African Union have been meeting for the first time since the death of its former leader and financial backer in chief, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi last October. The issue of future funding for the organisation may yet be on the agenda even though the proceedings have been dominated by leadership elections.
Whatever is on the agenda, it is unlikely many Africans, let alone the international community really expect much from an organisation that has always shown its weakness at crucial moments, the Libyan case being the most recent example.
Yet 2012 could prove to be one of the most crucial and challenging year for the continental body. 25 of the continent’s 54 (UN figure) nations will be holding elections of some sort, from presidential, parliamentary to local and provincial. 5 of these elections will be crucial presidential contests in Angola, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Zimbabwe.
Trouble has been reported in Senegal ahead of February’s presidential elections. People are opposing the decision by the country’s courts to allow the 85 years old incumbent President, Abdoulaye Wade to stand for a third term, which is against the constitution that Wade himself apparently amended in the early 2000s to restrict presidents to only two terms in office. Things could get worse before the elections, and AU may have to intervene at some point.
Madagascar is already a troubled spot; José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola has been facing protests from the country’s youth frustrated by lack of opportunities and unfair distribution of oil wealth. Previous elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya that produced “no winners” and ended up “governments of national unity”, suggest fragile and nervy electoral period ahead.
“Governments of national unity” may have somewhat steadied Zimbabwe and Kenya but the truth remains that these governments are a fiasco. Why give up when you can negotiate for “government of national unity”? It is these governments that gave former Cote d’Ivoire’s President, Lauren Gbagbo an incentive to cling on to power after a lost election in November of 2010. After AU’s envoy and “government of national unity” broker in chief Thobo Mbeki failed to negotiate for one in Cote d’Ivoire, unrest broke and hundreds of innocent people lost their lives and property. Some are displaced, yet to return to their homes.
Of course AU has no mandate to decide winning candidates anywhere but these events suggests that the organisation need a strict code of ethics that will force presidents to respect their constitutions; no third terms where a constitution restricts a president to two terms; presidents must relinquish power once they have lost elections.
After Zimbabwe, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire, why is there still no policy towards this goal? What would happen if Robert Mugabe loses election and refuse to go, again? Another “government of national unity”? Has the organisation learn any lessons? Or is it that our leaders are reluctant to bring strict rules in case they are trapped themselves? It is time AU turned its attention to something worthwhile and perhaps justifying its continued existence.