From the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU): Regionalism, international organization and institutional change in Africa

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Dogah, Denis
The literature on regionalism in Africa often discounts the OAU's replacement by the AU as a 'cosmetic name change' or describes the AU as 'old wine in a new bottle'. My dissertation contributes to these discussions by responding to the 'what changed' and the 'why' questions of this institutional change in Africa. First, it applies a three-tier ontological model of institutional ordering to identify and empirically map institutional changes within the OAU from 1980 to 2000 and from the OAU to the AU at three primary levels: the foundational/constitutive (deepest level 1), and the organizational and operational (shallower levels 2 and 3). I advance two main arguments. First, I argue that the replacement of the OAU by the AU was an innovative change in African regional governance architecture, which was a more significant form of institutional change than an adaptive change. An innovative change occurs at all three levels of institutional ordering. Adaptive change, on the other hand, is generally mechanistic and occurs mainly at levels 2 and 3, without any significant changes at level 1. Second, I argue that the replacement of the OAU with the AU was the result of a historical conjuncture of material and ideational, and normative factors that challenged the OAU's institutional legitimacy, especially from the 1980s to 2001. Within the context of the historical conjecture, material factors, exogenous and endogenous to Africa provided the push for the OAU's replacement by the AU. However, these material factors cannot, on their own, provide an adequate account of the change and must be examined together with the ideational/normative factors. My analysis thus emphasizes the role of ideas and an African agency in understanding how the material and ideational and normative elements of the historical conjuncture came together at a particular historical period and interpreted in a particular manner that culminated in the decision to disband the OAU in 2001. At the core of this institutional change is the redefinition of 'sovereignty as responsibility' in Africa through the Constitutive Act of the Union, NEPAD, and the APRM. The findings of this study thus provide relevant lessons for the comparative study of regionalism, international organization, and sovereignty regimes in Asia, the Americas, and Europe, given that leading regional governance organizations like the ASEAN, OAS, and EU are yet to institutionalize the emerging norm on 'sovereignty as responsibility.'
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Busumtwi-sam, James
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