Solomon Dersso Guardian Professional, Friday 24 May 2013
Africa has come a long way since the formation of what became the AU, but even more needs to be done. Solomon Dersso suggests a path to unification – in word and in deed
In his famous speech, in which he made the case for the formation of a strong union of the continent, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, described as “the great crusader of African unity” by Mualimu Julius Nyerere, told his peers on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa that “unite we must. Without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties, big or small, we can here and now forge a political union based on defence, foreign affairs and diplomacy, and a common citizenship, an African currency, an African monetary zone and an African central bank.”
He went on: “We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent. We need a common defence system with African high command to ensure the stability and security of Africa … We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay in tackling realistically this question of African unity.”
Fifty years on, the unification of Africa remains beyond the horizon. While it has come a long way since the hey days of independence from colonial rule and the formation of the Organization of African Unity, the progress that the continent has made towards “tackling realistically this question of African unity”, as Nkrumah put it, leaves a lot to be desired.
As the AU and member states mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the OAU under the theme Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance, it is imperative that we heed the counsel of former South African president Thabo Mbeki – that in the context of the 50th anniversary of the OAU: “We must answer some questions honestly: what progress have we made towards the achievement of the objectives set by the OAU, African Union and New African Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad)? What shall we do in this regard?”
In his book, The Wretched of the Earth, published in 1961 at the height of the triumphant years of the liberation of the countries of the continent from colonial rule, the great revolutionary and thinker Frantz Fanon observed about the raging political rhetoric of African unity:
“We may understand why keen-witted international observers have hardly taken seriously the great flights of oratory about African unity, for it is true that there are so many cracks in that unity visible to the naked eye that it is only reasonable to insist that all these contradictions ought to be resolved before the day of unity can come.”
The transformation of the OAU to the AU is indeed a major development in the evolution towards achieving the ideals of pan-Africanism.
Compared to the OAU years, Africa indubitably registered some commendable progress under the AU. This is particularly true with regard to peace and security as well as economic growth and in countries’ economic performance. A number of countries that went through a violent conflict in the 1990s, including Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have made remarkable progress.
Although the focus of much of the news headlines remain on conflicts and violence, an increasing number of countries have enjoyed stability during the past decade, even in parts of the continent that are generally regarded as being conflict prone. By any standard of measurement, these are very promising achievements.
However, the promises unfulfilled are far more than those realised and the cohesion and leadership of the founding years of the OAU is now fading. Africa exhibits frightening levels of disunity in various spheres. There are two major factors that account for this: weak ideological and political foundation of African unity and the lack of the key factors of economic integration on the continent.
‘This question of African unity’ has encountered betrayals, failures of catastrophic consequences, missed opportunities and currently under the AU a situation that appears to be a false dawn.
There is a need for re-articulating and reaffirming the commitment for African unity at all levels and more so at the level of the political leadership.
In order to avoid the AU becoming a false dawn for the continent, it is imperative that the emerging trend in the management of the affairs of the continent should be reversed. The major challenges to be overcome include:
• the deficit in the ideological conviction of the political classes of the countries of the continent
• the lack of sustainable political commitment
• the current dearth of political leadership on the continent particularly on the part of major countries of the continent, and
• the poor supply of the key factors of economic integration
To this end, the AU should mobilise its member states and take the necessary steps to overcome these challenges. The steps to be taken include reinvigorating the ideological conviction for the unification process, not only among the political leadership of the continent but also within the wider public, through a rigorous articulation of African unity as a path for development and transformation.
Creating societal wide awareness of and constituency for African unity and to this end changing the framework of African unity from “we the heads of state and government” to “we the peoples of Africa”.
Various policies adopted at the level of the AU not to be incorporated into domestic frameworks and practices through incentives and alliances with grass root actors.
The emergence of a coalition of countries with dedicated political leadership and commitment for pursuing the dream of African unity has to be encouraged.
Prioritising the speedy development of key factors of economic integration – more particularly the communication, transport aand regulatory infrastructure for free movement of peoples, goods and services and the diversification of the structure of African economies.
A realistic and incentivised roadmap and strategy with benchmarks and realistic timelines must be created, as well as follow-up mechanisms for economic integration.
A process needs to be started for rationalising and aligning the role and activities of member stateswithin the framework of the AU.
Solomon A Dersso is a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies , Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He tweets as @SolomonADersso
This is an abridged version of Solomon’s essay ‘This question of African unity – 50 years after the founding of the OAU.
Down here to read the full version.