Leaders Failed Test of Unity
The Standard - The search for African unity is not only an emotional issue, but also a divisive subject.
While some zealously support the formation of the United States of Africa, others vehemently oppose it. Divisions at the ninth African Union summit in Ghana are a replay of the war of nerves between the Nkurumahists and gradualists in the 1960s during the days of the Organisation of African Unity, the predecessor of the African Union.
From its Diaspora roots, Pan-Africanism was a revolutionary, anti-imperial and anti-capitalist movement that proclaimed social democracy. Its proponents welcomed economic democracy as the only empowering philosophy since the 1945 Manchester conference.
No sooner had Pan-Africanism left its Diaspora roots to its organic soil in Africa than sharp differences begin to manifest themselves at the top leadership of the newly decolonised and decolonising States. Ghana’s founding President Kwame Nkrumah passionately argued that artificial divisions and territorial boundaries the imperialists created were deliberate steps to obstruct political unity and would expose Africa to neo-colonial manipulation.
Nkrumah cautioned that sovereignty, State power and flags would be too sweet to surrender. But the gradualists warned that Africa was not ready for political union and cited regional integration as the best way of realising African unity. To be sure, the Nigerian delegation in the 1960s argued that their country would never surrender her sovereignty for the sake of African unity.
The differences between Nkrumah’s position and those who counselled caution became chronic at every OAU summit, culminating in a compromise that saw gradualism institutionalised and inscribed in the OAU Charter. But this was not before Nkrumah earned himself several enemies among fellow Heads of State. History repeated itself in Accra last month when African Heads of State refused to learn from history.
Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade’s position is similar to Nkrumah’s and Sekoh Toure’s in the 1960s. Toure and Nkrumah had argued that regional groups would make it even harder or impossible to realise continental unity. From his experience in West Africa, he knew that regional blocs retard rather than promote unification.
Deliberate political will is needed to transcend neo-colonial trappings and class interests. Nkrumah’s observation and Tanzania’s founding President Julius Nyerere’s admission during Ghana’s 50th independence celebration in 1997 that African Heads of States failed to realise the objectives of African unity. While noting partial success in liberating the continent, African leaders had failed to unite the continent.
Nkrumah argued that colonial economies competed with one another and were not compatible - just like post-colonial economies exhibit uneven development. Furthermore, each State seeks to associate with metropolitan economies on terms and conditions that favour and advance national interests. This has led to perpetual acrimony and irreconcilable contradictions prevalent in regional institutions such as South African Development Community, East African Community (EAC) and Ecowas.
The continent should learn from EAC. Its golden age was when the region had a single political entity, the colonial State, which integrated the economies of East Africa. The post-colonial State, while seeking to maximise advantage of the EAC, led to disintegration in 1977.
The African Union summit in Ghana met when Nkrumah had been proved right beyond reasonable doubt. State nationalism and neo-colonial manipulation have led to Africa’s first world war in the Great Lakes region, Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict, war in Somalia, civil war in Darfur, low-intensity conflict in Lesotho, grand corruption in East Africa, pillage of national resources and rise of regional hegemonies.
The post-colonial State is experiencing the hand of neo-colonial institutions: The IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation have a grip on African economies. In the 1980s, Africa lost self-determination after it abandoned the Lagos Plan of Action in favour of World Bank recommendations.
More recently, the post-colonial State has combined Structural Adjustment Programmes with the neo-liberal poverty reduction strategy papers. Conservative African leaders who wine and dine with G8 leaders have betrayed the Pan-African dream even as they fail to construct a single kiosk.
Globalisation has opened another battlefront. It has undermined the welfare of African people through privatisation, liberalisation and delinking of the State from the economy. Through this, it has abandoned its role in favour of the markets.
The rise of regional hegemonies and lack of initiative have brought this sorry state. In Ghana, South African President Thabo Mbeki and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni were united in opposing Gadaffi and Wade’s ideas on flimsy grounds of gradualism. The status quo works for Mbeki’s comprador interests in Africa and South Africa’s national interest to keep the captive market it enjoys.
The same is true for Nigeria and Kenya. Pan-Africanism should regain the lost initiative through citizens, scholars and institutions. The most important lesson from Accra is that gradualism is an imperial thinking that has brought Africa to its knees.
Mbeki, Museveni and others should know Africa is more important than their national interests.
Kisemei Mutisya is a lecturer at Catholic University of Eastern Africa
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