Following its formation, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) assumed the mantle of being recognised as the African continent’s premier continental political organisation. In 2000 the organisation adopted a new Charter called the Constitutive Act which replaced the existing Charter. Simultaneously the OAU was renamed the African Union (AU) which was accorded similar recognition as its predecessor. Opinions may differ as to how successful or effective the OAU was or the AU has been in achieving their objectives. However, suffice it to say that it would not be a bad thing if it generates debate to suggest that the principal objective was to protect and promote Africa’s ‘continental interest’, absent agreement on what that interest is.
What is it all about? The pursuit of national interest in foreign policy -values and value-driven foreign policy; soft power; diplomatic interference in international relations; regime change? These are all aspects of the practice of international relations which have their roots in the pre- and post-colonial as well as post-globalisation era.
Captain Konrad Korzeniowski, more famously known as Joseph Conrad and author of “The Heart of Darkness” was perhaps the first writer to grapple with the great issues of our time, even as far back as the late 19th to early 20thcenturies: terrorism, immigration, globalisation, and the way power operates across continents and races. Conrad occupies a profoundly unassailable position in Europe and the western world generally in forming and shaping the enduring perceptions of the African continent and its peoples as perhaps only fit for colonisation. The imperial “scramble for Africa” was just beginning and King Leopold ll of Belgium had laid claim to huge chunks of Africa. But the venture which had started off as a nominally philanthropic exercise to stamp out the Arab slave trade and bring “civilization” to the Congo soon degenerated into brutal land grab of the most hypocritical and exploitative nature. To his credit, Conrad who went to the ‘Belgian’ Congo as a servant of the King and was meant to stay there for 3 years, retired after only 5 months to Switzerland in a state of psychological and moral despair, convinced of the universal potential for savagery and the hollowness of civilisation.
Issues relating to the definition and practice of concepts such as “national values”; “national interest”; “foreign policy”; “soft power”; and the phenomenon of diplomatic interference in international relations, intended on occasions to bring about regime change, are matters that have attracted comment by some notable practitioners as well as academic attention and interest. The understanding, interpretation and practice of some of these concepts have prompted a wide range of views that offer a unique insight into, as well as given some meaning to, some of the events that have occurred in our contemporary international globalised community. Consider, for instance, the musings of a number of the highest officers of state of a leading former colonial power charged with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of its foreign policy described by some commentators as a thankless job: “The real lessons of our failures in foreign policy over the last 20 years or so have still not been learned” said one of them. “To say that you can only have allies who share your values doesn’t make sense in this sad world” declared another. Perhaps the truth about the essence of foreign policy and how successful or unsuccessful it is in practice, lies somewhere between these two views.
From inception, the objective of the OAU and AU, its successor body, was to promote the values of African unity. To that end the focus has been to optimize to the greatest extent possible the political and economic gains of its member states through a shared common vision. Since 2000 when the organisation adopted a new charter renamed the Constitutive Act, the AU has striven to harmonize its governing instruments with the universally recognised principles embodied in other relevant international law instruments. One landmark and arguably the most important contribution of the AU to international law was its adoption in 1981 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. Initially received with scepticism and derision in some quarters, presumably because of its recognition of the concept of “peoples” rights as separate from “human” rights, it has come to be accepted as separate in its own right when dealing with the subject of human rights.
An equally controversial, but some would say divisive and ill-timed, concept was the United States of Africa project. It was pursued, at times with zeal, by a one-time Head of State chairperson in office of the African Union but ultimately to little effect. An inconclusive attempt seemed to have been made to refashion the internal organs of the organisation to implement the project but the overriding and decisive factor seems to have been that while the objective and values of the concept were welcomed by virtually all the African Heads of State, they had differing views about the speed with which it should be pursued. In the event, following the displacement of what could be described as the ‘African spring’ by a period of uncertainty as a result of conflict in some strategic regions of the continent, the United States of Africa project, although not completely dead, seems to have lost a considerable amount of its appeal and urgency.