powerful African countries like Nigeria and South Africa are wary of losing their own regional influence and concerned at any initiative that would weaken their sovereignty or ability to act independently. Nigeria, for example, enjoys its role as the dominant force in the existing West African grouping, the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS). South Africa similarly plays an important role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

This appears to be a contrast to the E.U. situation where European security was driven by the concerns of two dominant European states – Germany and France – under the umbrella of NATO, led by the United States. (Rapoport, 1992). Still, the formal structures of the African Union replicate those of the European Union. The conditions under which African countries are moving towards unity are, however, very different to those in Europe at the emergence of European Union.

The fact that the African Union will have a Peace and Security Council which will be the African equivalent of the UN Security Council except that none of the 15 members will be able to exercise a veto, may positively work positively to make member nations abide by its decisions. It will prevent a situation whereby key decision are made by regional powers. Given that the council’s stand-by force, drawn from African armies will also only intervene if crimes against humanity are being perpetrated after decisions have been taken by consensus, or by a two-thirds majority when such an issue is put to a vote, theoretically, also makes the organization more prepared to prevent the kind of genocide and war crimes that the continent has experienced in the past.

It is, however, important to ask a number of questions about what are necessary to put in place to create an African ‘security community’ as a precondition for unity. Perhaps the first of these is an appraisal of the kind of peace and security that exist within the individual member nations of African Union.

There seems to be more reason to argue for prevailing internal peace as an essential precondition for an inter-state security order. This cannot be by-passed. At worst, the pursuit of internal peace should develop simultaneously. Similarly, while member nations retain their sovereignty, for the new union to achieve continental peace, internal conflicts within states should not be regarded as solely a domestic issue but as a question of international concern and engagement. Violent crime and banditry associated with proliferation of light weapons should also not be seen as only domestic problems.

In essence, the African Union may not be able to achieve peace and security in the continent of Africa until member nations seriously and genuinely address domestic issues of ethnic, religious and regional cleavages. These have become proliferated in many of the member nations of A.U. Also, Given that the underlying reasons for insecurity include poverty and thus conflict over scarce resources, member nations need to deal with the problem of insufficient institutional and constitutional structures to manage disputes peacefully. The problem of corruption and a militarized mentality that make many African leaders invariably resort to use of force to attempt to resolve issues that are better addressed through longer-term diplomatic processes, also have to be genuinely addressed.

Member nations should also work towards demilitarization. The present situation where one of the key nations in the A.U. initiative, Libya, is still ruled by a government dominated by a military elite that runs the country in a secretive and authoritarian manner, will have a negative influence on other member nations.

As mentioned earlier, the objective of internal peace and security can be pursued simultaneously with that of inter-state and continental rather than the illusory belief that continental peace can be achieved without having internal peace in member states. Similarly potential sources of conflict with neighbors such as undemarcated borders and contested natural resource control should be tackled diplomatically.


Already the African Union, unlike the O.A.U., seems to be heading in the direction of intervening to settle disputes between member nations diplomatically. The efforts to end Burundi’s civil war, brokered by former South African President, Nelson Mandela is a good example. Hutus and Tutsis will serve in a transitional government to sustainable peace to that country.

Since the African Union is to eventually have a common parliament, central bank and court of justice, which in theory, will give ordinary Africans a greater say in their continental leadership, there is an urgent need for the remaining military leaders to allow for democratic representation.

Self development and social independence of citizens has been argued to be critical construct for democracy (Bangura, 1992). Consequently, participatory democracy within member states is as important as the ability of member States to delegate sovereignty for certain matters to independent institutions which represent the interests of the Union as a whole.

While the A.U. should not be a total replication of the E.U. because of obvious cultural and historical differences between the people of the two continents, the position of (Vincent, 1986) about certain universal concepts of international relations should apply in the fullest. Such concepts like human right, democracy and the rule of law should be invaluable cornerstones of the African structure. This will lead to a situation whereby direct and structural violence within member states are dealt with in a “peaceful and lawful” manner (Galtung,1996).

To tackle the underlying reasons for insecurity such as poverty and conflict over scarce resources, governments of member nations of African Union need to give every citizen a sense of belonging. Structural and cultural violence like marginalization of certain members of society based on ethnic or religious identities should end. Gender based discrimination in public spaces should also be addressed so that women are absorbed as equal members of the society. Even as member nations of African Union pursue these conditions that will ensure internal peace and security, an earlier idea in the works of Charles Beitz is still relevant (Beitz, 1979). The new organisation needs to work more on developing a mechanism to monitor and follow up on commitments and infringements made by member nations.

Finally, in line with the idea of evolving a cosmopolitan society, the A.U. may need to work out relationships with existing regional, continental and international organizations like the European Union and the United Nations and its agencies so that they can work in complementary ways.

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