Having existed for years as a continental body, the African Union has not been able to achieve the continental unity it wishes to attain. When its predecessor, the OAU, was formed in 1963, little did its leaders anticipate the myriad of problems it was likely to face as a body. What was uppermost on their minds was the total and quick emancipation of African States that were still under the yoke of colonialism. Today, the problems facing the continent include ethnic and cross border conflicts, refugee problems as well as pervasive hunger and starvation. Other problems are the scourge of AIDS and the incessant military incursion in governance.
Hence, it came as no surprise when in 2002 the OAU was replaced by the African Union with a more focused goal of propelling African states towards peace and prosperity as the basis for achieving the ultimate goal of political and economic integration of its member states. A major challenge confronting the AU and its leaders is how to respond to the creation of jobs as well as livelihood aspirations of Africa’s youth who account for three-quarters of the continent’s labour force. Another major challenge facing the African Union is funding. Programme costs for key institutions such as the Pan African Parliament, the Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Corruption Board are being paid for by donors. Again, the problem of corruption on the continent is real. What is more, the African continent has seen a rise in the threat of extremist groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon and al-Shabaab in East Africa. These are challenges that must be overcome without delay. One other important challenge to address is dealing with corruption and the illicit flow of money from Africa.The continent possesses great wealth in its resources, but little of this wealth is used in the development of the continent. It has been estimated that Africa is losing close to $50bn annually with a large portion of this coming from the extractive industries such as oil and gas exploration.
Again, the AU would have to adopt an appropriate strategy to manage international co-operation in an era of globalisation and in a changing world order; it would need to come up with a relevant and practical conceptualisation of innovative and transformative partnership which its member states would certainly need to complement their national development efforts.
For many people on the continent, African Union Day is celebrated as a holiday but without much significance to them. This shows that the time has come for the African continent to sit up and sensitise its people to the essence of the aspirations of the continent. Africa appears to be better off when it comes to maintaining the status quo as a colonial legacy rather than taking positive radical steps to pursue the interest of its people.
Since the existence of the AU is crucial in world politics, much greater effort is needed to show its relevance and ensure that the continent has a stronger voice in the global arena rather than a mere whisper drowned out by other stronger players. The relevance of Africa must be felt in realistic terms by the world, so the earlier its leaders come together to solve its problems the better it will be for the continent.
BY: KOFI AMPONSAH-BEDIAKO, HEAD OF PUBLIC RELATIONS, GHANA STANDARDS AUTHORITY, ACCRA.