College of Law

Realising the dream of a truly integrated Africa

Unisa’s Prof Babatunde Fagbayibo, of the School of Law in the College of Law, delivered his inaugural lecture entitled "The two eras of reform in the African Union: A politico-legal critique" on Wednesday 14 July 2021.

In his opening, Fagbayibo thanked the university for affording him the opportunity to deliver his inaugural lecture. "An inaugural is both a sober and exhilarating occasion. Sober, in the sense that it provides an opportunity for reflection on one’s career path and choices in academia, and a serious consideration of the way forward. Such sober reflection demands humility and the understanding that one’s journey to the pinnacle of an academic career has not been a solo effort as it involves the contributions of many individuals."

Prof Babatunde Fagbayibo

Meaningful continental integration

The inaugural lecture explored the reform process at the African Union (AU) since its formation, and some of the ways to ensure that the process makes a meaningful impact on continental integration in Africa. "The current reform efforts in the AU are crucial and consequential in the sense that if we get them right, the course of continental integration may change for good," said Fagbayibo. "The main aim of my lecture is to proffer ways and means through which we can keep the process on the right course."

In unpacking the two eras of reform in the AU, Fagbayibo firstly looked at the ideation basis for the organisation. He argued that the idea of African agency is at the core of reform efforts. "In this respect, agency denotes the quest for owning the narrative and charting a course that is driven by African actors and context," he said. "Zondi described African agency as 'the capacity and will of Africa to become an agent of its own transformation, development and relocation from the periphery to the centre'. According to Ali Mazrui, the concept of Pax Africana underpins African agency as it speaks to an Africa 'that is protected and maintained by Africa herself'. Similarly, Thabo Mbeki’s idea of 'African Renaissance', an approach that stimulated the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity to the AU, is one built on the exigencies of restoring Africa’s dignity, and using such power and restoration to push for the economic and political development of the continent. In this respect, African countries are expected to take the lead in terms of initiating and implementing integration ideas and policies for continental development."

Legitimacy is key

Fagbayibo then elaborated on the concepts of legitimacy and instrumentality of the AU, and put forward the following argument: Without the requisite legitimacy, international organisations are unable to gain much-needed support from governments and citizens and find it difficult to secure compliance with their normative rules.

He defined the legitimacy of the AU as having both internal and external considerations. "Internal legitimacy," he said, "posits the extent to which member states, regional economic communities and civil society view its usefulness and impact while the external dimension of legitimacy relates to how external parties such as the European Union, United Nations, China and International Financial Institutions regard the AU as an effective and reliable partner."

In discussing the first phase of the reform of the AU, Fagbayibo ventured into the contestation of ideas between the maximalist camp, headed by Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi, and the minimalist camp, driven by Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki. "Muammar Ghaddafi championed the establishment of a federal union of African states, while Olusegun Obasanjo and Thabo Mbeki advanced the African Renaissance and the integration in phases and stages," he said.

Fagbayibo further bemoaned the fact that the demise of Ghaddafi and the loss of power by both Obasanjo and Mbeki resulted in a lull around these ideas. "The new leadership of Libya has been engulfed by violent conflicts, and the administrations that succeeded Obasanjo and Mbeki in Nigeria and South Africa respectively have shown little or no appetite for ideational pursuits around continental integration," he said. "In addition, the succeeding administrations in both countries have had to deal with encumbering challenges such as sluggish economic growth and the fight against terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria."

Challenges facing the AU

Fagbayibo identified three major problems that are facing the AU. "The first of these," he said, "is a selective, nonchalant, and obstructive disposition to reform efforts. There exists the tendency by some member states to refuse to accept that the elements of the reform process are conjoined rather than disjointed and dispensable parts. In this respect, some member states tend to pick and choose the aspects of the reform process that is politically (and personally) convenient and discard the rest."

Fagbayibo identified the second problem as the personality-driven nature of reform efforts. "As shown in the preceding discussion, AU reform efforts have mostly been shaped by personalities," he said. "The third problem is the lack of any serious approach of situating the ideational and processual dimensions of reform efforts with an Afrocentric, decolonial framework."

Bold reforms needed

Concerning the second phase, Fagbayibo argued that the emergence of Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, as the arrowhead of the AU reform agenda was a result of the lull created by the demise of the above-mentioned former heads of state. "The approach that has been taken by Paul Kagame does not reject the imperative of establishing a union government or the need to quicken the pace of achieving continental supranationalism," he said. "However, it prioritises the importance of achieving bold reforms in phases by carefully navigating the fraught intergovernmental and supranational dynamics of the AU."

Quoting Thomas Sankara, Fagbayibo said that the peoples of Africa are increasingly hard to please today. "Because they are," he said, "they are saying no to meetings and conferences whose function is to adopt resolutions that are never acted on, or whose function is to not adopt long-awaited resolutions that could be acted on."

Lauding a dedicated scholar

In responding to the lecture, University of Pretoria Prof Frans Viljoen congratulated Fagbayibo. "I count myself fortunate to have walked the road with Prof Fagbayibo since the early days, around 2006," he said. "He is a gifted, enthusiastic and dedicated African scholar."

Viljoen said that Fagbayibo’s academic writing is not scholarship for scholarship’s sake. "It serves as a bridge between the elite drivers and the remote discourse of integration, and those at the receiving end, the people of Africa," he concluded. "It aims to improve the Africa in which we all find ourselves. His work represents the academic excellence with a purpose."

Reflections on an outstanding career

Following the lecture, we spoke to Prof Fagbayibo on a more personal level. Asked what influences his research interests, he had this to say: "My interests are informed by the desire I have for Africa’s unity, especially investigating how this translates to the inclusive development and enhanced relevance of Africa on the global stage."

Fagbayibo said that his areas of research include critical approaches to international law, regional integration in Africa, African politics  and public policy. To date, he has supervised three doctoral students to completion and many master’s students, and is currently supervising several master’s and doctoral students.

"Supervision is a rewarding experience as one gets to see the research growth of students and learn from them," said Fagbayibo. "I chose the teaching profession because of a zeal and curiosity to learn and know more. Few careers afford one the opportunity to see multidimensionally and interact with so many people at the same time. From a very young age, I have admired how professors engage in the articulation of ideas about society, a factor that inspired me in no small measure."

* By Ngwako Mokgotho, Communications and Marketing Specialist, College of Law

Publish date: 2021/07/18