African Union

From practical federalism to fantasy union

Authored by: Thomas Kwasi Tieku

Routledge Handbook of Regionalism and Federalism

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415566216
eBook ISBN: 9780203395974
Adobe ISBN: 9781136727627


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Federal impulses drove the creation of the African Union (AU). The specific institutions and ideas on which the AU is founded, however, lack the practical elements of federalism. The practical federal ideas developed by experts gave way to fantasy ideas at the heads of state summit in Sirte on 9 September 1999 and during two ministerial negotiating summits on 31 May and 2 June 2000 (Organization of African Unity, 2000a). African leaders ended up creating a hybrid organization, occupying the middle of a continuum between federalism and statism. The identity of the AU as both a federal and a statist project has generated confusion in academic and popular discourse. To some people, it is best conceptualized as an intergovernmental coordinating agency, like the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and differing from it only in name (Williams, 2007; Tavares, 2009). To others, the AU is a poorly conceived version of the European Union (EU) (Udombana, 2002; Schoeman, 2003). In other words, it is a caricature of supranational regional integration schemes. In the opinion of many journalists and casual observers of Africa’s international relations, the AU is an embodiment of the late Muammar Ghaddafi’s political ideas (Huliaras, 2001; Sturman, 2003; BBC, 2007).

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