Voices from Africa

Has the AU served Africans? Do you feel represented by the AU? What would you like the AU to achieve over the next 50 years?

Kaggiah Kinuthiah, Medical Student, Dar es salaam, Tanzania

The African Union has failed us all, especially itself and its objectives. The very fact that the organisation based in Addis Ababa needed to borrow funds to build its headquarters is proof that it is not independent organisation and therefore cannot be trusted to defend African rights.

Where was the AU when allied fighters ousted former Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi - its staunchest supporter - apart from making rhetorical statements at expensive conferences using borrowed money. The AU is toothless. - Interviewed by Soud Hyder.

Abel Asrat, 23, Student, Ethiopia

Even though I was born and bred in the capital city of Africa, Addis Ababa, I haven't really felt and embraced Africanism as much as other African nations do. Part of the reason for the disconnection between the rest of Africa and Ethiopia has mainly got to do with cultural difference, colonisation history and immobility of citizens around the continent.

For ordinary Ethiopians, Pan Africanism and the African Union is only felt or discussed when a foreign African dignitary comes to visit Ethiopia and causes traffic jams and other inconveniences for the rest of us. But after the construction of the new African Union headquarters that stands tall and unique for its state of the art architectural touch and beauty, Ethiopians are starting to wonder about the prospect and the chances African Union presents.

Despite its poor record in influencing human right issue, there are prospects for a greater role for the African Union in unifying its people.

In the next 50 years, the African Union should: create one currency, a world strong economy, a veto power in the Security Council, realisation of democratic states in all its state members, its people should be free to work, live and mobilise in any corner of the continent. - Interviewed by Soud Hyder

Stephen Bwire, 30, Journalist, Uganda

The AU was formed with clear objectives of uniting Africa, enhancing Africa's solidarity and sovereignty, and eradicating all form of colonialism and neo-colonialism. However, it has been reduced to a mere club of despots and self-seeking regimes who meet to congratulate themselves on rigging elections, and suppressing well-intentioned civilian dissent in their respective countries.

The AU is not taking radical steps to promote accountable leadership on the African continent; little is being done (if it's done at all) to promote dignified living for the African people - which would include poverty eradication. Little wonder, 50 years after the OAU and [later] the AU, many African people are dying of jiggers, starvation, preventable and curable disease, road accidents; illiteracy levels are still high while leaders seek to entrench themselves in power.

In the next 50 years, we would wish for a continental body that is committed to serving the African people better, and eliminating the barriers to human and economic development. - Musaazi Robert

Yasir Mohamed Baffo, 30, Director General, Somali Tourism Association

The African Union has done a good job in Somalia in terms of improving the security situation. Before AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) came here you couldn't move 200 metres in Mogadishu without been stopped at a checkpoint. The frontline of the war was a few metres from the presidential palace. Now Mogadishu is safe and the government is in full control.

But African the Union's progress in securing the whole country has been very slow. We had high expectations. We thought they would secure the whole country in a year or maximum two years but more than five years after they came to Somalia they still don't control half of the country. We also expected them to be involved in the humanitarian side of the situation in Somalia like during the 2011 famine and the ongoing flooding situation in some parts of the country but their involvement in that side of things is very small, if anything at all. - Interviewed by Hamza Mohamed

Blessing Vava, 30, Spokesman for the National Constitutional Assembly in Zimbabwe

What the AU has managed to achieve in the last 50 years is to safeguard against the colonial legacy and maintain independence, despite its other problems. On our part as Zimbabweans, the AU has managed to let the Zimbabwean people deal with their own situation, it is not for the SADC (Southern African Development Community) or the EU (European Union) to determine what the Zimbabwean people should do.

The AU really respected that and it's commendable, it should continue to let the Zimbabwean people determine their future. For its next 50 years, it's fundamental for the AU and for Africans to be united, it's important that their resources and economies are stable. Only when Africans are united and they speak with one voice as one people, only then can we begin to build our economies and use our resources - Interviewed by Tendai Marima

Jemila Abdulai, Ghana

I was introduced to the idea of the organisation for African Unity as a junior high school student in Ghana. At the time, it was an exciting prospect, perhaps more so because the concept originated from Ghana's first president Dr Kwame Nkrumah. But over the years, the AU has remained just that. A concept: an idea trapped in time.

Like many other things on the continent, the African Union is yet to live up to its potential. Sure, it has been instrumental in some peacekeeping efforts on the continent, but it is not something I really identify with. I would even say that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is much more present in my life. At least it affords me the chance to travel to other states in the sub-region without a visa.

African states should work harder to make the AU what its name claims: a real union of African diversity. It should be the agency where an issue like Africa's policy towards China is addressed. It should be the space where the negotiation powers of Africa's small states are consolidated. For now though, it's just a vision; a semblance of what could possibly be. - Interviewed by Azad Essa

Saze Olayade; Digital Strategist, Lagos - Nigeria

With over 60 percent of Africa's population below the age of 25, the AU needs to be more representative of African youths. It should tackle the issues affecting them such as unemployment, participation in government and technology for education... [In order to improve youth participation in politics] continent-wide referendums could then be held bi-annually, with voting via social media and SMSs.

Lade Ibraheem, Digital Strategist - Nigeria

Like most African governments, I think the African Union has been quite detached from the fundamental issues affecting its member states. There seems to be a lot of activity in terms of delegations, meeting and roundtable discussions, but without concrete resolutions being reached and the required follow through to ensure they come to fruition.

Do you feel that the bloc represents you and what would you want to see them achieve in the next 50 years?

Presently I don't feel represented by the bloc; I don't feel like I can look to the African Union for solutions to issues that affect my country or demographic.

In the next 50 years, I would like to see an AU that actually lives by its former name - the Organisation of African Unity. I would expect an AU that identifies (together as a unit) and addresses five pertinent factors that will lead to the overall development of each member state - political stability, access to health care and education, women and children empowerment and economic growth. I would also expect to see the required infrastructure and private sector participation to support seamless trade and investment between African countries.

Sentayehu Seifu, from Addis Ababa, but studying in France

Though the idea of the AU is great for Africans to gain power in world politics, economic as well as social developments, I doubt AU has achieved these goals.

I hardly believe the organisation will also bring a sound change for the continent without solving the root cause of the problem. After all, change starts from oneself. Some of the members are a bunch of corrupted dictators with no transparency in their own countries.

Whether we like it or not, the organisation is there to represent us: Africans. However to bring a change in the continent, the member states should start from their own country and change their mindset. They need to transform their politics to a real democratisation, and give more freedom for their own people. Each state should respect the fundamental rights entitled to every citizen, freedom of speech, association, assembly, religion, and movement.

Fifty years from now: I want to see the AU to be completely independent, and a powerful core player in the world economy, politics and social developments. Hopefully there will be more regional integration, such as monetary integration, free movements of people, free movement of goods and capital in the continent with a common currency. - Interviewed by Soud Hyder

Anwar Dafa-Alla, Khartoum, Sudan

I do not feel the presence of the African Union at all. It's the same old politics school that [has] governed Africa since the 1950s.

From time to time I read online that the AU is playing a part in trying to resolve issues in my country, Sudan. But I read different stories from inside Sudan that the AU is not helping at all.

On a personal level, I'm pretty sure that this body is not representing me at all. I think that the African Union has to sit down with the African people and ask them: What is your problem and how can we help? - Interviewed by Soud Hyder

Balungile Mbenyane, 22, international relations Student, Johannesburg, South Africa.

I think the AU is a great organisation and I think the idea behind it is perfect. We do need something that will be a platform for all African states to come together and have conversations about things we have in common. So, I think it's a great organisation. We can all agree that sometimes the way things are carried out, or the decisions that the AU has made in the past, or just the efficiency of the AU, is not necessarily where we want it to be.

I would like to say that the AU is useful because if it was not useful then there would be a bigger problem.

It's up to the member states to make it useful. I think an organisation is as powerful as we allow it to be so we also need that buy in from different countries. As much as South Africa can be interested in the AU, we need the DRC to be interested in the AU so we can speak about these issues and we can be on the same page on these things. -Interviewed by Khadija Patel

Luyolo Mphithi, 20, international relations Student, Johannesburg, South Africa.

As a young South African, the African Union has less relevance to me than it does to other countries in Africa because the major countries in Africa, South Africa, Nigeria and Libya, who have spearheaded the AU since 2002 have not necessarily been the benefactors of the efforts of the African Union. And I think that's why many South Africans don't know what the AU is about.

I would like [AU Commission chairperson] Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to address what the AU is and what relevance it has to someone living in Ethiopia and someone who is in South Africa - and bridge that gap between the two.

I think the African Peer Review Mechanism and NEPAD (The New Partnership for Africa's Development) are the best things to come out of the AU.

We need to move away from creating western-like institutions towards making Africans do things for themselves.

We need to realise that as Africans we need to start doing things for ourselves. We need to start owning our own land, owning our own mines. Because we're not owning them at the moment and that's the problem. We have [foreign] countries coming into Africa, owning our stuff, taking our minerals and leaving with them. We are left now with the problem of not owning things anymore. I think the focus needs to shift to how African people can get back to owning what is theirs. And the AU is crucial to this.- Interviewed by Khadija Patel

Gwen Lister, 60, Namibia

Founding editor of The Namibian and press freedom activist instrumental in the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration on a Free, Independent and Pluralistic African Press, Namibia

"There was some hope that the AU, following on the OAU, would be a breath of fresh air and that there may be a new and more transparent approach to solving the problems in Africa. That it wouldn't so much be the old boys club that it had been in the past.

"But to date, it's been fairly disappointing and the latest revelation today [20/05/2013] by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, that NGO's will not be allowed to attend meetings of the executive council as they did in the past, is a little bit disturbing."

"They have of course approved of various information protoco... [but] there is still a lack of transparency really at the end of the day to civil society in general."

She says that she would like to see a lot more development on the African continent but that this is hard to imagine as long as the governments remain "closed".

"So, I think openness, transparency on their part, will probably do more towards making that happen in the future." - Interviewed by Safeeyah Kharsany

Dr. Boniface Chizea, 62, Nigeria

Retired banker and principal consultant of BIC Consulting, Nigeria

I think the AU has justified its existence and should be supported by member countries to achieve even more. Going by a matrix of parameters for instance, Nigeria should represent Africa on the [UN] Security Council rather than South Africa. The AU should be seen to be promoting this stand. It is also necessary to have a body to represent the African continent in its dealings and relationships with other continents.

He feels that the AU should, in the next 50 years, be "a very robust body that has justified the expectations of its founding fathers through ensuring there are no vestiges of colonial or neo-colonial overhang".

It should have contributed to the enhancement of the economic fortunes of the countries in the continent so issues such as Millennium Development Goals would no longer be in the African lexicon. It should have fostered the establishment of economic infrastructure across the length and breadth of the continent to facilitate and promote trade and other economic inter-relationships amongst member countries. - Interviewed by Safeeyah Kharsany

Omar Ilyas, Founder and Chief Advisory Officer of Tanzania Njema, a political advisory agency, Tanzania

With the increasing participation of civil society in the AU agenda, I believe the organisation represents me. The fact that most African governments are now democratically elected means they legitimately represent the will of their people.

I always feel connected with the organisation in terms of issues, agendas and aspirations, but the organisation needs to do much better in connecting the people of Africa, especially the youth, as it has succeed to connecting African countries.

I want the AU to end its dependency on foreign funding for its programmes and development budget which is above 90 percent now. The AU should also make sure that ordinary people are more informed and involved in AU matters. - Interviewed by Erick Kabendera

Dr Njunga Mulikita, 55, political scientist based in Lusaka, Zambia.

"The AU for me is a very important institution in terms of projecting Africa's image and Africa's position on the world stage. "

He pointed out the AU's strong presence at the United Nations which, he said now positions it as a major player on a global platform.

"This linguistic divide between the French speaking countries and the English speaking countries. It is sad that 50 years after independence, this barrier remains a constraint to deepen the African unity.

The real failure is its incapacity to stop certain states from failing.

If the AU can secure the resources and international good will to implement some of the development projects that are outlined in NEPAD, a lot of the social and economic problems that we face now will be solved.

The main challenge now is the battle against poverty, literacy and all these vices." - Interviewed by Safeeyah Kharsany

Issa Higiro - Programme Assistant, School for International Training - Kigali, Rwanda

I think the AU has served Africans and I believe it is a good initiative, but it needs a lot of commitment. I am glad it has a common goal and vision, but it needs more than vision, it needs to act. Another problem is that there is unequal representation within the AU. Some African countries have more powers than others. There are common issues that affect each country equally. Each African nation needs to work together in order to create a positive outcome. They say things, but they do not act on their issues. - interviewed by Jacob Powell

Nimi Hoffmann - Durban, South Africa

What is the African Union? Ask most of us on the continent, and we do not know. Perhaps we offer a vague gesture of the hands to indicate a vague regional body.

And yet, we have a Pan-African Parliament, which is intended to represent us, the popular masses. Our president is one Bethel Nnaemeka Amadi. Who is this curious man? And when did we elect him?

And yet, we have the African Court on Human and People's Rights, which is intended to provide justice to us, the popular masses. How did we not know about this court? Where was this court when my sisters in Johannesburg were raped and beaten to death for their love of other women, and my government did nothing? Where was this court when the peoples of the Niger Delta faced the wrath of politician-entrepreneurs and their slick oil suitors?

I suspect these institutions are not our institutions because we have not made them our institutions. Because they remain the institutions of pomp and spectacle, of corpulent elites. Take a trip to Addis when the Union convenes in its trappings of banquets and black limousines. Observe the specially-built 5-star hotel for these humble representatives of the people. And then ask yourself: how did we allow the ethos of pan-Africanism to degenerate into a pale mockery of the European Union?

My dream for the African Union? Fifty years hence, we will not need to ask ourselves these questions, we will not need to shrug our shoulders at a vague and irrelevant institution. It will be our African Union. A union of the peoples of Africa. Not a union of fat cats with Eurocentric wet dreams. - interviewed by Azad Essa

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About the AU


What is the AU?

The African Union represents 54 countries across the continent. The only country on the continent not part of the AU is Morocco, in protest over the admission of Western Sahara in 1982.

The AU, inaugurated in 2002, succeeded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) - created on May 25, 1963 and made up of 31 independent African countries. The organisation was essentially designed to unite the continent and bring independence to the remaining states still under colonialism.

The OAU was launched in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which remains the headquarters of the AU's secretariat, the African Union Commission and the Peace and Security Council.


Purpose of the AU

While the OAU vehemently opposed colonialism and apartheid, the organisation was unable to interfere in the internal affairs of its members, except those still under white-minority rule in southern Africa. The OAU earned the name of "the dictators' club" because it had no power to punish or intervene in countries during a civil war, coup or genocide. Though the OAU managed to mediate a number of border disputes, its compromised mandate became its lasting legacy.

In contrast, the AU, conceived in 1999 in Sirte, Libya, was created with new guiding principles: sovereignty, good governance and justice, peace and security, economic development. Crucially, the AU is meant to allow for the active participation of civil society, to ensure the Union does not become a dictators club once more.

It allowed for intervention in member states in times of "grave circumstances". African peacekeepers have since been sent to Burundi, Darfur and Somalia. The AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, and consisting of troops from Uganda and Burundi is considered one of the African Union's biggest achievements.

Though the organisation has redesigned its institutions and has tried to emphasise development and people-centric politics, through initiatives like New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the organisation is still considered a continental talkshop.

Key Organs of the AU

The AU is made up of 18 organs. Some of the most important ones include:

  • The Assembly:
    This is the main organ of the organisation, made up of heads of state. The Assembly's chair is elected and serves for one year, and is renewable. The Assembly decides on policies, the budget, appoints a chair person for the Commission and decides on intervention in states.
  • Peace and Security Council:
    This Council can undertake preventative diplomacy, mediation, peace-building as well as intervention or assisting to defend a member's sovereignty in times of threat.
  • AU Commission:
    The Commission is the administrative arm of the Union, and is mandated to implement the decisions made by the body. The Commission has become increasingly a decision-maker in recent years.

Challenges facing the AU

Economic integration remains among the central challenges facing poorer member states. The AU's budget in 2013 is $280m, contributed mostly from foreign donors. It is not hard to forget that an estimated 75 percent of the world's poorest countries are in Africa and this weak base is a major obstacle.

The lack of resources and dependence on outside help would suggest that the AU is not completely in charge of its agenda.

There is still debt, unfair trade terms, and severely poor living conditions and health issues, including malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS, which continue to terrorise the continent.

The AU is faced with a dearth of genuine leadership, with South Africa and Nigeria yet to prove their salt as role-models.

Moreover, continuing flash points across the continent, mean the AU is faced with a daunting task of addressing very complex conflicts across every region on the continent, which spreads the organisation very thin.

Crucially, ordinary Africans still feel disconnected from the AU and only political will and achievement will change that.

Human Development Index

The Human Development Index (HDI) uses three dimensions: Life Expectancy, Education and Income to rank countries into four categories of human development. The map below is based on the 2013 UNDP report.

Flash points

Part of the African Union's original mandate was to resolve conflict on the continent, but fifty years after its founding, violence and tensions continue in these flash points.

Sudan

Sudan is facing continuing rebellion in the western region of Darfur while battling the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. The intensity of the conflict in Sudan's western region has been reduced. Much of Darfur however remains restive. Almost 1.5 million displaced people rely on food handouts in camps throughout Darfur. Others have simply been forced to leave the country. In April, the Darfur Donors Conference in Doha raised $3.6 billion in pledges, including a commitment of $2.6 b from the Government of Sudan.

Fighting however has only intensified in Sudan's southern states, where the SPLM-North as well as the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SLF) accuse President Omar al-Bashir of discriminating against minority groups. In the meanwhile, tensions between Sudan and South Sudan have been diffused sufficiently to resume oil exports from the South but Sudan maintains the South is supporting fighters in Darfur in the west and two southern states bordering South Sudan.

Eastern DRC

Several dozen armed groups continue to operate in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The region is one of the most politically unstable places on earth. In November 2012, the M23 rebel group fought the DRC's army and sidestepped the world's largest UN peace keeping force, Monusco, to take the provincial capital of Goma in the DRC's North Kivu province.

The ease with which the M23 took Goma put the entire Great Lakes region on high alert as hundreds of thousands of people were once more displaced and talk of an imminent new war grew more heated. The occupation would prove to be short-lived but the M23 occupation of Goma demonstrated the fragility of the region. The vast web of competing interests over the eastern Congo's mineral riches has been blamed for a perceived lack of political will in resolving the region's troubles. Earlier this year however, the United Nations Security Council approved the deployment of an intervention brigade in the eastern DRC to fight rebel groups. The brigade has not yet seen any combat but fighting between the Congolese army and the M23 has grown more severe in recent weeks.

Somalia

Somalia has made significant strides in ending a civil war that has raged for over twenty years. While a semblance of law and order has been restored to much of the country, reports of bomb blasts in the capital Mogadishu in recent weeks shows that the country remains overwhelmingly dangerous and insecure.

The African Union's AMISOM force, spearheaded by Ugandan troops, can take credit for driving out the al-Shabab group from the capital Mogadishu and helping to create a more stable environment for the new government but few can say with confidence that the war is even close to over. Nevertheless, street lights are returning to the capital, along with Somalis from the disapora, as optimism returns to try and help rebuild a county, shattered by endless fighting.

Mali

From the rubble of the war in Libya that ousted Muammar Gaddafi, a Tuareg rebellion grew in the north of Mali. The rebellion was not an aberration; the Sahel region has experienced such rebellions in the name of a Tuareg homeland in the past. This time however, Tuareg people, fresh from fighting alongside Gaddafi in Libya and emboldened by his weapons took on the Malian government.

As the battle for territory raged between Tuareg militia and the Malian army, Mali, once hailed as an exemplar of African democracy was then thrown into disarray in March 2012 when a group of low ranked soldiers mutinied in protest over a lack of equipment to fight the rebels in the north and overthrew the government. In the chaos, the Malian army lost more and more territory until the rebels fighting in the North declared an independent state.

Tuareg rebels, with the help of other self-proclaimed religious and secular rebel groups - some allegedly linked to al-Qaeda - managed to secure the north until the Tuaregs themselves were dislodged by this umbrella of religious and secular groups who spoke of a larger ambition to take the capital Bamako. Fearing a complete take over of the country, French forces, backed by Chadian troops entered the north and managed to drive off the fighters from the main northern towns. The fighting has dislodged hundreds of thousands of people in a region already fraught with political instability.

In May, it was announced that talks will resume between the Tuareg and the Malian government though the fighting in the North continues. Chad has pulled out its troops from Mali, as has Nigeria. Chad's attentions have turned to quelling the instability in the Central African Republic and the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has left Abuja with an unenviable dilemma.

The UN Security Council has approved a peacekeeping force for Mali but it remains to be seen which African states will actually be able to provide troops for the force. So once more, Africa may have to look outside the continent for help. France has already promised to commit troops to the peacekeeping force and China too, has indicated its willingness to help.

Zimbabwe

The year 2013 is crucial for Zimbabwe. Five years after the establishment of a fragile coalition government, Zimbabweans are set to go to the polls to elect a new government. The five-year coalition government made up of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai's Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) party, expires on June 29.

According to law, elections have to follow within three months. A new constitution was signed on May 23, clipping presidential terms.

Zimbabweans are bracing themselves for what may be a turbulent few months. The last election marred by political violence and corruption plunged the country into the economic doldrums. The 89-year-old president Robert Mugabe can still be president for a further three terms according to the new constitution; a scenario which is not altogether impossible. The MDC has been significantly weakened by infighting and Tsvangarai's reputation has been tarnished by revelations of his colourful love life.

Nigeria

Since 2009, varying factions of the Boko Haram group have terrorised the county's north. Around two thousand people are said to have died as a result of the activities of the group, including assassinations and bombings of government and places of worship, especially churches. The group wants to establish Islamic law in Nigeria and is essentially a revolt against the government of President Goodluck Jonathan.

In May, the Nigerian government ordered a military operation, using helicopters and fighter jets to bombard Boko Haram camps, resulting in thousands fleeing into Niger and Cameroon. It remains to be seen however, if Boko Haram can be bombed into submission, of the rule of law.

Central African Republic

Following months of instability in the Central African Republic (CAR), President Francois Bozize was overthrown on 24 March 2013 by a coalition of rebel groups called Seleka. Thirteen South African soldiers, stationed in the capital Bangui, were killed as rebels over ran the country's armed forces. Several hundred rebel soldiers died in the encounter but Seleka was still able to wrest power from Bozize, who they accused of reneging on previous agreements. It was the country's fifth coup since independence - Bozize, too had come to power through a coup.

Self-declared president Michel Djotodia said he would lead the government until elections in 2014. The UN said in May the country was falling into complete disarray and human rights organisations have documented severe violations by the rebels. The central African regional body is set to deploy a stabilisation force to CAR but the threat of further conflict has not been diminished. Several other rebel groups operate in the hinterlands of CAR unhindered, including Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army.

Madagascar

Madagascar has been a crucial test case for African diplomacy. After Marc Ravalomanana was ousted in a coup by rival Andriy Rajoelina four years ago, the country has been in limbo and it has been up to African diplomats to resolve the crisis. Sanctions imposed by the international community have crippled the economy, and the donors on which the country used to rely have halted aid. The price of basic goods has increased dramatically, unemployment is up, and four-fifths of households live under the poverty threshold of $1.25 a day. While Ravalomanana languishes in exile in South Africa, his rivalry with Rajoelina continues to define the highly charged political landscape.

Ravalomanana and Rajoelina have however agreed to an AU brokered roadmap for peace, including elections. Madagascar's independent electoral commission and the UN originally planned to hold a presidential election in early May 2013, but postponed the election until late July 2013, citing logistical delays.

The road map has not been followed to the letter in any case. One of its major provisions was that Ravalomanana, be allowed to return to Madagascar from South African exile without being arrested. Rajoelina has subsequently backtracked on this commitment, and Ravalomanana remains in exile. And while both Ravalomanana and Rajoelina agreed not to contest the upcoming election, it will be Ravalomanana's wife who will contest the vote. Rajoelina himself, in violation of his previous commitment to withdraw from the race has announced himself as a candidate. Elections are still set to be held in July but few believe they will bring a lasting solution to the political stalemate.

Western Sahara

The struggle for independence of the Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara has been described as the last anticolonial struggle in Africa.

Several protests have been held in the disputed territory since the Security Council passed a resolution on 25 April which extended the UN peacekeeping mission for another year but omitted a Washington-backed proposal to broaden its mandate to include rights monitoring.

Morocco, which annexed the former Spanish territory in 1975 in a move never recognised by the international community, lobbied furiously to have the US rights monitoring proposal dropped.

Dozens of protesters were wounded when a pro-independence protest turned violent a day after the UN vote. And the protest movement has only gathered momentum since. Hundreds of pro-independence Sahrawi activists also marched in Laayoune, the Western Sahara's largest city, early in May in the biggest such protest in recent decades. Clashes between security forces and Sahrawi protesters ensued resulting in injuries among activists and the police.

Morocco has proposed broad autonomy under its sovereignty but this is rejected by Polisario Front rebels, who took up arms to fight for an independent state until the United Nations negotiated a ceasefire in 1991. The Polisario insist on the Sahrawis' right to a UN-monitored referendum on self-determination.

Morocco is currently said to be on a charm offensive to reconcile with the African Union, three decades after leaving the organisation over a dispute over its occupation of Western Sahara. Tunisia is rumoured to be lobbying for Morocco's return to the organisation but several African states, including South Africa and Algeria are vehemently opposed to Morocco's inclusion.

Guinea Bissau

On 22 May the United Nations Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations political mission in Guinea-Bissau. The mission is meant to assist in finding solutions to the political and economic crisis currently being exacerbated by additional challenges posed by drug trafficking and money laundering. Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has been embroiled in political strife. The country has suffered a civil war and has also been the victim of frequent coups. It has a massive foreign debt and an economy that relies heavily on foreign aid.

In the most recent carnation of a coup in the country, a group of soldiers seized power on 12 April 2012. The coup detat came ahead of a presidential run-off election that was slated for 22 April between Carlos Gomes Junior and a former President, Kumba Yala, prompting calls from the international community for a return to civilian rule.

A fresh round of elections is expected to be held in November 2013.

Online Discussion

On the one hand you have unresolved conflict, alleged corruption and a dishonest broker. On the other you have peacekeeping missions, government accountability and community engagement. As the African Union prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, debate over its triumphs and failures grows. So what will be the legacy of the AU? And what role has it played in fostering Pan-Africanism?

For more online discussions about this event, visit the Stream

The African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia [Getty Images]

Timeline of the AU