African Union

Africa’s Questionable Expansion of Regional Political Organizations

Africa is noted for cooperation among its many countries. All African states belong to the African Union (AU), although four are currently suspended due to recent military coups (Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea). Owing in part to the AU, and its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, Africa has few conflicts among is internationally recognized sovereign states, although it has many conflicts within them. The AU defines Africa broadly, seeking to promote solidarity and cohesion across both the continent and the nearby island countries of the Atlantic and Indians oceans.

The African Union also seeks to promote economic growth and cooperation among its member states, mainly through on its ambitious New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). A cornerstone of NEPAD is the creation and strengthening of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), groups of neighboring countries designed to foster economic integration. In theory, such smaller organizations can cooperate more effectively than the union as a whole. The eight officially recognized RECs (mapped below) are described as the “building blocks” of the AU and its grand developmental vision. In addition, six other African political-economic blocks have not received official AU recognition. (Four of these unofficial groups are depicted in the final map in the series posted below; note that the Indian Ocean Commission also an includes France, which is not shown on the map, although two of its overseas departments, Mayotte and Réunion, are.)

Although economic cooperative among neighboring countries can help propel economic and social development, the utility of Africa’s RECs is questionable. Several of them continue to add new members, becoming unwieldly in the process. Overlap is now pronounced. Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that hardly manages to govern itself, now belongs to four of these “communities.” Barely functional Somalia belongs to three and has applied for membership in a fourth. Several of the RECs have expanded well beyond the regions that supposedly define them. Consider CEN-SAD: The Community of Sahel-Saharan States. As can be seen on the map posted below, its original members were all located in the Sahara-Sahel belt, a region faced with many similar environmental and economic challenges. But CEN-SAD now includes countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone that are far removed from the hyper-arid Sahara and the semi-arid Sahel located immediately south of the great desert.

The main problem with Africa’s regional-political approach to economic development is that it is relatively expensive and requires a lot of attention from governmental officials who might be better off focusing on domestic issues. Such complications are noted in several relevant Wikipedia articles. The one on the RECs mentions that “multiple and confusing membership creates duplication and sometimes competition in activities, while placing additional burdens on already over-stretched foreign affairs staff to attend all the various summits and other meetings.” The article on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development has more pointed wording:

More recently, NEPAD has also been criticised by some of its initial backers, including notably Senegalese President Abdoulaya Wade who accused NEPAD of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and achieving nothing. Like many other intergovernmental bodies, NEPAD suffers from slow decision-making, and a relatively poorly resourced and often cumbersome implementing framework. The great lack of information about the day-to-day activities of the NEPAD secretariat—the website is notably uninformative—does not help its case.

Creating such regional organizations is a tempting and understandable developmental strategy. Doing so makes it seem as if African leaders are deeply committed to peace, international cooperation, and economic betterment. But such a strategy can easily be overextended, with rapidly diminishing utility as the number of organizations and their geographical coverage increases. It would seem that such a situation has been reached in Africa.

Somaliland’s Quest for Recognition

Although Somaliland is well governed when contrasted with the rest of Somalia, all is not well in the breakaway republic. On May 4, 2010, StrategyPage warned that “Somaliland is sliding towards civil war.” Such an assessment may be unduly harsh, but Somaliland’s much-touted democracy did lose some credibility recently when a government-run radio station linked the main opposition party to Al Shabaab, the extreme Islamist militia inflicting havoc across southern and central Somalia. The opposition group denied the allegation, arguing that the report had “seriously dinted [sic] the image of top figures in Somaliland’s political landscape.” More troubling in the long run has been the failure to hold elections after Dahir Rayale’s presidential term expired in May 2008. Yet another postponement in September 2009 brought threats of a political boycott by rival parties.

Despite such problems, Somaliland’s election appears to be on track for June 2010. Official ballot boxes arrived from Denmark on April 19, and biometric voter registration cards are currently being issued. One of the main campaign issues is the country’s lack of international legitimacy. Candidate Faisal Ali Warabe has promised that, if elected, he will make the breakthrough: “The name Somaliland is not even known in 10 countries in Africa, and I will guarantee the people of Somaliland that if I am elected as the next President of Somaliland I will promise that I will achieve recognition for our country, and my words are final and by doing this I will do all means and ways and I know easy tricks to do that.”

Gaining even limited international recognition will likely prove more difficult than Faisal Ali Warabe anticipates. But it is not entirely out of the question. In March 2010, reports circulated that Israel was considering recognizing the de facto country. Such rumors provoked the Arab League – of which Somalia is a member, despite its miniscule Arab population – to call vaguely for “diplomatic action” against Israel. The Egyptian government in particular has reacted firmly: “Egypt is a friend of the Somali people,” proclaimed Cairo’s ambassador to Somalia, “[and] it will never allow the disintegration and division of Somalia.” The fact that Somalia did indeed disintegrate in 1991 and has been divided ever since has apparently made little impression on the ambassador.

Some high-level members of the United States military establishment have floated the idea of recognition. In 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed the issue on a visit to neighboring Djibouti, a key U.S. ally in the volatile region. “Somaliland is an entity that works,” reported a senior defense official. Another official supposedly claimed that the Pentagon favored formal acknowledgement: “Somaliland should be independent… We should build up the parts that are functional and box in Somalia’s unstable regions, particularly around Mogadishu.” The State Department, however, disagrees strongly. Not wanting to be seen as meddling in African affairs, the U.S. government has consistently deferred to the African Union, which rejects recognition. As Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi E. Frazer put it, “We do not want to get ahead of the continental organization on an issue of such importance.”

Somaliland’s closest relations are with neighboring Ethiopia. Landlocked Ethiopia depends heavily on Somaliland’s port facilities in Berbera, and seeks to leverage its influence in Somaliland to counter the threat of radical Islamists elsewhere in the region. In June 2007, an official Ethiopian communiqué referred to the leader of the breakaway republic as the “President of Somaliland,” implying sovereignty. But as long as the African Union denies recognition, Ethiopia – home of the AU’s secretariat ­– is unlikely to formally grant it. The same is true of the European Union and its member states.

Somaliland faces additional challenges in its struggles against Puntland, another governmental entity that has emerged out of the wreckage of Somalia.More on that in tomorrow’s post.