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Post-independent African leaders have failed to realise the aspirations and hopes of self-determination and unity of the African people. There are five basic steps that AU member states need to take now to put Africans on the path to full integration

On 25 May 2013 Africa will remember 50 years of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was replaced by the African Union (AU) in 2002. While there are various opinions as to whether the OAU/AU realised the vision of unity among Africans that founders of the continental organisation sought to achieve, there is no doubt that Africa does not need more five decades to learn from past mistakes.

At the 25 May 1963 founding summit of the OAU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it was clear that the driving force behind the then African leaders was to ‘liberate all African people’ and form effective solidarity among them. Leaders such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Algeria’s Ahmed Ben Bella and their supporters, the so-called Casablanca group, wanted immediate unification of all African people and the elimination of all tariffs and boarders (The Africa Report, May 2013). The golden opportunity to start the unification process was lost when opponents of the Casablanca group, under the so-called Monrovia camp, took the day with their proposal of a much looser organisation that would not prevent them from maintaining stronger ties with their former colonial masters.

Even though Africa failed to take the route of a stronger federation at the OAU founding summit, there have still been numerous opportunities over the last fifty years to come back to the right path. Unfortunately, Africa is not yet unified; it is a continent of fifty-five artificial entities, not nations, some of which ought not to have been called countries in the first place according to some commentators.

This article argues that leaders of post-independent Africa as well as their successors failed to realise the aspirations and hopes of self-determination and unity that African people had at decolonisation. Those dreams died in May 1963. While recognising that the end of colonisation and South Africa’s apartheid were strong steps towards African unity, the lack of political will has since prevented Africans from being united. This article proposes five basic but important steps that AU member states need to take now without waiting another 50 years for Africans to be on the path to full integration.

The Casablanca-Monrovia divisions did not end at the 1963 summit. Barely three years after the establishment of the OAU, a military coup overthrew President Kwame Nkrumah, thus weakening the pro-unification camp. Splits among OAU leaders were further deepened by proxy wars between the United States of America and the former Soviet Union during the years of the Cold War. For instance, in the mid seventies AOU leaders could not agree on which liberation movement to support in Angola out of União Nacional Para a Independência Total de Angola, Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola and Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola. In 1984, when the OAU recognised the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, Morocco, one of the strongest supporters of federalism, left the organisation. Until now, it has not yet rejoined the continental institution.

Furthermore, another attempt to revive talks on the establishment of a Government of Union at the 2007 AU summit in Accra, Ghana, did not achieve any results. Those supporting an immediate federal government of Africa and those favouring a gradual integration process through the strengthening of regional economic communities could not agree on a decisive solution. AU leaders contented themselves with a recommendation to transform the secretariat of the AU, the African Union Commission, into a more powerful secretariat, the African Union Authority, but that proposal has since then been forgotten.

Apart from those divisions at the continental level, this half-century of the OAU’s existence was also marred with regional divisions that made continental integration just a far-sighted dream. For instance, the conflict between North and South Sudan continued, over the decades, without any solutions from African leaders. Even after the independence of South Sudan in July 2011, there are still thorny issues between the two countries that also continue to divide opinions among African leaders. The 1996 conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is another example of how Africa did not show any signs of walking towards the path of continental integration. In that conflict, more than 11 African countries were involved and fighting in two opposing camps. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is far from being resolved.

African leaders have also failed to agree on principles and values that would govern the united Africa that all Africans aspire to see. While there are over 42 charters, conventions and protocols that OAU/AU member states adopted, the implementation of these legal instruments is largely slow or non-existent. Sadly, these instruments outline guidelines, values and principles that ought to characterise a continent for the people and by the people.

It would be very deplorable for African people if this 50th anniversary did not provide an opportunity for the whole continent to learn from our past mistakes and embark on an integration trajectory without waiting for 2063 to realise what many independent movements fought for across the continent five decades ago. There are five steps that African leaders can take now and not in the next 50 years.

First, Africans should be able to finance all activities of the African Union. It is an illusion to say that we are independent countries while the institution that is supposed to foster our integration is still financed by our former colonisers and their allies. The African continent has enough resources to finance our integration process; we only need to know our priorities. It is hard to comprehend how a continent that will soon have a population of one billion people is unable to finance its integration process. The same applies to individual AU member states when it comes to financial independence. Political independence is incomplete without financial independence.

The second step is to resolve issues around land and natural resources. According to Sam Moyo’s The Land Question in Africa: Research Perspectives and Questions, civil wars, inter-country conflicts, migration and involuntary displacements are only symptoms of increasing land disputes involving direct confrontation over access to key natural resources by both domestic and external capitalist forces. It will be impossible for Africa to unite if there are still conflicts over land and other natural resources in many AU members. The AU has developed a number of instruments, such as the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and the Land Policy in Africa: a Framework to Strengthen Land Rights, Enhance Productivity and Secure Livelihoods, that, if well implemented by member states, could significantly reduce conflicts on the continent. African leaders should be brave enough to tackle these problems, many of which go back to colonial times.

Thirdly, AU member states need to give teeth to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. The African Court on Human and People’s Rights was established in June 1998 as a continental mechanism to ensure protection of human and people’s rights in Africa. The lack of adequate funding from African countries denies Africans from having a legal framework that understands their contexts and that can promote and protect their rights and those of their communities. Lack of funding and political will from AU member states further prevent the continent from ending the bad culture of impunity. The performance of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights over the last 15 years also demonstrates the challenges that the continent still has in bringing about justice and reconciliation among African people.

A fourth step towards the realisation of the aspirations and hopes of the African people is to stop adopting more charters and conventions and instead recommit to concentrating on genuine implementation processes. The idea of financial independence is critical in this case as well because many AU legal instruments and policies do not only require political will, but also financial means. A relook at our priorities can solve this challenge of slow or lack of implementation.

The fifth step that this article proposes is to allow free movement of people and goods. Millions and millions of Africans wonder why an African cannot freely move from one corner of the continent to another one while some non-Africans have the freedom to do so. Ordinary Africans will not understand the real meaning of a union of African states if there are still these unsubstantiated restrictions to movement of people and goods. Some may argue that some travellers may be a security threat or may bring social burdens to nationals of the host state, but all these are excuses to preventing Africans from achieving unity.

African leaders will not just wake up one day and start implementing the above-proposed steps; African citizens need to consistently remind them to do so. One of the major shifts between the AOU and AU is that the latter calls for people’s participation in the affairs of the union. In the Constitutive Act of the African Union, African leaders acknowledged that a united and strong Africa needs partnerships between governments and all segments of civil society including women, youth, and the private sector, among others (Organisation of African Unity, 2000). Every African citizen has a role to play in making sure that Africa is strong and united. Now the question is, ‘What can you do and what will you do for Africa?’

In conclusion, what Africa needs now is the passion and dedication that leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Guinea’s Ahmed Sékou Touré, among others, had for Africa’s unity. These leaders need to be visionaries and avoid petty national politics that are based on hatred, negative ethnicity, regionalism, nepotism and greed among other evils that prevent them from seeing the bigger picture. As President Kwame Nkrumah said, ‘Africa must unite’, and this cannot wait until 2063.

*Yves Niyiragira is Programme Manager at Fahamu. The views in this article do not represent those of Fahamu; they are solely those of the author.


Moyo, Sam (2003), ‘The Land Question in Africa: Research Perspectives and Questions, CODESRIA: Dakar

Organisation of African Unity (1998), Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and People’s Rights, June, Burkina Faso

Organisation of African Unity, (2000), Constitutive Act of the African Union, adopted by the thirty-sixth ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, 11 July, Lome, Togo

Smith, Patrick and Jobson, Elissa, (2013), ‘African Union at 50: Ending Dependency’, in The Africa Report, Groupe Jeune Afrique, pp. 22-30


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