Pan-Africanism, African Union and the quest for a United States of Africa
”Those who say that a continental government of Africa is illusory are deceiving themselves. They ignore the lessons of history. If the United States of America could do it, if the Soviet Union could do it, if India could do it, why not Africa?” – Dr Kwame Nkrumah.
As has become the tradition now, Ghana and the rest of Africa observed another anniversary of the birth of the African Union (AU) on Wednesday May 25 with formal ceremonies, speeches and verbal commitments to the unity and integration of the Continent. One can predict with a hundred percent certainty, however, that in the next week or two, all those fiery speeches and nostalgic pronouncements, like New Year resolutions, will recede into the dustbins of time and remain there forgotten until next year’s anniversary catches up with us again.
It is a huge contrast when our present lack-lustre attitude is pitched against the hope and euphoria that swept across the African continent, as well as among well-wishers and people of African descent throughout the world, when the birth of the AU was announced in Durban on July 9, 2002. To a large extent, the event was regarded as the Pan-Africanist dream come alive and a virtual reawakening to end Africa’s nightmarish paradox of poverty and underdevelopment in the midst of plenty. But the realisation of that dream would depend on how long the momentum can be sustained in the midst of enormous challenges.
The AU is yet to make its presence felt on the continent in concrete terms since its inauguration. Now, almost one and a half decades into the Union’s existence, a vast majority of Africa’s population is yet to have an appreciable knowledge about the AU and to feel its impact in their everyday lives. Obviously, the urgency that moved the founding fathers of the OAU into action seems to have eluded the present generation of the Continent’s leaders who have resorted to lip service and half-hearted gestures of commitment – apparently unsure as to which end to hold on to and which to let go. But the path is a clear and straightforward one:
“As I have said time and time again, the salvation of Africa lies in Unity. Only a Union Government can safeguard the hard-won freedom of the various African States. Africa is rich, its resources are vast and yet African States are poor. It is only in a Union Government that we can find the capital to develop the immense economic resources of Africa. Only a unified economic planning for development can give Africa the economic security essential for the prosperity and wellbeing of all its peoples”.
That was Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first post-independence President, in his broadcast to the nation on May 24, 1964 to commemorate the first anniversary of the signing in Addis Ababa, of the historic Charter of the Organization of African Unity, now African Union (AU).
It is instructive to note that Nkrumah’s clarion call ‘Africa Must Unite’ clearly articulates his vision and provides solid philosophical justification for that quest as well. By that slogan, he had set his sights beyond the mere winning of political independence in African countries. The discourse of freedom he engaged in meant much more than the mere overthrow of colonialism or the demise of apartheid. To him, freedom from colonial subjugation was one small part of a much larger idea of freedom – that of Africa’s economic emancipation.
With the benefit of that insight, it could be argued that the birth of the African Union was meant to be the beginning of a process that will ultimately lead to the creation of a single government for the African continent. Indeed the call for, and the movement towards the emergence of a continental government for Africa has always been a part of the ideological goal of the Pan-African idea which originated from the African Diaspora, specifically from individuals of African descent in the Caribbean region, notably Henry Sylvester Williams from Trinidad and Tobago, Martin R. Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, W.E.B. DuBois and George Padmore, among others. It became a dream shared by their local equivalents in West Africa, notably James Africanus Horton, S.R.B. Attoh Ahuma and J.E. Casely-Hayford.
Those Diasporian thinkers who originated the idea dreamed of a united Africa that would use the continent’s resources to generate prosperity for Africans and people of African descent everywhere. A prosperous Africa under the direction of a union government will reclaim for all peoples of African descent their dignity and respect. It is undeniable that centuries of the trans-Saharan slave trade, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and neo-colonialism have impacted negatively on the dignity of peoples of African descent.
From the 1945 Congress in Manchester onwards, continental Africans became more prominent in the Pan-Africanist movement, with the activities of Kwame Nkrumah gaining more attention in this respect. The Movement received its first institutional embodiment with the inauguration of the African Union’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in commemoration of which the AU Day is being celebrated today.
Quite evidently the momentum, the spark that is needed to set the flame of integration ablaze, has not happened yet this far. Apart from the routine elite conferences and annual official commemorations of AU Day, things are a bit too quiet on the African integration front. It is imperative, therefore, for all people of African descent, including those in the Diaspora, to embark on a self-auditing exercise and, in particular, to explore the most pertinent question the entire continent should be preoccupied with at this point – What are those impediments that are responsible for the AU’s apparent stagnation, and what is the way forward?
To pick but a few, mention can be made of the absence of strong functional institutions, the lack of industrial development, poor transport and communications infrastructure, intra-state armed conflicts weak economies, and the non-performance of the various sub-regional economic blocs on the continent.. There are also the huge foreign debts, the dependency syndrome, and other problems created by colonial/territorial boundaries. Travelling across the border from one African country to the next remains a nightmare, with numerous road checkpoints where ordinary travellers and traders routinely have to pay bribes before border officials on duty would allow them to get through.
Dr Nkrumah observed: “We were divided on our continent not by chance or by choice, but by force. We cannot cure that division by force among ourselves. We can only cure it by African unity, by coming together within a union government, not by perpetuating the artificial boundaries between us.” What is more, Africa has not been able to break loose from its colonial-era economic patterns, with countries on the continent still trapped in a long-standing legacy dominated by trade with the external world rather than trade amongst themselves.
Currently, Africa’s leaders and the AU Commission have adopted the ‘Africa Vision 2063’ project as a deadline for the Continent’s integration process. More than anything else, the realization of the dream of a fully functional African Union would depend largely on the pursuit of people-centred policies that would bring on-board the masses who would provide the vital driving force to propel the integration process to its logical destination. In many parts of rural Africa, however, the populace are still ignorant about the AU and what it stands for. Now that is the magnitude of the hurdle ahead.
Border officials and local government authorities from neighbouring countries in the ECOWAS, COSASS and SADC zones, in collaboration with their respective Ministries of Regional Integration could, for instance, initiate programmes regularly to converge at their common frontiers and hold open days with border communities for the purpose of sensitization to enable all stakeholders in the process to know the roles expected of them with regard to the removal of restrictions on cross-border movement.
Policy makers in Africa have to empower/support businesses and expedite action on all the necessary protocols to facilitate cross border movement as well as cross border investments. The urgent need to address the infrastructure deficit that will facilitate mobility within the continent remains largely unfulfilled.
Madam Cristina Duarte, the Minister of Finance and Planning, Republic of Cape Verde, resonated this point in an interaction with the media during her bid for the African Development Bank (ADB) top job. “… we have placed too much emphasis on treaties and protocols that are signed by the states but are not fully adhered. We have to place emphasis on people to people and business-to-business integration. It is the people and businesses that will integrate Africa. As now envisaged by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the focus now must be on building ‘community of peoples and not simply of states’. We have to begin to see regional integration not only through the prism of accords and treaties”.
Obviously, a successful integration process in Africa calls for a fundamental structural transformation of the continent’s economic base from primary commodity export to the manufacture of goods, thereby evolving a new trade regime among African countries based on regional specialization.
A joint action in agricultural production and agro-processing is one area that could provide a springboard for the much needed activation of the sub-regional economic blocs, and the heightened level of economic cooperation that has so far eluded the Continent. Moreover, committing more resources to agriculture would not only enable countries to attain food security, but would also generate jobs for the unemployed if pursued with the requisite commitment and consistency.
Africa’s public financial institutions like the AfDB and the various regional investment and development banks working in concert with the commercial banks must put in place special vehicles to promote and fund projects/businesses that will facilitate regional trade and integration, especially with respect to infrastructure and cross border investments. Intra-Africa trade has to be promoted with every zeal and vigour.
From whichever angle one looks at the increasingly competitive world of today, one cannot but concede that regional integration is crucial for Africa. It is in the collective interest of African countries to ensure that all stakeholders, including state and non-state actors, are actively engaged in the process of promoting economic integration on the Continent.
For fellows of the ‘inky fraternity’, here is the task Kwame Nkrumah left for us. Rather than remain passive recorders of history, he challenged African journalists to become active advocates with a sense of mission and help to create the new Africa for which the people have yearned over the centuries. “With your brains and your pens, with the strength of your faith and the passion of your thoughts and words, you are the vanguard of the crusade for a United Africa. Never sell yourselves for a mess of pottage, never allow yourselves to be bought”.
By Mohammed Nurudeen Issahaq