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Inside Story

African Union: Questioning the legacy

As African governments celebrate 50 years of unity, we ask if the AU has really served its people.

Last Modified: 25 May 2013 10:28
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The African Union is celebrating its 50th anniversary, but after half a century is this institution still relevant?

The organisation has promoted solidarity and economic co-operation across the continent, but has it really served the people of Africa?

 I believe that this time, celebrating 50 years of African unity should be a sober moment, not to be championing what has been achieved but looking ahead and ensuring that indeed, this time around, Africa takes the reins of its leaderships.

Adama Gaye, the founder of Newforce Africa

While African leaders meet in Addis Ababa to celebrate their achievements and try to work out a way forward, it is a good time to take stock of the organisation.

Its supporters say the AU has helped draw the continent together while its critics say it is a club of leaders more interested in protecting each other than dealing with problems.

A new report by the Africa Progress Panel, chaired by Kofi Annan, says the continent is failing to benefit from its huge mineral wealth.

It also says Africa has been riding a wave of rising commodity prices, and with surging Chinese demand for minerals, export prices have been driven to new highs.

That should be good news for African nations.

But the report says that many Africans are still as poor as they ever were - despite their countries' new riches. The reason for that is rising inequality.

Well-managed resource wealth could lift millions of Africans out of poverty but that is not happening. The report identifies two reasons why: First, many foreign companies in Africa are not paying the taxes they should be; Africa loses twice as much in illicit financial outflows as it receives in international aid. And secondly, African countries still export unprocessed raw materials.

Governments and foreign companies should develop ways to process raw materials before export, so that local people benefit, the report says.

So, how successful has the AU been in promoting pan-African unity? And what is its mandate? Has it moved from fostering economic co-operation and integration to conflict resolution? And how successful has it been at both?

To answer these questions, Inside Story, with presenter Stephen Cole, is joined by guests: Shadrack Gutto, a professor of African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa; Adama Gaye, the CEO and founder of Newforce Africa - an Africa China Consulting Group; and Alex Vines, the head of the Africa programme at Chatham House.

"It is an important moment to celebrate ... many things have changed: most of Africa is decolonised, impressive growth rates and there are many less wars and conflicts - so Africa has much to celebrate this Sunday ... this is very much a celebration of the pan-African vision that goes back into the last century."

- Alex Vines, Chatham House

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Al Jazeera
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