Africa Union And The Challenge Of Continental Peace

by Tokunbo Awoshakin

Realizing that the scourge of conflicts in Africa constitute a major impediment to the socio-economic development of the continent, 53 African nations, formerly jointly known as the Organization of African Unity, recently became the African Union.

The pertinent question of this article is whether the African Union has the prospect of being celebrated as the organization that will put an end to the series of structural and direct violence in the African continent. In an attempt to answer this question, this article begins with a comparative analysis of the founding charter of the African Union and it’s mother body, the Organization of African Unity.

This article also attempts to identify, appraise and situate the substantive requirements for establishing continental peace and security in Africa both at the national and sub regional levels. Since the African Union seems to be structurally fashioned after the European Union model, the article uses some historical analysis related to the emergence of the European Union to situate the peace project of the African Union.

Finally, this article proffers suggestions rooted in peace studies, as to how African Union can develop a comprehensive approach to achieving peace in the continent whereby it’s establishment may be remembered and celebrated for peace and security in Africa.


The charter of the African Union states that the 53 African nations are guided by a common vision of a united and strong Africa. The charter adds that these nations realize the fact that the scourge of conflicts in Africa constitutes a major impediment to the socio-economic development of the continent. The leaders of African Union are conscious of the need to promote peace, security and stability as a prerequisite for the implementation of our development and integration agenda.

The 53 African leaders, according to the charter, are convinced of the need to accelerate the process of implementing the treaty establishing the African Economic Community in order to promote the socio-economic development of Africa and to face more effectively the challenges posed by globalization. They are also determined to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights, consolidate democratic institutions and culture, and ensure good governance and the rule of law in the continent of Africa.

Simple name change to reflect a modern trend! That is the first thing that comes to mind with the replacement of the Organization of African Unity with the African Union – composed of the same countries in the former body.

A closer look however suggests otherwise. Firstly, the Organization for African Unity is an establishment that simply strives for African unity, as the name implies. African Union, however, implies, semantically, that an actual union is in place. The name states its purpose and how it is established.

Beyond the semantic difference, the circumstances leading to and the charter establishing both bodies are not similar. During the Cold War individual African countries were important global diplomatic players, courted by both east and west eager to expand their spheres of influence. Since the end of the cold war in 1989, their international influence has been greatly reduced and there was a conscious acknowledgement of the fact that Africa must be united if it is to make its voice heard in the global economy. As Africa emerged from colonialism in the 1960s, some leaders such as Ghana’s Dr Kwame Nkrumah argued that Africa could only survive as a single entity. Others such as Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast believed that the newly independent countries must first build strong nation states. The Organisation of African Unity, (O.A.U), was created as a compromise between these points of view. (Munene,1995)

The establishment of the Organisation of African Unity was therefore a way of giving a sense of oneness to newly independent African states. The charter of the organisation with it’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was silent on issues of democratic reform, peace, justice, and freedom of expression.

Consequently, a large number of the leaders of the O.A.U. turned out to be military rulers and civilian dictators. This is the first point of departure between the new and old body. Although some of the leaders in the African Union, like Ghaddafi of Libya and Museveni are still military rulers, there are more democratically elected leaders in the new organisation.

More importantly, the charter of the A.U. gives specific expression of the body’s determination to promote and protect human and peoples’ rights. There is also a statement of the determination to consolidate democratic institutions and culture, and ensure good governance and the rule of law.

The second thing that stands out in comparison of the charters of both O.A.U. and A.U. is that the new African Union aims at political and economic union. The charter of the new organisation is a hugely ambitious and wide ranging recovery programme to eradicate poverty and promote economic growth and development.

The blueprint tagged “A New African Initiative”, meant to transform the O.A.U. into the new African Union, is a plan which will include the establishment of a central bank, a court of justice and parliament, all along the lines of the European Union. In theory, these will give ordinary Africans a greater say in their continental leadership. It will enable Africans create and run an Africa-wide economy and make abusers of human rights accountable for their actions.

The part of the charter that emphasises the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights, especially the determination to consolidate democratic institutions and culture, and ensure good governance and the rule of law in individual nation states, may prompt a quick conclusion that the African Union can end the conflicts and ultimately bring peace and security to the African continent.

At first glance, one could notice ideas and concepts similar to those that gave rise to the formation of the European Union, especially the early ideas of Emeric Cruce and Abbe de Saint Pierre. Some of these include; the sovereignty of member nations, the possibility of settling dispute through arbitration as well as trading among one another, using the same currency. (Archibugi, 1992).

The African Union charter states the need for promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights. It also stresses the consolidation of democratic institutions and culture to ensure good governance and the rule of law in individual nation states as conditions. These ideas are similar to Kant’s idea of republican constitution in his cosmopolitan model of attaining perpetual peace. (Held, 1995).

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