What to Make of the New African Union?

By Jerry Gbardy

The Perspective

July 18, 2001

Recently, the Organization of African Unity heads of state announced the changing of the organization's name to African Union, yet its principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states remains in tact, a move that can be easily categorized as old wine in new bottle. According to the OAU Secretary General the goal of the union is to unite the continent politically, socially and economically. He further said the change would "bring real change to the continent and have an impact on ordinary citizens". HOW? How will changing an organization's name bring real change to ordinary citizens? What were those things that the organization wanted to do in the interest of the ordinary people but could not solely because the name was OAU? How will mere change of name be a panacea to the chronic problems of poverty, HIV/AIDS pandemic, and armed conflicts that are ravaging the continent to near extinction?

When Europe talks about a union, by all accounts, they mean protecting the basic human rights of their citizens, upholding the tenets of democracy, encouraging free movement of union members and fostering peace and stability within Europe. European Union members labor to improve the economies of its members by encouraging trade, investment and economic competition. This means that citizens of Member States can live and work anywhere in the union free of hassle. If necessary, military force is used to punish such dictatorial governments that are suspected or guilty of committing crimes against their own people as was the case of Milosevic's Serbia. Milosevic is now in The Hague waiting for his day in court for war crimes against ethnic Albanians. Governments of EU Member States respect the rule of law. Individual rights and civil liberties are guaranteed and respected in all spheres.

However when African heads of state talk about union they are referring to partnership in high-level corruptions, plundering their national coffers, mass killing of their people and gross human rights violations. In short, the continent is infested with a bunch of tribal chiefs calling themselves presidents who are richer than their countries but morally bankrupt, politically inept, lack any vision for the future and have no principle and conscience at all. These tribal chiefs only seek the welfare of themselves and their tribal kith and kin at the expense of the rest of the citizenry. When a dictator like Charles Taylor, is killing his people and chasing others out of the country, the rest of the so-called OAU members turn the blind eye simply because most of them are guilty of similar crimes and second, the organization's policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of others, compels them to keep silent. And so the bottom line is "Watch me kill my people and I will do same." No African heads of state/tribal chiefs can muster the necessary courage to stand up to their colleagues and condemn them publicly for violation of their people's rights, at least not in recent memory. But when Britain and the United States stood up to people like Taylor for destabilizing the West African sub-region and for hacking the limbs of babies and children in Sierra Leone, his fellow tribal chiefs, in the name of ECOWAS, ran to the UN to plead on Taylor's behalf. What a travesty! These so-called rulers have no sympathy and empathy for the suffering masses whose rights are constantly being violated. Neither do they care for the babies and children in Sierra Leone whose limbs were hacked off.

What was noticeably more troubling was the position of ECOWAS Executive Secretary, Lansana Kouyate. Even though this man is a Guinean and Taylor-sponsored rebels from Liberia were destabilizing his country, Kouyate had the galls to stand up at the UN and defend Taylor and plead for sanctions not to be imposed on the criminal regime in Monrovia. In essence what this tells the world in a clear and conspicuous term is that most African leaders only care for themselves and not the suffering masses of people whom they claim to represent. As long as Kouyate could get a few US dollars from Taylor, to hell with the people from Gueguedou and Macenta.

A few weeks ago Ghana, Togo and Benin denied entry to Liberians fleeing the civil war and hardship in their country. That Eyadema's Togo could deny Liberians entry into that country is something that is unfathomable. Here is the man who hosted the OAU Summit during which time a resolution was passed to change the organization's name to union that is supposed to have a more profound "impact on the ordinary citizens" as the resolution claims, yet Eyadema did not take into account the destitution and suffering the Liberian boat people were experiencing. How can he justify that? And mind you, Togo is also a member of ECOWAS, a regional organization that has as one of its protocols, free movements of peoples of Member States. Quite paradoxical indeed! Africa is where making rules is one thing and upholding those rules is another.

A continent wallowing in economic and political decline, the concept of African Union is a complete sham. First thing, there are manifest dissimilarities among countries in the areas of politics, culture and economics. Some are rich and developed infrastracturally while others are dirt-poor. And there are those ones in the north like Gaddafi's Libya that are more economically viable and militarily mightier than some of their southern neighbors. These northern ones consider themselves to be either part of Europe or the Middle East. Additionally they are racist toward dark-skinned Africans so much so that one would think these North African countries are not on the African continent. For example, in May of this year about 500 dark-skinned African migrant workers, mostly Nigerians were killed as well as subjected to all forms of racist and inhumane treatments from their Libyan hosts. The rest were forced to return to their homes for no apparent reason other than the fact that they were dark-skinned Africans who were not wanted in Libya. The following month, eight Ethiopians who reportedly spent eight years in Libyan prison, accused the Libyans of torture. Their crime was going to Libya to search for work. If dark-skinned Africans are not wanted in North Africa, then who would benefit from the so-called Gaddafi-proposed union since 600 million of the 825 million Africans are sub-Saharan Africans who cannot freely live and work in North Africa?

The destruction of most parts of sub-Saharan Africa today can be squarely attributed to Strongman Gaddafi. He has a brand of revolution in which the philosophy and goals are killing of innocent civilians, raping women, amputating limbs of babies and children, producing hundreds and thousand of refugees, and destroying basic infrastructures. He has training bases where ex-convicts, hardened criminals, and prison escapees go for basic training in guerilla warfare. After training, the only region on the African continent where Gaddafi exports such revolution is Africa south of the Sahara. To get a clearer picture of what is being discussed here, just pay a visit to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea and assess the damage Gaddafi's training class valedictorian Taylor and Sankoh have done. Why does Gaddafi not export his brand of revolution to Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco or to Sudan in favor of sub-Saharan Africans who have been fighting the arabized north for self-determination for the past 18 years? History also reminds us how in1979 Gaddafi sent troops to fight for Idi Ami of Uganda, one of Africa's worst dictators. But thanks to the late Nyerere of Tanzania, Amin is now in exile in Saudi Arabia as a non-person.

In stead of going around and preaching African Union, Gaddafi needs to visit all the refugee camps mentioned supra to assess the mental and physical damage that is being done to Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, and Guineans. If Gaddafi could help rebuild Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and provide material and food assistance to the thousand of refugees and internally displaced persons that he helped create, that would be understandable. Gaddafi, Taylor, Campaore, and Sankoh produced the refugees and US and the rest of the West provide them with blankets, food and medicine. Gaddafi's terror machines chop off kids' limb while the West and US provide the prosthetics. Yet Gaddafi, together with Taylor always sings the song of "African solution to African problem." Had Reagan's bombs struck their intended target in Tripoli and Benghazi in the mid-Eighties, perhaps the deaths, destructions, and sufferings innocent Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, and Guineans are experiencing would not have started in the first place. The Gaddafi Revolution only teaches the art of destruction but not reconstruction.

One wonders what was going through Taylor's mind in July of 1990 when he boasted on BBC: "Robin I will flatten Monrovia and rebuild it". Perhaps he thought the US was going to undertake the rebuilding efforts for him even though, then US Under Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen in a BBC interview, forewarned that if the war was allowed to reach Monrovia, it would take 100 years to rebuild it. This can be deduced from the fact that when he became president, Taylor lamented that while his predecessor Samuel Doe operated with US $500 million loaned by the US government, he was stuck with only US $50 million after he realized that no funds were forthcoming from Uncle Sam. On the other hand, Gaddafi's only concern was to get a payback from Taylor for all the weapons of mass destruction he supplied Taylor that killed about 250,000 Liberians and not help rebuild the shattered lives of ordinary Liberians and Sierra Leoneans that Taylor is still destroying. Taylor responded favorably by dishing out $26 million from the national treasure to repay Gaddafi.

Heavens forbid! Has Africa been cursed by the gods? Why must a group of African rulers be so callous, wicked, naïve and on top of that, be so dumb? Here is a continent sinking in the groundswell of insurmountable economic problems, ravaged by political instability and armed conflicts, and its people are dying of AIDS and poverty in their hundreds daily while others are trying to eke out a living with their bare hands in refugee camps, yet its rulers who are architects of these problems are talking the politics of union. Indeed it is absolutely preposterous for Gaddafi to be preaching African union when he is exporting his terror machine through monsters like Campaore of Burkina Faso and Taylor of Liberia to kill, maim innocent civilians and destabilize other countries. At present, Africa has the largest number of armed conflicts and it is the single most producer of the world refugee population.

Therefore, in order for real change to have a positive impact on ordinary citizens from Cape Town to Cairo and from Monrovia to Maputo, here are few suggestions: if the Union is to be successful, it must respect the rule of law by insuring that basic rights of individuals are respected and protected, which means emulating examples of how individual rights and civil liberties are respected in developed countries. The union should put a stop to all the armed conflicts and solve the refugee problem. It must also delete from its charter, the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of others so that collective actions will be taken against governments and rulers that constantly violate their people's rights. The union must stand up to Gaddafi and tell him to stop exporting his killing machines to other African countries. Simply put, Africa should first rid itself of people like Gaddafi, Taylor, Campaore, Eyadema, Mugabe and all the other crooks and thieves before we talk of a genuine union.

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