Mugabe’s African Union: Looking ahead


Source: The Guardian

On January 30th 2015, African leaders took the decision to make Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Chairman of the African Union despite its distastefulness to the West. This was no mere formality as some would argue; considering that in 2006, Omar Al Bashir of Sudan was overlooked to make Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo the chair.  Mugabe’s nomination was therefore an event that had significant ramifications for the credibility and/or resilience of the heavily criticized African body. It was not surprising therefore that in his acceptance speech, President Mugabe had to call for support from his colleagues to cooperate with him in his tenure. A few months to the end of his tenure, I share my opinion on what gains or losses I think might have accrued to the AU, relative to this decision.

The AU got itself a hardcore Pan-Africanist leader. It is an open secret that Mugabe detests neo-colonialism; a terminology that has become popular in hard core Pan-Africanist lexicon as the ploy to use capitalism, business globalization, and cultural imperialism to influence a country, in lieu of either direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control. The liberation of African countries and the independence and sovereignty that comes with it is almost certainly a value that all African leaders swear to uphold in their respective constitutions; but which very few are bold to speak up against. Unlike the first Ghanaian President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, when he addressed the first meeting of the then OAU (the foundation of the AU), that African leaders were to watch against the neo-colonialism, the less brutal twin of colonialism, many African leaders in the AU today have conveniently gone to sleep on the responsibility to maintain independence and solidarity of African nations.

Secondly, the AU scored a big point in maintaining its independence. It succeeded in defying pressure from Western leaders to take their own decision concerning their leadership. In response to that, the United States of America and the European Union had to accept the legitimacy of Mugabe’s continental leadership. This meant that, he had to be freed from some of the embargos placed on him to force political reforms in his country. As an African, this is an important sign that, if our countries unite, it is possible to turn global politics in our favor and prop ourselves into a quad-symmetric balance with the tripolar world that is currently emerging vis a vis the United States, the European Union and China. A united Africa can surely become a policy maker and not a policy taker.

On the other side of the corridor however, the African Union risks being scorned and probably underserved by countries within the Western international community. Mugabe is labeled as a dictator who dampens the freedoms of his people. He is also seen as an insensitive leader who lives lavishly despite his countries poor economic progress. Every opposition he has attracted flowed from this personality tag and with the EU as a front-runner among his critics, it is not out of place to imagine how much will be held back from the AU, in view of the fact that the African Union has to run on budgets heavily funded by the EU.

Additionally, the nonagenarian leader, is presiding over a youthful continent with some new youthful leaders as well who, if truly democratic and youthful at heart, will be concerned about his energy to vigorously pursue the Pan-African agenda. Especially when it is clear that, his strength is deserting him and he finds it even difficult to stand on his feet or stay awake in a meeting; not to talk of superintending the progress of 54 other states, some of which are far advanced than his country. With the African youthful population growing by the decade, and with a strong call across the continent for more youthful leadership, the AU risks sending a bad signal to expectant youth who want to feel they have a place in the leadership of the continent.

So for me, it’s a mixed bag of fortunes for the AU and today the AU with its members are more disconnected than connected; economically and politically. As I write, the politico-economic space in many African countries are trial arenas for the ‘Solow Model’ and the operations of the so called ‘invisible hand’ whose owner is known but does not deserve mention. Hence, it is my opinion that, for the AU’s own sake, any leader chosen should stand as a symbol of one of its two core ideologies. Either, for its outlook as an organization to lead in guarding against neocolonialism and to promote unity and solidarity among African States; or to coordinate and intensify cooperation for trade and development as well as promote international cooperation within the framework of the United Nations. Who is next?

Dennis Penu

Dennis Penu

Staff Writer at InPRA
Dennis Penu is a Ghanaian, and a Principal Research Assistant with the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. He holds an advanced master's degree in Governance and Development studies from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and a research master’s degree in Peace and Development Studies from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.
Dennis Penu

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  1. […] When African leaders confirmed Robert Mugabe as the chairman of the African Union in 2015, it was clear they were taking a step that could have repercussions; positive and negative. What are those repercussions? What does it mean for the image of the AU, in his tenure and in the future? I discuss them in this article. […]