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AU democracy record ‘poor’, activists say on anniversary

Flags hoisted at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo/ FILE

Flags hoisted at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo/ FILE

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 25 – As the world marked Africa Day which commemorates the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, a civil society coalition accused its successor, the African Union, of doing next to nothing to espouse democratic principles.

National Co-ordinating chairman of Action/2015, Stephen Cheboi, said in its 52 years of existence, the AU had remained silent as African leaders extended their terms in office often leading to civil strife.

The recent unrest in Burundi, following Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement that he would seek a third term as president, was cited as a case in point.

“Simply advising that the election be postponed is nothing. How does it address the grievances of protestors in Burundi who are clearly opposed to Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term? But the AU is very careful to say nothing in so may words because its members, led by its Chairman, lack the moral authority to do so,” Cheboi said in reference to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe who has been in office since the former British colony attained its independence in 1980.

Sovereignty and popularity, Cheboi argued, were not reasons good enough for the AU to hide behind in not meeting its objective to, “promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance.”

“Timelines should matter. You should leave office while popular; not refuse to exit because you are popular as is the case in Rwanda and Uganda. Museveni is very vocal during AU Summits when it comes to the International Criminal Court but not when it comes to terms in office because it’s not politically expedient,” Cheboi accused.

The AU’s failure to require political accountability from its members, Cheboi continued to argue, had also allowed corruption to take root on the continent and therefore contributed to, in his opinion, its failure to effectively promote the continent’s and not individuals’ economic prosperity – another of its core functions.

“In a nutshell, the AU has only existed to promote the interests of heads of states and by extension, impunity. We should borrow a leaf from the European Union which requires fiscal responsibility from its members and those who seek to become a part of it,” Cheboi compared.

That position was not shared by Mugabe who in his Africa Day statement as AU Chair, said the union had been meeting its primary objective of promoting Pan-Africanism and would in five years, be well on its way to attaining independence from international donors.

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