Reforming The African Union

By Mwalimu George Ngwane

The urgency of a rethink on how the African Union can better play its role is now, says Mwalimu George Ngwane

Between the Casablanca dream led by Kwame Nkrumah in 1961 and the Sirte dream by Muammar Gadaffi in 1999, the African Union has slowly gone down the slope of performance and credibility in the eyes of the African people. The ongoing war in Ethiopia, headquarters of the African Union, and other raging conflicts in Africa have exposed our continental body to virile criticisms pointing in the direction of reform and restructuring. The urgency of a rethink on how this body can better play its role is now. This is the moment to erect a union that is pro-African in terms of economic parity and political integrity. The new challenges Africa faces today require a viable supra-national structure, which on the 9th of July 2002 was, called the African Union. As I see it, this structure can be reformed along one of these two strategies (a) the African five regions or (A-5) strategy (b) the European Union or (E. U.) strategy.

                        The African Union: A-5 strategy

Africa can mapped into five sub-regions, North, South, East, West and Central.   Each sub-region is equipped with viable economic blocs.  These blocs, which serve to maintain regional security and economic co-operation include, the Maghreb Union in the North; Southern African Development community (SADC) in the South; East African Co-operation (EAC) in the East; Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) in the West; and the Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC) in the Central sub-region. Though other micro blocs do exist (some acting as neo-colonial saboteurs) within Africa, the five mentioned above have over the years proven their mettle in structural and institutional designs, albeit with varying success. By setting up these regional economic communities, politicians and economic planners hoped to overcome more quickly the causes of underdevelopment, to help create a basis for resolving conflicts between neighbouring countries and to reduce the commercial, industrial, technical and financial dependency of most Third World countries on the industrial nation in the north.

The aim of regional blocs has always revolved around a shared interest among geographical neighbours and an eventual common dream among the African people. Indeed, Nkrumah’s dream with the Casablanca group was shattered because the Monrovia group believed in a gradual integration of African countries through regional co-operation. Unfortunately, all attempts to foster a smooth regional co-operation have resulted instead in regional destabilisation in some cases and outright nonchalance in most cases.  Pragmatic economic agendas like the Lagos Plan of Action (1980) and the African Economic Community Treaty of Abuja (1991) proposed by economic planners and signed by heads of states have remained mere pipe dreams and pan African demagogy. The result is that today, the legitimate aspirations of genuine African unity as conceived by the people continues to be at the periphery of the agenda of ego-bloated African leaders. Many reasons have already been advanced by other scholars for the failure of rapid economic integration that could have led to a United Africa. Among these reasons, one must single out the lack of political will by our leaders to first of all provide structural stability through good governance within their own countries and then to relinquish their colonial sovereignties and the “sacrosanctity of boundaries” to the common cause of African unity.

Reluctant to chart its own path to economic development, Africa in the 1980s turned International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) loans into neo-colonial blessings and political victories. Yet, no one can honestly deny that the worst economic performance has been during the era of structural adjustment. This is because instead of pursuing the goal of diversifying and transforming the economy, “African countries, to quote Adebayor Adedeji, were forced to embark on a structural adjustment paradigm whose objective was to perpetuate its mono cultural economic system, its narrow production base and the persistence of a high level of external dependence which renders it highly susceptible to external shocks”. One can only hope that African leaders have now read the handwriting on the wall and that they could commit the A-5 strategy, thus building the five sub-regional organisations until the continent becomes a five-tiered federation with a political executive organ at the top. Africa would then be comprised of five large interdependent federations instead of fifty-four autonomous but weak nation states. The next step would be for these sub-regional federations to address security and economic issues, adopt a single sub-regional African language, create a common sub-regional passport, introduce a single sub-regional currency and establish a single sub-regional parliament. The results would be that Africa would have five main African languages, five main passports, five main currencies and five main parliaments. The federated sub-regions would develop adequate transport and communication infrastructure, share in food security and allow for free movement of goods and people within them.

At the continental level, there would be a political executive organ that would co-ordinate all the activities of the five sub-regions. This is the organ that would be truly the African Union.

The African Union would have a supranational secretariat, and representatives from the sub-regions would constitute the federal executive body of the Union. To promote collegial leadership, the representation from the sub-regions shall be heads of states who may have been elected to co-ordinate the activities of their sub-regions. Therefore, there would be five heads of state to run the executive arm of the Union at every given time.

Clearly, the A-5 strategy calls for a radical change of mentality among our leaders. If the present state of activities inherent in the three already active sub-regional organizations (ECOWAS, EAC, SADC) can be a basis upon which to judge, the verdict would be that there is reason to believe in a vibrant and enterprising five-tiered federation of Africa. However, for an African Union built on the A-5 strategy to survive, the federated sub-regions must overcome cultural imperialistic prejudices, personality rivalries, hegemonistic tendencies, national chauvinism and unbridled power interest. But, as Diop has argued, “The time has come for us to abandon our complexes and work in favour of a Union that is favourable to all Africans. That’s the crux of the matter”

PM Abiy has taken to the warfront .The war has exposed the AU to virile criticisms pointing to reform and restructuring

                        The African Union-The E.U strategy:

The present African Union structure seems to have been fashioned along the lines of the European Union, but not along the dreams of the Sirte Declaration of 9 September 1999.  The new strategy should be to have two or three countries begin a new form of unity and other countries are led into the union through a referendum from each country. To blend these two components the African Union members should continue to ponder over these objectives:


  • To institute a new African nationalism of self-confidence and Unity among the people of Africa.
  • To eradicate all vestiges of colonialism and neo-colonialism in Africa.
  • To promote indigenous democracy, endogenous development and sustainable peace.
  • To safeguard the common values, fundamental interests and independence of the Union.
  • To strengthen issues of co-operations, stability and development of the Union and its member states in all ways.
  • To review areas of debts, trade and co-operation with Western countries.

These objectives should provide the union with a vision for a shared future—providing for all its members balanced development, political stability and economic independence. In order to achieve these objectives, the Union should uphold the following principles:

–         Member states shall renounce a definite portion of their national sovereignty to independent institutions and the general Union.

–         Member states shall adopt a single flag, a single anthem, a single passport, a single African currency, and a single African language.

–         There shall be no discrimination based on nationality against any citizen seeking employment outside their own member states; in other words each citizen shall move, work and reside anywhere within the member states.

–         There shall be harmonised rules and access to public sector jobs and benefits derived therefrom; with priority given to citizens from member states.

–         There shall be a review of the educational system, so it serves the needs of the majority of Africans and a harmonised recognition of diplomas and certificates.

–         There shall be abolition of customs or tax barriers and limited border checks so as to ensure the free movement of persons and goods across boundaries and to establish a common market and economic community.

–         Members shall be absolutely dedicated to the economic, cultural and political unification of Africa.

–         Members shall share a common ideological platform on foreign, security and agricultural policies.

–         No other international co-operation by member states shall be done to undermine the charter of the Union.


AU Chief Felix Tshisekedi with AUC Chair Moussa Faki. The urgency of a rethink on how this body can better play its role is now

With a reasonable continental policy based on intra African trade and co-operation through the African Union, Africans shall work for the prime benefit of Africa. The ruling elites and the enthusiastic masses shall together embark on a journey in which we all see Africa not as a conglomeration of nations with artificial and psychological boundaries but as a political Union that seeks a better quality of life, through participatory governance, integrated and self-reliant economics and more integrity for the African people.

*Culled from December Issue of PAV Magazine Mwalimu George Ngwane is author of the book “Settling Disputes in Africa” (2001), Senior Chevening Fellow, Conflict Prevention and Resolution, University of York (UK) 2010, Rotary Peace Fellow, University of Chulalongkorn, Bangkok (Thailand) 2015, Commonwealth Professional Fellow, Minority Rights Group, London (UK) 2015, Bilingual Commission scholar, Cardiff, Wales 2015, United Nations Minority Rights Fellow, OHCHR, Geneva (Switzerland) 2016. He was elected Member since 2017 of the Board of Trustees, Minority Rights Group, London (UK) and Minority Rights Group, Africa (Uganda). He is also since 2021 a Senior Fellow with the United Nations Commission for Human Rights.  His blog is


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