Our Research posts are about the latest academic research being done in the School of Economics. This week:
An Evaluation of the African Union as an International Organisation
The half centenary of the Organisation of African Unity (OAHU) and the first decade of the African Union (AU) were celebrated during 2013. The OAHU was established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, with the aim to promote unity among African countries and to improve the fate of their people. On 9 July 2002, it was transformed into the African Union in Durban. The main objectives of the latter are the economic and political integration of the African continent. This study aims to evaluate the successes and failures of the African Union as an international organisation (IO). Africa is one of the poorest and least developed regions in the world. This debate is therefore of critical importance to the people of the Southern African region (World Bank, 2013).
This evaluation provides a broad overview and focus on the major challenges that the AU is facing. In this study, the AU is assessed using the theoretical criteria set by the theory of international organisations. The results revealed that the AU is only partially successful and that internal divisions remain a barrier.
The article commences with a historical overview of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAHU) and the African Union (AU). It explains the rationale for their formation and the role they play. Their objectives are stated and explained. Then the theory of international organisations and their properties are studied. This served as criteria when evaluating the record of the African Union. In the following section, the role that the African Union plays as an international political organisation is evaluated against the theoretical background, with specific focus on the challenges that the organisation is facing. Finally, a summary of the findings is provided and a final verdict is made on whether the African Union triumphs or fails as an international organisation.
Regional international organisations such as the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) limit their membership to specific regions and are mostly concerned with regional development, regional security, solving regional disputes and fostering regional cooperation. The theoretical study revealed that the AU originated in the Neo-functionalist fashion. According to functionalism, international cooperation starts with limited pragmatic treaties and agreements and builds further from that. That is the natural way the AU also developed historically. The study also concluded that the national and ideological agendas of member states remain the biggest obstacle that the AU faces in achieving its objectives. As it developed through a pragmatic rationale, it is, for example, having a problem recognising old colonial borders, but simultaneously expecting the new sovereignty and territorial integrity of their allies.
The theory of international organisations (IOs) states that IOs are created by sovereign states, for sovereign states, and this influences their respective roles. International organisations serve as an international platform for aid, assistance and neutral brokerage in times of conflict. They aim to ensure mutual protection and joint cooperation between heterogeneous peoples. An IO acts as a common voice for the entire region and represents member countries’ wishes collectively.
IOs ensure cultural harmony among the various peoples of the region they represent. They aim to uplift their people’s welfare. IOs therefore also serve as a collective economic voice and strive towards economic and social cooperation in a world characterised by increasing globalisation.
The theory of international organisations identifies four functions of IOs. In the first place, IOs usually protect and facilitate international relations and world politics. They act as an interactive arena for member states. While protecting the interests of individual states, they also enable international integration, promote political credibility in the international arena and provide an alternative for dispute resolution. Secondly, IOs act as a centre for cooperation among states; they have a role as independent international actor on behalf of member states; and finally, they act as a supranational organisation. They influence transnational relations and ensure the improvement of the human condition.
In evaluating the AU against the theory of IOs, special emphasis was placed on the regional problems and conflicts of Zimbabwe, Darfur and Somaliland since 2002. Other regions that received attention were the Arabic Spring, Mali, the Central African Republic, the creation of Southern-Sudan, Kenya, the DRC and the Comoro Islands.
Literature emphasises that the secondary role and context of specific member states and their respective agendas should always be taken into consideration when the success of an IO is evaluated. This was also adhered to in this particular assessment of the AU before a conclusion was reached.
It was concluded that although the AU has failed in many instances, it has also achieved a great deal of success in certain spheres in its decade of existence. Failures mostly relate to conflict resolution and the fostering of a democratic culture, while the successes are mostly related to the formulation of a collective international economic voice.
It was found that the AU has an ever-increasing role to play as it is becoming a significant platform for regional integration and cooperation, being an independent international actor and supranational government with legal recourse against member states. The main challenge of the AU will be the harmonising of members’ interests and the promotion of a culture of human rights and democracy.
The expectation at the beginning of the study was that the AU has mixed results as an IO, but it is a failure overall. This study proves that although there are mixed results, the AU has a growing success rate and can therefore not be seen as a failure. The way that various conflict situations in Africa are handled will in future determine the extent to which IOs, such as the EU and the AU, will work together and whether the success rate of the AU will increase.
This research is published in the Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe, vol. 54(2):267-282.