How relevant is the African Union?

As the continent continues to experience social, political and economic upheaval, we ask if African unity is achievable.

Jan 31, 2012 (Aljazeera) – The 18th African Union (AU) summit ends on Monday in Ethiopia with 40 heads of state and government representatives in attendance.

New leaders from Tunisia, Libya and South Sudan are among the delegates at the first annual summit after the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, and Chinese officials also attended.

The summit is being held at a time of worsening crises across the African continent.

This year’s summit has been dominated by the bitter oil dispute between Sudan and South Sudan and war and hunger in Somalia.

The oil dispute between Sudan and South Sudan has become, in the words of the UN chief, “a serious threat to peace and security in the region”. While the situation in Somalia, which has been in a state of anarchy for 20 years, is only growing more complex.

“The AU saw Sudan as a possible success story, with it leading the peacekeeping force in Darfur, but there was an attempt by America and the West to take this over, and this continues to be a matter of tension.” said Abdelwahab El Effendi, a former Sudanese diplomat

The lack of trade between member states was also a central issue at this year’s summit, with many calling for rapid economic integration in the continent.

African leaders also failed to choose a new chairman for their union’s executive commission. An election is scheduled for June.

So, with the continent’s many problems still unresolved, just how relevant is the African Union? And is real African unity achievable?

Inside Story, with presenter Dareen Abu Ghaida, discusses with guests: Gamal Nkrumah, an African affairs analyst and international editor of Al Ahram English weekly; Aly Khan Satchu, a financial analyst and CEO of Rich Management; and Abdelwahab El Effendi, a reader in politics at the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster.

“South Africa is destined to play a major role because it’s the economic powerhouse of the southern part of the continent, and without Gaddafi, who was the main bankroller of the AU, fewer North African countries are going to be able to fill in that gap. The major challenge facing the AU is funding.”

Gamal Nkrumah, an African affairs expert

Aljazeera