Global Policy Forum

What Future for the African Union?


By Frederic Ceuppens

European Center for Development Policy Management
November 15, 2006

After four years of existence and as the first mandate of the Commission is ending, African Union (AU) authorities want to seize the opportunity to discuss the future of the Union. Composed of African Heads of States and of Governments (Algeria, Kenya, Senegal, Gabon, Lesotho, Uganda and Nigeria), the "Committee of the 7" was in charge of working on the future of the AU institutions. Its conclusions should feed in the debate on the occasion of the 17-18 November 2006 Extraordinary meeting of the Executive Council and, later, at the AU Summit of January 2006. This editorial recalls what is at stake.

The first four years: advances and future challenges

The decision to create an African Union - as the successor to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) - was taken after quite complex negotiations in Sirte (September 1999), as was the adoption of its Constitutive Act in Lomé, less than a year after (July 2000). Eventually, a compromise was reached between partisans of a federal Union endowed with supranational competencies and those who estimated that this vision was precipitated. With this minimal consensus that nevertheless allowed a step forward, African States chose a gradual approach, letting further evolutions decide on what should be adapted. The AU Constitutive Act therefore remains rather vague on the role of every stakeholder and on their relations with each other, what renders the debate on the future of the Union even more useful as the last four years saw the latter evolving.

On several fronts, the AU demonstrated during its first mandate that the move from the OAU to the AU was appropriate.

First and foremost, the move from a Secretariat to a Commission is one of the major innovations of the AU Constitutive Act, embodying the will to make a qualitative jump forward towards more integration. The AUC has been conceived as a collegial institution independent from Member States, which has the competence to represent the Union. It also plays the role of coordination and harmonisation of activities and of implementation of inter-African cooperation, which was previously carried out by intergovernmental institutions (the OAU Assembly and the Council of Ministers). In certain policy areas, the Commission proved that it was in a position to offer real added value to Member States.

The list provided hereafter is not exhaustive, but gives an idea of some major achievements to which the African Union Commission (AUC) contributed:

• Development of a vision for the AU up to 2015 [See Strategic Plan of the African Union Commission, Vol.1, "Vision and Mission of the African Union", May 2004];

• Recognition of the AU as a legitimate partner on the international stage, including a strong AU-EU partnership;

• Development of an African peace and security architecture (APSA), including a Peace and Security Council. The AUC has also been instrumental in setting-up complex peace operations (e.g. Darfur) and attracting donor backing and funding (African Peace Facility);

• Emergence of the institutions of the African Union: the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) and the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR).

At the end of its first mandate, the AUC offers concrete results. The institution is nevertheless still in a learning curve, as reforms are long-term processes. The first pillar of the AU institutional transformation process (ITP) therefore concerns the institutional strengthening of the Commission, which sometimes had to cope with limited means (including financial ones) to reach consequent objectives.

Second, another break with the past is the will to give a democratic foundation to the AU. The establishment of the PAP and of the ECOSOCC offers more space for people's participation and representation, also providing more oversight and accountability. Both institutions still face lack of capacities however and will gain much more legitimacy once their members will be elected as it is foreseen, for the PAP, in 2009.

Third, the progressive implementation of judicial control is another major step towards a stronger Union. A major step was reached with the entry into force of the Protocol establishing the ACHPR on January 1, 2004 and the election of its 11 judges in January 2006 at the occasion of the 6th ordinary session of the AU Assembly. The latter hold its first session at the occasion of the 7th Summit of the AU in Banjul. The establishment of the AU Court of justice is however still pending as negotiations on the project to merge it with the ACHPR are still ongoing.

Fourth, timid progresses have been done regarding the status of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as "building-blocks" of the AU. A project of Protocol on relations between the AU and the RECs has been adopted by the legal experts and Permanent Representative Committee joint meeting in March 2005, offering a good basis to rely on. In practice it remains a challenge to build solid linkages with the RECs aimed at defining and implementing a common agenda. The establishment of Stand-by Brigades in five chosen RECs within the framework of the APSA, in collaboration with the Commission, is a good example of the potential of such a partnership.

Several questions might be raised during the debate on the future of the AU

• How can the role of the Commission as "motor" of the Union be strengthened and what would it imply? A key element here is the relation between the Member States and the latter, which might be seen more and more as an "ally" rather than as a "competitor".

• How to ensure the institutional balance within the AU? Which future steps in the implementation of the other AU institutions? Regional integration in Africa is an inclusive process. Questions related to one institution de facto impact on the others.

• How to deal with multi-polar governance of the African Union? This could lead to discussions on the importance of a Union where an adequate balance between means and ogals is found or on the ways to improve the interinstitutional dialogue within the AU`. A compromise will have to be found.

Whatever questions will be addressed during the discussions on the future of the AU, it is likely that the debate would see the re-emergence of diverging views, namely those who want to run (e.g. by the creation of the United States of Africa) opposed to more conservative forces.

More Information on Nations & States
More Information on Political Integration and National Sovereignty


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.