Calls for unity dominated Thursday’s 60th anniversary celebrations for the continental organization formerly the African Union (AU), which represented 55 member states. But critics say the AU has become a paper tiger where there’s a lot of talk but not much real power to enforce its mandate.
Africa Day events across the continent honored the founding of the AU’s predecessor — the Organization of African Unity (OAU) — whose original purpose was to combat colonialism before evolving in 2002 to incorporate the goals of defending the sovereignty and independence of its members, as well as encouraging their socio-economic integration.
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In Addis Ababa, headquarters of the AU, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stressed that unity “is no longer a slogan, but a means of survival” in an increasingly complex world. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed Abiy, calling for unity and “maintaining the bonds that shape our destiny”.
In his speech, Abiy defended the need for a permanent African seat on the UN Security Council and proportional representation in the G7 and G20. Ramaphosa called for better governance across the continent amid conflict in Sudan, as well as previous coups in Chad, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
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“We use Africa Day to reaffirm the importance of consolidating democracy and consolidating good governance across Africa,” said Ramaphosa.
Critics say the AU has failed to achieve some of its goals, but supporters argue its powers are restricted to allow members’ heads of state to remain in control.
Kenyan political analyst and lawyer Danstan Omari says the AU is a “dead bulldog” that lacks mechanisms to enforce any of its mandates.
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“It’s a talk show that doesn’t have any impact. If you don’t have the mechanisms to enforce anything, then why are you there? So, in my opinion, it’s a body that needs to be completely removed,” Omari told the Associated Press.