(Mehari Taddele Maru[1])



This article investigates Ethiopia’s contributions to and its influence in the AU. It also explains and analyses the role its leaders have played in the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and in the African Union (AU). Since most of the important initiatives by Ethiopia on the peace and security of the Horn of Africa are advanced and implemented through IGAD and passed to the AU, indirectly, Ethiopia’s influence on the AU reflects also its role in the IGAD.

Ethiopia has made major contributions to the OAU/AU in five areas. Firstly, Ethiopia’s historical background served as the seedbed from which the Pan-African solidarity movement drew inspiration that culminated in the creation of the OAU in 1963. Secondly, Ethiopia extended enormous political support for various anti-colonial and anti-Apartheid struggles in Africa, including in military training, material and diplomatic support to liberation movements in countries South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia.[2] As the first independent black African nation to be a member of the League of Nations and also as a founding member of the UN, Ethiopia promoted and defended the interest of Africa in various global forums of the UN. Together with Liberia, Ethiopia indicted the South African Apartheid Government at the International Court of Justice. Thirdly, since the 1950s in the Korean War and the Congo crisis, Ethiopia was one of the top troop contributing African countries to the UN and AU peacekeeping missions. The recent peacekeeping mission in the disputed area of Abyei, entirely composed of Ethiopia’s troops, is unique in the history of peacekeeping for various reasons. Ethiopia has also made significant contributions to mediation efforts, particularly in crises that occur in its neighbourhood particularly in Somalia and Sudan.

Fourthly, as the host of the Headquarters of the AU and the seat of various multilaterally and bilaterally accredited missions, delegations and institutions, Addis Ababa is the diplomatic hub of Africa, which, in the words of its current foreign policy strategy document, enables Ethiopia to “carry a special responsibility for the organization [the AU].”[3] Close to 500 embassies, diplomatic missions and international organizations from all over the world accredited to the AU and Ethiopia make Addis Ababa one of the five biggest diplomatic concentrations in the world. Fifthly, based on capacity to pay and GDP, Ethiopia regularly pays its assessed contribution of USD 1.4 million per year to the AU. While, forty-three Member States currently owe the Commission membership payments, Ethiopia is one of eleven AU Member States that have not only fully paid their contributions for 2013, but also one of five that have made advance payments.[4] In addition to the assessed financial contributions to the AU annually, Ethiopia not only provided land and the old buildings where the AU is hosted, but also offered all the human and physical facilities that the OAU required in its earliest times.

Addis Ababa hosts permanent representatives of the AU member states and other states, accredited diplomatic missions such as the United States, the European Union, China, India, Brazil and the United Nations agencies and other international multilateral and humanitarian organizations. The US and EU have two heads of delegations, an Ambassador to Ethiopia and a Permanent Representative to the AU. The number of foreign diplomatic representatives can be expected to increase in the near future. Addis Ababa hosts many ministerial and presidential conferences, and the AU Summit on attracts an average

7000 diplomatic delegates, of whom more than 40 are heads of state.[5] Ethiopia also hosts the Headquarters of the East African Standby Brigade and contributes troops to the brigade.

What is more the paper argues that the role and influence of Ethiopia in the IGAD, the AU and even at global level have been boosted by Emperor Haile Sellassie, and the late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, two Ethiopian leaders with diametrically different leadership attributes. While the role played by Emperor Haile Sellassie stems from the history of Ethiopia and its strong anti-colonial and anti-apartheid position, and his charismatic personality and his stay in power for forty years, the late Prime Minister’s role has to do more with his personal competence, his two decades terms of office and his alliance with bot the west and the east. Both of them managed to play very important roles on the international platform while facing stiff resistance at home and accusation of their government’s bad record of human rights. How did they manage to exude such confidence at regional and international level without the same degree of internal support? In this regard, the paper explains how the intellectual competence, persuasion skills, Pan-African disposition, personal ambition and the trust a leader enjoys from his peers and the international community determine the role and influence a country may have on the AU. It argues that leaders significantly augment the influence a country enjoys in these regional and global governance institutions. Accordingly, the article argues that as late Prime Minister enjoyed huge influence in the AU, IGAD and global forums, Ethiopia’s influence has significantly increased in the past eight years or so.

By focusing on post-Meles Ethiopia, this article also questions whether Ethiopia’s new leadership has the will and the capacity to maintain or change the role of Ethiopia in the AU and IGAD. In this regard, it will be a serious challenge for the new leadership of Ethiopia, under Prime Minister Haliemariam Desalgne, to fill the large diplomatic shoes of the late Prime Minister. Irrespective of the personalities of its leaders, Ethiopia’s influence in the IGAD and the AU will continue to grow due to its history, large population, strategic geographic location, military strength and promising economic performance in recent times. In conclusion, the paper argues, in order to maintain the influential position of Ethiopia in the AU and IGAD, in addition to filling the gap that the Prime Minister has left in the regional and global setting, the new leadership has to maintain not only the extraordinary delivery of developmental services, but also to significantly improve the democratic and human rights space without which maintenance of power will prove much more difficult than before.

Photo - African Union Headquarters [Credit: Tong Ji Architectural Design]
Photo – African Union Headquarters [Credit: Tong Ji Architectural Design]

Ethiopia’s role in the OAU and its transformation to the AU

The end of the Cold War offered African leaders an opportunity to seek African solutions to the various African problems. In the early 1990s, Africa experienced civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Central African Republic and Guinea Bissau. Genocide in Rwanda; state failure in Somalia; and secessionist movements in Sudan became real challenges to the new and old African leadership, demanding urgent attention and action. African conflicts became more intra-state and less inter-state with localized manifestations and coverage, rather than civil wars that engulfed an entire country. As a result, Africa witnessed three times more internal displacement than refugees. The humanitarian crises in Somalia[6] and Darfur[7] were the worst, with more than 300,000 deaths and 4.7 IDPs and refugees.[8] To meet these challenges, the institutional transformation of the OAU to the AU began with the declaration of the OAU Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Governments in September, 1999, in Sirte, Libya.[9] Indicative of the purpose, the title and theme of the Summit, “strengthening OAU Capacity to enable it to meet the Challenges of the New Millennium,” was to amend the OAU Charter in order to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the OAU.[10] This extraordinary summit, and later the AU Constitutive Act, shifted the mission and vision of the OAU, mainly from an organization of anti-colonial solidarity, to the more interventionist and integrationist AU. An extension of the OAU, the conspicuous interventionist and integrationist normative and institutional frameworks of the AU marks its departure from the OAU.

Ethiopia’s Influence in IGAD and AU

Generally speaking countries impact the peace and security, economy and trade as well as social and political life of their immediate neighbouring countries and region. Practically speaking, such influence varies from one country to another. Some countries influence their region more portentously than others. Some countries like Nigeria (in ECOWAS) and South Africa (in SADC) exercise an ominous hegemon role, while others such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana and Algeria have key and influential roles in their respective regions and beyond.

A country with troubled internal political history and located in a region plagued with violent internal and external conflicts, Ethiopia faced serious foreign aggression to its independence from Italy, Egypt, and Britain. Emanating from its history, Ethiopia tends to make use of multilateral solutions and institutions to pursue its interest and address its concerns. This has contributed to the fact that the Horn of Africa, unlike the other regions, remains free from fear of being dominated by a country. Consequently, Ethiopia enjoys peaceful relation with Kenya, Djibouti, South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan. Ethiopia faced security threats from its neighbours particularly Somalia, Egypt and its former northern region, Eritrea. Since Said Barre’s regime that leads to the border war of 1977, Ethiopia has been a victim of terrorist attacks and Jihad declaration from Somalian violent extremist Al Itihad Al Islamyia and the Union of Islamic Courts as well as Al Shabaab. Ethiopia has been in a state of war with Eritrea since the 1998 border conflict. The rivalry with Egypt over the Nile has also destabilized Ethiopia for long time and has increased the threats to its peace and development. Thus, Ethiopia understands that peace and security in the region would be best achieved through collective regional and international mechanism.

Contributions of Ethiopia to Peace and Security in Africa and Beyond

Since the establishment of the UN and later OAU and AU, Ethiopia has successfully participated in ten peacekeeping missions at continental and global level. As discussed above Ethiopia remains one of the staunch supporters of the AU’s new intervention and integration agenda. With the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA), Ethiopia currently has close to 7000 troops in various UN peacekeeping missions. This makes Ethiopia one of the top five troop contributing countries at both the African and global level. In the 1950s and 1960s, Ethiopia successfully participated in the UN peacekeeping missions in Korea and the Congo. Recently, Ethiopia also successfully participated in Rwanda, Burundi and Liberia and is participating in Darfur, and Abyei. Ethiopia’s peacekeepers have won a good continental and global reputation.[11]

Ethiopia’s engagement peace mediation under the OAU began in 1972 with the Addis Ababa Agreement that was signed between the Government of Sudan (GoS) and rebel groups in the South Sudan under the auspices of Emperor Haile Sellassie. Ethiopia, through IGAD and bilaterally, contributed significantly in the signing and implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA was a result of exhausting long dispute settlement efforts of the AU, the Inter-Governmental Development Authority (IGAD), the United Nations (UN), the United States of America (USA) and the European Union (EU). In continuity of its role in the IGAD region, Ethiopia influenced the peaceful referendum and independence of South Sudan.

Currently, it has a crucial place in the maintenance of peace in the region. It serves as a trusted partner for peacekeeping in the border areas of South Sudan and Sudan. Ethiopia is playing a vital role in the process to build a viable state in South Sudan and serving as a trusted partner for peacekeeping in the border areas of South Sudan and Sudan. Facilitated by Thabo Mbeki, chief of AU-High-level Implementation Panel, the Addis Agreement on Abyei was signed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) forces and the Government of Sudan (GoS) in Addis Ababa on 20 June, 2011. The main objective of the Addis Agreement on Abyei is to ensure that this border area remains demilitarized until proper demarcation is undertaken. The same agreement provided for the deployment of the UNISFA under the UN Security Council Resolution 1990.[12]

UNISFA entirely composed of 4250 Ethiopian troops, includes civilian police and is unique for many reasons. Unlike most peacekeeping missions in the World, UNISFA as a mono-troop contingent is entirely composed of Ethiopian peacekeeping troops. The Force Commander, Ethiopian Lieutenant General Taddesse Worede, is also the Head of the Mission. The deployment was very swift compared to other peacekeeping missions. Under normal circumstances, the deployment of troops takes a long time, as it requires convincing troop contributing countries, mobilizing resources and deployment. UNISFA was deployed on 22 July, 2011, a month after the authorization of the mission by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) under Resolution 1990 on 25 June, 2011. The UNSC Resolution 1990 also came out swiftly, three days after the conclusion of the Addis Agreement on Abyei on 20 June, 2011 under which contending parties, the GoS and GoSS, made a request for the deployment of Ethiopian peacekeeping troops. The request from the AU and UN as well as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to Ethiopia to send its troops to Abyei indicates the confidence of the international community on Ethiopia.

The main challenges to UNISFA and indirectly to Ethiopia remain maintaining the balance between the two parties while enjoying their confidence. While this peacekeeping duty is undertaken on behalf of the international community, and the UN, however, UNISFA was deployed solely due to the trust both parties put on Ethiopia. Thus, for Ethiopia UNISFA is not a usual peacekeeping mission, but also an extra burden on its foreign policy relations with both neighbouring countries. The implications of falling out of favour with any of the two parties will adversely affect UNISFA and the foreign relations of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia in IGAD

Ethiopia is one of the very few African countries that belong to a single REC that is the IGAD. Thus, Ethiopian influence in the AU must be seen in the context of its IGAD membership. Most of its important initiatives on the peace and security of the Horn of Africa are always advanced and implemented through IGAD and passed to the AU, indirectly, Ethiopia’s influence on the AU reflects also its role in the IGAD. Under the rotational chairmanship, Sudan should have been the chair of IGAD. Due to the indictment of the Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, Sudan is unable to assume the position. By default, Ethiopia has been elected as chair of IGAD for the past six years.

Ethiopian’s influence in the global and regional diplomatic circles including the UN and the AU has also helped in utilizing multilateral mechanism to pursue its interest. Excellent examples in this regard are Ethiopia’s initiatives of sanctions against Eritrea and the post facto approval of its rather unpopular but effective intervention in Somalia by the AU and the international community. The UNSC sanctions were based on the recommendations from the IGAD and approval by the AU.[13] Ethiopia also plays a critical role in in the establishment of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) in Kenya after a peace process under the auspices of the IGAD, the AU and the UN. The establishment of TFG was facilitated by IGAD in 2004, while AMISOM was spearheaded by both the IGAD first as IGAD mission in Somalia and later on the AU. With the backing of Ethiopian troops and presently African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), forces of the TFG defeated the Islamic Courts at the end of 2006. AMISOM was authorized after the withdrawal of Ethiopian army from Somalia in 2007. The 2011 incursions Ethiopian and Kenyan armies into the buffer areas in Somalia and later on the re-hatting of Kenyan army into AMISOM have helped in the Anti-Shabaab forces to expand their areas of control. This also assisted in the elections of new president and new parliament and the present optimistic situation in Somalia.

Moreover, by maintaining the balance and playing a role of trusted arbiter, Ethiopia has become the fulcrum on which the regional peace balance is maintained. For example, in the South Sudan and North Sudan conflict, Uganda declared that it would join South Sudan if the latter was attacked by North Sudan. This shows that the IGAD arrangement will not be able to constrain some countries from engaging in regional war. This also means that without the influential role of Ethiopia, IGAD member states may not have the influence they need. Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia may not have the constraining power Ethiopia has on Uganda. Demonstrative of its influence within regional and global diplomatic platforms, in all cases Ethiopia used the IGAD decision making process to request the AU and UNSC to take decisions on Somalia, Eritrea and the conflict between the two Sudan in line with its foreign policies.

Ethiopia and African Integration

Since the inception of the OAU and later on the AU, Ethiopia has been cautiously optimistic and supportive of the integrationist project of the AU.[14] Ethiopia currently prioritizes the integration within the RECs as a first step towards a continent-wide integration. It pursues a gradualist-practical integration beginning with the development of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) with a focus on the economic and market integration of the continent.[15] In recent years, Ethiopia has now better infrastructural links with Sudan, Djibouti and construction of similar links is on-going with Kenya, South Sudan, and Somaliland. Ethiopia has also begun exporting electricity to Djibouti, Republic of Sudan, and intends to do so with Kenya, Somaliland, South Sudan and Egypt. Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country and already the preeminent player in peace and security in IGAD, appears poised to become a regional economic engine.[16]Ethiopia puts more emphasis on infrastructural linkages among the countries and the complimentarily among the economies of the countries under integration.

This position of Ethiopia on integration was in direct contradiction to the late Colonel Muammar Qaddafi and his supporters’ position of an immediate establishment of the United States of Africa.[17] The sudden metamorphosis of Colonel Qaddafi from a lead promoter of Arab unity to an advocate and financier of the United States of Africa could only be explained by his frustration with the League of Arab States and his personal ambition to become a leader of the United States of Africa. To make use of African affairs in service of his private interest, he flushed the AU and some leaders with cash. Colonel Qaddafi widely introduced what a former Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the AU named ‘envelop diplomacy’.[18] He built mosques and hotels in many African countries. Libya, like South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria, financially contributed not only 15 percent (USD 16 million) of the budget of the AU, but also covered expenses of many smaller and poorer African countries and funded many AU events, including ordinary and extra-ordinary AU Summits. Accordingly, Ethiopia took strong stand against Colonel Qaddafi’s urge to integrate Africa from top, which according to Ethiopia and other African countries was unrealistic; Colonel Qaddafi began his futile and again unrealistic effort to move the headquarters of the AU from Addis Ababa to Sirte in the early inception of the AU at the beginning of 1999. When he failed to move the Headquarters to Sirte, Colonel Qaddafi wanted to host most of the summits in Libya. In doing so, he tried to make his hometown Sirte the de facto seat of the AU by building brand new facilities.

The AU rules governing the hosting of AU summits stipulates Addis Ababa, as the headquarters of the AU, which hosted the January/February summit every year. However, individual member states could request the AU summit to allow them to host the June/July summit. The rotation of the June/July summit was originally devised to cater to the pressure from Colonel Qaddafi as a compromise deal to have two summits per annum and the rotation of the June/July summits for member states to host.[19] Due to his destructive interventions in many African countries, including his support for Idi Amin of Uganda and the 1980 intervention in Chad, his support to rebel groups in Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Niger, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Liberia[20] and his unrealistic integration agenda as well as limitless personal interest, Qaddafi’s “conversion” from Pan-Arab to Pan African leader was not taken at face value. When his grand plan of making Sirte the capital of the AU and establishing a United States of Africa under his leadership, failed, Colonel Qaddafi established and funded the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) which grew to a bloc of 28 African states. Designed to serve as an alternative means of achieving his grand plan, CEN-SAD, like his other initiatives, was used as a tool to ‘blackmail’. Even though, he invited Ethiopia and Uganda several times, they were the only two IGAD member states that refused to join CEN-SAD.

Since the establishment of the AU in 2002, Ethiopia with Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda formed a bulwark to contain Qaddafi’s unrealistic plans and ambitions. In all AU Summits, the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo acted as diplomatic intermediary as did the former South African president Thabo Mbeki and the late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi; Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also strongly opposed the ambitions of Colonel Qaddafi. Dancing to the tune of Libyan dinars, some leaders such as Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal voted in support of the proposals of Colonel Qaddafi, even without ratifying any of the AU treaties that required minimal action for integration. Prime Minister Meles and President Museveni remained at the forefront of the bloc against Qaddafi when Mr Obasanjo and Mr Mbeki left office.

During the uprisings in Libya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Sudan took the most progressive position against Colonel Qaddafi. Based on their national and personal interests, they supported the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.[21] Ethiopia’s aggressively advocated the end of Colonel Qaddafi’s regime.[22] The Republic of Sudan exhibited more aggressive than others further by sending its troops and military support to the National Transitional Council (NTC). This was considered as revenge to Colonel Qaddafi’s support to many rebel groups in Darfur and elsewhere in the Sudan.[23] In a long debate at the AU Summit in Malabo in July 2011, Ethiopia’s position was vehemently opposed by South Africa and other countries, mainly on the basis of a common voice against external intervention by NATO in Libya.[24] The AU, led by South Africa and its President Jacob Zuma, decided not to recognize the NTC even after Tripoli fell under the control of NTC. Ethiopia and Nigeria issued a joint communiqué in support of the recognition of the NTC. This was a significant contribution of Ethiopia to facilitate the support of AU to end the Libyan uprisings.

Currently there is an opportunity for sombre and realistic leadership in delivering the promises of the AU. As the author has argued, “[w]ithout a doubt, the foreign policy and relations of the NTC and the future elected Libyan government will be different from that of Gaddafi. Firstly, Gaddafi’s foreign policy in Africa stems from his individualistic interest to lead a United States of Africa— a project in which he has heavily, but unsuccessfully, invested for the last decade. Libya was too small a territory and population for ‘the Brother Leader’. He needed a much bigger territory and population to lead. For the NTC, and presumably for the next elected government, Libya will still be a challenge to govern, given that some of the clans may think of establishing their own ‘emirates’. That is the reason why the AU is concerned about the territorial integrity of Libya.”[25] Libya’s current internal situation and disposition inhibit its propensity to continue playing the same role it had during Colonel Qaddafi’s rule. This reflects the incongruity between the priorities of the Libyan people and that of its former leader Colonel Qaddafi. At the same time, the AU should also take into consideration the implications of the possible withdrawal of Libya’s 15 percent contribution to the AU budget. Indeed, with the absence of Colonel Qaddafi from the AU summits, proponents of gradual integration such as the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi have gained the upper hand in the debate.[26]

Without appreciation of the current economic determinants and lack of complimentary linkages among countries, integration remains an excellent aspiration without the elements required for implementation. Indeed, without the mobilizations of the trade and economic drivers of integration such as free mobility of goods, services, capital and people, integration would be unthinkable. The vital steps towards integration should be creating an enabling policy environment in Africa through free movement protocols, less tariffs and the implementation of most of the common market treaties like that of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC).

The Role of Leaders

Despite the size of a country, leaders could and have made their countries enjoy regional power status beyond the dictates of the material power, the economy, military or other kinds of power that they actually have. Personal motivation and the competence of the leader and his/her Pan-African inclinations and ambitions constitute driving factors in the contribution and influence a country could have on the AU. The former Nigerian president, Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former South African president, Mr Thabo Mbeki, Mr John Kufuor, Emperor Haile Sellassie, and Mr Meles Zenawi played more prominent roles than most of their immediate predecessors or their successors due to their individual leadership skills, their intellectual competence and Pan-African commitment. Their long-term incumbency also allowed them to shape the agenda of the AU.

As mentioned above Rwanda and Burundi contributed significantly to the peace and security in Sudan and Somalia. For example, under Colonel Qaddafi, Libya, a small country but economically strong was prominent in the African platforms. He was a man behind the agenda of the United States of Africa. Regardless of the size of the country, personal leadership capacity and Pan-African inclinations of a leader have critical place in the provision of peace and security. The case of Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria tells of another example in the gamut of the same subject. Of course, Nigeria is a big country, but, in regard to AU and ECWOAS, his personal stand and vision towards the AU was more important as Mr. Obasanjo was a committed pan-Africanist with a policy that treated African issues as a national priority. Under his leadership, Nigeria led many mediation and peacekeeping efforts both in Africa. In contrast, due to various reasons his successor Mr. Umaru Yar’Adua was nowhere in the regional dynamics. In the same vein, Mr Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was more popular in the AU circles than in South Africa and had shown more pan-African leadership, approach and engagements than Mr. Jacob Zuma. The latter was and remains at odds with many African leaders and the policies of the AU ranging from the issue of Cote d’Iovire to Somalia. Likewise, Mr John Kufuor was active Pan-African leader of Ghana than the late Mr John Atta Mills.

Ethiopia’s direct financial contributions to the AU is only 1.5 million dollars per annum, which is one-sixteenth of the biggest five contributing countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Libya. Ethiopia’s unmatched contributions to the OAU/AU are rooted not only in Ethiopia’s historical role of being a seedbed for Pan-African movements, but also the unwavering commitment of its leaders to Pan-African causes. In spite of the serious resistance and challenges they faced in their governance at home, the leaders of Ethiopia, particularly Emperor Haile Sellassie and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi intensified the influence of Ethiopia beyond its economic and military strength. While there is congruity between the general public opinion in support of Ethiopia’s active role in the AU, nonetheless, tension still remains between Ethiopia’s internal governance problems and its leading role in the AU. How did these Ethiopian leaders like the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi managed to play such a role at international platform while facing stiff resistance at home on weak the human rights records and for failing to ensure access to the sea during the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia? This has to do more with their ability to easily exude influence and enjoy the confidence of global actors such as the AU/OAU and UN, and dominant powers such as the US, the EU and China.

The late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, increased the role and influence of Ethiopia in the IGAD, the AU and even at global level for the following three main reasons. First, he stayed in power for two decades as president and prime minister and in an influential political position for almost four decades. Second, the AU, IGAD and the international community found him intelligent in proposing solutions for complicated issues and he was persuasive and competent in advocating African positions at global forums such as G-20 and G-8, Climate Change Forums, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and so on. A significant contribution to the AU, Ethiopia led the NEPAD as chairman for almost a decade since January 2007. Similarly, representing Africa, the late Prime Minister was the voice of Africa on the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), and partnerships with India and South Korea. Strongly rooted in the philosophy of its internal policy that prioritizes eradication of poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Ethiopia became the face of Africa on FOCAC, Climate Change Forums, G-8, G-20 and the NEPAD. As a result, the Prime Minister acted as de facto chairperson of the AU.

His influence in the diplomatic circles has also helped him in gaining supremacy in diplomatic pursuit of Ethiopia’s interest and maintenance of his government in power. Excellent examples in this regard are Ethiopia’s initiatives of sanctions against Eritrea, it position in Somalia and the Sudan the AU and the international community.

Quest for New Causes of Solidarity: Re-defining Pan Africanism for 21st Century

The transformation of the OAU to the AU in a way constituted an attempt to answer a quest for new causes and redefining Pan-Africanism. Based on the AU Constitutive Act, the first AU Commission Strategic Plan declared that the vision of the AU is “to build an integrated, a prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.[27] The shift from collective security of states to human security was articulated in detail in the AU Constitutive Act, the AU Strategic Plans and the various instruments, mainly the African Peace and Security Architecture (APAS) and NEPAD.

With the ultimate purpose being the eradication of violent conflicts and poverty from Africa, APSA and NEPAD as part of the AU architecture for poverty eradication and development took pride of place in the work of the AU. With these architectures, the AU and its member states endorsed the Millennium Development Goals. A reinforcement of the need to re-define and establish new Pan-Africanism that serves the Era of Intervention and Integration, the AU Constitutive Act, APSA and NEPAD could be considered as primarily an unofficial attempt to re-define Pan-Africanism as new milestones.

One important difference between the OAU and the AU is the AU’s right to intervene[28] in a member state to prevent any grave circumstances, namely, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as peace and order in a region.[29] The shift of mission of the AU lays on its success in combining three elements: 1) the sovereignty of its member states, 2) their responsibility to protect their nationals, and 3) African solidarity expressed by the duty of the AU in assisting states with internal grave crises to fulfil their duty to protect nationals. The AU may intervene in a Member State when an internal crisis coincides with grave circumstances constituting war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. This differentiates intervention from interference.

The benefits of this conceptualization are significant.[30] In the past ten years, the AU has responded to urgent crises, such as those in Somalia, Darfur, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and the recent popular uprisings in North Africa, albeit with varying degrees of success. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and South Sudan Liberation Army/Movement in 2005 and the Darfur Peace Agreement between the Darfuri rebel groups and the Sudanese government were examples of success. The AU’s High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan (AUHIP) remains one of the most active peace mechanisms. Without such engagement from the AU and other international and sub-regional actors probably the cost of the pre-and post-referendum of South Sudan could have been enormous. The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operations in Darfur (UNAMID), predecessor of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS), has improved the situation on the ground. The AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has since August 2011 made a significant improvement towards peace and security with its tireless efforts to bring Somalia out of its condition of statelessness. In addition to this, RECs such as ECOWAS and IGAD as well as SADC has become active in the interventionists and integrationist agenda of the AU.[31]

A silent characteristic of the era of intervention and integration is the profile of the composition of Africa’s leaders. The first AU summits were composed of long- serving dictators some of them from independence liberation movements such as Mr Robert Mugabe, new generation rebel rulers such as Mr Yoweri Museveni who waged decades of protracted civil wars that toppled military dictators, and democratically elected leaders such as Mr Thabo Mbeki. In this era, while we have witnessed political struggles for amendments that would extend constitutional terms of office, many countries held elections that were marred by election-rigging and post-election disputes and violence. The results were fragmented political parties and mandates, in contrast to grand coalitions and smooth transfers of power in some of countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe. Despite these all problems, since the establishment of the AU, we have seen more than 35 countries exercise democratic elections that resulted in half of them experiencing a peaceful takeover of power by victorious opposition parties.[32]

Nevertheless, the North African uprisings revealed the vulnerability of Africa to revolutions and violence that are symptomatic of the undemocratic nature of states, the illegitimate exercise of power, as well as weakness in peaceful and constitutional means of changes of government. The slow but comparatively well formulated response of the AU to the uprisings exposed the dearth and impotence of the AU in challenging leaderships like Colonel Qaddafi who rule countries for decades without legitimacy of any kind. The uprising initiated a useful introspection about the need for AU to insist on democratic reform of governance and peaceful democratic transition. By not demanding democratic reform of governance in countries like Libya, Africa and the AU by de fault allowed external military forces to intervene.

More terribly the AU missed an opportunity of being the primary promoter of democracy and driver of democratic transformation in Africa. With the North African uprisings, the generational progression towards democratization has been accelerated. With era of lifelong rule waning fast, the next generation believes one or two terms of office are long enough to delivery election promises and make the necessary impact on the society. Democracy without delivery of good governance services faces serious challenges of social stability; delivery without democracy devalues the dignity of being a human and diminishes the capability for growth. A vital deterrence effect and message particularly to newly elected and emerging political leaders is that power exercised solely dependent on performance legitimacy through delivery of services would prove difficult to sustain. Accordingly the AU needs to identify new frontiers of Pan-Africanism for the 21st Century. The 21st Century Pan Africanism should stem from poverty eradication and democratization through capacitating states to deliver and democratize more.


Ethiopia’s place in the AU is entrenched in its historical contributions as seedbed of African history, and its support to anti-colonial and apartheid struggle and its critical role in the establishment of the OAU and AU. Signifying the genuine commitment of Ethiopia to the causes of the OAU and AU, successive rulers of Ethiopia continued to pursue the same foreign policy on the OAU and AU. Rooted in its history and heavily depending on the Pan-African disposition and calibre of its leaders, Ethiopia’s current meaningful influence in the AU, however, comes from its leading role in the IGAD and diplomatic successes in international forums. Nonetheless, Ethiopia’s commitment to the AU’s ideals and values, as expressed in the various normative instruments of the OAU and AU, falters when it comes to its internal governance affairs. Ethiopia is yet to ratify and implement more than 15 conventions (35 percent) of the total 43 binding instruments of the AU. To its credit, Ethiopia ratified the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance within a year of its adoption. The treaties waiting ratification and implementation include the Protocol of the African Court of Justice, the Protocol on the Statute of The African Court of Justice and Human Rights, the African Youth Charter, the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (the Kampala Convention), the African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration, the Convention on the Conversation of Nature and Natural Resources, and Non-Aggression and Common Defence Pact. These instruments are vital for ensuing human security in Ethiopia and thereof enablers of the state to deliver and democratize more.

Currently, African countries including Ethiopia have progressive legislative and institutional frameworks but with anachronistically regressive, oppressive and manipulative practices. These treaties are like clothes that are hanging in a closet that needs to be worn and integrated in the real life of African states and African people. Ratification is meaningless if treaties are not domesticated and implemented. Once ratified, implementation remains a challenge.[33]

Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and the region’s key political player, with long history of Pan-African solidarity and contributions to international and African peace and security has significant influence on the AU. Nonetheless, Ethiopia enjoy more influence by first ratifying the various 15 instruments that it is expected to implement. As a headquarters of the AU, Ethiopia should offer an enabling environment and platforms for Pan-African state and non-state actors to enter to the country without cumbersome visa process create a space for Pan-African debate on the AU agenda and monitoring of AU’s activities. In nutshell, Ethiopia should be exemplary in these all fronts.

End notes

[1] Dr Mehari Taddele Maru is an international consultant on International Law, AU Affairs, African Peace and Security matters and migration and displacement issues. Until August 2012, he was the Programme Manager for African Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis at Institute for Security Studies. A former fellow of very prestigious programmes at Harvard and Oxford Universities, he holds Doctorate of Legal Sciences (DSL) from JL Giessen University, Germany, MPA from Harvard and MSc from University of Oxford and LLB from Addis Ababa University. Dr Mehari has served as the Programme Coordinator for Migration and Legal Expert at the African Union Commission. He worked as Director of the Addis Ababa University Office for University Reform.

[2] South-West Africa Cases, (Ethiopia v. South Africa; Liberia v. South Africa); Second Phase Address, available from http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4023a9414.html (accessed 12 November 2012); Nelson Mandela (1995) Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Little Brown &Co, UK; Emperor Haile Sellasie, Africa’s Independence Day, speech April, 1963.

[3] Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, The Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy, Ministry of Information, Press and Audiovisual Department, November 2002, Addis Ababa, available from http://www.mfa.gov.et/resdoc.php?cpg=2 (accessed 2 November 2012), Pp. 107.

[5] Interview with Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, 12 April 2012. Reference to page 3

[6] Mehari Taddele Maru (2008) The Future of Somalia’s Legal System and Its Contribution to Peace and Development, Journal of Peace Building and Development, Vol. 4, No. 1, Centre for Global Peace, American University, available from http://pascal.library.american.edu:8083/ojs/index.php/jpd/article/view/109/117 (accessed 12 March 2011).

[7] Mehari Taddele Maru (2011), ‘The Kampala Convention and Its Contribution to International Law’, Journal of Internal Displacement, Volume 1, No. 1, from http://journalinternaldisplacement.webs.com/announcements.htm (accessed 28 November 2011).

[8] Report of the United Kingdom House of Commons International Development Committee, Darfur, Sudan and The Responsibility to protect, (30 March 2005); Death in Darfur: The Story Behind the Numbers, Enough Project (January 26, 2010); Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Internal Displacement, Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2008, (Norwegian Refugee Council, Geneva, 2009) Pp. 41-49, http://www.internal-displacement.org/8025708F004CE90B/(httpPages)/22FB1D4E2B196DAA802570BB005E787C?OpenDocument&count=1000 (accessed January 21, 2013).

[9] African Union Summit, Transition from the OAU to the African Union (noting that the purpose of the Extraordinary Session entitled “Strengthening OAU Capacity to Enable It To Meet the Challenges of the New Millennium” was to amend the OAU Charter to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the OAU), available at http://www.au2002.gov.za/docs/background/oau_to_au.htm (last visited August 11, 2002).

[10] African Union Summit, Transition from the OAU to the African Union, available at http://www.au2002.gov.za/docs/background/oau_to_au.htm (last visited August 11, 2002).

[11] Borne out of the experience of victimization, its struggle to maintain its independence and to demonstrate its conviction in collective security, Ethiopia, as one of the first signatory members of the UN Charter, has been at the forefront in peacekeeping efforts in Africa and beyond. Common defence of Africa against any military aggression was also in the mind of Ethiopia’s leaders. Ethiopia was in support of the establishment of an African defence force similar to the current AU Standby Force. Emperor Haile Sellassie warned African leaders not to “rely solely on international morality. Africa’s control over her own affairs is dependent on the existence of appropriate military arrangements to assure this continent’s protection against such threats. While guarding our own independence, we must at the same time determine to live peacefully with all nations of the world.”[11]

[12] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1990; S/SER/2024 (2011), 14 December 2011, available from http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/unisfa/ (accessed January 21, 2012).

[13] UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, Letter from the Chairman of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea, UNSC S/2011/433, 18 July 2011.

[14] Molefi Asante, “The Character of Kwame Nkrumah’s United Africa Vision”, The Journal of Pan Africa Studies, Vol. 4, No. 10, January 2012.

[15] Otchere-Darko, Asare (2007) “And Gaddafi Shifted”, The AU Monitor, available http://www.pambazuka.org/aumonitor/comments/268/ (accessed 21 January 2013).

[16] William Davison, ’Ethiopia begins electricity exports to neighbouring Djibouti,utility says’ ,Bloomberg, June 10, 2011, available from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-10/ethiopia-begins-electricity-exports-to-neighboring-djibouti-utility-says.html (accessed 21 January 2013); Tesfa-Alem Tekle, ‘Ethiopia: Power Network links to Sudan, Djibouti Finalized’, Sudan Tribune, April 25, 2011, available from http://www.sudantribune.com/Ethiopia-Power-network-links-to,38687 (accessed 21 January 2013).

[17] Christian Lowe, “We can build United States of Africa, Gaddafi says”, Reuters, available from http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/07/27/us-africa-summit-gaddafi-idUSTRE66Q70620100727 (accessed 21 January 2013).

[18] Interview with former Nigerian Permanent Representative to the AU who attended last OAU Summits, 11 April 2012.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Adekeye Adebajo, “Gaddafi: the man who would be king of Africa”, The Guardian, Friday 26 August 2011, www.guardian.co.uk (accessed 9 November 2012).

[21] Mehari Taddele Maru (2011) How the AU Should Have Recognized the Libyan NTC; Institute for Security Studies, ISS Today, available from http://www.iss.co.za/iss_today.php?ID=1348 (accessed 28 November 2011).

[22] Mehari Taddele Maru (2011) On Unconstitutional Changes of Government: The Case of Libya; Institute for Security Studies, ISS Today, http://www.iss.co.za/iss_today.php?ID=1358 (accessed 28 November 2012).

[23] “Sudan supported NTC Forces in the fight against Al Qathafi”, the Tripoli Post, Sunday, 27 October 2011, available from www.tripolipost.com (accessed 28 January 2013).

[24] Interview with former Malian Permanent Representative to the AU who attended Malabo AU Summits, 11 April 2012.

[25] Mehari Taddele Maru (2011) How the AU Should Have Recognized the Libyan NTC; Institute for Security Studies, ISS Today, http://www.iss.co.za/iss_today.php?ID=1348 (accessed 28 November 2011).

[26] Robert Nolan (2011) “The African Union After Gaddafi”, Journal of Diplomacy, available from http://blogs.shu.edu/diplomacy/2011/12/the-african-union-after-gaddafi/ (accessible 21 January 2013).

[27] AU Commission (2004) Commission of the African Union: 2004 – 2007 Strategic Plan, Volume 2 : 2004-2007 Strategic Framework, May 2004, Pp. 1-2.

[28] Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act stipulates “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity” and Article 4 (j) which states the “the right of Member States to request intervention from the Union in order to restore peace and security.” These formulations are put as a “right” and not an “obligation”. Nonetheless, they are conceived of rather as the duty of the AU and member states when grave circumstances prevail in another member state.

[29] The AU Constitutive Act of the African Union, OAU, ‘Decision on the Establishment of the African Union and the Pan-African Parliament’, AHG/Dec.143(XXXVI).

[30] Apart from the peacekeeping missions and other interventions that AU approved, the newly adopted Kampala Convention on internally displaced persons, the responsibility for addressing the plight of IDPs is placed on all states. In line with the principle of the responsibility to protect, the intervention duty of international and regional mechanisms such as the AU mandate to intervene is clearly stipulated. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the Kampala Convention reinforces the power of the AU to intervene for protection purposes, in a manner compatible with the AU Constitutive Act and international law.

[31] The Regional Economic Communities (RECs) have been active in their robust exercise of the right of intervention. The Economic Community for Western African States (ECOWAS) in Liberia, Sierra Lone, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Mauritania; IGAD in Somalia, South Sudan and Darfur; and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Burundi, Zimbabwe and Madagascar are examples of the active role the RECs have played in the maintenance of peace and security in Africa. PSC deliberations also focused on the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Comoros, and Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi and Mauritania. The AU has been actively involved in monitoring elections in Africa, and subsequently, in mediation efforts when post-election violence occurred in many African countries. In this regard, the AU was busy in Kenya (2007), Zimbabwe (2008), Côte D’Iovire (2010), Mali (2012), and Guinea Bissau (2012).

[32] Mehari Taddele Maru (2012). Salient Features of the 18th African Union Summit: Generational Progression Democracy in Africa, http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2012/02/20122111410505510.htm (accessed 4 February 2012).

[33] List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the AU instruments, available from List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the different treaties of the AU, 2010, available from http://www.au.int/en/treaties/status (accessed on 10 November 2011).


* First published on a Discussion Paper of Nordiska Afrikainstitutet entitled The African unionin Light of the Arab Revolts in 2013

Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, who is International Consultant on African Union affairs and Research Fellow at the NATO Defence College.

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