In Africa, a Renewed Sense of Potential

Your Take: The African Union is finally living up to its promise, 50 years later, writes the president of Ghana.

Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama (right) waves to the crowd with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. (AFP)
Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama (right) waves to the crowd with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. (AFP)

But the priorities of the organization could only mirror the priorities of its member nations. There were years when some nations were being devastated by war, famine, ethnic strife and crippling poverty. The continent was fragmented. Many nations were too busy struggling for their own survival to take on the additional burden of being another country’s keeper. And, not surprisingly, the despots and coup-makers who were looting their country’s coffers balked at the idea of accountability.

During those years, which are often referred to as “the lost decades,” the Organization of African Unity seemed to exist in name only; many referred to it as a toothless bulldog. Nevertheless, everyone still recognized the need for its existence.

In 2002, the Organization of African Unity was dissolved and replaced with the African Union. It was more than a superficial makeover. The post-colonial growing pains that had resulted in chaos and poor governance for many nations were now giving way to peace, democracy and the rule of law. And once again, we recognized the strength and power in our unity.

The African Union is a well-structured organization with precise goals, a primary one of which is “to accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent.” In order to hasten this integration, eight regional economic communities were created: the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC), to name just two.

It is without a doubt that these subregional bodies have played a significant role in bringing economic stability. So much so that the majority of the nations listed as the world’s fastest growing economies are on the African continent. 

Now that the majority of African nations are committed to the development of their democracies, the African Union is also better able to define its role when there is a need for conflict resolution. And because the challenges facing our nations are increasingly becoming ones that have no regard for national boundaries, challenges such as effectively enforcing laws to end the trafficking of drugs and human beings, addressing the impact of climate change, deforestation, desertification and land degradation, the African Union’s member states will come to an agreement on how to grant the organization full legislative powers, while at the same time enabling nations to maintain their sovereignty. 

Just like the continent that it oversees, the African Union is a work in progress. As a student of history, I know that 50 years is a relatively short span of time, amounting to nothing more than a page in a history textbook. When considered in that context, the African Union has come a very long way since its inception — three whole decades before the inception of the European Union — and given the limitations that it has faced over the years, African Union has achieved a great deal.

At that first African summit in Addis Ababa, Emperor Haile Selassie said, “May this convention of union last 1,000 years.” With the renewed sense of potential on the African continent, indeed it shall. 

John Dramani Mahama is the president of Ghana. 

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