Good-bye Gaddafi, welcome Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Gamal Nkrumah
assesses the crises besetting the AU
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South African President Jacob Zuma, Somalia President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir at the AU summit in Addis Ababa
The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's term as president of the African Union expired this week. After initial procrastination concerning his reappointment, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika was elected as head of the African Union (AU) for 2010.
By replacing the colourful Gaddafi with a politically more palatable but perhaps less qualified president, the pan-African body is signalling that no one, not even Gaddafi, is above the law. It also signals that a majority of the continent's leaders are determined that Gaddafi must not be permitted to finish the job of uniting Africa.
The Libyan leader was elected president of the AU at the tenth ordinary meeting of the assembly in January 2009, a ridiculously short term that effectively emasculates the role of the African president and means nothing of substance can be achieved. Gaddafi tried to rally support for a second term but failed in his bid to stay on as president of the AU for another year, taking it all in stride. "There is no need for any title, I will remain in the front struggling," Gaddafi said. This struck a false note with some.
Surely there must have been some emotional stirring within the Libyan leader as his dream of the United States of Africa seemed to receive little enthusiasm from his fellow African leaders. He abandoned the story of his once fraught relationship with the West and his peers now regard him as less than revolutionary -- except perhaps as far as his mode of dress and eccentric mannerisms are concerned.
Those who prefer a go-slow approach to African unity mainly stuck to their guns. Even though Gaddafi was in Africa, he dispatched his Defence Minister Abubakr Yunus Jaber to sign a $1.8 billion arms deal with Russia's state-owned arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport. "These are not just small arms," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin remarked, reflecting the fact that this represents a quarter of Russia's annual income from arms sales.
Though the election of president was the main focus of deliberation, other more pressing topics worked their way into the agenda -- Sudan, Somalia and the state of the African economy. The way out of the African morass, all agree, is to lay the foundations for sustainable development.
African nations have persistently ranked among the world's poorest and least developed countries, according to UN human development reports. Low standards of living and poor quality of life are exacerbated by inequality which is most pronounced in some of the poorest countries.
Still, Africa has made more progress in both the economic and political spheres than is sometimes acknowledged. Surprisingly most attendees boasted that their countries have miraculously avoided the world recession last year, but admitted that long- term prospects remain uncertain. Unemployment is expected to rise by 10 per cent and the aggregate number of the working poor is feared to approach unprecedented levels.
A special session on conflict resolution, held in Libya barely a month ago, declared 2010 as the AU Year of Peace and Security. The consensus was that peace in Sudan, a strategic nation in the heart of Africa, requires doubling efforts to ensure the unity of the country while addressing the country's many problems, a Herculean labour indeed. "It is very important for Sudan but also for the region. We will work hard to avoid a possible secession," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told delegates at the AU summit in Addis Ababa. He urged African nations to "maintain peace in Sudan and make unity attractive."
The AU can help. Not, certainly, by offering a bailout of the Sudanese government, but by counselling that Sudan stick to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005. The principal message of the AU was simple. Sudan is better off being a united nation. They challenged the Sudanese authorities not to back down.
In many ways this show of resilience was admirable. The purpose of this week's AU summit meeting in Addis Ababa was to consolidate the continent's drive to closer collaboration on both economic and political matters. At first, the continent's leaders were wishy-washy, hesitating to take bold and decisive steps. But in due course, they got to it, and when they did they were forthright -- as articulated by Gaddafi. Several African leaders see his outspokenness on the subject as a cloak to cut and run, evading more pertinent questions concerning peace and economic prosperity.
Another trouble spot that preoccupied African leaders was Somalia. The war in Somalia is beset by a confusion of aspirations and ambitions. Efforts to institute lasting peace in Somalia have not been successful so far. They have not worked and they aren't going to work now. The cycle of violence and counter-violence continues unabated.
The squaring of this circle necessitates the cementing of the Somali capacity for survival. In keeping with the studiously upbeat mood, the AU leaders in Addis Ababa pledged to contain the fighting in Somalia. We have to get this done, they concurred, but they did not say how or when.
One could spend a while untangling the Somali quagmire, but what is clear is that the question of religion, or rather religious zealotry and militancy crops up in Somalia and other countries. It is a touchy subject that African leaders failed to face head on.
Yet the jarring confusion of messages from different corners of the vast continent point to the pivotal importance of tackling this problem. Even as the leaders of Africa met in the Ethiopian capital, confessional strife claimed the lives of hundreds of people in the Nigerian city of Jos.
Alas, Nigeria, too, is in trouble. The nascent Nigerian model of democracy has seldom looked so tarnished as it does today. The country is embroiled in a debate over the possible successor to the ailing president. And perhaps because of the political vacuum, sectarian conflict has claimed the lives of 400 people and scores more have been injured. Muslims and Christians are at each other's throats.
The Achilles' Heal of Nigeria's political establishment is confessional conflict. Nigeria, like Sudan and numerous other African countries, straddles a huge swathe of territory that is predominantly Muslim in the north and Christian in the south. Northern Nigerian states have promulgated Islamic Sharia laws, much to the consternation of the Christian minorities resident in these states. Among the few northern states that have not promulgated Sharia laws was Plateau State where the numbers of Muslims and Christians are roughly equal.
Nigeria, like Sudan, is bedeviled by two crises: that of religion and that of democracy. These two problems are intricately related. Sectarian violence in Nigeria is threatening the country's precarious democratisation process. The Nigerian government may catch its breath before it embarks on another round of instability instigated by the succession to the presidency if, God forbid, something untoward happens to the country's leader. He has led a heterodox administration. His ministers are carefully selected to represent the various ethnic and religious groups of the sprawling multi-cultural nation.
Ministerial portfolios reflect the plethora of ethnic and regional considerations. Under such circumstances it is a wonder that Nigeria has run a competent and relatively disciplined administration.
Confessional dealmaking is only one factor in Nigeria's political conundrum, but it is a big one. There is a reluctance by government to get tough with religious fanatics for fear of the consequences.
Nigeria's Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka urged the Nigerian authorities to tackle "serious critical issues like electoral and constitutional reform". Soyinka, who is widely seen as a voice of reason in Nigeria, headed a massive protest march in the Nigerian capital Abuja. He condemned the latest bout of deadly violence gripping the central states of the country known as the Middle Belt. These are states that are technically part of predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria, but have substantial Christian minorities. The Middle Belt has traditionally been the battleground between Muslims and Christians. Sectarian strife, Soyinka concluded, is closely associated with what he described as the sinister incompetence of the Nigerian government.
"This has been kept deliberately so because there is a small cabal which profits by the hiatus in control of the government," the Nigerian poet and novelist known for his outspokenness explained to an angry crowd of human rights activists.
Militant Islam and Christian fundamentalism is a threat to African peace and stability. It must be nipped in the bud before it grows out of hands. If that means massive state intervention on a continental scale, so be it.