When the African Union (AU) was established in July 2002, there were a lot of loud and boisterous statements about shunning the intervention of external countries, such as the US and the UK, and the enthronement of African solutions to African problems.
Over two decades later, the AU cannot even be called a shadow of itself because it never, at any point, lived up to the boasts and promises that the African leaders made. Instead, it still continues to play second and third fiddle to the same external countries it vowed to push out of the scene.
Truth be told, the failure of the African Union cannot be better described by any word except Abysmal and mighty disappointing. The crisis in Sudan is one of the most recent and glaring failures of the AU that not only Africa, but the entire world can see.
While the AU sat in an undignified silence, the United States and Saudi Arabia led a negotiation into the deadly conflict in Sudan on April 24th, bringing about a 72-hour ceasefire between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) nine days after the crisis had been raging.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released the statement on the ceasefire, adding that the United States would coordinate with regional and international partners to achieve a permanent peace agreement.
If that statement wasn’t shameful enough, Blinken reached out to the AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki two days later to talk about how to end the fight in Sudan. After the conversation, he released yet another statement informing the world that they had agreed upon the necessity of the AU’s continued leadership in ensuring that the warring groups cease military operations and allow humanitarian access without any impositions.
Once again, the US had to not only wake the AU up but also tell it what it should do to safeguard its African country. The US had stepped up again to lead the global response unapologetically, while the AU continued to sit idly, watching the flames of war unfold under its watch as it made empty and baseless comments on what should be, and what shouldn’t.
Again, the United States had climbed onto the scene, and the AU had no role to play, except at face value.
To be fair, there were some African efforts aimed towards easing the violence, but in the end, they turned out to be all talk. The current AU Chairman Azali Assoumani said he spoke on the phone with SAF head General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF chief General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, on April 23 and 25, in what he called rich, constructive, and promising deliberations, hinting that the AU was on its way to returning peace to Sudan. But we never heard anything about these conversations and their effects until the US and Saudi Arabia brokered the much-needed peace, however temporary.
Even as peace talks started in Jeddah on May 6, still led by the US and Saudi, the AU was conspicuously absent in both planning and engaging in the discourse. Shamelessly, it tried to insert itself onto the scene by releasing a statement, not with updates on what it had done, but to make over-flogged speeches about why a ceasefire was necessary for Sudan in line with International Human Rights Law.
When the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan was signed and published on May 11, not a single African power or AU leader’s name was mentioned; meaning that they did nothing to contribute to the declaration.
Since the start of the crisis until now, you can see how the AU has turned into a helpless spectator who releases empty words of concern and admonishment while leaving the real intervention up to the same outside powers it has vehemently contended against over the years.
While the crisis raged on, the heads of African states were too busy preparing for and travelling to the United Kingdom to attend the coronation of King Charles III on May 6.
When they returned, they were welcomed by reports and concerns expressed by the United Nations and international aid agencies about the terrible situation of Sudanese civilians who ran for safety into Chad, but the African leaders didn’t swing into action to ensure their security and welfare.
One must ask, is the AU’s failure to stop the Sudan crisis, or at least play a key role in all the negotiations and collaborations towards ending the crisis not a sign that the AU’s purpose, which was to strengthen democracy in Africa and entrench a human rights culture; as well as conflict prevention and settlement has been a failure and mere wishful thinking with no work to show any iota of sincere interest or willingness to make things change.
The conflicts in Sudan over the years have been the perfect stage upon which the AU performed its international disgrace as it did nothing to end any of them.
When the Sudanese government and rebel groups in Darfur had a crisis in 2003, spreading into several years and displacing over 2.5 million while killing over 300,000 people, the AU sat still and was mute.
Sudan’s leader at the time, al-Bashir recruited Janjaweed militias, which have now become the RSF, and offered them millions in funding, as well as weapons and ammunition.
However, when the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted al-Bashir for genocide in 2009, the AU failed to get al-Bashir to face the consequences of the court verdict. Instead, they spewed a lot of rubbish about protecting African leaders from unfair treatment. The AU even insisted that peace in South Sudan and the Darfur region was tied to al-Bashir.
If that wasn’t enough insult to Africa and a major dent in what the AU stands for, the union still endorsed April 2015 which was described as a sham as al-Bashir won by 94% following the boycotting of the election by the opposition. Yet, the AU described the abomination of an election as “the expression of the will of the voters of Sudan”.
When the nationwide protests began and the Sudanese army and the RSF came together to usurp power from al-Bashir after a torturous 30-year-rule, the AU turned its back on international law and cooperation, abandoned the people of Sudan, and treated the democratic norms and values enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights with disdain and disgust, while choosing to protect the tyrannical dictator.
It was the same illiberal Janjaweed militias that al-Bashir formalised into the RSF, which played a role in the military coup that ousted Bashir in April 2019. The same RSF took part in the military coup of October 2021 that overthrew the transitional government of Sudan and destroyed the attempts at a transition to democracy.
Yet again, the RSF has gone to war with the repressive Sudanese army and sent Sudan, and the AU is doing nothing other than re-stating and reposting the gains and successes of the US and other external unions while turning a blind eye to the suffering, death, destruction, and massive disregard to the rule of law, human rights, and the sanctity of human life.
It is unfortunate to say that the AU has sat still and watched Sudan being treated like some troubled outpost, rather than a part of Africa where it should be championing peace.
If the AU truly believes that Africans ought to seek and implement African solutions to African problems, then it must get up from its comatose and fulfil its mandate and promises to the African continent. This failure cannot continue, otherwise, Africans might as well go back to the time when the AU never existed.