Africa’s Unfinished Business

*** Continental unity should be institutionalised

The quest for unity has always been a universal sentiment that spurred nationalistic thought and galvanised people in achieving greater heights.

Sun Yat-Sen is still regarded as the father of the Chinese nation because of his unshakable belief in unity. Even the Pan-Arabism and Ba’athist movements were also ideologically premised on the idea of unity of the Arab nation.

Closer to our times, the European movement of the World War II period also carried this view of unity as a central tenet in achieving greater goals.

It is therefore no surprise that nationalists like Namibia’s Founding Father, Sam Nujoma and Zimbabwe’s Robert President Mugabe view unity as the central and undying theme in ensuring that Africans triumphantly achieve economic development and political autonomy.

Indeed, it is my observation that one of the key issues that have remained an unfinished project on the conscience of President Mugabe is the continued fragmentation of African states.

President Mugabe’s exasperation with the lack of African unity was aptly captured in his speech at a luncheon soon after his inauguration August 23, 2013.

In that speech President Mugabe lamented the way peoples of Africa have lend themselves to control by Western powers.

He said; “We are no longer strong. We sit with Westerners in their fora to decide on action against other African countries. We should never do that. But that happened.

“When we had an attack on Libya, we had three (African) countries in the Security Council, which agreed with Western countries that there should be action taken against Libya under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations, which allowed NATO to come and we know what happened. The situation there is in turmoil.”     

Among his audience were Former Presidents Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) and Festus Mogae (Botswana).

With an unmistakable tone of frustration, President Mugabe evoked the spirit of the founding fathers of African Unity whose ethos risks being completely erased.

So what has gone wrong? What has impinged the dream of a united African voice? 

Why has the European Union, which borrowed a lot from the OAU, managed to speak with one voice when it comes to issues concern security and their survival and yet Africans have failed to agree even on mundane issues? 

Indeed, what has led to the failure to institutionalise a firm, universal and concrete African unity?

Many hoped that Nkrumah’s speech at the Old Polo Ground in Accra on March 6, 1957 where he announced that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa” was to set the tone for real substantive unification of all African states but alas this has remained just a mirage.

Although Nkrumah’s policy and pronouncement led to the creation of facilities of various sorts for the prosecution of the anti-colonial struggles with the Bureau of African Affairs in Accra becoming the focal point of activity in support of the struggles led by people like Joshua Nkomo (Rhodesia), Felix Moumie (Cameroon), Holden Roberto and Augustino Neto (Angola), Eduardo Mondhlane (Mozambique), Milton Obote (Uganda), Sekou Toure of Guinea and Modibo Keita of Mali, the verve diminished following the rift between the Monrovia and Casablanca groups.

In the words of Kwesi Kwa Prah in “The Wish to unite – The Historical and Political Context of the Pan-Africanist Movement”: “the split between the Monrovia and the Casablanca groups in 1961 underscored the entrenchment of divergent interests and different views to the way forward.”

It came as no surprise then that the birth of the Organisation of African Unity on May 1963 was more of a continental (regional) association than a federation of states as Nkrumah had envisaged.

In its Charter, the OAU simply expressed the wish to promote unity and asserted the sovereign equality of all member states; and upheld the non-interference in the internal affairs of member-states.

In other words the genesis of the contradictions that have stalled real tentative unity among member states must be contextualised within the framework of notable speeches by two major protagonists of that era.

In his address to the Ghana National Assembly on August 8, 1960 against the background of a crisis in the Congo created by the presence of Belgian troops and the secession of Katanga province, Nkrumah argued that; “The African struggle for independence and unity must begin with political union. A loose confederation of economic co-operation is deceptively time delaying.

“It is only political union that will ensure uniformity in our foreign policy protecting the African personality and presenting Africa as a force important to be reckoned with.”

In that address, Nkrumah pointedly highlighted that since the economic resources of Africa were immense and staggering, it was only through unity that those resources can be utilised for the progress of the continent and the happiness of mankind.

On the other hand, speaking as the Prime Minister of the eastern region of Nigeria and leader of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon, Aziwe said he believed that economic and social integration will enable Nigeria and its neighbours to bring to pass the United States of Africa.

In his own words, Aziwe posited that; “It will be capital folly to assume that the hard-bargaining politicians who passed through the ordeal of victimization and the crucible of persecution to win their political independence will easily surrender their newly won political power in the interest of political leviathan which is populated by people who are alien to one another in their social economic relations.”

The differences between the two formed the crux of what has become the bane of African unity.

While Nkrumah was prophetically correct in calling for an immediate political union in order for Africans to have some form of “uniformity” in the conduct of their foreign affairs, Aziwe called for merely economic co-operation and rather exaggerated as insurmountable ethnic differences among member states.

Realising that the OAU had become redundant after the Aziwe group had triumphed as reflected by what later became of the organization, the post-liberation leadership led by the then Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi sought to change the organisation into the African Union. 

The aim was to revamp it and re-align it with its founding principles in line with current dynamics.

While the involvement of South Africa in the initial stages of the AU was celebrated as a way of curtailing Gaddafi’s mercurial politics, it later became clear that its involvement was “fatuous,” as it diluted the stamina of the organization through the inclusion of such notions as the “peer-review” of the democratic performance of member states, the nascent conceptualisation of an African parliament and the backpedalling on the principle of non-interference in the affairs of member states.

All these “smuggled” notions though well meaning proved with time that the parameters of the pursuit of the ideal of African unity had metamorphosed.

Resultantly, the African voice on the international scene has remained incoherent, inconsistent and largely divided. 

Although treated as sovereign states in the councils of the world, the truth is that most African countries have become “banana republics”- only free and sovereign in name but effectively dependent on designs and intentions of Western powers.

Should it then be obvious to every African that the lack of political unity has been the major cause of economic stagnation in the post-colonial era?

Why then should Africans fail to understand Mugabe when he calls for a united Africa, which will be in a better position to negotiate with all corners on the basis of equality?

If we are all serious about the need to rescue the unity project from Afro-pessimists, then we must move away from the idea of African unity based only on what is called continentalism- the geographical unity of the whole continent with the colonial states as the building blocks.

Continentalism is fundamentally a geographical or regional African unity and not the unity of people with commonalities of history and culture. 

We need to go back to what Thabo Mbeki said about unity based on our historical and cultural experience and also include the Diaspora Africans.

Continentalism as a concept of African unity sees African unity in the same sense as other regional bodies like the organization of the African States such as the organization of American States (OAS) or the Association South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) which don’t see themselves as historical and cultural entities in the first instances.

So as Africa struggles to confront and deal with myriad problems afflicting it, it is time that its leadership, as a matter of survival, move away from the “design of Africa imposed on us by old colonial powers”.

One does not need to be a rocket scientist to realise that a disunited Africa has no chance of advancement.

September 2013
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