Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

OAU at the crossroads?

by Kofi Andoh

The first exigency - the rechannelling of the energies of territorial sovereignty to the service of the OAU - demands a thorough recast of the OAU charter to prescribe a more binding unity. The continent's deteriorating conditions invalidates the prescriptions codified in the 1963 charter for its survival.
For an organisation that has spent the greater part of its life trying to identify with its raison d'etre, the OAU appears a long shot from a committed Pan-Africanist's dream of a worthwhile vehicle that could bear the responsibility of directing Africa's growth and birth. Its present image of crippling inefficiency, the clash between the radicals and moderates and the continent's ineluctable drift into decay and complete collapse, beam the danger signal that the African continent is on the verge of gliding into the escapism of self-consuming anger.

Indeed if the OAU should be seen to be playing a dominant role in Africa's re-awakening, the next summit should really attempt to steer the organisation back on course and actually initiate a bold step in the path of continental unity. To radically transform the OAU and equip it with the tools of bearing the mantle of Africa's growth the last crisis in Tripoli should be seen as a blessing in disguise, though its ironic result was to open the floodgate of western infiltration.

What the Tripoli stalemate epitomised was the symptom of a deeper malaise and a major deformity that had over the years left the OAU in such a state of helplessness that it could not cope with its own administrative prob- lems. Apart from this it confirmed the developmental unviability of territorial boundaries which have reduced member-states to such states of penury that most of them are quite prepared to barter their African commitment for a mess of western pottage in the form of insignificant aid hand-outs.

Furthermore, it brought to the fore its administrative incapability to cope with even purely administrative issues like the admission of the SADR into the organisation.

It also indicated, as the trend of the stalemate showed, that the organisation should be weaned from the increasingly dominant influence of the effervescent radicalism and primordial factionalism of the Arab sub-region, since most destabilising influences within the organisation have their roots in North Africa.

In addition, the abortive summit re- opened the rather avoided debates on the clear definition of Pan-Africanist goals which have, since its abrupt end in 1966, atrophied into a disjointed description through inertia and personal myopia. Then, the competition between the Balewa functional approach and the Nkrumah political approach ensured a lively approach to Africa's complete unification in the comity of African states. If the benefits of those debates are to be assessed in retrospect, it portrayed an on-going process of progressive self-clarification. Now, eighteen years after, the organisation is still struggling with a clear definition of its Pan Africanist goals.

Thus, whereas the abortive Tripoli summit, laid bare the inadequacies and incapabilities of the supra-national body, its ominous portents were such that they called for a radical swing of the OAU back to course and equip it with the tools of coping with problems associated with the continent's rebirth. The OAU's consistently low output - reflected in the full return of cold war politics, repolarisation of members into camps and the increasing search of members for external alliances - is as old as the organisation.

The impact of this failure is felt in its handling of the SADR and Chad issues. This is because its demand load had increased with every inch of territorial independence. Thus in its 21 years of existence, the organisation has given Africa nothing except the decay and a new era of recolonisation.

This deplorable state of the continent calls for a new order in which the existing power relations between the constituent units and the supra- national organisation are re-worked in favour of a more coherent and stronger continental unity. Survival in these circumstances demands a new vision of interdependence that call on member-states a bond closer than the plastic unity stipulated in its charter. The full realisation of this calls for a new perspective in which the wild energies of territorial sovereignty are channelled to the service of a continental forum and learning to build this forum into a rational and institutional alternative to the self- defeating autarchy of territorial sovereignty.

The first exigency - the rechannelling of the energies of territorial sovereignty to the service of the OAU - demands a thorough recast of the OAU charter to prescribe a more binding unity. The continent's deteriorating conditions invalidates the prescriptions codified in the 1963 charter for its survival.

Indeed, while the opening clauses of the preamble suggest an exclusive inward oriented regeneration and an earnestness of purpose demanded by the remedial imperatives of a common- ly shared historical liability, other clauses and articles evoke the all- inclusive conviviality and effete diplo- matic openness of the United Nations.

For example, while the Preamble and Article II (2) emphasise the social and economic welfare of the people of Africa as major goals, the rest of the charter downgrades the specific tools of achieving these set goals to second- ary status. (Articles XIII (2) and XXII). In the same vein while the charter seems animated by the quest for unity and concerted action, it also promotes to a sacrosanct degree the contradictory principles of the absolute sovereignty of the constituent units (Articles IIc, II, XVIII (2)).

In this wise, the first amendment should discourage the duality of authority between the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments, the Supreme organ, and the sovereign member-states which structure the organisation's future in the direction of open-ended stagnation. The SADR issue epitomises this better. The fact that the cases for and against its admis- sion both enjoy legal support from the charter, makes members powerless to check the forces that are threatening its existence. (Articles XX and XXI). Furthermore, the status of the specialised commissions should be reviewed and made directly responsible to the Assembly.

The next amendment should attempt to compel member-states to perform their duties with the same zeal that they enjoy their rights, that is if all member- states 'enjoy equal rights and have equal duties' as enshrined in Article V. crisis. An organisation with over £50 million in deficit is no one's dream of a forum to be saddled with the duty of directing Africa's attempt at growth.

Another amendment should seek to disengage the constituent units from crippling foreign ties. Such ties do not provide the conducive atmosphere for a more meaningful unity.

A further amendment should abolish or radically modify dual membership, because it breeds the distractions of dual identification and divided loyalty. The most destabilising distraction of the OAU is the divided loyalty of its North African member-states who are torn between their commitments to the Arab league and the OAU. These distractions bring unbearable strain on the fragile structures of an organisation that is yet to come to terms with the reasons for its being.

Diallo Telli, first Secretary-General

The secretariat should also be up- graded, given more powers and its level of efficiency and expertise raised. Inspite of Rules 8 and 12, the Assembly does not recruit its Secretary-Generals on merit. The result has been a legacy of crippling inefficiency and poor co- ordination which increases the organisation's difficulties. Its undefined language ties the using of the secretari- at to the whims and fancies of a Secretary-General, who may even have no demonstrable flair and capacity for organisation. Thus, an Edem Kojo, who spends most of his time with his family in Paris, rushes back to recognise the SADR without consultations and plunges the organisation into a crisis.

Most important of all, the charter should stress its ultimate responsibility. Its present format beginning with 'We, the Heads of African States and Governments' which is addressed to Governments - an ideological rationalisation of the mutual-aid the goals of elitist rulers makes it a club of benevolent dictators and not an organisation of African people.

After all these, the problem solving capacity of the OAU should be overhauled. This area is laden with pitfalls because of the economic state of most states which ties them to the dictates of external sources of finance. This problem also presents much of a paradox. While everyone agrees that the continent holds much economic potential, her constraints have always been the tools for exploitation. Thus it finds itself tied to the exploitative pressure of trans-national cartels and, the predation and greed of its elite cliques installed in power by monopoly capitalism. This illusion of money and foreign aid, has become the blight of Africa's development.

Infact, there seems to be no way of avoiding foreign and (while the continent is in the expoitative grip of elite cliques, whose tastes are too foreign to understand the meaning of develop- ment á la China) from such institutions as the World Bank, EEC, etc but in the main, it should be possible to contain the damage of their terms by channel- ing all aid through the ADB.

Furthermore the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) should be seen as more than a valuable research unit. In the same vein, its specialised com- missions should be adequately equipped with the requisite tools and support to handle their duties effectively.

On the whole, if the Organisation of African Unity is to play any major role in Africa's rejuvenation and influence the trend of the world power game, its 1963 charter should be given an overhaul to keep pace with the trend of present day world politics.

The set of measures outlined above are intended to form part of a well- defined approach to give meaning to the existence of the OAU. For this to be attained, the attitudes of African leaders to the set aims of the organisation, should be remoulded to reflect the ultimate goal of the OAU, that is, continental unity. It might be a dream but it is worth keeping that goal in sight.

The present problems, however, call for short-term remedial measures if the existing foundations of the OAU may soon be called upon to build a stronger vehicle for African unity. Hence, the urgent need for an immediate solution to the SADR and Chad crises.

Infact, the crisis over the admission of the SADR could be the most import- ant thing that has happened to the OAU since its foundation. For the first time in its life, a faithful interpretation Charter has brought the full arrogance of territorial sovereignty in direct collision with its collective will.

In three ways the politics of the admission of SADR mirrors the inimical forces which have set the OAU on its downward course of slow painful death.

The first is the organisation's inability to articulate the collective will of independent Africa. The OAU's attempt to buy the problem in its already full-file tray of ADHOC committees perfectly fits its style of buck-passing and dismal record of low performance.

The second area is the suddenly increased dependence on external powers. America's military aid to Morocco has trebled since Reagan came to power. The OAU's peace keeping force in Chad could not be maintained because France failed to finance its stay. In the peace formula for Chad, the Western Sahara the OAU's resolutions placed more faith on United Nations assistance rather than on its own strength.

Thirdly, the crisis reframes the old unanswered questions on the pace and direction of African Unity. What Morocco is insisting on is that the veto power over Africa's destiny must lie with the sovereign member-states of the OAU, individually and severally. The OAU has managed to exist because it has always tacitly accepted the practice of veto-power under the safe euphemism of non-interference in the internal affairs of member-states. But this time, the ostrich has to raise its head from the sand: a new sovereign state. of SADR insists on her right on non-interference in her internal affairs by Morocco.

In all fairness, just as all level-headed members of the OAU realise, and all deliberations on the SADR have indicated, the admission of the SADR in pre-emption of the implementation committee's referendum preparations was a tactical error.

The primary target of the anger of the radicals within the organisation is really the growing menace of American inspired Rabat neo-colonialist plot, and not SADR's colonisation. Further- more, the radicals have to admit that their procedure is not above legal reproach. Admittedly, Article XVIII (2) prescribes a simple majority for admission of a new member. But it is equally time that Article X (2) enabled the summit to decide on a decolonisation procedure at the 1979 Monrovia summit. Law and commonsense can- not support the contention that a decis- ion, taken by a simple majority, and at a later date, is superior to a decision taken by a two-thirds majority of a body specified by Article VIII as 'the supreme organ of the organisation." Herein lives the core of the problem.

However, there appears to be only one way out open to the OAU: it has to call Morocco's bluff. This course of action needs not split the organisation. But to revive lasting lessons from the SADR issue, the organisation, has to go beyond the SADR admission. It should see the forces ripping it apart as symptoms of a deeper cut which has overtaken its institutional growth.

The organisation has not been able to meet the aspirations of its member- states and the goals which the 1963 charter set for it. It is therefore becom- ing increasingly irrelevant to African needs. Member states are therefore looking for excuses to back out, and the SADR issue well provides the opportunity. The OAU should therefore see this as a major threat.

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