“Every country, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, the real Muslims who are Salafism, or you are with Obama, Francois Hollande, George Bush, Clinton, Abraham Lincoln and Ban-Ki Moon, and any unbeliever. Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. This war is against Christians.”
These are Abubakar Shekau’s words in a video released concerning the 276 girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Shekau, the leader of the militant group, is clad in fatigues and flanked by a group of men clutching AK-47’s, their faces covered by the Islam cloth, keffiyeh.
The abduction of the Nigerian school girls by Boko Haram has soared around the world via social media. International press has lambasted Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, and the African Union (AU) for their tardiness in dealing with the crisis.
Subsequently five West African countries have met with Francois Hollande, the French president, to ask for aid in handling this volatile situation. The United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) have offered support and the United Nations (UN) has just placed sanctions on Boko Haram.
What has the AU done about this fiasco?
In an AU press release regarding the most recent attacks on the 20th of May, the AU Chairperson of the Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, speaks of ‘heartfelt condolences’ to those affected and wishes ‘strength and a speedy recovery’.
Since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, where Africa looked helplessly on as the massacre took place, an initiative was set up to prevent massacres like these from occurring again. This initiative was called The Standby Brigades.
According to The Guardian, “T Standby Brigades would answer to the AU’s peace and security council, the continental equivalent of the UN security council. The aimwas to produce a rapidly deployable force and that by 2012 two units, each 2,500 strong, could be operational within just 14 days.
“The US poured money into the initiative, providing $500m to train up to 50,000 African troops. British involvement was also substantial, with more than £110m a year being invested via the African Conflict Prevention Pool for nearly a decade.”
In Jacob Zuma’s speech in 2014, condemning the Boko Haram, he mentions the problems facing the AU. “Part of the capacity needed by the AU is the establishment of the African Standby Force for rapid deployment in crisis areas without delays.”
Twenty years after The Standing Brigades initiative, there are still no forces.
The AU still has no defense system in place that can adequately handle African conflicts. Boko Haram carries on its insurgency in Nigeria as a consequence.
Boko Haram is not a new problem
The Islamist fundamentalists have been carrying out attacks in earnest since 2009, bombing, killing and raping in Nigeria and Cameroon. The recent kidnapping has been crucial in sparking a universal effort to bring Boko Haram to justice. There are many abroad who doubt whether Jonathan and the AU would have done anything for the kidnapped girls or other attacks if the international media and leaders didn’t jump on the case.
Africans too are taking notice of this lack of response, “According to New Zimbabwe.com, Joseph Chinotimba, a prominent Zimbabwean politician, said in a recent speech to parliament, “This [kidnapping] should be something that as Parliament we must condemn and I kindly appeal to government together with other nations to send soldiers to Nigeria and deal with this Boko Haram.”
South African artist and activist, Ntsiki Mazwai, said on eNCA, “It is unfortunate that it is not an African country that is coming to the aid of Africa.” The ANCYL (Youth league) leader, Bandile Masuku, stated, “… we believe that the African Union must rise to the occasion and Africans must have the necessary capacity to respond to African problems.”
The AU has done a lot of good for Africa too
The AU has assisted in the destruction of colonization in Africa and maintaining peace in countries such as Rwanda. According to The Guardian, “Africa indubitably registered some commendable progress under the AU. This is particularly true with regard to peace and security as well as economic growth and in countries’ economic performance.
“A number of countries that went through a violent conflict in the 1990s, including Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have made remarkable progress.”
The AU is still ill-equipped though to handle the extent of conflict in its own continent. Therefore, Nigeria and other countries attend meetings in Paris and Brussels to ask for aid from the past colonialists.
Dr Simphiwe Sesanti, a journalism lecturer in media ethics in Stellenbosch, believes there is a deeper underlying problem when it comes to African countries seeking international help,
“How do you expect an organization [AU] to function when you have denied the people the type of education that will give them the power to do things for themselves? Those people will be completely dependent on you [colonials] for a long time, if not forever.
“Tie their hands and feet and ask them to run and compete with you. That’s why you can’t have African solutions in Nigeria just yet.”
This may be one of the reasons for the lack of ambition the AU has shown. It has been fifty one years since Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana spoke at the opening of the African Union,
“We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent. We need a common defense system with African high command to ensure the stability and security of Africa … We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay in tackling realistically this question of African unity.”
Boko Haram has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the AU and their measures for peace keeping. Currently, as The Guardian stated, “From Bamako to Bangui, ordinary African men and women have cowered and waited, hoping that western troops or UN peacekeepers will come to their aid.”
Until the AU finds a way of dealing with conflict on African soil, past colonial ties continue to be the African way of dealing with African problems.
Anthony Molyneaux is a post-graduate journalism student and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.