By: Thembani Mbadlanyana*
If it was not for the name change and restructuring, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was going to celebrate its 50 years of existence. This is why its successor, the African Union (AU), has decided to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the OAU.
Even though the OAU was in existence until the establishment of the AU in July 2002, according to some analysts, the advent of the AU had been in the making since 1977, when African leaders acknowledged that aspects of the OAU Charter had become outdated and needed to be reformed1.. There was an increasing realization that the OAU had become a relic of itself and the post-colonial era; because by the end of the 20th century, virtually every African country, whose cause for self‐rule it championed had gained independence.
A new cohort of African leaders decided to rekindle their interest in continental integration in general, and economic integration in particular. But this was for different reasons from the initial decolonization agenda. This time around, African leaders realised the need to address unconstitutional change of governments and to entrench the culture of democracy in the continent through promotion of good governance as demonstrated by adoption of NEPAD and the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as main flagship programmes.
However, even though in recent years there have been innumerable declarations from AU and African leaders about the desirability of closer cooperation and even integration, the record shows that the rhetoric has not been matched by action. This gives rise to a number of critical questions that Africans need to reflect on as they celebrate 50th anniversary of the OAU. African political leadership needs to ask themselves why African integration continues not to demonstrate elements of success? Why African integration under the auspices of AU does not seem to be successful even though its institutional set up has some striking resemblance to that of, what might seem to be a successful, EU “model”?
Of course, in the context of Africa, regional integration is an extremely complicated phenomenon that is conditioned by socio-economic and political dynamics different from those found in Europe. To this end, there are additional and questions regarding the discourse about regional integration in Africa. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for successful integration? Should regional integration be approached gradually and indirectly by functionalist strategy? Are customs unions preferable? How can African integration be made to proceed faster or farther in some policy areas than in others?
I argue here that, even though economies of most African countries were insulated from the recent financial crisis, African integration continues to be in bad state. More so, even though this integration is pursued under the auspices of AU, with institutional set up that resembles that of the EU, it does not seem to be going anywhere-‐ there is simply no progress. To account for that failure or lack of progress of the African integration, one might be tempted to only look at the Institutional set up as an only explanatory factor. I argue here that, institutional set up cannot be used as the only explanatory factor-‐there are other equally important structural and sociological factors. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to the following:
- Democratic deficit, Political Instability and Unconstitutional change of governments (e.g. Mali coup and recent coup in CAR). Integration demands some level of stability. Intergovernmental or supranational organizations can only assert their authority and influence in a stable climate. Unfortunately that is not the case in Africa. The continental body (AU) operates in an unstable political climate marred by democratic deficit.
- AU commission’s lack of legal power (members not willing to share sovereignty). As pointed out by Santanya, what hinders a successful integration in Africa is the fact that “regional institutions are not independent enough to implement integration initiatives”. This becomes more evident when one looks at the powerless and weak AU commission, which lacks the independence, authority and the legal power to enforce decisions. 2.
- Lack of Political Will. Another factor that makes African integration less successful is a gross lack of political will on the part of African states needed to translate goals and objectives into reality. There is a glaring disconnect between commitment to integration at public fore and the creation of an enabling environment for it to be operational.
- Weak economic structures. Many African states due to weak economic structures cannot operationalize African integration. Lack of funds becomes a major impediment to the smooth running of integration iniitatives. The epileptic state of the economies of some African states coupled with their obligations to pay annual dues to the various sub regional organizations they belong to largely contributes to the inability to discharge their financial obligations.
- Crowded Integration Landscape. Landscape of African integration is defined by multiple (14) Regional Economic Communities (RECs) with overlapping and replicated membership. Only four African countries belong to one regional organization, 27 belong to two organizations and 17 belong to three and 3 belong to four. Overlapping memberships of several regional groupings, with duplicative mandates and structures, lead to inadequate financing of the integration process and inefficient use of limited resources.
- Skewed distribution of benefits. For many African countries, joining a REC is linked to strategic and political reasons; economic reasons; complementarity; historical reasons, geographic proximity, political pressure, and cultural reasons. But more importantly, these reasons are based on the expectation of immediate and long‐term welfare gains. For instance, in situations where a country loses out on the benefits accruing from integration, there is a strong possibility of such country either committing half-heartedly to integration objectives or completely pulling out.
Like European integration, African integration has had its fair share of problems, emanating from a wide range of sources and manifesting themselves differently. Since the economic, social, political and legal context in which the EU institutions work is strikingly different to that of most AU’s institutions, the AU will have to chart its own course, travel at its own pace, find its own rhythm, and write its own history. The AU still has a long way to go before it can claim to be both effective and influential. Amongst others, the AU needs strong independent institutions to organise a strong integration process. Sharing the same names with the EU institutions doesn’t mean AU’s institutions will have same experiences and outcomes like EU ones. Subsequently, the success of the integration project in Africa is dependent on, the willingness of African states to accept the responsibility of organizing for and consequently, reaping the benefits of success. Then and only then will the African Union have impact given that integration will be aimed at reaping such benefits.
*Thembani Mbadlanyana is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF regular contributor. Read his short biography and previous articles here.