The 55-member African Union elected a new secretary-general, a Chadian former foreign minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, in January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Even though Mr. Faki leads an organization that represents countries whose combined population is estimated at 1.3 billion, his election received little or no attention in the Western media, presumably preoccupied with their own internal national torments.
Mr. Faki succeeded Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, an ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, believed to have been being groomed in the AU post to succeed him as president of South Africa. Her lackluster performance in four years at the AU and Mr. Zuma’s own corrupt, belabored performance in South Africa may have doomed that effort for now.
The other major development at the semi-annual summit was the return to membership in an all-Africa organization of Morocco. It had dropped out of the Organization of African Unity in 1984 in a snit over the OAU’s recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as the government of Western Sahara, which Morocco claims for itself and continues to occupy.
Former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker was once the United Nations special envoy assigned to trying to sort out the Western Sahara problem but gave up the project as basically hopeless. The SADR is now cross at the AU for having let Morocco back in, and, in effect, off the hook on Western Sahara. Morocco apparently decided that it didn’t make sense to continue to boycott the AU as an in-principle Africa-wide body.
The OAU and, since 2001, its successor organization, the AU, have consistently been ineffectual in tackling even Africa’s continental or cross-border problems. This has been due to two factors. The first is that it never has any money. Countries have not contributed to it generously, even with sums appropriate to their own resources. Examples are the oil producers — Nigeria, Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo or other wealthier African states such as Kenya and South Africa.
The second problem of the OAU and now the AU is that the 55 African states have shown a consistent reluctance to give up an ounce of sovereignty to the continental organization, preferring to hold onto their separate, frequently economically inviable slivers of the continent, forgoing a larger, continental approach to some of its problems.
Those problems are severe and current. Famine is prevailing in at least three countries, South Sudan, Somalia and northeastern Nigeria. The disease Ebola struck in 2014 in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Multination war is underway in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon with the Islamic extremist organization Boko Haram. Somalia has been at war, with international spillover, since 1991. Words like “genocide” are seeping out of the situation in South Sudan. Immigration is becoming an increasingly serious problem in South Africa. Peacekeeping forces are still on site in the Central African Republic, the DRC, Mali and Somalia.
The list seems endless. The AU and Africans in general continue to appeal to the rest of the world for help in solving these problems, in the form of the United Nations and the United States, which has troops all over Africa, with a concentration of thousands of them at the U.S. base in Djibouti, in the northeastern Horn of Africa.
Mr. Faki may be able to do more than Ms. Dlamini-Zuma did, but that remains to be seen, given the basic facts that govern the AU.