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The crisis in Mali has once again revealed that African unity is the only means to build the economic, political and military institutions needed to solve problems on the continent

Earlier this month, French troops were sent to Mali, an African country once colonized by an expansionist French state. Unlike the 1980s when Paris periodically sent troops to protect its neocolonial interests in Africa, France’s military objectives in Mali in 2013 are perceptibly different. France is in Mali to carry out preemptive attacks on Islamic extremists and their Al Qaeda affiliates, who have poised to seize that West African country by military means. Lying close to North Africa and speedily dissolving into chaos, Mali represents a sub-regional threat that cannot be ignored. France particularly sees an Al Qaeda-controlled Mali as a cancer that can easily spread across the Mediterranean and into the streets of Europe, attacking democracy and spilling blood with nihilistic abandon. France’s mission in Mali, at least for now, is to reverse a transnational threat arrayed against African and European states, a convergence of interests bringing European and African soldiers onto the same battlefield against a common enemy.

As the world turns into a global village of interconnected people, international security remains one of the most topical issues on the minds of policymakers. Over the past decade, the African continent has tried to transform itself, from a promoter of sovereignty, to a cautious recognizer of newer norms, ready to oppose military coups whenever power is usurped in an African jurisdiction. Indeed, the continent has come a long way from the days when the Organization of African Unity, (OAU), served as the arbiter of interstate relations among Africans. Formed immediately after independence in the early 1960s, the OAU was largely a reflection of the nationalist sensibilities which prompted the anti-colonial struggle. Unlike the African Union, the OAU believed in the principle of “non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.” The OAU’s principle of “non-interference” was so salient that African leaders wasted a whole generation, advertising the sovereign statuses of member states, while violating human rights inside the newly-independent states.

Throughout the lifespan of the OAU, it was convenient for African leaders to argue that human rights violations in an African state, amounted to nothing more than the “internal affairs” of the offending state. The truest epitaph one can write about the OAU is that the organization tasked with defending sovereignty and promoting African unity, failed to achieve both objectives. Ensnared by the divisive politics of the Cold War, the OAU was neither able to keep imperialists at bay, nor unite its diverse people behind a strident, Pan-African voice. Long before its official death in 2002, the OAU’s ignominy was already living with us when the murderous Idi Amin was chosen to lead the organization, from 1975 to 1976. By the time Idi Amin stepped down as Chairman of the OAU in July 1976, the organization was already a white elephant, sapping African resources for its yearly jamborees. Although the OAU was able to cost Africa millions of dollars through its summit meetings and presidential banquets, nothing serious was done to unite the African continent.

Africa now lives in an era where international expectations obligate states to recognize “The Responsibility to Protect.” As far as this norm is concerned, sovereignty can no longer be used as a figleaf to protect murderous regimes against external outrage. Sovereignty has become an obligation to protect, not a license to kill, the citizens of a state. A government must either protect its citizens from mass-murder, genocide and crimes against humanity, or forfeit its sovereign status. With its collection of postcolonial states, most of which are weak and prone to chaos, Africa should especially embrace “The Responsibility to Protect.” Mali, for example, has become the latest African country to be hijacked by a military coup, subsequently crumbling under the assault of transnational terrorists.

Accepted, the imbroglio in Mali is partly a byproduct of NATO’s actions in Libya. However, Mali’s disloyal army simply accelerated the chaos in progress by rebelling against the state it was supposed to defend. Since the illegal government in Mali can neither protect its citizens nor hold the country together, the “Responsibility to Protect” Malian citizens became an international task. Disunited and militarily weak, Africa dithered as Mali inched towards dismemberment. The political and military crises in Mali have once again revealed that African unity is the only means we can use to create the economic, political and military institutions needed to solve problems and pacify the African continent. French soldiers are in Mali because Africa’s military muscle is too dangerously weak to question the intentions of a European power in an emergency.

In the past, military coups were the main source of subversion within the African state. In the post-Cold War era, transnational violence has become a major source of strife, stalking weak states and the breeding grounds such states provide for anarchism. Unlike military coups—which occur within identifiable borders—Jihadism remains amorphous, adapting to various international milieus in order to gather strength and replace governments with theocratic lunacy.Africa needs to be equally adaptive by moving towards more meaningful forms of continental unity. Encouragingly enough, the African Union has been relatively practical, taking a stance against military coups and supporting elected governments threatened by illegitimate violence. As practical as the African Union may appear, Africa remains a shirker when it comes to continental unity.

Although poverty, disease, wars and imperialist machinations continue to dehumanize Africans, the continent’s political systems still lack the courage, and indeed the finesse, to move towards bolder forms of integration. Few people need unity more than Africans, a people once enslaved, colonized, and granted political independence, only to be fettered by the imperialist chains of unfair trade and indebtedness. Africa is NOT, and will NEVER be, in control of its natural resources as long as the continent continues to be governed by separatist states. Transnational violence and its Jihadists have compounded Africa’s dysfunctionality, making it doubly necessary for Africans to unite and prevail over the disabilities of continental impotence. Mali, Somalia and the incipient Jihadism in Kenya, are the freshest examples of African societies chafing under transnational lawlessness.

The “African Dream” remains sonorous in its requirements, bearing the same message it echoed at the dawn of political independence in the early 1960s: UNITY through economic, political and military integration, remains the ONLY way we can regain control of our natural resources, rid the continent of all forms of imperialism, and enjoy the SECURITY that comes in tandem with self-sufficiency. African unity is NOT an idealistic proposition. African unity is an attainable goal, languishing in the doldrums of shortsighted leadership. It must be stated that the responsibility to protect Africans from wars, poverty and imperialism, can only be possible in a continent that acts and speaks with a unified voice that draws sustenance from the United States of Africa.


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* Sankara Kamara is a Sierra Leonean political scientist and journalist.