United States of Africa. The idea is not new. It was alive during the times of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Mwalimu Nyerere of Tanzania. Today, the idea is being pushed under the auspices of the African Union (AU). Its most visible proponent is the Libyan Leader, Muammar Gaddafi.
July 1-3 African Heads of State and Government met in Accra, Ghana for the 9th Ordinary Summit of the African Union. The item on the agenda was the United States of Africa: the formation of a single government in Africa. Muammar Gaddafi traveled by road, visiting several West African states to garner support.
African bloggers were not silent about the summit and the idea of creating a United States of Africa.
Grandiose Parlor wonders about Gaddafi's motives in pushing for a United States of Africa:
He’s been calling for the unification of African nations under a “United States of Africa”. Another U.S.A?
Is this a classic presentation of a grandiosely deluded mind? Or is Gaddafi simply manifesting his pan-African core?
While many bloggers doubt the possibility of a United State of Africa, Branded, writing from Nairobi, Kenya, declares on his blog, Business In Focus, “the United States of Africa is already here.” He specifically looks at two elements to make his point: trade and information technology. For example, he notes that the mobile phone company operating in East Africa, Celtel, has allowed its customers in the region to operate in a single network at existing local rates.
The proposal to officially create a United States of Africa may not have come at a better time than now when international trade is dictating the pace of development thanks to technological innovation. You may not have noticed but recent trends indicate that the United States of Africa is already here. Through various communication technologies, Africa has transformed into a large business unit.
Mobile telephony has also been on the increase in the continent and is showing higher prospects for further growth supported mainly by increased need for global business communication. Mobile telephone service providers are embracing regional integration by converging their operations into single seamless networks ostensibly to improve access and lower the overall cost of international roaming. A good example is Celtel, whose operations in East and Central Africa are now seamlessly converged into one network that allows international roaming at existing local rates. Armed with your mobile telephone and a laptop, you can work from virtually anywhere.
Banking and other financial services are on the growth path with indigenous African banks opening up branches in regions where they were not allowed to operate before. For instance, Standard bank South Africa recently merged with CFC Bank Kenya to support their growth in East Africa. Foreign direct investments have also been on the increase within the continent thanks to technological innovation that allows all operations to be centralised.
He finishes his post by arguing that many iniatiatives to build regional blocks have failed except for trade alliances because of its direct influence in economic development:
Looking at history, various regional blocking in Africa have failed to meet their mandate due to various reasons mostly political. Only trade has been self-sustaining because of its direct influence in economic development. If the idea of creating a United States of Africa is to create wealth, then we may argue that it is already here. What Africa needs is to strengthen existing structures, invest more in ICT and establish structures that support international trade and wealth creation through value addition.
I want to say three things. First, yes, African countries should definitely unite. But an African ‘united states’ is not possible. Too much ego stands in the way, too many regional interests, and also outside interference would prevent it. Would the USA want to see a truly united Africa?
Would the leaders of northern African countries, [with the notable and admirable exception of President Ghadaffi], who admit to being African only when they need votes at the UN or for some other geo-political purposes, want a United Africa? I doubt it!! So let us be realistic and practical and think of a Federation of African States along the lines of the European Union. And we should get on with it now. Right now!!!
Current African leaders are far lesser men that the African leaders who fought for independence… Nyerere had the guts to invade Uganda to get rid of the homicidal maniac, Idi Amin.
I have nothing but contempt for most of today’s African leaders who specialize in getting rich, attending international conferences and making fine speeches – the blood of the victims of the Darfur holocaust is also on their hands as because they won’t intervene overtly or covertly to save their black brothers and sisters.
The Cameroonian writer and activist, Mwalimu George Ngwane, argues that while the political and economic trajectories of African integration have been developed, the cultural component has not been explored, “…this has undermined the quest for an African citizenship through a common language, a pan-African media organ, a revised and harmonised education system, and a return to the organic concept of co-existence and cooperation as it obtained before individualism and exclusion became our new mantra.”
According to Ngwane, Africa should try a voluntary approach to forming a single government:
I, therefore, propose that if the Accra July summit fails to achieve a minimum consensus on the African Union government now, then we should abandon the holistic approach of trying to get all African countries to accept the one-off continental version and embark on the voluntary approach which requires countries or regions that are prepared to create a United States of Africa, to come together as nucleus members like it was in 1961 among Ghana, Guinea and Mali. And when other citizens shall see the benefits accruing from these core members, they shall oblige their governments into associating with the United Africa architecture.
The blogger at Alnigeria finds the idea “rather ridiculous at first take“:
When you however do a double, you discover there may be some merit to the idea. Those against this idea have probably narrowed the available options to mean, creating a duplicate of the system presently in place in the USA or even the EU. If the available alternatives include a flexible state with loose economic ties which encourage trading and production while maintaining sovereign governments which have enough power to make the system beneficial to the member states. Then the idea takes on a new lease of life. An idea also known as ‘A stronger AU’. I am not sure this is workable at the moment. Obviously this is an alternative way to look at the idea of a United States of Africa in Trade.
Critic Blog suggests “a little African unity first“:
But doesn’t it all sound like “Plenty of talk – but what action?” syndrome? There’s always a huge build up and some excitement, as well as a great deal of cynicism, before these summits.
If Africa is still trying to resolve the basic problems, like the summit organizers are still discreetly having to separate two Horn of Africa neighbors, two enemies namely Eritrea and Ethiopia, what hope then for a United States of the continent, speaking with one voice to the world? What about a little African unity first?
Illustrious Africans, such as the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and legendary trumpeter, Hugh Masekela, joined forces with civil society activists in Accra, to say Africa must first deal with its crises and conflicts. The United States of Africa comes later.
It seems most African Union countries are not ready to rush headlong into the creation of a continental government just yet. But that’s the top item on the agenda in Accra.
And, one may even look forward to an expected debate as to who then would become that first President of Africa?
Will this idea of one government, one army, one everything for the continent, fly? Let’s wait and watch!
Dave is not sure if Africa is ready for such a union:
Whilst I admire efforts for pan Africanism I think with the 53 countries with their varied cultural, ethnic and politic differences stretching for years to the present day, this would be no mean feat. The countries and cultures of Africa are far too different. Even with my recent trip to Tanzania I picked up regional differences and mentalities that would take mountains to climb before they were resolved. Can it work? Of course it can. Do I think the continent is ready for such a thing…..no, not yet. (It’s my blog. Am allowed to be opinionated!!)
He supports the idea of an African Central Bank:
One the upside, I personally think that an African Central Bank would be remarkable. A great start for non partisan investment into the infrastructure of macro and micro investment in many of the continents poorer and more politically fragile nations. A pegged currency could certainly remove the slavish dependence many countries have on say the US dollar and counter some of the hyper inflation in countries like Zimbabwe. But bearing in mind that last point what would the Union be able to do to deal with the socio economic policies of member states like Sudan, Sierra Leone, DR Congo and Zimbabwe.
David Ajao writes, “Obviously, the issue is not whether Africa should unite political & economically or not. The issue is when? Now, or gradually?”:
I’m now sure about the possibility of Africa uniting now. Why? ECOWAS (the West African regional block) has not worked well so far. All it has done well to some extent is to contain conflicts in the sub-region.
#1. ECO: a single currency for Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Liberia, has expressed an interest in joining. The goal post of the day this currency will be used keeps shifting. This currency was announced during the days of General Sani Abacha of Nigeria (late 1990’s) and as of today 30th June 2009, launch date is 2009.
#2. Free movement of people, goods: This is the most ridiculous of it all. Travelling by road from Nigeria to Ghana, is hectic even more if you are a citizen of an ECOWAS country. Extortions, bribery, corruption are the order of the day at the borders. Movement across the borders is far from free!
So what are they talking about an African union government now? I am all for a unified Africa, but we have a long way to go.
The Concoction writes a post titled, Changing stoves doesn’t make the food taste better:
Good thing that there are no defeatist attitudes within the organization and the continent. When the going gets tough, the tough changes its name. African Union (AU) has been the new boy’s club in town since 2002. I’m wondering if shortening the name is supposed to make it less clumsy. The AU is supposed to accelerate the integration of the continent while its visions and structure stayed the same as OAU. The Constitutive Act of the African Union states that the new body is committed to focusing on growth and development, democracy, and peace. And the OAU’s was,,,?
The focus of OAU was
• OAU Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) and the Final Act of Lagos (1980); incorporating programmes and strategies for self reliant development and cooperation among African countries.
• The African Charter on Human and People's Rights (Nairobi 1981) and the Grand Bay Declaration and Plan of Action on Human rights: two instruments adopted by the OAU to promote Human and People's Rights in the Continent. The Human Rights Charter led to the establishment of the African Human Rights Commission located in Banjul, The Gambia.
• Africa's Priority Programme for Economic recovery (APPER) – 1985: an emergency programme designed to address the development crisis of the 1980s, in the wake of protracted drought and famine that had engulfed the continent and the crippling effect of Africa's external indebtedness.
So how different is the AU?
The concoction discusses what she calls “the legitimate child” (the New Partnership for Africa's Development) and the surrogate brother (the Commission for Africa) and concludes brilliantly with “the neglected”:
While big shots are flying around the globe attending one summit after the other, patting each other on the back and basically talking fancy stuff, ordinary African’s have rolled up their sleeves to get busy.
An Ethiopian who set up a mobile library in rural Ethiopia using a donkey.
A Kenyan high school principal is breaking the cycle of aid dependency by teaching his students to be self sufficient in food production. These students go back to their villages and teach others.
A Malawian farmer is teaching people how to feed themselves despite poverty and harsh climates “using just hoes and shovels, he's built an elaborate gravity-driven irrigation system …and inch-deep trenches.”
Farmers in Kenya are “turning to marula tree (elephant tree) farming as a way of fighting rural poverty.”
South African priests are busy battling HIV/AIDS by distributing condoms and raising awareness while a Tanzanian traditional healer is cooking up some herbs and roots to fight infections associated with AIDS
Kid-powered water pumps in South Africa and elsewhere are helping women reduce the distance and time that they have to cover to fetch water.
An Ethiopian heart surgeon gives back to his community.
Wangari Maathai’s speech is an excellent summary of what is wrong in Africa and what should be done. Her website has more information on her and her work.
There are many more such examples than a Google search reveals, and these the people who fill the huge gap in Africa. The grandparents who are caring for children orphaned by AIDS, the women who pick up the pieces of wars and conflicts, teachers who get paid in kind by villagers in rural areas, health workers who volunteer to care for the sick… Although very little seems rosy in Africa, there are heart warming examples of resilience, compassion and rich culture
Tajudeen Abdul-Rahman considers the idea of a United States of Africa a lack of creativity:
This is unfortunate because even those of us enthusiastic about the unity of Africa would wish that the leaders are a bit more creative than just wanting to create another USA. Given what one USA is doing, it would be a disservice to humanity to want to inflict another USA on the world. Our values should be made of better ethics and love for humanity and affirmation of life with dignity than to be copying the United States of America whose unity is based on a genocide against indigenous Indians, the slavery of people of African origin, and a continuing plunder of the rest of the world.
The agenda has pitched leaders against leaders and different sectors of our informed and ill-informed publics against one another. But basically there are two broad positions- those who want a united government and those who aim to have union of states later; with a third position essentially calling for a Federal Government. None disagree about the need for Africa to unite. So if there is no disagreement about the goal what is the debate about?
There is a three-way division on this issue. One, United States of Africa. Two, Union of African States. Three, a Union Government of Africa. The advocates of two and three claim they do not disagree with the goal as contained in the first proposal but they want a slower pace. These gradualists may have forgotten that the OAU was the outcome of previous graduualism and we know where it has led us so far. If gradualism worked we would not be discussing African unity again fifty years later in Accra where Nkrumah declared that ‘the independence of Ghana is meaningless withouth the total liberation of Africa’. Those propagating a Union of States have also failed to appreciate the salutary lesson of our painful post-colonial experience that you cannot declare sovereignty over states created for the interest of others. That will be trying to co-own your oppression. We have tried this with calamitous consequences all over. Sovereignty belongs to the people. Therefore A Union of African Peoples is what our people are prepared for but the leaders are holding us back. Leaders can choose to be like giraffes, firmly standing but with the neck held so high that they can see far, instead of pandering to Afropessimism and defeatism by saying ‘we are not ready’. If not now then when?
It is a false choice to posit the issue as one between gradualists and radicals. The choice should be between fast and faster! Africa has waited too long and we should all be tired of the stagnation. If indeed we are serious about union.