The OAU: Tackling Dictators and Foreign Dictates

Category: World Affairs Topics: Africa, Foreign Policy, Government And Politics Views: 898

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) concluded its 35th annual summit meeting Wednesday in Algeria with a series of measures aimed at promoting greater stability on the troubled African continent. Leaders from 44 African countries made broad calls for an end to the various wars in Africa and stressed the need for greater democracy. In a surprising development on Tuesday, the OAU resolved to not recognize new coup regimes, the first such resolution since a similar agreement was made at the 1987 OAU summit meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe.

There is no doubt a need for greater peace and democracy in Africa, as coups and internal unrest have destabilized much of the continent. The U.N. Human Rights Information Network (HRIN) reported on July 14 that in 1998 alone, Africa endured 11 major conflicts that produced more than 8 million refugees. Unfortunately, Tuesday's calls for greater democracy and the agreement to isolate any new coup government seem to lack credibility given the current makeup of the OAU.

According the BBC (July 14), more than half of the governments represented at the recent OAU meeting originally came to power by coup. Several nations, such as Chad and Mauritania, are ruled outright by military command, while others, such as Congo, Togo, Libya and Burkina Faso, have since held contentious elections which critics allege are nothing more than facades, built to legitimize military takeovers. And in countries such as Algeria and Nigeria, allegations persist that the current civilian presidents came to power in elections rigged by the former military rule. Even in Senegal, which is one of the few African countries never to have been disrupted by a coup, opposition voices have alleged that the last two elections were rigged in favor the sitting president, who has been in power for almost 20 years.

While calling for an end to coups, the OAU did nothing to act against the coup regimes represented at the conference, even the governments of Niger and the Comoros Islands, which took power in coups just this year. The plea for greater democracy is obviously a commitment to future policy. But it is perhaps best understood in the light of international pressure.

In the wake of U.S. President Clinton's 1998 tour of several African nations and his promise for increased trade opportunities between Africa and the United States, top U.S. officials have made repeated calls for greater stability on the continent. Clinton's trade concessions offered to African nations in June of last year were directly tied to economic liberalization, a concept that is directly tied political stability and more tenuously linked to democracy.

According to Tetteh Hormeku, writing in Ghana for the Third World Network, "key African institutions seem in a hurry to buy into" American stipulations for increased trade. Hormeku notes that an OAU brainstorming session voted to support the United States' African Growth and Opportunity Act that demands free trade, the ending of government subsidies for local business, protection of foreign investment and the adoption of IMF and World Bank plans for structural adjustment and debt repayment.

So from economic and political perspectives, African countries are under pressure to end the infamous totalitarian regimes of the past. And should Africa prove incapable of changing its political and economic appearance to suit American interests, then it runs the risk of raising the ire of the United States. In fact, a significant U.S. policy statement was released on Tuesday that can be seen as a possible foreshadowing of things to come. Stressing that "for economic development, we need political development, and peace," U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggested that actions such as those taken in Kosova might be applicable to African conflicts.

But African countries cannot be so naïve as to think America's policies are aimed at anything other than its own interests. For American business, Africa represents an untapped source of natural resources, labor and markets. A 1996 U.S. policy document entitled Comprehensive Trade and Development Policy for the Countries of Africa declared that Africa is "the last frontier for American businesses." Hormeku writes that America's renewed interest in Africa is nothing but an "age-old formula for intervention to undermine Africa being replayed anew."

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was granted leadership of the OAU for the coming year, tempered his final call for democracy in Africa at the close of the summit with an express rejection of Western dictates. As quoted by AFP, Bouteflika declared, "We want democracy," but not "by an imposed model." Algeria's El Watan on July 15 quoted Bouteflika as saying Africa's slow pace of reform is partially due to the European colonial powers that "colonized and taught ignorance" to African peoples.

But if Bouteflika's high level meetings with Sudanese President Omar Al-Beshir and Libyan President Muamar Qadhafi are any indication, the OAU is not completely kowtowing to American interests, which remain staunchly opposed to the governments of both Sudan and Libya. The OAU has even agreed to hold next year's summit meeting in Libya. In direct reference to the continuing U.S. embargo on Libya, El Watan quotes Bouteflika as saying, "This summit will be a source of comfort and African solidarity with a country hit by an embargo of unjustified logic."

While it is evident Africa has far to go in putting an end to the instability and totalitarianism that plague the continent, it is perhaps heartening to note signs of divergence from complete subservience to Western dictates.

Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Africa, Foreign Policy, Government And Politics
Views: 898

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