African Union Takes Stock of 51 Years As Terrorism Spreads Across Continent

Harare — As the African Union is set to celebrate its 51st birthday on May 25, it does so as the continent remains caught up in a tide of terrorist conflicts, which many analysts feel the AU has done little to resolve.

"With unsolved conflicts dotted across our continent, really the efficiency of the AU is at stake and highly questionable. We don't need a rocket scientist to tell us that the AU is wanting, considering the terror attacks in East and West Africa," independent political analyst Evelyn Moyo tells IPS.

The Somali extremist group, Al-Shabaab, has waged a terror campaign in the Horn of Africa nation and across East Africa, with attacks spreading to neighbouring Kenya. The Sept. 21, 2013 attack on Kenya's Westgate Shopping Mall claimed over 67 lives and left more than 175 people wounded. The Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack.

Kenya's port city and popular tourist destination of Mombasa also experienced a number of terrorist attacks from Al-Shabaab, with the United Kingdom, U.S. and French governments issuing warnings to their citizens not to travel there.

In West Africa, the region has been rocked by instability thanks to the Nigerian-based extremist group, Boko Haram. The group, which is also linked to Al-Qaeda, gained international attention after the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in Nigeria's northeast Borno state on Apr. 14. The Nigerian government has struggled to contain Boko Haram's attacks and the extremist group has attacked neighbouring countries, including Cameroon. There are also fears of instability in parts of neighbouring Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Benin, Ghana and even Central African Republic.

Political analyst Malvern Tigere feels the AU has done little to contain the terrorism threat on the continent.

"We have had a situation where the AU has paid a deaf ear to the severity of spreading terrorist attacks across West Africa. On Sept. 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab killed 72 people in a popular Kenyan shopping mall, and what did AU do about that? Is it a trivial thing to have close to 100 people massacred at one go?

"There are terror attacks in Kenya, there are terror attacks in Nigeria, there are also terror attacks in Somalia and all these are mounted in countries with membership to the AU. [There has been] no clear solution from the organisation to thwart such acts, which truly renders the AU spineless," Tigere tells IPS.

But Zambia's independent political analyst, Michael Mwanza, disagrees.

"The AU, which was formerly the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), played a pivotal role in ending colonialism and minority rule in Africa. It was AU that gave weapons, training and military bases to colonised African nations fighting for independence," Mwanza tells IPS.

Over half a century ago, the OAU was formed in Ethiopia on May 25, 1963 and was tasked with resolving colonial conflicts. It was replaced by the AU on May 26, 2001.

"The organisation played a major role in bringing sanity across Africa," adds Mwanza.

A Tanzanian diplomat in Zimbabwe, speaking on the condition of anonymity for professional reasons, agrees with Mwanza.

"It's not all doom and gloom in the AU. The organisation played a role to broker Zimbabwe's Unity government in 2009, bringing peace and stability to a country that was almost sliding into anarchy. It was the AU that in 2011 helped to have Cote d'Ivoire opposition leader Alassane Ouattara recognised as president after then leader Laurent Gbagbo had refused to hand over power after losing at the polls," the Tanzanian diplomat tells IPS.

Zimbabwean political observer Denis Nyikadzino points out that the AU "does not often resort to using force to bringing calm in conflict situations here, but it uses dialogue and I see nothing wrong in that."

But Rwandan civil society activist, Otapiya Gundurama, feels that the AU has over the years become lax, leaving the developed world to play the rescue role in African conflicts.

"Over the years, the AU has folded its hands and has become used to having the super powers intervening in its conflicts. That is why instead of the AU creeping instantly to thwart Boko Haram insurgents, we have the U.S., Israel and France deploying military personnel at the border between Chad and Nigeria to help find the kidnapped girls," Gundurama tells PS.

Observers, however, say that AU on its own cannot resolve all the conflicts brewing on the continent.

"Africa has the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and surely the AU is not the Holy Spirit to singlehandedly end African conflicts," Harare-based political commentator Innocent Majawaya tells IPS.

Ernst Mudzengi, political analyst and director of Media Centre Zimbabwe, pinned the raging conflicts in Africa on unequal distribution of the continent's natural resources.

"Despite the AU's presence, Africa has continued to witness conflicts caused by ineffective governments with few people benefitting from the continent's natural resources," Mudzengi tells IPS.

But as the AU anniversary coincides with Africa Day, Catherine Mukwapati, director of the Youth Dialogue Action Network, a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, says there is little to celebrate.

"We have leadership crisis in Africa where certain leaders believe they have the mandate to rule ceaselessly and people therefore hunger for leadership renewal, resulting in many people finding no reasons for celebrating Africa Day," she tells IPS.

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