The AFRICAN UNION & The AFRICAN DIASPORA
What is the AU?
The AU–The African Union–is the linear descendant of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The OAU ceased to exist in 2001-2002 with the birth of the AU. The AU is the African government-centered, continent-wide body of 54 member states (Morocco has not joined) established to represent the joint interests of African countries, and to eventually create a Union of African States, which will be a single country of Africa to replace the current 55 countries. The AU has laid out, on paper, a roadmap for the creation of a real Pan African unification, and the Diaspora is a big part of those plans.
We’ve been invited to the table.
The African Union (AU) has called us, dispersed descendants of the African Diaspora, to the negotiation and discussion table to engage the issue of Africa’s future. Historically, this is the first time we, the Diaspora as a whole, have been so honored.
There is no question that we both want to and need to accept that invitation. Problematic though is how we can realistically do it.
What does that mean?
For one, it means we need to agree on and accept a general definition of who we are as the Diaspora. Secondly, we need to agree on a general method of choosing representatives to speak for us at the various AU commissions, meetings, councils, and eventually, The Pan African Parliament. (See SRDC page for suggested method).
Article 3(q) of the AU’s amended Constitutive Act,
“invite(s) and encourage(s) the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union.”
What is the Diaspora?
In 2005, the AU defined the Diaspora as “…peoples of African descent and heritage living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship, and who remain committed to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union.” Geographically, this large African descendant population, variously estimated to be between 200-350 million folk, is to be found in the USA, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America (including Brazil), and Europe, with Asian, Oceania and Asian-Pacific populations still to be determined. Along with African descendant status (essentially identified by skin color), one’s commitment to African development and unification is a significant part of the definition. This, skin color may be necessary, but it is not sufficient to claim Diasporan membership, according to the AU.
That given the fact that the Diaspora has not yet firmly defined itself nor thought of itself collectively as a distinct body of Africans and African descendants. In order to rise up to the level of the trust bestowed on us by the invitation, we must agree upon and accept some self-imposed boundaries, restrictions and conditions on our existence as a unit of representation called the Diaspora.
How is the Diaspora related to the AU’s view of Africa?
The AU defines the African continent as being divided into 6 geographical regions–North Africa, South Africa, West Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, and the Diaspora (the 6th Region, which currently remains a work in progress). Twenty-first century Pan African unification (United States of Africa), according to a majority of states within the AU, must include bringing together all six of those geographical regions into one entity.
When did the Diaspora get an invitation to join the AU?
In 2003, the AU amended its constitution (called the AU Constitutive Act) to clarify its fundamental relationship with the Diaspora, and to invite the Diaspora to join the organization to help Africa unify. In Article 3(q) of the AU’s amended Constitution, the AU hereby “…invite(s) and encourage(s) the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our continent, in the building of the African Union.”
How is the Diaspora to be incorporated into the AU?
Initially, the Diaspora is to be included as voting members of ECOSOCC, which is one of the 11 permanent commissions of the AU. This was decided at the Interim ECOSOCC meeting in Addis Ababa in March 20, 2005 (in which several members of the Diaspora were present as non-voting Observers). Later, the Diaspora can be incorporated into most other aspects of the AU that are not specifically designated as the Assembly Commission (heads of state) and the Executive Council-Commission (Foreign Ministers). The Diaspora should become members of the Pan African Parliment, the AU Commission, various Technical Commissions, and all parts of the AU except the Assembly Heads of State and the Executive Council (Commission of Foreign Ministers).
Okay, since ECOSOCC is a group of NGOs or community-based organizations, why can’t my organization just send me to represent Black folk? After all, I’m African-centered and so is my organization, and we’ve been out here for a very long time. We know what Black folk want.
There are two reasons your organization cannot just appoint or designate you to go to represent it or to represent Black folk. The first reason is that while the AU itself did not lay down any stringent regulations and expectations about Diasporan AU Representatives (except the invitation itself and the AU’s definition of the Diaspora), ECOSOCC did identify some conditions that we should adhere to:
(1) Diasporan Representatives cannot be currently elected officials in their respective countries
(2) Diasporan Representatives cannot appoint themselves
(3) Diasporan Representatives have to represent more than a single organization and should be elected
(4) Diasporan Representatives must come from processes which reflect the voice of their respective communities (See ECOSOCC Membership Rules).
The second reason is that whether you are from a respected organization such as the NOI or NBUF, NAACP, etc., or a smaller group, you do not represent all Black people in the USA, let alone the Diaspora. Calling a widely publicized and open Town Hall meeting brings in a variety of Black organizations and individuals. Out of that group, AU Representatives are nominated and then elected in a widely publicized and open Caucus. That insures a democratic community process. See Statues of ECOSOCC (google it).
What does the acronym ECOSOCC mean?
The Economic, Social and Cultural Commission is one of the permanent organs of the AU (not to be confused with the UN’s ECOSOCC). It is a grouping of 150 civil society organizations, which are also called NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations) and CBOs (community-based organizations. The Diaspora has been designated 20 members of that 150.
Currently, only one AU permanent organ, the Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), has designated spaces for 20 members from the Diaspora. Based on a tentative, but operational and current, Diasporan agreement, this roughly means 4 will come from the USA, 1 from Canada, 3 from the Caribbean, 3 from Central America, 4 from South America, and 5 from Eurasia. Once our presence and performance has begun in the AU as elected/selected representatives, there will be places for the Diaspora in many other advisory committees, sub-committees and working groups, including ultimately, the Pan African Parliment.