African Journal on Conflict Resolution Volume 12, Number 2, 2012: Special Issue on the African Union


Jannie Malan

This is a special issue on the African Union (AU), published in the year when our continental Union is celebrating ten years of its existence. The articles included in this issue are not focused on mere birthday praises and wishes, however. They contain frank descriptions and discussions of problems, policies and procedures. They do acknowledge improvements and successes, but they also deal with challenges and failures.

There have indeed been successes and failures. This is very understandable, since ‘unity’ can never be just a simple, straightforward ideal. It is always challenged and complicated by the realities of diversity and disunity.

Unity, and particularly African unity, has been the main ideal not only of the AU over one decade, but also of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), over almost four decades. In fact, the name of the original Organisation proclaimed the conviction that the unity already existed. The Organisation was not established as one aspiring for or towards African Unity, but as one entrusted with guardianship of African Unity. In spite of such optimistic idealism, however, the Founding Fathers were very realistic about phenomena and forebodings of disunity. They headed their list of purposes with promoting unity and solidarity, and coordinating cooperation (OAU 1963: art. II), but they also established a Commission of Mediation, Conciliation and Arbitration (OAU 1963: art. XIX). Mainly due to observance of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs (OAU 1963: art. III), however, it had to be admitted thirty years later that ‘the Commission has been virtually dormant since its establishment’ (OAU 1993:5). Then, in 1993, the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution was established. This signalled ‘Africa’s determination to solve its own problems’ and its commitment ‘to work together towards the peaceful and speedy resolution of all conflicts on the continent’ (OAU 1993:2). This Mechanism brought about more action, but was still bound by the principle of non-interference. It was equipped with an Early Warning System and was especially focused on conflict prevention.