• Sunday, May 26, 2024
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AU: Surviving in Sirte

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Phillip Isakpa

It was probably inevitable that when it came to the 13th summit of the African Union (AU) in Sirte, Libya (June 30 to July 3) the attention of international media would focus on the decision not to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its attempts to secure the arrest of Sudanese President Mohammed al-Bashir. This was always going to be a difficult one, as many African states, especially those trying to pursue democracy, are supporters of the ICC and favour using it to prosecute those former leaders considered to have committed crimes meriting that kind of international trial, such as Charles Taylor of Liberia or some of the génocidaires in Rwanda.
The case of Sudan, and the undoubtedly grave atrocities that have taken place in Darfur has proved to be a particularly complex one. It would be simplistic to say the Summit was bounced into this decision by Gaddafy using his Chairman’s role. There is a deep division of opinion as to the culpability of the Sudanese rulers, but there is wider unhappiness at the heavy external pressures that have been made over this issue. The AU had appealed to the UN to postpone the international arrest warrant issued on al-Bashir There is also resentment in Africa that the West in particular has been grandstanding on the Darfur tragedy, while using African troops under the UN and the AU to salve their consciences, without providing the equipment and resources needed to maintain an effective peace-keeping presence.
The stance of the AU may look awkward, especially in view of the undoubted cynicism of those who support Sudan both in Africa and internationally, and has produced some easy condemnation (Africa’s leaders often present an easy target for critics), but it is a coherent position. The AU’s origins were in the movement for African unity as a expression of Pan-Africanism. This has meant a tendency to pursue inclusiveness rather than division, and should not be seen simply as an example of the heads of state trade union at work. It is the desire to avoid weakening confrontations that led to the quiet diplomacy pursued by South Africa in Zimbabwe, which led to the present uneasy coalition government, justified by former opposition leader Tsvangirai with the words there is no alternative.

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There is also in Africa a commendable desire to produce order in their own ranks, even if the task in a pcrisis like Somalia still seems almost impossible. Guinea and Madagascar are still suspended because of their illegal changes of government in the past few months, while Mauritania, suspended after last August’s coup has been readmitted, following a return to constitutional rule by temporarily reinstating the former president pending elections. This came from an ingenious peace initiative by President Wade of Senegal, who although now in his mid-eighties has lost none of his sharp legal capacity to finesse. AU Commission President Jean Ping said the body was extremely concerned at the deteriorating situation in Niger, where President Tandja had assumed emergency powers in an attempt to prolong his period in office. And there has been a peace deal between Ghana and the Gambia (both countries commit themselves to prosecuting those responsible for the killing of Ghanaian fishermen in the Gambia in 2006) signed in Sirte, although it leaves questions unanswered.
The Sudan issue over-shadowed other issues at the Summit, in any case doomed to being under-reported. The theme of the conference was agriculture, which was never going to make waves, despite its deep importance for the continent. But other matters deserved coverage, notably the metamorphosis of the AU commission into the Authority. This should still be welcomed if only because it seems to be a move away from the mimicry of the institutions of the European Union which having Commission represented. It was to have been accompanied by an expansion of powers notably towards a common foreign policy, but these have been delayed, it was said by the old alliance of the two hegemons
South Africa and Nigeria, who in the heyday of Obasanjo and Mbeki at the birth of the AU constituted a real axis.

The new Authority’s powers, especially in the area of security and defence, may not be very different from those of the Commission, as the AU already has a Peace and Security Council which has already been reinforced. Moves to further integrate the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) into the AU are still taking time, although the African Peer Review Mechanism which NEPAD promoted, is now more under the AU. The new Authority, we are told, will also develop further coordination with the various Regional Economic Communities. More generally, while Gaddafy’s role will always excite controversy, the Sirte summit on the whole seems to have been pragmatic, desirous of reinforcing the AU’s position in a difficult international environment. In these circumstances the emphasis on unity and consensus is evidence of continued maturity which the AU has claimed as one of its assets.