Barely weeks after many cheered Haiti’s scheduled acceptance as a member of the African Union at its next meeting in Kigali, here comes some news to dampen our spirits.
The African Union in a statement issued on Tuesday the 17th of May has denied granting Haiti associate member status, asserting that according to its statues (article 29.1 of the AU constitution), only African states can join the African Union.
Apparently this narrow definition relies on geography instead of ideology, physical location rather than identity, and considers an “African state” to be a mere expression of geographical boundaries, running often haphazardly across the African continent. It is self-limiting to the union and serves no immediate purpose.
It is a no-brainer that physical proximity is often the least element necessary for fostering collaboration between countries; indeed often times it has been the reason for strife and mutual disrespect amongst neighbors. It can’t be overstated that in this age of globalization, physical distance counts for next to nothing. Haiti shares too much in common with Africa for the country to be denied full AU membership status.
A shared Identity (language, culture, ideology) is everything. It is the reason why the US has closer ties with the UK than it does with neighboring Mexico and the rest of Americas; it is the reason why Cuba has a stronger relationship with Russia than it does with its neighbours; it is the reason why a Nigerian can connect with a Ghanaian faster than a Cameroonian. The Arab league, NATO, and even OPEC are examples of how powerful community of nations can be forged outside of geographical proximity.
With full membership denied, Haiti is expected to continue in its previously held position as an observer member (with no voting or proposal rights), a status it has held since 2012.
It does appear that the AU is simply reluctant about admitting Haiti into its ranks for whatever the reason may be. Referring to a statute which can always be amended, seems like a tidy excuse for the AU, which probably does not consider a stronger bond with Haiti to be of any immediate benefit to the economic and political welfare of the member states.
One can only wonder if the AU would respond in the same way or be effectively willing to shift position if a more prosperous nation, say Brazil, had demonstrated similar interest in joining the AU.
Affirming its love and cooperation with sister states around the Caribbean and people of African descent, the AU highlighted its proposal for a “sixth region” that would be made up of the African diaspora and civil society organizations from Africa.
All of these however, fall short of the no-holds embrace Haiti expected and deserved from the AU.