Thursday, February 11, 2010

The African Union and the generation gap?

The Economist tells the African Union to get tough:

"The AU has done distinctly better than the OAU. It has more or less stuck to its charter forbidding countries whose leaders take power in military coups from becoming members...yet there is still a woeful reluctance in Africa to chastise, ostracise or help to oust villainous leaders... its failures go back to Africa’s age-old problem: too many of its leaders, out of a misplaced sense of post-colonial solidarity, are loth to criticise their peers, however vicious."

High hopes surrounded the AU when it was formed in 2002, and I think it's safe to say that in terms of promoting good governance most would view the results as disappointing. But I'm not sure what we could have realistically expected. That "mis-placed sense of colonial solidarity" may be a little bit more firmly entrenched than the tone of the Economist article suggests- perhaps one legacy of colonialism is a reluctance to be too heavy-handed about telling other African leaders how they ought to behave. Most of the current African leadership came of age in the wake of de-colonization, and their views are often heavily colored by thinking in terms of colonialism and independence (if you've ever had a conversation about politics with an African elite over the age of 60, you probably know what I'm talking about). So maybe it's not so surprising that an inter-governmental organization run by these guys would tend to view its mandate as limited.

In that vein, it will be fascinating to see what happens over the next 10-20 years as the next generation takes over both with the AU and more broadly. The new African elites will not be looking through the same post-colonial lens, and that could mean big changes in terms of how African countries relate to one another, and the West.

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