A Weak African Union for 53 Member States

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Equatoguinean Teodoro President Obiang and African Union Chairman Jean Ping at the African Union Summit in Malabo. Photo from Embassy of Equatorial Guinea

2011 was a tumultuous year for the African continent with revolutions, attempted coups and violent political crises. Unfortunately the union of 53 African states that has as its mission to help strengthen regional peace and development has proved its own shortcomings in dealing with these situations.

The African Union, created in 1999 after the dissolution of the Organization of African Unity, was unable to solve the Côte d’Ivoire post-electoral crisis, offered late support to popular movements of the Arab Spring, and its position on Libya was primarily determined by the late Colonel Gaddafi’s influence on the organization.

All this has led many African citizens to distrust whether the Union is really able to fulfill its mission [fr]. This much is clear studying critical blogs from commentators across the region. On the blog Cry Me An Onion, Patrick-Bernard is unequivocal in his post “Let’s Get Rid Of The African Union“:

“In light of the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Kenya, Madagascar, DRC, Libya and many more in Africa an institution that should be boycotted and toppled down to the ground is the African Union. The embarrassing Ali Baba gang of 53 thieves is useless in solving any or all the conflicts in Africa or finding any unifying consensus. (…)”

In the unfolding crisis in Mali, the organization currently appears to be faring no better. Although worrying reports are coming from the Northern part of the country, now ruled by the Islamist group Ansar Dine, the African Union failed to mobilize the United Nations Security Council to back a military intervention with troops from the countries of the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS). On a France-based blog of a Touareg association Temoust.org [fr], it is explained:

“… in the case of Mali, the arguments advanced by Ramtane Lamamra, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, have not convinced the 15 members of the Security Council to support a UN military intervention in that country (…) The African Union is still very unclear; how many soldiers will be sent there, how much will the operation cost, what will be the mission of this military force?”

Limited Means

In spite of this assessment, it is important for the 1 billion inhabitants of the 53 African member states to be represented and see their interests protected by a strong, inclusive regional organization, in a globalized world. Such ambition requires means which the organization currently lacks.

In 2012, the budget proposal presented by the African Union Commission reached $274 million . It is a pittance compared to the EU147 billion of the European Union. Moreover, even such a budget is likely not to be secured by the organization, since only 5 among the 53 member states [fr] actually pay their annual contributions (Libya, Egypt, South Africa, Algeria and Nigeria).

Furthermore, according to African Union Chairman Jean Ping himself in 2010, 77% of the operational budget, which serves to implement and sustain programs such as military force deployments, come from foreign counterparts, like the European Union. Knowing this one can understand how limited the pan-African organization’s breathing space is.

As the continent continues to suffer from strife, it appears unlikely in spite of noble goals that the African Union will offer much respite.


For further information on the topic, please view the following publications from our partners:

Salient Features of the 18th Africa Union Summit: Generational Progression of Democracy in Africafrom SAGE International, Torrensville, Australia.

EU Cooperation with the African Union: Problems and Potentialsfrom FRIDE, Madrid, Spain.

African Union Commission Consultation with African Union Member States on Transitional Justicefrom the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), Johannesburg, South Africa.


For more information on issues and events that shape our world please visit the ISN’s Security Watch and Editorial Plan Dossiers.

One Response to “A Weak African Union for 53 Member States”

  1. An organisation would only be as strong as its contituent units.African Union is not an exception. Indecisiveness and sence of direction are the new challenges of this era different from post-colonial rethoric.You do not cut off a head to save its headache.AU could thrive with the right leadership and support
    in this incredibly shrinking world.