The African Union (AU) in the International Arena

Diplomatic Channel |Author: Ambassador Sheila Camerer | February 21, 2011, Monday // 15:13|  views

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The African Union (AU) in the International Arena

By H.E. Sheila Camerer, Ambassador of South Africa to Bulgaria

In a diplomatic environment that is very focussed on the EU it is delightful for an African Ambassador to get a look-in every now and then. The African Union includes as members every African country on the continent itself (except Morocco) and certain adjacent islands e.g. Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros), in total 53 member states. It was established in 2002 as the successor organization to the OAU founded in 1963 to fight colonialism.

The African Union has a serious budget - ± US$ 257m for the 2011 financial year for its operations and programmes, just under half of it contributed by the member states and the rest by its international partners.

In Sofia sadly only a few African countries are represented residentially – we have 4 Ambassadors – South Africa, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, 2 Charge d'Affaires for Libya and Sudan and 3 Honorary Consuls for Seychelles, Ghana and Angola. We celebrate Africa Day together on 25th May and this year we will do so together with the resuscitated Bulgaria – Africa Society, chaired by Mr Spas Panchev MP.

While the African Union includes some basket cases and failed states like Somalia, Niger, Cote d'Ivoire – 3 of them have been suspended from the AU for bad behaviour, namely Madagascar, Niger and most recently Cote d'Ivoire - it is also a continent of emerging democracies with huge economic potential. South Africa for instance has mineral wealth equating to over US $ 40 trillion. South Africa possesses 88% of the world's reserves of platinum and rhodium, 40% of its gold, 35% of its chromium, 5% of its copper and 9% of its uranium. Of the worlds known mineral reserves totalling US $ 312 trillion, 16% is located in Africa. Enormous oil reserves are to be found in Nigeria, Egypt and Angola.

Six of the 10 fastest growing economies of the world during 2000 – 2010 are in Africa with oil rich Angola growing faster than anywhere else on the planet.

As Niall Fergusson the well known economist said at an International Mining Conference in Cape Town two weeks ago - "for the first time Africa looks rich". From the point of view of putting Africa on the map, promoting development, good governance, peace and security and democracy, the African Union is an important body and is playing an increasingly significant role internationally.

The vision of the African Union is an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena. Its mission is to be an efficient and value-adding institution driving the African integration and development process in close collaboration with AU member states. While the AU, like the rest of the world may not yet have caught up with the revolutionary developments in the north of the continent, nevertheless it is an organization spear-heading Africa's development, both economic and democratic.

The African Union has a flag, an emblem and an anthem and has certain declared objectives, namely, to accelerate political and socio-economic development and integration of the continent; to promote and defend the interests of the continent and its people; to achieve peace and security and to promote democratic institutions on the continent; to achieve good governance and to promote Human rights for all.

This year is to be the year of African women where specific emphasis will be placed on women's rights. It should also be noted that 5 out of 8 AU Commissioners are women.

The AU has a list of organs, the chief of which is the Assembly of the AU, situated in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

As South African Ambassador I would like to highlight the important role that former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki (1999-2008) has played in establishing some of the most important and effective organs of the AU, for instance:

The Pan African Parliament, situated in Johannesburg since 2004, when it was inaugurated with 230 members elected by the legislatures of 46 African states. With a budget of US$ 11,9m it exercises increasingly useful advisory and consultative powers.

No one denies that the 15-member Peace and Security Council founded in 2003 with a current budget of US$ 530,000 is a success story with useful involvement in peace keeping operations in several African countries, often together with UN troops. They have faced challenges (with less success) in Zimbabwe and Madagascar and more successfully in Sudan. The AUHIP (AU High Level Implementation Panel) for Sudan chaired by ex-Presient Mbeki has been highly successful in delivering the referendum in South Sudan. They are still engaged in Dafur. The AU is making attempts to settle the Cote d'Ivoire crisis – South Africa's current president Jacob Zuma is part of an AU presidential panel trying to persuade Mr Gbagbo to give up the presidency. The jury is still out however.

Nepad – the New Partnership for Africa's Development - is another Mbeki brain child. Based in Johannesburg, with a budget of US $ 3,2m it is the AU's main engine for African development and participation in the global economy.

The African Peer Review Mechanism is one of its Mbeki-inspired programmes. Its focus is to encourage high standards of governance – political, economic and corporate. Membersip is voluntary and 29 countries have agreed to participate. So far 14 countries (including South Africa) have been peer-reviewed. Four years ago only 3 had, so great progress has been made.

In conclusion the AU has also increased its role in the international arena. No African candidacy for any international body would be viable without AU endorsement. The AU has also started a number of strategic partnerships with important countries – such as the US, Japan, China, India and France (for its francophone members) as well as with continental organizations for example South America and perhaps most importantly, the EU. The last AU/EU summit was held in Tripoli in November 2010.

*The article is based on Ambassador Sheila Camerer's address to diplomatic trainees on AU activities, challenges and its role in the international arena. Her Excellency was invited to address the trainees by the Acting Director of the Bulgarian Diplomatic Institute.

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Tags: Sheila Camerer, South Africa, ambassador, Ambassadors, African Union


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