Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The AU Shows its Brass

A tiny African island nation, The Comoros (in the Indian Ocean) has recently asked for--and received--African Union (AU) military assistance in bringing under control its rebellious island of Anjouan. The island was controlled by the country's former leader, Mohamad Bacar, who had been ousted from official power by judicial authorities after he rigged an election, but for a year held out on Anjouan with loyal military elements, administering it separately.

The island was taken in a day by mostly AU troops, who have surrounded Mr. Bacar and are urging his surrender. In all likelihood, his personal guard of a few hundred will surrender, and the Comoros will reassert control over the island (my impression is that the populace was not a big fan of Mr. Bacar), and he will be tried for torture, treason, and fraud.

But the interesting part of all of this is how this reflects the AU's efficacy and will affect its reputation and ability to perform in the future.

The AU does not have the best of reputations for being effective. Its hurdle-laden political structure makes it rather difficult to come to consensus to perform. Even when it has been deployed (like in Somalia and Sudan), it has been mostly useless in its peacekeeping efforts. Its bad reputation put it in some danger of dissolving.

This action, decisive and seemingly effective, should give the AU a legitimacy that it has been desperate for. Regional institutions like ASEAN, NATO, the EU, and OECD have had different, but generally effective, results on stabilizing or improving their regions. The AU has failed in repeating the success of these regional organizations, though this is in large part due to the fact that Sub-Saharan Africa is a mess.

Should the AU gain a legitimacy and mandate to intervene in unstable countries, it could have a massive stabilizing effect on the entire region. Momentum would do the AU well; in regional institutions, success can lead to confidence by member nations, which can lead to increased investment and integration. The AU has not only shown results, but has shown it can perform difficult amphibious landings, which would pose a challenge to many militaries.

The Comoros action is a small step forward, but a step in the right direction for the AU, and a success that might be seen as the first moment of the AU's renaissance as a regional organization.

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