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The Humanities Conference 2003

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The Great Race to Transform Africa Takes a New Turn

Dr John Riley.

In April 1992, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was dissolved by its member- states and subsequently replaced by the African Union (AU). Explicitly molded after the European Union (EU), the AU is an attempt to create an African common market similar to Europe's. Recognizing the close relationship with Europe (particularly in Western and Central Africa) and the dramatic rates of economic growth in Europe over the last two decades, it is not terribly surprising that African leaders would attempt to mimic the European approach to economic development. What is surprising is that the Africa Union would not only adopt the economic features of the European Union, but would also incorporate the humanitarian and democratic pillars as well. Put simply, the African Union is being empowered with a court system that is similar to the European Union's that will allow the AU to intervene in the domestic affairs of African states if human rights are violated. Charging an international organization with the responsibility and right to maintain human rights at the potential cost of African state sovereignty is a radical departure from the OAU's approach. Moreover, this is particularly curious because the vocal leader of the African Union is Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi, the chief of state of Libya, whose human rights track record has been called into question repeatedly.

This paper will examine the formation of the African Union and explain why human rights is being made a central piece of what would otherwise be an economic institution. More specifically, it will take up the question of whether human rights principles (as largely defined along European and American ideologies) are being instrumentally used by African leaders to simply attract international investment or are being used by al-Qadhafi and a surprising group of African leaders to trump traditional African norms standing in the way of African unity.


Dr John Riley  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

B.A. Le Moyne College; M.A. and Ph.D. The George Washington University; Professor Riley's areas of specialization include: the role of the news media in U.S. foreign policy-making, development of central African states, and international organizations.

  • Africa
  • African Union
  • European Union
  • Human Rights
  • Globalization
  • Development

(Virtual Presentation, English)