The Grand Debate That Wasn’t
Africa Agenda (vol 10#3), Editorial - Third World Network
The Africa Union Summit in Accra, Ghana, was touted as a meeting that would determine the way forward for the Union Government of Africa. In the end it wound up just like it did some four decades ago when there was the call for a gradual process towards a united government of Africa. So forty odd years on, with the stark reality that a ’disunited’ Africa is one of the major factors responsible for the dire socio-economic and political situation majority of African countries find themselves in we have not really moved much since the 1960s.
Africa’s fragmentation has resulted in the continent’s marginalisation at various international fora and multilateral negotiation sites as the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation, and. the European Commission among others. During the Summit itself, the serious issue of Union Government was reduced by Some media reports to a contest between ’bad boy’ Gaddafi vs.’good boy’ Mbeki. “
Instead of dispassionately 1ooking at the challenges facing the establishment of the Union government, the focus tended to be on who supports instant union government and those calling for gradual process. Thus one could hear such promptings as Gaddafi’s interest in Africa Union Government being an instance of Arab hegemony over ’Black Africa.’ For other leaders like Yoweri Museveni of Uganda a Union Government was not possible given the uneven democratic terrain as well as cultural differences in the various African countries. For the Prime Minister of the tiny Kingdom of Lesotho the issue of loss of sovereignty was paramount as opposed to President Wade, of Senegal who said Senegal was prepared to cede its sovereignty in the quest for Union Government.
Ghana, home of the greatest proponent of Union Government, Kwame Nkrumah, host of the historic Summit, had earlier put out that it would play the ’honest broker’ as host but in the end Ghana’s President Kufuor concluded that the Union Government was not going to be ’revolutionary’ but ’evolutionary’.
On a broader front, the Accra Declaration, the communiqué of the Summit, seems a roll back of earlier efforts that set specific implementation dates towards a Union Government of Africa. It has called far a setting up of ministerial committee to among others identify ’the contents of the Union Government concept’ and ’definition of the relationship between the Union Government and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs)’. These issues are not new and earlier committees have dealt with them so referring them to another committee is not only a sure way of buying time but ultimately killing the Union Government idea.
The same Declaration that acknowledges, ’that opening up narrow domestic markets to greater trade and investment through freer movement of persons, goods, services and capital would accelerate growth thus reducing excessive weaknesses of many of our member states’ needed acceleration is the same’ document that prescribes a committee that to all intents and purpose will drag the realisation of the Union Government.
The Accra Declaration, just like earlier AU ones called for, ’the need for common responses to the major challenges of globalisation facing Africa and boosting regional integration processes through an effective continental mechanism.’ There is however, no coordination between the various RECs themselves not to talk about between them and the African Union. The Economic Partnership Agreements which are to be signed by end of December 2Oth to replace the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and African Caribbean and Pacific is one arena that a Union government of Africa would have been a useful backbone in the negotiations.
In the absence of this Africa is going into the negotiations with a stronger more prepared Union of 27 united countries against the much weaker regional economies (RECs) ECOWAS, CEMAC, SADC, and ESA. The RECs, a loose coalition of individual countries are thus at the mercy of former colonial and development partners.’ The truism in the saying there is strength in numbers seems to have been lost on Africa as individual countries believing in their relative strengths prefer to go their own ways in the rampaging world of globalisation. The lessons of ’United’ and political giants that strut the world like the EU, have not and do not obviously register on the minds of African leaders and stakeholders as they continue to live in their little comfort zones oblivious to the suffering of the African peoples.
African civil society, the Diaspora and other groupings that had hoped for a c0mprehensive outccome of the Debate on the Union Government the Accra summit’s one item agenda, were somewhat disappointed. At their own pre-Summit meetings especially the last one in Accra whose communique they presented to the Summit, they had called for a move from ’Grand Debate to Grand Action’ - Some of their demands include the abolition of visa regimes fOr all Africans (Disapora inclusive) as they ’travel across the continent as a first Step towards a Protocol that enshrines the right to residence, work and movement.’ (see pages 15-16)
In a kind of response The Accra Declaration of the Summit (see page 17) vaguely states, ’We agree on the importance of involving the African peoples, including Africans in the Diaspora, in the processes leading to the formation of the Union Government.’
On a much more symbolic level as far as the African Diaspora is concerned, an Africa Diaspora Mission was opened in Ghana. Two other such Missions are to be opened in Nigeria and South Africa to deal with Africa’s Diaspora. It seems much like the practice of democracy in the various African countries the voice of the people of Africa most of whom would want to see a Union Government does not resonate in the corridors of power. African civil society seems to be charting a different course from that of most of the Heads of State who are inured to the realities of the pathetic situation Africa finds itself. It’s up to civil society groups, activists and other proponents of the Union Government of Africa to work towards the realisation of Africa’s redeeming dream by putting pressure on the African Union and the Heads of state.
The strength that lies in a united Africa is not in doubt, everybody seems to agree with what Nkrumah said some forty three years ago that, ’We can go on to multiply the advantages of a Continental Union. Frontier problems disappear in a Continental Union. 1rritating customs and other formalities cease to be barriers separating brother from brother. We can think of the great economic advantage, of a common currency and a Common market.
Most crucial though is that the world is not waiting for Africa as Rev. Jesse Jackson puts’ it; ’the world is moving too fast for Africa to wait. We have to run faster than Europe, Asia, and US, and there is no time to wait. If we wait, we wait for destruction’.