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Monday, August 24, 2009

The African Union: A club of convenience


By Dr Michael ‘Buchi Eze

THE ideological platitude on which the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and later African Union (AU) came into being was primarily to challenge colonialism, neutralise any lingering influence of imperialism and gain political independence for the rest of Africa. Thus Kwame Nkrumah in the heydays of independence struggle echoed this sentiment: "Seek ye first the political kingdom and everything else will be added unto you." The AU has been challenged in many quarters, ranging from incompetent leadership to inadequate funding. But none of these challenges have been more devastating than the gradual degeneration of the AU into a cabal, that is, a club of convenience.

Part of this character of convenience is the double allegiance of certain member states; allegiance in which membership to the African Union is strictly a matter of political convenience. It is on record that most of the countries from Khartoum to Cairo have a stronger political affiliation to the Middle East than Africa. For most of these countries, being a member of the Arab League is of greater significance. The Arab League has more political clout over their policies than the cabal called the African Union. The Arab influence extends to the pattern of their response and political engagement on the international scene.

Recent developments in the AU give credence that this is a club of extraordinary gentlemen and simultaneously a marriage of convenience. Of recent developments: on the death of Omar Bongo, the Gabonese president was given respects by club members as truly one of the greatest leaders in Africa. And why? Because Bongo dominated Gabonese politics for almost half a century, tolerating no opposition and becoming richer than Gabon itself. And Moammar Gadaffi would be unanimously elected chairperson of the AU. One could assume that in their well-educated opinion, the colonel from Libya is a symbol of statesmanship, a champion of human rights and a crusader of democracy which is why he has been rewarded with the chairmanship. But sadly enough, the chairmanship of this club is not based on merits but on politics of settlement, of "old boy network" or "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". Gadaffi is no exception in this brand of politics.

The cult is indicative of the solidarity among its members as an ideological façade to protect its own; a putative sacrality and epiphenomenon of benign captivation to indifference - indifference to ethical responsiveness that comes from without. More often than not, Africanity or pan-African identity is construed as an ideological discourse, where identity in this sense becomes a master of political mystification, of a systematic elision of reality. On this elision of reality, the AU now sustains itself by a mimesis of a perception, mirroring itself in what it fashions and surrendering to the false vision it has thus invented. Therefore, we do not need an African specialist to tell us why the likes of Charles Taylor, Abacha, Mugabe, Al-Bashir among many others were never kicked out of this club despite the tragedies they are accused of having perpetrated and are still perpetrating in their countries. I do not intend to indulge in a moral hypostasis or a sanctimonious reproof, but to state in no uncertain terms, that once again, our African leaders have done us in! This time, in the Sudan!
The recent resolution adopted by the AU (excluding Botswana) not to cooperate with the ICC on the international warrant for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir is only a reflection of what has become the fundamental philosophy of the AU, ie my brother's keeper, an objective that is prior to other engaging interests affecting the African peoples. But this is not just a resolution of non-cooperation, they are pushing for Al-Bashir not to be indicted or even charged, for Bashir is a brother; a brotherhood that supposedly is more important than life, democracy, rights and dignity. This reflects the general character of this club.

For many years, the world has witnessed unprecedented atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan. At first, propagandist smugglers would make us believe that it was merely a war between Christians and Muslims. Yet, some of the women who were raped, the civilians murdered and displaced by the Janjaweed and other militia of Omar al-Bashir were Muslims! Such simplification obfuscates matters and, in my view, commits further injustice and adds to the violence of an already violated people. The peculiar pattern of these atrocities is what branded it as genocide. It is genocide by definition because a particular "kind" of people has been targeted for elimination. Within a period of six years, Bashir is accused of using government instruments and pro-government militia to eliminate from Darfur, the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.

The ICC would like Al-Bashir to stand trial but members of his club have found such development intrusive, an imperialist idea they would call it. And even some African academics have joined the foray to reduce the tragedy to an academic discourse! This refusal by the AU to endorse Omar al-Bashir's indictment invokes certain hypotheses: is the refusal a morbid symbolism of similar character in governance? Would it be that they don't want to set a precedent and challenge one of their own? As background, we need to recall that Al-Bashir, like some his club members, seized political power through a military coup. Is this therefore a mere reflection of the AU body as boneless and toothless? I do not have answers to these questions but one may also draw the following conclusion: All the members of the AU know the evidence. The truth is glaring as evidence is obvious.

The charge sheet against Bashir is not restricted to war crimes, it includes crimes against humanity: rape, torture, dislocation, systematic extermination of a group, pillage, murder, etc. It is not about the truth. They know the truth. The uncomfortable truth is that they have no moral legitimacy for they are all guilty by omission even if by proxy. In signing this treaty, the members have become passively culpable of these crimes. And what is more significant is that it has become a politics of denial. It is such denial that merits further questioning on the rationale behind the very existence of the AU. The AU are not only non cooperative with the ICC, they are defending Al-Bashir against any charges. They know the precedent will reveal to the world the hidden cockroaches in their closets. This has become the tragedy of the AU and even then, the case of Omar Al-Bashir is just a minor incident.

While genocide was raging in Burundi and Rwanda, where was the AU? As civil wars erupted from Monrovia to Freetown, from Abidjan to Kinshasa, where was the AU? In all these, it has always been the outside world that would come to intervene and stop the bloodshed in our front and backyards. As is the case in every politics of denial, we pretended not to notice. It is always the so-called West (that we hate and love - hate because they mirror us and love because we need their aid to perpetuate ourselves in power). These are the ones to remind us to clean our running nose and of our natural duty to protect our lives and preserve our dignity. These attitudes run simultaneously to imperial discourse on African backwardness and savagery, making mockery of our sensibilities and justifying colonial reason of Africa as savage continent, a prehistoric jungle! These are very harsh words to describe the crop of our leaders in Africa. And, it will be too tendentious to generalise as such. But perhaps, it is high time we unmasked the truth, with brutal honesty.

Decades after independence, the political kingdom advocated by Nkrumah remains a botched project. The primary objective of the OAU has now become displaced by ideology of power, efficacy in greed, and ineptitude in governance. The AU has become a platform through which African leaders would lash out at their critics. In the name of Africa, they would denounce any opposition as unAfrican and criticisms, especially from non-Africans, are construed as racism. The AU is now a club of extra-ordinary gentlemen in the very literal sense. They are an extraordinary league in many respects, but this solidarity ought to be qualified: they take an oath to stand for one another in the face of a treacherous Western world and an oath to indifference on practical issues affecting the continent and its peoples. Apart from countries like Botswana, it has been politics as usual from the Cape to Cairo and from Zanzibar to Senegal.

Let the reader pause a while and consider that the writer is of different race. The obvious response would often be that of automatic appeal to victimhood identity and racism. I do not deny or undermine past historical injustices and the effects of colonialism on the people of Africa. The effect still lingers to the present. I am merely disenchanted that they have become a crutch. We cannot continuously be fixated on the past for such a pathological fixation has stifled possibilities for creative engagement and socio-economic growth and development. It is pathological precisely because it masks all the avenues for creative imaginary. It is a false doctrine that generates pseudo symbols of progress that embody the idea of false unity. Racism on the other hand cannot be dismissed. Just recently, in one of the most prestigious research institutions in Germany, I became a target, not from the person on the street, but from supposedly so-called academics. Such admission to racism would also have to accommodate the recent murder of Marwa Sherbini, in Dresden, Germany. Sherbini was a pregnant 32-year-old mother from Egypt and her murder was a racially charged hate crime.

Yet, I do not conclude on the basis of my experience that every other experience I have had and/or, that all of Germany is racist. It is not. Accordingly, a pathological affinity to blame all our problems on the category of racism or victimhood identity is shooting ourselves in the foot. Racism is real but we cannot fall back on that all the time as the cause of all our problems. The destiny of Africa is in our hands. It is time for a new generation of Africans. As to the charge of being racist myself, I have escaped this charge for I belong to this group. Gentlemen, the time for party has come and gone! Give chance to a new generation to salvage what is left of the continent, to breathe a new life, infuse fresh ideas and meet the challenges of our modern world. The continent does not belong to your club. Please go away! Wake up Africa! Wake up! And yes, we can!! That is all.

(Source: http://www.thoughtleader.co.za)

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