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The African Union struggles to gain credibility

By Denebola
Published: October 2007
By Alex Tolkin80 years ago, poet Marcus Garvey wrote of a united Africa with a strong presence in the world. Despite repeated efforts to push Africa in this direction, little progress has been made. The continent still faces tremendous challenges.Most recently, the Organization of African States was renamed the African Union (AU) in an attempt to reform the institution and create a viable organization to help the continent. Unfortunately, the AU still faces tremendous hurdles on its path to becoming a significant force in Africa. The AU’s success or failure in addressing these challenges such as war, poverty, and disease, will be critical not only for its own future, but also for the future off the entire continent.
Like many intergovernmental organizations, the African Union makes many promises and proclamations, but has difficulty enforcing them.
Violent struggles in Liberia and Sierra Leone have largely petered out, but many analysts argue that the AU is ill- equipped to deal with a new generation of challenges due to a lack of troops. The most critical mission by the AU in recent years has been peacekeeping in Darfur, but the AU has made almost no difference on the ground because it does not have enough troops or a broad enough mandate to make a difference.
Uganda is the only nation that has pledged troops as peacekeepers in Somalia, another major conflict zone. The AU cannot function as a peacekeeping force unless it has the manpower on the ground.
There are signs of improvement, but worrying issues remain. 12,000 new troops have been pledged to Darfur from a multitude of African nations. Unfortunately, the countries that donated troops have already stretched their armies thin, and many analysts feel that after this recent push the AU will not receive new troops for a while. Uganda is facing a serious political backlash over sending troops to the AU. The AU needs to tread carefully if it wants to be able to pursue peacekeeping missions effectively.
After the Organization of African States was disbanded due to corruption, difficulties in establishing the AU’s legitimacy has plagued the organization; and was faced with skepticism. The rebranded AU, however, may not fare much better. Perceived AU effectiveness hinges on its work in Darfur, which has thus far been utterly ineffective.
Additionally, member states have also undermined the organization. Since the AU represents all of Africa, it is forced to work with incredibly repressive regimes. Zimbabwe, one of the strongest supporters of increased AU power, is internationally regarded as a pariah state.
On issues such as poverty and AIDS, the AU’s record is mixed at best. Right now the AU has more legitimacy among African nations than outside groups such as the UN and the US. For this reason, Sudan allowed AU peacekeepers in Darfur, but for years has rejected both United States and United Nations troops. Unless the AU can demonstrate that it is actually effective, this legitimacy will erode quickly.
Plans are in the works to increase AU power. Some nations are pushing for a unified European Union (EU)-style African government by 2015, but most analysts find the initiative to be widely optimistic. Unfortunately, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and other major African powers oppose an increase in the AU’s power.
Unless the AU can make major headway on its policy goals in the coming years, the 80-year-old dream of a pan- African government will prove nothing more than a fantasy.

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