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Regional norms from the Organization of African Unity to the African Union
Author: Kathryn Nash

African regional organizations have played leading roles in constructing collective conflict management rules for the continent, but these rules or norms have not been static. Currently, the African Union (AU) deploys monitors, authorizes peace support operations, and actively engages in internal conflicts in member states. Just a few decades ago these actions would have been deeply controversial under the Organization of African Unity (OAU). What changed to allow for this transformation in the way the African regional organization approaches peace and security? Drawing extensively on primary source documents from the AU Commission archives, this book examines why the OAU chose norms that prioritized state security in 1963 leading to a policy of strict non-interference and why the AU chose very different norms leading to a disparate conflict management policy of non-indifference in the early 2000s. Even if the AU’s capacity to respond to conflict is still developing, this new policy has made the region more willing and capable of responding to violent conflict. The author argues that norm creation largely happened within the African context, and international pressure was not a determinant factor. The role of regional organizations in the international order, particularly those in the African region, has been under-theorized and under-acknowledged, and this book adds to an emerging literature that explores the role of regional organizations in the Global South in creating and promoting norms based on their own experiences and for their own purposes.

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Kathryn Nash

Who contributes to the norms that govern the international system? As this chapter shows, the literature has explored the role of norm entrepreneurs, international institutions, courts, transnational networks, and states to create and promote norms that set expectations for how global society should work. However, there is often a piece of the puzzle that is missing. Regional organizations have defined regional priorities, created norms and policies, and contributed to international norms. Yet, despite their impact at both the regional and international levels, the contributions of regional institutions as norm creators and promoters, particularly in marginalized regions, is under-examined. This book analyzes the African region and asks why the Organization of African Unity chose peace and security norms in 1963 that underpinned a policy of non-interference in conflict, and why the African Union chose a very different set of norms in the early 2000s, which led to a conflict management policy of non-indifference. This chapter outlines the central argument that the OAU and then the AU uniquely adapted existing international norms, as well as creating new peace and security norms within their regional sphere, and largely independent of international pressure. It also examines the current literature on this topic and places the argument within an emerging literature on the role and contributions of Global South actors in the global normative order.

in African peace
Kathryn Nash

One of the major critiques of the African Union is that the shift in peace and security from non-interference under the Organization of African Unity to non-indifference under the AU is purely cosmetic, and the results show no tangible difference in outcomes. This chapter spells out the extent of the change in norms, institutions, and policies between the OAU and the AU to first show that there is a real difference between the two organizations. It then explores case studies to show how these changes manifested in practices. The first case study contrasts AU action to address atrocities in Darfur in the early 2000s with OAU action to manage the crisis of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in the late 1960s. The second contrasts AU action in Burundi with OAU action in the same country over different periods. Finally, the chapter discusses the AU response to the crisis in Libya in 2011 and addresses arguments that it represents a lack of support by the AU for intervention to stop atrocities.

in African peace
Kathryn Nash

This chapter deals with the emergence and evolution of pan-Africanism in the first half of the 1900s. In order to analyze the decisions made by independence era leaders when choosing norms for the African regional organization, it is crucial to understand the impact of pan-Africanist ideas as well as the impact of key events that took place in the lead-up to independence. In a very broad sense, pan-Africanism is an encompassing philosophy that deals with solidarity of African peoples. As this chapter shows, it was and still is a concept that is subject to evolution and contestation, but it is a critical lens through which to view debates within Africa and regional diplomatic policies. The chapter explores how critical figures, notably George Padmore, W.E.B Du Bois, and Marcus Garvey, shaped the development of pan-Africanism and its interpretation. Furthermore, it discusses critical events in the inter-war period and during World War II that had profound impacts on leaders in the pan-African movement and the evolution of pan-Africanism. The chapter culminates in a discussion of the 1945 Manchester Conference, an event that included many scholars who would return to Africa to lead independence movements.

in African peace
Kathryn Nash

This chapter discusses the period immediately surrounding the independence period and the impact of events in Africa on the interpretation of pan-Africanism and the creation of an African regional organization. Independence for African states came in three broad phases, with the bulk of African states in sub-Saharan Africa gaining independence starting in the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The Franco-Algerian war and Congo crisis had profound impacts on relations amongst independent African states, leading to the creation of distinct blocs. However, after these crises were resolved the independent states of Africa met in Addis Ababa in May 1963 to form a continental body. This chapter explores the debates around the creation of the Organization of African Unity amongst African leaders who attended the 1963 conference. Ultimately, it argues that the norms chosen at the advent of the OAU to prioritize state security and protect sovereignty and territoriality were viewed as the best way to protect newly independent African states while undermining the credibility and legitimacy of the remaining white-minority and colonial regimes on the continent.

in African peace
Kathryn Nash

After the signing of the Charter, the Organization of African Unity needed to create institutions and policies that reflected the organization’s principles. The organizational principles were reflected in OAU norms of prioritizing state security, protecting sovereignty and territoriality, and promoting regional primacy. This chapter discusses four critical peace and security institutions within the OAU, and shows how the treatment and policies of these early institutions supported OAU norms. The institutions that were most robust within the OAU were the Liberation Committee and the Africa Group at the United Nations, while other institutions, such as the Commission of Mediation, Conciliation, and Arbitration and the Defense Commission, were never fully functioning.

in African peace
Kathryn Nash

The Organization of African Unity’s priorities were illustrated not only by the Charter and institutions but also by the OAU’s responses to conflicts. The non-interference conflict management policy became firmly established, and the focus of the OAU’s work to address conflict on the continent was appealing to the parties of the conflict in finding a peaceful solution and keeping major powers out of African conflict issues. This chapter demonstrates implementation of the non-interference conflict management policy in the first decade of the OAU through an examination of conflicts in Morocco and Algeria, the Horn of Africa, and Rwanda and Burundi. It also explores the OAU response to the Nigerian-Biafran civil war and the impact of this crisis on OAU norms.

in African peace
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Kathryn Nash

The 1970s and 1980s were a period of turmoil and then change for the Organization of African Unity. Several atrocities in the 1970s, notably the brutality of Emperor Bokassa in Central African Republic and Idi Amin in Uganda, would shock the continent and push the OAU to further re-evaluate its sole focus on state security. These atrocities were coupled with continuing advocacy from African elites, who argued that the OAU’s tolerance for internal violence in the name of strict non-interference was contrary to pan-Africanist ideals and damaging to the security and interests of the region. This chapter further explores the attempted reforms that followed the tragedies of the 1970s, including the adoption of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, OAU support for a multilateral peacekeeping mission in Chad, and the proposal for an OAU Political Security Council. Finally, it discusses how regional interests began to evolve to focus more on economic development and human security issues. Overall, the events of the 1970s and response of the OAU in the late 1970s and early 1980s show the process through which ideas that prioritized state security were discredited and the beginnings of evolving pan-Africanist ideas that led to a focus on human security.

in African peace
Kathryn Nash

The 1990s marked a time of tremendous turbulence and transition for Africa and the global community. The Cold War came to an abrupt end, and African leaders knew this would have ramifications for Africa. There were also critically important events that happened within Africa, including the end of the last vestiges of white-minority regimes. This chapter examines how the Organization of African Unity reacted to changing regional and international dynamics. It demonstrates that the immediate post-Cold War period is an important part of the story when examining the change from the OAU to the African Union, though it should not be seen as the whole story but rather the final chapter. The contestation of norms that underpinned non-interference and the rise of alternative ideas happened largely within the African region. Events and reforms preceding the end of the Cold War as well as events within Africa during the 1990s also had a profound impact on the transition from the OAU to the AU. As such, this chapter also examines the impact of African civil society and sub-regional organizations on the development of human security ideas that would feed into new AU norms. Specifically, it will explore the impact of the Kampala Forum and the intervention by the Economic Community of West African States in Liberia.

in African peace
Kathryn Nash

Changing regional and international dynamics set the stage for another reform of the African regional body’s approach to conflict. However, again the Organization of African Unity (OAU) chose to pursue an institutional fix by creating a new mechanism but still working within the normative confines of the existing organization. The Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, and Resolution was established in 1993, but was ineffective in stemming the flow of conflicts and atrocities that plagued the continent. This chapter explores the creation of the Mechanism along with its use to prevent and manage conflicts. It specifically examines OAU responses to crises in Burundi, Comoros, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it argues that the failures of the Mechanism to prevent numerous conflicts, and the Rwandan Genocide in particular, had a profound impact on African leaders leading up to the creation of the African Union.

in African peace