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In his inaugural address as the new chairman of the African Union (AU), Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi has vowed to pursue his vision of a United States of Africa. Gaddafi has been lobbying other African leaders since 2004 to create a United States of Africa and make him the first president. But even on a continent where hunger for power is a status quo, other African leaders appear not to be mesmerised by the political fantasies of the self-declared ‘king of kings’ and ‘leader of the Islamic leadership’, Muammar al-Gaddafi. Among the civil wars, poverty, diseases, and overall African underdevelopment, the new leader of the AU is only interested in his messianic need for a larger political domain where he can implement his despotic rule.

There is a Sierra Leonean Creole saying that a great wedding party can be predicted by the bachelor’s eve. Anyone who has witnessed the activities of the AU knows that a greater political union is a wild dream beyond the current African imagination. The problem is not that most Africans do not want to live in a common republic, but putting the cart before the horse is just a naive barricade. We can only entertain a United States of Africa when we put an end to blatant human rights violations all over the continent, poverty, poor infrastructure and horrendous leadership. The Organization of African Unity (OAU), predecessor of the AU, was created immediately after African independence from colonialism in order to facilitate an African customs and political union. The AU was created in 2002 out of the failures of the OAU, but it appears that the new baby is, as they say, like father like son.

The AU, created to promote democratic principles, human rights, good governance and a customs union, appears to be insignificant to the continent. Human rights and good governance are down the drain in Zimbabwe, Somalia and Sudan, and our dream of a customs union is hindered by individual trade agreements with the Chinese and Europeans. The recent military coup d’états in Guinea and Mali prove that democracy is a long way gone. Eleven of the first 20 countries on the 2008 Foreign Policy Failed States Index are African countries, with Ethiopia, home of the AU, comfortable at number 16 of 60 countries.

To recall the words of Kwame Nkrumah, founding father of the OAU, ‘we all want a united Africa’, however, ‘united not only in our concept of what unity connotes, but united in our common desire to move forward together in dealing with all the problems that can best be solved only on a continental basis.’ As it stands now, we have failed to solve most of the problems that can be solved using a continental framework, and the recent dismissal of Gaddafi’s plan for a United States of Africa by other African leaders indicates that we lack a common desire just yet.

The AU must put first things first by promoting development, peace and democratic rule on the African continent. Otherwise, we all know what the fate of a United States of Africa would be under President Gaddafi, a man who thinks the best model for Africa is his own country, where opposition parties are not allowed. If Gaddafi believes that silence from African leaders on the concept of a United States of Africa means approval, let him ask my grandmother, who believes that one should not waste precious time on obviously foolish issues.

* Joseph Ben Kaifala, from Sierra Leone, is a Tom Lantos/Humanity in Action congressional fellow at the US House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health.
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