Indian Minister of Development
So, it started with a DREAM. A dream of setting up a machinery of holding the AU and its Member States accountable to the standards they have set for themselves; a dream of popularizing the AU and informing Africa and the world what this opaque creature is and what it is doing; a dream of giving every African citizen the choice to be involved in its programs, and a dream that the direction of such a continental organization with massive powers and opportunities must be determined by the citizens its rules over.
To start a movement, you need a strategy that inspires, empowers and enables in equal measure. That is what I believe we have with the remarkable journey of African Union Watch (hereinafter AU Watch). AU Watch was established by Drs Feyi Ogunade and Chafi Bakari, former Senior Legal Advisors (Promotion) of the African Union and BTN Nyanduga, as a reaction to what they perceived as the lack of knowledge about what the AU is, what it is doing and why it is doing whatever it is doing. Millions of citizens across Africa and the world are clueless about what this important organization is all about. As unbelievable as it may seem there are millions of Africans who do not even know what the letters ‘AU’ means, let alone where its various institutions are. In their view there was also a lack of proper inquiry into the programs and activities of the AU – as if the AU had been bequeathed to Africa, almost as a fait accompli,with limited choices for its citizens to critique its very design and programs, and to accept everything about it as a given.
As they crisscrossed Africa and the world, on various promotions and investigative missions, they quickly confirmed that the AU (like its defunct predecessor, the OAU), was hardly known even amongst academics and intellectuals, let alone respected, by the constituent it is supposed to be serving. For those who know ‘something’ about the AU, the image they have of it is an organization not fit for purpose. One can hardly fault people for having that negative view of such an important organization. Under the watch of the OAU and now the AU, the Report Card of Africa and the O/AU is a litany of shameful and embarrassing stories. You name it and we have it – as the worst at it, or close. They were, however, convinced that there is no fatality about the African condition and that the AU still remains the best political forum Africans have for multilateral dialogue and concerted action. So, they started a movement, which quickly gained support, to give publicity to the AU and to monitor its performance by the standard of its own Constitutive Act – convinced that despite its limitations and inadequacies, the AU remains an indispensable tool for delivering peace, prosperity and the elusive African unity.
As former senior promotion officers attached to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (hereinafter the African Commission) they understood that the media can be a useful and powerful tool not only to confront human rights violations and address issues like insecurity, governance, democracy, corruption, poverty and ignorance, climate change and more, but can also be an indispensable medium in bringing the AU and its programs to the people who need it the most.Using the power of the media to communicate the mission and vision of the AU, they set up AU Watch with a key objective of informing and empowering people and communities to tell their stories, and enable ordinary people to claim their basic human rights, to escape poverty, injustice and misrule.
AU Watch collaborates with local and international media houses and journalists, African International Organizations, African Civil Society Organizations, donors, sponsors, and other local and international partners seeking to become one more voice and action-oriented organization in defense of human dignity and freedoms of all Africans. Our projects reach over 300 million Africans in 54 countries and beyond. In an era of sound bites and partisanship, we remain dedicated to providing clear, thoughtful, and independent analysis on vital public policy issues. Using all means possible we tell the stories of the AU and ordinary people as they relate to the AU and its Member States – from radio, blogs, news and academic journals, web features, op-eds and TV appearances, to conferences, research reports, speaking engagements, and books — AU Watch works vigorously to present citizens with incisive and understandable analysis of the work of the AU, its institutions and programs. In the 54 African countries, we run hundreds of private and public events – conferences, workshops and roundtables, interviews with leading AU personalities, radio and TV dramas, on stage performances, films, documentaries, seminars, yearly schools athletics, football and other sports competitions, press conferences / briefings, schools / colleges debating competitions, moot court competitions for schools and colleges, spelling competitions for junior and senior schools and radio and TV debates on all AU matters.
They wanted to do much more though.We also provide mentoring and training for journalists and development professionals. An extensive research and evaluation process underpin all that we do; it strengthens our work, helps us to evaluate impact and reach and increasingly contributes to the exchange of ideas in the policy sphere. Our overarching goal is to help people make sense of events, within Africa’s foremost multilateral organization, engage in dialogue and take action to improve their lives. They wereconvincedthat advocacy properly undertaken and deployed can and should play a key role in the social transformation and development of the African continent.
So, whilst recognizing the many challenges of the AU, including that of improving its image, they set out to advocate finding ways of building on its strengths and vision of a united, prosperous Africa, at peace with itself, and able to take its rightful place in the world. It was a mammoth undertaking, one that will scare away lesser men. Combining all of those objectives required that they needed a clear message andan even clearer strategy – a message that not only stirs the soul, but one that calls for action. It was a call to arms. It needed a different kind of campaign: instead of the typical NGO approach of organizing big meetings, seminars and brain storming sessions, claiming that ‘we can save Africa from itself’, the AU Watch project required messaging that was informative, well-packaged and most importantly, credible and doable.
Their message had to:
(a) re-kindle confidence in the AU and Africa’s amazing capabilities amongst our youths;
(b) provide a pragmatic framework for every African to participate in the AU project of a united, prosperous and peaceful Africa; and
(c) reach out to a vast local and global audience via social media and other ways and keep them updated about what the AU is doing and opportunities for participation in those activities.
In a short space of time, AU Watch has been able to drive interest in the AU in a most remarkable way. The most striking indicator of progress will be the unprecedented gathering of some prominent NGOS, at the invitation of AU Watch, at the margins of the 34thSession of the AU Heads of State and Government in 2021 – to discuss issues of concern to Africa. A communiqué and recommendations will be given to the policy organs to deliberate on.
Clearly, we have achieved a lot. Today, we are all part of this unique and innovative movement that is committed to advancing a wider understanding of the AU, and its critical security, political, economic and human rights issues of the twenty-first century and their potential resolution. Through our comprehensive media, outreach and education programs and activities, we seek to raise awareness, expand and disseminate information and understanding of the AU, focusing mainly on the inter-relationship between (in) security, human rights, education and development.
In an era of sound bites and partisanship, we remain dedicated to providing clear, thoughtful, and independent analysis on vital public policy issues on the AU. Using all means possible, we work tirelessly to present citizens with incisive and understandable analysis of the work of the AU, its institutions and programs. AU Watch has now become a rallying cry for the AU’s innumerable stakeholders and partners. It is a powerful, galvanizing call to action to Africans, and an invitation to potential partners and investors around the world. But AU Watch is much more than an inspiring idea. It represents a comprehensive and unprecedented approach of understanding and working with the AU. Most importantly, it represents a complete change of mindset – a shift from dismissing the AU as an irrelevance, to a far closer engagement with the AU philosophy, structures and programs.
It’s a mindset that invites you to participate in:
a) Critiquing, analyzing and commenting on a range of issues, providing an alternative viewpoint for the AU and its Member States. We provide a platform for exerting social, economic and political pressure on the AU;
b) Conveying information about the AU, and countering popular misconceptions about the AU.
We challenge the AU and States Parties to the Constitutive Act to live up to the standards and ideals they have set for themselves. We are of the view that AU leadership is essential in the regional struggle for security, development and human rights, so we press the AU and its states managers to respect the laws they create and the treatise they sign. When they fail, we step in to demand reform, accountability and justice. But our aim here is to promote the adoption of sound policies by promoting constructive engagement with its leadership and its institutions. We thus provide an essential forum for navigating the bewildering world of African politics within the foremost African institution by galvanizing its uniquely influential network of journalists, regional scholars and leaders to shape the AU we all want – a people centered AU.
So, we invite you to become part of this action and results oriented organization – passionately committed to publicizing and raising awareness about the AU, its Recs, institutions and programs. Through our comprehensive media, outreach, education and advocacy programs, you will become part of a world-wide team of activists and volunteers working to advance understanding of what the AU is doing. You will be involved in monitoring the activities and performance of the AU, challenging it to live up to the standards and ideals it has set for itself. When it fails, you will step in to demand action and changes. As an advocacy and Think-and-Do-Tank, you will be further guided by a fundamental commitment of serving vulnerable people through sustainable community development, promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and good governance, rule of law, and the prevention and resolution of violent conflicts. There is always a place for you at AU Watch. Because:
• AU Watch believes that people can improve their own lives when provided with the necessary skills, knowledge, and access to resources. Your focus will be youths, women and assisting small business.
• AU Watch emphasizes action and measurable results. Based on careful research and analysis, you will take timely action on important and pressing issues.
• You will break new ground and not duplicate the effective efforts of others, actively seeking complementary partnerships and working collaboratively with other organizations from the highest levels of government to local communities.