Archive: Military possibilities of the African Union

The African Union (AU) will take shape as a structure over the next year and as a reality over the coming decades. It will by this time next year have replaced the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which has outlived its usefulness. Whatever it may have been in the heady days of the 1960’s the OAU has in many African minds become a club for autocrats more concerned with perpetuating their rule than bettering the lives of the continent’s people.
First published in the African Armed Forces Journal, Johannesburg, July 2001


The AU offers the possibility of changing this, as it is premised on a respect for democracy and human rights, accountable government and sensible economic policies. Unlike the OAU, which was a purely political forum, the AU will also have a social and economic dimension. These aspects are central components of the AU`s programme of action, which currently has the working name of the New Africa Initiative (NAI). It is a combination of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade`s Omega Plan for African Recovery and the Millennium Partnership for the African Recovery Programme, often called the Millennium Africa Plan (MAP) drafted by South African President Thabo Mbeki and his counterparts from Nigeria and Algeria: Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ahmed Bouteflika. The programme was adopted by the last summit of the OAU in Lusaka, Zambia, earlier this month. This week it will be presented to the leaders of the G8 at their summit at Genoa, Italy. The NAI levers the above improvements against better market access in the first world and focussed development assistance. The AU, largely the brainchild of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, is loosely based on the European Union (EU). It is to have its own court of justice, parliament, central bank, monetary fund and possibly a unified African military.
The EU and its predecessor European Economic Community was in part formed from a Franco-German desire to end ruinous wars between them, before – to paraphrase John F Kennedy – the conflicts ended them. If anything like the anticipated level of integration happens across Africa – either wholly or in regions such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), many conflict triggers such as transfrontier socio-economic disparities and access-to-resource inequalities will be addressed. Prudent regional or continental social welfare programmes funded through economic growth will also alleviate poverty, another cause of conflict.
African militaries have a role to play in this scheme. At present no continental or even regional defence pact of the North Atlantic variety exist. It is a sad fact that power projection and the capacity to intervene at operational and strategic distances in Africa is the preserve of non-Africans: primarily the French, with the British more limited in capacity and influence. African militaries also know little about each other, are often suspicious of others` attempts at confidence or relationship building and have a hodge-podge of equipment, tactics, operational theory and strategic thinking, making any common approach to anything difficult. This is not unique. Europe is, in many ways, in the same position.
If the AU is an Africanised EU, then its armed forces can also copy two successful North Atlantic projects: the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and multi-national defence structures. NATO launched the PfP in 1994 with the goal of increasing stability and security throughout Europe. A NATO fact sheet calls it a programme of “defence and security-related activities, ranging from the purely military to defence-related cooperation in areas such as crisis management, civil emergency planning, air traffic management or armaments cooperation.” At the time of its establishment, PfP`s objectives included increased transparency in national defence planning and military budgeting and democratic control of national armed forces. The PfP programme is now a permanent feature of the European security architecture and it is argued it should be of the African as well.
No African country is presently part of the PfP, as participation requires membership of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. But the moment has nevertheless arrived for Africa to have its own — perhaps first on a regional basis, before establishing a transcontinental programme under the auspices of the AU Parliament, once established. There is also nothing stopping the continent`s leaders from negotiating the access to the NATO programme or obtaining the necessary expertise and assistance as an adjunct to the NAI. Should an African PfP take off it could nicely dovetail with another military initiative -for which considerable support already exists in many capitals – permanent, but small, multi-national brigade and divisional headquarters. These structures are again not unique. Many already exist within the NATO and both SFOR in Bosnia Herzegovina and KFOR in Kosovo make use of such structures to command assigned national battalions. In Africa such headquarters may become essential for peace support, as well as a mechanism to coordinate PfP activities and to facilitate greater military integration – to the point of a unified pan-African military, if this is decided upon. As a first step, regions such as the SADC should establish such planning headquarters at the earliest opportunity. These may in time lead to permanently organised and staffed regional multinational brigades perhaps answering to supra-regional/pan-African division and corps structures – the latter again initially as planning organisations.         

The NAI contains two paragraphs of interest to the military:

Para 73, the conclusion, calls inter alia for the “commissioning of a committee of foreign ministers” within the next six months “to review capacity building needed for peacekeeping structures at both the regional and continental levels.” What could be better than a PfP?
Para 54.1 puts forth a “peace and security initiative” — peace and security being one of the preconditions for development. Most of the initiative consists of “soft” security endeavours. The military only seems to come in as lead agency under the single line reading “Peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Elswhere it would clearly play a secondary role, probably to the foreign affairs establishment.