By Prince Kurupati
The AU has faced a lot of criticism chief among them being its inability to deal decisively during times of crisis and in some occasions, its inability to do what it is supposed to do i.e. help the African people during their time of need. As such, many label the AU an organization of the wealthy only.
It is in light of this that many have called upon the AU to start taking a more proactive approach in improving the lives of African people and in protecting African lives. When it comes to the latter i.e. protecting African lives, scholars have particularly advised the AU to intervene at the earliest during a humanitarian crisis.
In the past week, an opportunity arose for the AU to demonstrate to Africa that it is now standing with the African people as security forces in Zimbabwe descended heavily on protesters leading to the death of 12 people. With many more others mercilessly beaten and tortured, it was the opportune time for AU to intervene or at the very least condemn the violence. However, Africa’s continental body remained quiet and to this day, not even a single Tweet has come from the AU addressing the violence witnessed in Zimbabwe last week.
AU’s silence is not just surprising but it is also a major cause of concern for African people from other countries. the stance taken by the AU to remain quiet effectively means that the people are on their own if ever they clash with their governments as they can simply not bank on the continental body to intervene on their behalf.
AU’s silence not only helps in distancing the continental body from the African people but in recent times, it is now alienating the AU from other actors on the continent particularly civil society groups as well as opposition political parties (specifically those that emerged after the liberation struggles). A case in point is the move taken by South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) which threatened to approach the ICC in response to Zimbabwe government’s brutal crackdown on protesters. Threatening to approach the ICC while ‘jumping’ the AU aptly demonstrates how certain actors have lost faith in the AU as a peacemaking and peace-building organization.
AU’s decision to remain quiet was not helped either by the decision taken by the UN in condemning all acts of violence in Zimbabwe (particularly aimed at the security forces who applied maximum force on unarmed civilians including children).
Speaking to journalists in Geneva at the regular biweekly press briefing, Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that, “We (UN) are deeply troubled by the socio-economic crisis that is unfolding in Zimbabwe and the repression of large-scale protests in the country, following the Government’s decision to increase fuel prices…We call on the Government to find ways of engaging with the population about their legitimate grievances and to stop the crackdown against protesters…The bottom line is that the use of live ammunition by security forces was used, excessive force was used…This is not the way to react to the expression of economic grievances by the population.”
AU’s quiet diplomacy may have worked in the past but the organization needs to accept that it no longer works now. The more it remains quiet in times of ‘need’, the more African people and actors will continue losing confidence in the body. Ultimately, this spells doom for the future of the organization.