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Nsongurua J. Udombana

excerpted from:  Nsongurua J. Udombana, the Unfinished Business: Conflicts, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, 35 George Washington International Law Review 55 - 106, 55-58,106-106 (2003) (319 Footnotes Omitted)

[T]here are moments when I feel that we are all trapped in a mammoth factory known as the African continent, where all the machinery appears to have gone out of control all at once. No sooner do you fix the levers than the pistons turn hyperactive in another part of the factory, then the conveyor belt snaps and knocks out the foreman, the boiler erupts and next the whirling blades of the cooling fans lose one of their members which flies off and decapitate the leader of the team of would-be investors--the last hope of resuscitating the works. That, alas, is the story of our human factory on this continent.

I. Introduction

The Organization of African Unity (OAU or Organization) is dead. The final rites of passage were performed at the last summit of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU in South Africa from July 9-10, 2002. Another baby has been born to take the OAU's place--the African Union (AU). A vague anticipation in 1999 gave way to a startling sense of possibility and reality in July 2000, when the Assembly of the OAU adopted the Constitutive Act of the AU in Lome, Togo. The Act replaces the Charter of the OAU. The AU has a sister, born on October 23, 2001 in Abuja, Nigeria--the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). NEPAD is:

a pledge by African leaders, based on a common vision and a firm and shared conviction, that they have a pressing duty to eradicate poverty and to place their countries, both individually and collectively, on a path of sustainable economic growth and development, and, at the same time, to participate actively in the world economy and body politic.

The AU Act, together with NEPAD, intends to extend and deepen Africa's regional commitment towards democracy, human rights, economic and political integration, sustainable development, and peace and security. It is, however, not yet clear if the AU is a mere reincarnation of the OAU or an entirely new plan for African development; although the OAU Secretary-General has given an assurance that it is a new entity.

To the effect of making a brief eulogy, the OAU's contributions towards the restoration of political independence in all of Africa undoubtedly tops its list of achievements. The Organization strengthened the anti-colonial lobby in the United Nations (U.N.) and gave material and diplomatic support to the liberation movements. FN10] This "represents concrete achievement of the pan-African movement." Although slightly overstated, the OAU sums up its achievements in the following words: "Through huge sacrifices and heroic struggles, Africa has broken the colonial yoke, regained its freedom and embarked upon the task of nation-building." There were, however, many shopping lists of tasks that the OAU could not complete. The reserve domain doctrine, the policy of non-interference--a doctrine that succeeded in making African leaders accessories before, during, and after state criminality--largely facilitated the OAU's failures. The OAU became largely a club whose members entertained intensive social relations among themselves and tended to show a sort of group solidarity towards the outside world.

There is no point in moping and sulking about the past and, in particular, on the failures of the OAU. It is the duty of every age to strive to find its own truth. As Mammo Muchie puts it, "[w]hat the OAU was able to do, it has done. What was beyond it has to pass on to the African Union." Certainly, the avalanche of unresolved conflicts in the continent and the new ones that brew up from time to time are part of the unfinished business of the OAU that the leaders of the AU and NEPAD will have to urgently address. Conflict resolution and the peace, security, and stability were no doubt major concerns of the OAU from the beginning. The Organizationdeployed tremendous efforts towards a search for peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa, but the rewards were not always commensurate with the efforts invested. Indeed, Africa, a continent that has not known peace, is still defined by crises because it is perpetually plagued by conflicts, famine, and disease.

This Article looks at conflicts in Africa in the light of the refurbished continental organization, the AU, and the new development agenda, NEPAD. Against the background of reiterated failure and incessant peril, it asks what these new bodies have to offer in tackling the problem of conflicts in Africa. The Article examines the current mechanisms for dealing with conflicts in Africa and offers some suggestions towards strengthening them. It advises the leaders of these new creatures to put the problem of conflicts on the front burner of their continental development agenda, because peace and security are the keys to the restoration of the continent's greatness and glory. It may be boldly, but truthfully, asserted that there will always be economic and social development anywhere that there is internal and external peace and security.

First, the Article examines how conflicts retard Africa in terms of both human and economic costs. Second, the Article looks at the current normative and institutional agendas for dealing with conflicts in Africa. This includes highlights of the relevant provisions of the AU Act and NEPAD on conflicts, peace, and security as well as the institutional framework for conflict prevention, management, and resolution in Africa. Third, the Article points to areas requiring rethinking, focusing on the root causes of the problem rather than on pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities of the past. It argues that more will need to be done, and quickly, in order to establish a climate of peace and security that will usher in socio-economic development in the continent. Finally, the Article concludes that Africa's development agenda will be a mirage unless pragmatic solutions are found to intractable intra- and inter-state conflicts in the continent. Nothing is more likely to disrupt the unity of African States and their economies than internecine disputes and bad relations among them. Any effective method for tackling the challenges of the new era has to be one that integrates both the requirements of economic development and the demands for peace and security.

* * *

V. Conclusion

It is true that colonization of Africa, like slavery, impacted negatively on its development, a position forcefully canvassed by the dependency theory. It "subverted hitherto traditional structures, institutions and values or made them subservient to the economic and political needs of the imperial powers. It also retarded the development of an entrepreneurial class, as well as middle class with skills and managerial capacity." It is no longer tenable or attractive, however, to justify Africa's current development plight on colonialism. Africa need not look too far to find the reasons for its current economic, political, and social quandaries, one of which is the avalanche of armed conflicts besieging the continent--mostly by those countries that could least afford them. The festering conflicts of today, like the ravages of poverty, threaten the many modest achievements in health and education that African governments, the international community, and local citizens have laboured for long decades to attain. The dependency theory no longer suffices as an explanation for underdevelopment, as the remarkable economic growth of Taiwan demonstrates.

As a vital first step, African countries should cut down on their defence spending and other white elephant projects. This is the only way the industrialized world is going to take Africa's campaign for debt relief and cancellation seriously. NEPAD may be a plan "of extraordinary vision and immense realism," as the Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien reportedly said. African leaders will first need to put their houses in order to engender the political will for massive debt relief by creditors and ensure better management of their economies to minimise the debt problem. It is therefore vitally important for African governments to dedicate a larger proportion of their national budgets to the revitalisation of social services, in particular health and education.

Meanwhile, Africa must articulate a new approach to conflict resolution, since the time for flogging dead paradigms is past. It must be one that will involve not just the leaders but the African people as well. More importantly, "it must be based on indigenous solutions to reconstructing the African state in all its dimensions." Africa has had its fair share of conflicts. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survival, then an alternative must be found to conflicts in Africa. Although some men in our time still feel that war is the answer to the problems of the world, wisdom, born out of experience, tells us that war is obsolete. "There may have been a time," says Martin Luther King Jr., "when war served as a negative good--by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force--but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminates the possibility that war may serve as a negative good." The continent's leaders and peoples must find peace with all men and brotherhood, without which no sustainable development can take place.

[a1]. Senior Lecturer, the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria; former visiting Research Fellow, The Danish Centre for Human Rights, Copenhagen, Denmark; Member of the Nigerian Bar; LL.M., LL.B. (Lagos);