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Demba Moussa Dembele examines the external and internal challenges faced by Africa in the face of globalization and the US led war on terror and asks if the current African leadership is up to building the United States of Africa in the present global environment.

'Africa must unite or perish!' Kwame Nkrumah

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the independence of Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to break from the dreadful colonial yoke. It was under the leadership of President Kwame Nkrumah, enlightened, visionary and Pan Africanist leader, who devoted time and energy to liberating other African countries. Nkrumah fought tirelessly for the unity of African countries into a single African Federal State. He was convinced that the newly independent countries needed to unite to liberate other African countries and lay the ground for their economic emancipation. He understood that a divided Africa would still remain under domination and be an easy prey for global capitalism.

It is in part for his vision and far-sightedness that the Anglo-American imperialism co-opted Ghanaian felons to stage a coup that toppled Nkrumah and sent him into exile until his death. But Nkrumah’s vision and dream did not die with him. Quite the contrary: they remained very much alive throughout the years. As Africa got deeper into crisis, as its external dependence worsened, bordering on the threat of re-colonization, Nkrumah was largely vindicated while the proponents of ‘balkanization’ were completely discredited.

An illustration of this is the foundation of the African Union (AU) in 2001 and the decision of the Heads of State and Government to move toward the United States of Africa by the year 2015. This is a fitting tribute to the memory of President Nkrumah!

But the road to realizing this dream faces great hurdles, both externally and internally. In particular, the current world system, characterized by an increasing militarization of neoliberal globalization, presents overwhelming challenges for the African continent.

A) The challenge of globalization

The decision comes at a time when corporate-led globalization has entailed very high costs for the African continent, as a result of the acceleration of trade and financial liberalization and privatization of national assets to the benefit of multinational corporations. Trade liberalization, combined with western countries’ disguised or open protectionism and subsidies, resulted in the deterioration of sub-Saharan Africa’s terms of trade. Trade liberalization alone has cost the region more than $270 billion over a 20-year period, according to Christian Aid (2005). An illustration of these costs is Ghana, which lost an estimated $10 billion. According to Christian Aid, it is as if the entire country had stopped working for 18 months! Capital flight, fuelled by trade and financial liberalization, has reached alarming proportions, estimated at more than half of the continent’s illegitimate external debt, according to the Commission for Africa (2005).

The privatization of State-owned enterprises and public services has resulted in a massive transfer of the national patrimony to foreign hands, precisely to western multinational corporations. This, combined with the illegitimate and unbearable external debt, has deepened external domination and increased the transfer of wealth from Africa to western countries and multilateral institutions, as acknowledged by the Commission for Africa (2005), put together by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. And members of the Commission had reliable sources to back up their claim, since Britain is one of the main beneficiaries of this transfer of wealth. Quoting a study published in 2006 by Christian Aid, Archbishop Ndungane (2006) indicated that:

'Britain took away far more money from sub-Saharan Africa than it gave in aid and debt relief last year, despite pledges to help the region. In all, it took away £27 billion from Africa. In the 12 months since an annual Group of Eight (G8) summit in Scotland last July, the British economy gained a net profit of more than £11 billion ($20.3 billion) from the region. The charity calculated that almost £17 billion flowed from Britain to sub-Saharan Africa in the past year, including donations, remittances from salaries earned by Africans in Britain and foreign direct investments. At the same time, more than £27 billion went in the opposite direction, thanks to debt repayments, profits made by British companies in Africa and imports of British goods and capital flight.'

This is just one example of the financial hemorrhage hurting Africa. This is compounded by the ‘brain drain’, which has deprived Africa of thousands of highly trained workers in all fields. The World Health Organization (2006) says that more than 25% of doctors trained in Africa work abroad in developed countries. About 30,000 highly skilled Africans leave the continent each year for the United States and Europe. Still according to Archbishop Ndungane (2006), in the US alone

'African immigrants are the highest educated class in the range of all immigrants…there are over 640,000 African professionals in the US, over 360,000 of them hold PhDs, 120,000 of them (from Nigeria, Ghana, Sudan and Uganda) are medical doctors. The rest are professionals in various fields – from the head of research for US Space Agency, NASA, to the highest paid material science professors. ...'

B) The challenge of the US 'War on Terror'

The challenge posed by neoliberal policies to Africa will be aggravated by the militarization of globalization, with the doctrine of ‘pre-emptive strike’ adopted by the Bush Administration. One of the tragic illustrations of this doctrine is the illegal aggression and occupation of Iraq with the numerous crimes against Humanity committed by the occupying forces the world has been witnessing since the invasion. Another illustration of that doctrine is the threat of war against other sovereign countries, such as Iran, North Korea or Syria.

These aggressions and threats are part of what the US imperialism calls 'war on terror'. The Bush Administration is attempting to draw African countries into that strategy, which poses an even greater threat to Africa’s security and development. Since 2002, the US government has put together a special program, named “PanSahel”, whose stated objective is to train the armed forces of the countries involved to enable them to track down groups supposed to be linked to Al Qaeda.

The recent announcement of the creation of a US military command for Africa - Africa Command (AfriCom) - is a major step toward expanding and strengthening the US military presence in Africa through more aggressive policies to enlist support from African countries for its 'war on terror'. According to George W. Bush, 'the new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa.”

In reality, the objectives of the Africa Command are to be found in the US drive for global dominance and its growing appetite for Africa’s oil. US imperialism seeks to protect oil supply routes and American multinational corporations involved in oil and mineral extraction. In fact, several studies have forecast that the United States may depend for up to 25% of its needs on crude oil from Africa over the next decade or so. One clear sign of this trend is that several US oil companies are investing billions of dollars in oil-producing countries, notably in the Gulf of Guinea region. Thus, oil is one the main driving forces behind the US activism on the continent. It has nothing to do with Africa’s ‘security’. On the contrary, this is likely to increase the insecurity of the continent!

Therefore, the US strategy aims to secure strategic positions in Africa by using the threat of “terrorism” to gain military facilities and bases to protect its interests. The countries which accept to cooperate with the US may become more and more dependent on the US and inevitably on NATO for their “security”. They will be forced to provide military bases or facilities for US forces and serve as a canon fodder in the US ‘war on terror’, as Ethiopia has done in Somalia. The US strategy will sow more divisions among African countries and undermine the goal of African Unity.

C) Internal challenges

To the challenges posed by the global context described above one should add the internal challenges facing African countries.

As indicated above, the neoliberal policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank and the violence of corporate-led globalization have further weakened Africa. The principal characteristic of the continent is its weakness and divisions, despite the foundation of the African Union and the adoption of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The divisions are ideological and political. Neo-colonial ties are still strong with former colonial powers. There are still many foreign military bases and facilities on the continent. Several countries still depend on western countries for their “security”. France is intervening in the Central African Republic in an attempt to help the government push back attacks by rebel groups.

A similar operation took place a few months ago to help the Chadian government repel a rebel attack that threatened some parts of the capital. These countries are home to foreign military bases and have signed defense agreements with their ‘protectors’. These military bases are also used to launch criminal aggressions against other African countries, as the United States did when it launched air strikes against innocent civilians in Somalia from their air base in Djibouti! France is using its military bases in West Africa – Senegal and Togo- to destabilize Cote d’Ivoire.

These examples underscore the vulnerability of the continent and the fragile nature of many States, some of which have all but collapsed, in large part as a result of structural adjustment policies. Africa’s vulnerability is also reflected in the widespread poverty affecting its population, in the deterioration of the health and educational systems and in the inability of many States to provide basic social services for their citizens. Poverty is the result of policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank, using the pretext of the illegitimate debt with the complicity of African governments. This has aggravated economic, financial, political dependence on western countries and multilateral institutions. Food dependency has dramatically increased. According to the FAO and other UN agencies, more than 43 million Africans suffer from hunger, which kills more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined! As a result, Africa spends billions of dollars in food imports, paid for by credits and ‘aid’ from western countries and multilateral institutions.

The external dependency and the extreme vulnerability of the continent are also reflected in the surrender of economic policies to the World Bank and western “experts” by many countries.

II) Can Africa overcome these challenges?

In view of these formidable challenges, building the United States of Africa may seem an impossible task, a Promethean undertaking. Indeed, one should be skeptical about the ability and willingness of current African leadership to build a genuine African unity. Because not only are the odds overwhelming but also past experience does not show any sign of optimism. Therefore, if African leaders are really serious about achieving this noble objective, they need to make tough and courageous decisions.

A) Need for political will

The document on the United States of Africa, published by the African Union (2006) claims: 'it should be realized that what unites Africans far surpasses what divides them as a people' (page 8). Yet, this did not translate into a political will to overcome their divisions and move toward strengthening African unity. Therefore, what African leaders need first and foremost is the political will to make the tough decisions and the courage and determination to implement them. In reality, the decision to establish the United States of Africa is the latest in a long series of decisions and agreements, most of which were never implemented. Some of the agreements on regional integration are more than 30 years old, but they are still lagging behind for lack of genuine will to implement them. The slow pace of integration and lack of solidarity is a reflection of the unwillingness of many African leaders to place the fundamental interests of the continent above national or even personal interests in order to move decisively toward genuine unity and cooperation.

The lack of political will is better illustrated by the fate of key documents adopted over several decades and that should have strengthened African unity and laid the foundations for the United States of Africa. Think of the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA), adopted in 1980 and which was quickly forgotten in favor of the IMF and World Bank-imposed structural adjustment programs (SAPs). Think of the African Alternative Framework, which was among the first documents to level a devastating critique of SAPs in 1989. Think of the Arusha Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Social Transformation, adopted in 1990 and which contains a blueprint for citizen participation in the design and implementation of public policies within a democratic and participatory decision-making process. Think of the 1991 Abuja Treaty, for the creation of the African Economic Community. This list is not exhaustive. Yet, when some African leaders proposed NEPAD in 2001, it made a scant mention of these documents. Instead, it attempted to rehabilitate failed and discredited neoliberal policies.

B) Freeing the African mind.

The political will has an ideological dimension, which is the need for African leaders to free their minds and understand once for all that they must take responsibility for their own development. No country or group of countries, no international institution, no amount of external ‘aid’ will ever ‘develop’ Africa. Likewise, no foreign country, no matter how powerful, will ever guarantee the ‘security’ of African countries. It is therefore illusory to assume that the United States, France or Britain will provide ‘security’ for Africa! Quite the contrary: these countries’ interest is to see a weak, divided and defenseless Africa. African countries must take responsibility for their own collective security! In this regard, African governments must close down all foreign military bases and scrap all defense agreements signed with former colonial powers and US imperialism. Furthermore, African governments must end their allegiance to neo-colonial institutions, such as ‘Francophonie’, Commonwealth and so forth.

C) An enlightened leadership

For these dramatic changes to take place, Africa needs an enlightened and visionary leadership, who would listen to the voices of the people. This also means promoting leaders who are accountable to their own citizens, not to outside powers or institutions, as is the case in many countries. Furthermore, Africa needs leaders who can define an agenda consistent with Africa’s interests, not let someone else do it in their place. In other terms, African leaders must no more accept that others speak or define policies in their place for their continent. A case in point is the US “war on terror”. As indicated earlier, some countries are supporting the US agenda. But fighting ‘terrorism’ is not a priority for Africa. The continent has other priorities, which have nothing to do with terrorism.

D) Involve the African people

So far, African leaders seem to have forgotten the African people in the conception and implementation of their agreements. To overcome the challenges outlined above, African leaders must understand that they must move from a union of States to a union of peoples. This means that the success of the United States of Africa depends on putting African the people at the center of the project. The popular participation in decision-making and implementation of public policies, as called for by the Arusha Charter, is a critical factor in building a genuine and strong Union. This seems to be understood by the document published by the African Union (2006), which says that 'the Union Government must be a Union of the African people and not merely a Union of States and Governments' (page 4).

This seems to be just a lip service paid to the idea of popular participation, because so far, there are no concrete steps to make it a reality. Despite the establishment of some institutions, like the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), the people have no say in the decisions of the Union. To achieve a genuine Union of the African people, the first step should be to allow a free movement of people –on the continent and in the Diaspora- throughout the continent. It is unthinkable to build the United States of Africa by keeping the current borders in place and limiting the free flow of African citizens across the continent. The building of the Union must be rooted in the mobilization of the African masses across the artificial borders set by former colonial powers in order to divide and weaken the African people.

III) Conclusion

The paper has reviewed the challenges facing Africa in its attempt to build the United States of Africa. External factors, such as the high costs of neoliberal globalization and the US ‘War on Terror’, are likely to hamper African efforts at unity and independence. These external factors take advantage of Africa’s internal weaknesses and tend to aggravate them.

But does the current African leadership have the capacity and will to overcome the internal and external challenges in the process of building the United States of Africa? It is doubtful. Most of current African ‘leaders’ take their orders from western capitals and have surrendered their policies to the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. In the words of the late Professor Joseph Ki-Zerbo (1995), these are ' "leaders" with frightened minds' who can only 'imitate” their western masters. How can anyone trust such ‘leaders’, some of whom contemplate providing military bases to the United States in the name of fighting 'terrorism'?

The building of the United States of Africa requires a new leadership with the political will to follow through their commitments. This means promoting a new type of leadership in Africa, imbued with the ideals of Pan Africanism, genuinely dedicated to the unity, independence and sovereignty of the continent and to promoting the welfare of their citizens. It is a visionary leadership, like Nkrumah and others of his generation. A leadership who refuses Africa’s enslavement and will never accept that others speak or define policies for Africa.

So, building the United Sates of Africa requires a different kind of leadership with decolonized minds, who are willing to stand up to foreign domination, who would listen to their own citizens and promote policies aimed at recovering Africa’s sovereignty over its resources and policies. In other words, the success of such undertaking requires a leadership imbued with the values and ideals of Pan Africanism and genuinely committed to the unity, independence and sovereignty of Africa.


African Union (2006). A Study on an African Union Government. Towards the United States of Africa. Addis Ababa

Christian Aid (2005). The economics of failure. The costs of ‘free’ trade for poor countries. London

Commission for Africa (2005). Our Common Interest. London (March)

Ki-Zerbo, Joseph (1995), Which Way Africa? Reflections on Basil Davidson’s The Black Man’s Burden.

Ndungane, Njongonkulu, “A CALL TO LEADERSHIP: The role of Africans in the Development Agenda”. Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture (30 November 2006), Howard College Campus, University of KwaZulu-Natal

New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)

* Demba Moussa Dembele is Director, African Forum on Alternatives based in Dakar. He can be contacted at [email][email protected] or [email][email protected]

* Please send comments to [email protected]