The move from institutions? Examining the phenomenon in Africa.

Author:Maluwa, Tiyanjana
Position:The Move from Institutions? - Proceedings of the One Hundredth Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law: A Just World Under Law


The recently issued National Security Strategy of the United States (March 2006), reaffirms the preference for informally created institutions or networks with selective membership increasingly favored in U.S. policy. It describes them as partnerships that emphasize international cooperation, not international bureaucracy; rely on voluntary adherence rather than binding treaties; and are oriented towards action and results rather than legislation and rulemaking. (1)

Some commentators have concluded that these networks manifest a move away from institutions. One of my copanelists, Prof. Eyal Benvenisti, has described this trend in his presentation and in a forthcoming publication as thus:

This new attitude toward international obligations reflects both the

availability of novel ways for governments to interact across

political borders, as well as new concerns about international legal

tools, especially the formal international institutions. This

preference for informal lawmaking suggests that international

cooperation can be achieved without recourse to international legal

tools and that the informality offers significant benefits

to some governments. (2)

The phenomenon of "coalitions of the willing" as an informal mechanism for circumventing the bureaucratic strictures and international rule-making or legislative processes of formal international institutions has become more pronounced lately with the proliferation of various coalitions of like-minded states led or inspired by the United States. Yet, the history of this phenomenon has a far longer and more complex life. (3) Most of these coalitions involve countries from the global North, but they are by no means limited to these states. Similar developments--albeit of a limited nature and scope, and of more recent pedigree--can be identified among states of the global South as well.

My presentation focuses on the emergence of this phenomenon in the global South and is aimed at demonstrating that the move away from institutions may be occurring not only with respect to the universal or global institutions but also at the level of regional institutions, such as the African Union (AU). In my view, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) presents the closest example of this phenomenon in Africa.


NEPAD is nowadays commonly described as an integral program of the AU, the regional organization that superseded the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in July 2002. Yet, NEPAD originally was conceived as a separate framework for interaction and cooperation among a self-selected group of African states, operating as a parallel structure to the OAU. Although African political leaders subsequently decided to adopt it as a program of the OAU, I would argue that NEPAD was intended to be, and remains, an exclusive, voluntary coalition of like-minded states. From a structural and operational point of view, it remains a separate entity from the AU, notwithstanding the political rhetoric suggesting otherwise. The establishment of a separate small, "core" secretariat for NEPAD in Midrand, South Africa, away from the headquarters and international bureaucracy of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is itself a manifestation of this position. In addition, the different approaches taken by the AU and NEPAD leaders in presenting the two initiatives to African governments, civil society groups and Africa's external development partners, in...

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