Different perspectives on the United States of Africa proposal

Publié le par hort

Stuffing old wine in new bottles?

Kwame Akonor (2007-06-20)

While the futuristic idea of an African superstate is a necessary and desirable alternative to the contemporary reality of an Africa of states, the political union of African states can only come to fruition if the lessons of the OAU’s failures are fully mastered. The AU will continue in the foreseeable future to be an important vehicle for addressing the continent’s numerous projects, argues Kwame Akonor. But the AU cannot empower and develop Africa, nor guarantee Africa’s collective security or provide a common platform for Africa’s collective diplomacy, if the AU remains the way it is today.

'A bunch of broomsticks is not as easily broken as a single stick' – African proverb.

As the African Union (AU) enters its fifth year of existence, it is rather fitting that it has devoted its annual summit to be a 'Grand Debate on the Union Government'. Since its inception on 9 July 2002, at Durban, South Africa, there have been conflicting perspectives on the AU’s role in Africa’s development. Africa’s political elite, and supporters of the AU, generally argue that the new institution would enhance the economic, political and social integration and development of African people. A great deal of Africa’s civil society however are not so optimistic:they perceive the AU as a mere continuation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) under a different name.

This essay argues that while the futuristic idea of an African superstate is a necessary and desirable alternative to the contemporary reality of an Africa of states, the political union of African states can only come to fruition if the lessons of OAU’s failures are fully mastered.

At the heart of the OAU’s failings was not so much a structural as an ideological shortcoming. The OAU lacked a cohesive ideology that could provide the proper situational interpretation of the African context. Ideologies not only rationalise and explain the reasons for a given situation; they also provide strategies toward future goals. (Zartman, 1966, p. 38). What the OAU lacked then was an ideology capable of rationalising and explaining Africa’s balkanisation, dependency and underdevelopment, and an ideology capable of providing strategies that would guarantee and enhance Africa’s power, prestige and progress in the postcolonial era.

Which ideology is capable of filling this vacuum? Pan-Africanism! Ofuatey-Kodjoe (1986) defines Pan-Africanism as an ideology with a cognitive component that recognises all African peoples, both in Africa and the diaspora, as being of one folk or nation, as a result of a shared cultural identity, a shared historical experience, and an indivisible future destiny (p. 391). And he goes on to argue, that the most fundamental goal of Pan-Africanism is the commitment to the collective empowerment of African peoples, wherever they are (p. 391). Thus, it must be quickly added that calling oneself Pan-Africanist does not make one so, and being of African descent does not automatically make a person a Pan-Africanist. Indeed, most of the OAU founders of yesteryear, and the AU founders of today, label themselves Pan-Africanist, without any appreciably clarity and commitment to the ideology of Pan-Africanism.

By rejecting the brand of Pan-Africanism advocated by the Casablanca group, the OAU at its birth, consciously or not, gave its blessings to the colonial political and economic formation - together with its ideological and cultural systems. Indeed, the final curse of African independence, and the OAU’s ascendancy, was that it solidified the balkanisation and dependency inherited from colonialism. The problem was compounded when the Casablanca group rather than opting out of the OAU decided to remain in it, perhaps for fear of isolation. Ghana’s Nkrumah, a staunch advocate of the Casablanca thinking, on arrival from the OAU’s inaugural summit even remarked triumphantly that 'the political unification of the African continent, my lifelong dream, is finally here'. (cited in Rooney, 1988, p. 223).

But of course, this was not the case; his Pan African ideal of a continental African government had been soundly rejected. And it also did not help much that none of the 22 countries, newly independent since the OAU’s founding, refused to join. Some newly independent countries joined the OAU merely for geographic reasons, well aware of the organisation’s impotence. Eritrea, OAU’s last but one newest member, when joining the OAU in 1993 declared: 'we are joining the OAU not because of your achievement, but because you are our African brothers (Afeworki 1993). According to Eritrea’s Issaias Afeworki, membership of the OAU was 'not spiritually gratifying or politically challenging [because] the OAU has become a nominal organization that has failed to deliver on its pronounced goals and objectives'. (Afeworki 1993). Nevermind that the OAU had failed to support Eritrea’s bloody 30-year struggle for independence (the continent’s longest civil war) from Ethiopia, incidentally the seat of the OAU headquarters.

Not surprisingly, the OAU became a geographical entity with no geopolitical weight. It forged a unity that further deepened the political marginalisation, economic dependence, and cultural doubt of the continent; the very antithesis of Pan-Africanism. The lesson here is that a union cannot be effective without ideological uniformity or unity of purpose. For while it is necessary for all Africa and Africans to unite, there is no point to this project if the result is a united Africa with divergent and confusing perspectives on the goals of unity, or a united Africa where consensus on a shared African worldview is elusive.

From a Pan-Africanist perspective therefore, it is better to have a united, empowered and independent Africa, comprising some African states, rather than to have a united, but weak and dependent Africa, comprising of all African states.

The old patterns persist

Unfortunately, like the OAU before it, an overwhelming majority of the AU’s founding members, eschew any genuine commitment and seriousness to the Pan-African ideal of an empowered African superstate that would increase the capacity of Africans to take direct control of their destinies. The preference for the status quo was made apparent during the Sirte Summit in September 1999, when African leaders, once again, retreated from the continental government thesis. While Libya’s Qathafi (1999) argued passionately for a transformative entity, in the form of a confederation of African states, as a ‘historical solution’ to the continent’s numerous problems, an overwhelming number of his fellow African leaders remained deeply skeptical about his vision of a ‘United States of Africa’.

Qathafi’s plea that African leaders 'give up a little bit of their sovereignty in the interests of the whole of Africa' was not even entertained as a realisable goal (Pompey 2000; Rosine 1999). The leaders of Egypt, Kenya and Uganda spoke for many when they said publicly that the idea of an African superstate was premature (Kipkoech 1999; Rosine 1999). Granted, Qathafi’s Arabic persuasion may predispose him to use non-African cultural perspectives, rather than an African centred paradigm, as a basis for defining a better world vision. Be that as it may, his call for an African superstate, like that of the Casablanca bloc of the 1960s, is a central pan-africanist strategy to achieving collective power in the contemporary international system.

Needless to say, the AU that was created has limited authority and coercive powers capable of changing the behavior of member states. Furthermore, since its ideological underpinnings does not promise the eventual collective acquisition of power, the AU cannot be expected to significantly transform the lives of Africans for the better. When we consider the AU’s current efforts in the areas of security, economics, and politics, it becomes obvious, but not surprising, that these are contrary to the fundamental goal of Pan-Africanism.

In the area of security and the preservation of peace, the formation of a single African High Command is considered central to the fundamental Pan-Africanist objective of collective empowerment. First, it is logical from a Pan-Africanist perspective to have one army to manage conflicts on the continent and to maximise the power of Africa, relative to other actors, in the international system. Africa has a combined 3,500,000 men and women in its armed forces, a number that any power bloc would be forced to reckon with. Secondly, an African High Command would help to reduce the military expenditures of individual African countries and divert such expenditures to much needed social services. Taken together, African countries spend in excess of US$20 billion annually on the military. A significant reduction in such spending would result if Africa had an efficient joint force and a central command. However, Muammar Al Qathafi’s call, since 1975, for abolishing national armies to create a single African army has been constantly rebuffed by his counterparts. The last time his idea was rebuffed was at the AU’s extraordinary summit in March 2004.

At this summit, a watered down version of Qathafi’s single army proposal, based on the maintenance of each African state's independence and sovereignty, was created instead. The creation of the African Standby Force (as this force is known) represents a marked departure from the OAU days. However there are numerous problems with its structures, important amongst these are: the lack of mechanisms to counter unilateral action of strong member countries; the non-veto power decision making structure; and the selection and inclusion of conflict prone countries as force members. Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Maher, later told reporters after the AU Summit that delegates rejected the Qathafi’s proposal because 'Africa is not ready yet for this [single African army] idea' (quoted in Pitman 2004).

Regarding economics, the strategies and programs pursued by the AU and its member states indicate continued reliance on international capital and the uncoordinated development of individual national economies. No real attempt has been made to achieve continental African economic unity despite the obvious economic wisdom of such an approach. The observation by Green and Seidman (1968), almost four decades ago, is still true today:

'Africa as a whole could provide markets able to support large-scale efficient industrial complexes; no single African state nor existing sub-regional economic union can do so. African states cannot establish large-scale productive complexes stimulating demand throughout the economy as poles of rapid economic growth because their markets are far too small. Instead the separate tiny economies willy-nilly plan on lines leading to the dead ends of excessive dependence on raw material exports and small scale inefficient ‘national factories’ at high costs per unit of output. Inevitably, therefore, they fail to reduce substantially their basic dependence on foreign markets, complex manufactures and capital.' (Green and Seidman, 1968, p. 22)

It should be noted that the specific economic policies pursued by the majority of African states are determined largely by the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions (IFIs), who demand explicit commitments from governments to implement remedial policies that the IFIs deem essential to the continued disbursement of loans. The impact of these structural adjustment conditionalities, while mostly negative, compromises the economic autonomy of African countries.

The AU’s economic blueprint, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD 2001) does not veer off the path traveled by the individual African member states: it too sees international capital and the separate development of national economies as a panacea. NEPAD has serious flaws, too many to list here (for a concise critique, see Taylor and Nel 2002).

From a Pan-Africanist viewpoint however, NEPAD’s biggest failing is that it does not sufficiently recognise African peoples as partners for, and of, development. As it stands now, NEPAD is an appeal to the goodwill and benevolence of the industrialised countries for aid and investment. Even so, NEPAD is an elite driven process that provides no means for mobilising the African masses for real development. The AU’s interest in securing international capital and maintaining neo-colonial relationship with the West, (rather than pursuing genuine inter-African cooperation), led the authors of NEPAD to consult first with the G8 industrialised countries, before African governments had had a chance to discuss it amongst themselves and with their own people. There is even talk of constructing a tunnel linking Africa with Europe.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (2002), one of the authors and spokesperson for NEPAD has said: 'NEPAD plans to construct a tunnel linking Africa to Europe under the Mediterranean Sea from the northern tip of Algeria through to Gibraltar.'

What about a much needed railroad or highway linking the continent, from Algiers to Antananarivo? The fact that NEPAD was conceived by a small group of African leaders, without any input from the masses, coupled with the rush to the G8 (G8 2002) for the programe's endorsement, made several AU leaders question the wisdom of the entire enterprise. One such critic was Gambia’s president, Yahya Jammeh, who said: 'People are sick and tired of African beggars. Nobody will ever develop your country for you. I am not criticising NEPAD, but the way it was conceived to be dependent on begging' (Lokongo 2002, p. 18).

Needless to say, NEPAD, as presently constituted, has the potential of dividing, not unifying, Africa: The G8, on which the AU relies for the programme's major funding, has already made it clear that it would only help African countries 'whose performance reflects the NEPAD commitments' (G8 2002). Western nations can thus pick and choose which AU member states are deserving of assistance, and those that are not. The overall effect would not be a stronger Africa. At best, it would reward individual African countries for good behaviour. Thus one cannot expect NEPAD to transform Africa from its disarticulated, dependent and underdeveloped status.

When it comes to politics, it has been established that the AU’s founding majority has no desire for a supranational political entity that would lead to a full and complete African unity. Africa today therefore does not have one state to represent it or a single voice to articulate its concerns in the international system; hence no power. Also, the political map of African remains a sacred cow despite the fact that Africa’s 165 demarcated borders (the world’s most fragmented region) have in of themselves become the basis of many African conflicts. Unfortunately, Article 4(b) of the AU Constitutive Act, like Article 3(3) of the OAU charter before it, affirms these colonial demarcations.

The AU should amend the principle of inviolability of the colonial borders and negotiate new boundaries that have more meaning for Africans. It must be borne in mind that the carving up of Africa in 1884 was not meant to unify, but rather to divide the continent. These are by no means easy political choices, but African leaders have to confront them before any real chance of optimising Africa’s power can be realised.

Politically, it seems what binds the AU is a professed commitment to democracy and good governance. Even on this score, the AU’s efforts so far have, at best, been confused. This is because the AU has no established criteria on what constitutes ‘good governance’ or ‘democracy’, beyond the minimalist procedural requisites of free and fair elections.

At its inaugural launch in July 2001, the AU barred Madagascar from the new organisation and refused to recognise Ravalomanana as Madagascar’s new president, citing the contentious nature of the elections and the unorthodox way Mr. Ravalomanana consolidated his 'victory'. The AU maintained that it would admit Madagascar only if fresh presidential elections were held. That the AU showed resolve early, on a key principle on which it was founded is noteworthy. But it appears, in this particular case, that the resolve shown was not carefully thought through. Madagascar’s Supreme Court ruling that Ravalomanana’s victory and government were legitimate, coupled with dissent among AU members on the issue, should have given the AU pause and deep reflection on its decision.

Not long after AU’s decision, several African countries (Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Libya and he Comoros islands) broke ranks with the AU and endorsed Ravalomanana’s government – so much for Africa speaking with a single voice! The AU did a face saving U-turn and recognised Ravalomanana the following year, a move which no doubt has cost AU some credibility, especially since no new presidential elections were held.

In any case, on the democracy question, the AU does not have much credibility to begin with: African eaders do not easily give up the reins of power, and represent some of the world’s longest-serving residents. The following sample proves the point: Gabon's Omar Bongo Ondimba has been at the helm of his nation for 40 years. Libya has been under Muammar Al Qathafi for 38 years. Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos has 28 years under his belt. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has been in power for 27 years.

If the AU were serious about democratic values and good governance, membership of that body should not have been automatic, but rather, granted on merit or a set of political criteria. For example, the basic membership prerequisites of the European Union (after which the AU is modelled) has three basic thematic criteria - political, economic and institutional - also known as the Copenhagen Criteria), where the political criteria directs the applicant country to achieve stability of its institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

What the AU needs now is clear and consistent guidelines on what it considers to be the consent of he governed and enforcement mechanisms to ensure strict compliance. Ideally, the democratic principles advocated must be compatible with the values and practices of the African society.

More than Pan-Africanism

Aside from the lack of, and/or commitment to, a transformative and empowering ideology based on an-Africanism, the OAU did not flourish, due to operational failures caused by a lack of popular egitimacy, administrative bottlenecks and financial stress. I will only discuss here the issue of popular legitimacy.

A major hurdle to the OAU’s efficacy was that it was a state-centric elite political organisation that did ittle to involve the average African in its operations and decision making. Consequently, it had a lag and an anthem that no one saluted or recognised, and an Africa Day that was hardly celebrated.

As indicated, the AU promises citizen involvement and participation. Especially the Pan African Parliament (PAP) holds promise of broadly representing the African citizenry. Though in its first five years of existence, the Pan African Parliament is to have advisory and consultative powers only. A lot more can be done to make it an effective body by 2007, when it assumes legislative functions.

First, the PAP representation should be broadened with respect to gender, the African diaspora constituency and cross-national party coalitions. The seat currently allocated to women members in the PAP now stands at 20 per cent. This can be said to be a good beginning, however, there is room for improvement as this 20 per cent quota is 10 per cent less than that which the Fourth UN Conference on Women urged as minimum for women parliamentarians. While it is true that representation of women in African national parliaments is scarce, it is not unreasonable to ncrease their quota, especially if we consider the fact that African women hold the keys to Africa’s verall development.

Next, is the issue of diaspora representation. Following a proposal by the Senegalese government that iaspora Africans be considered the 'Sixth Region' of Africa, the AU has been working on the institutional development of the African diaspora in organs. This is a move in the right direction, toward the pan-africanist goal of an empowered African collective at the global level.

The challenge the AU faces is to clearly define the criteria for membership of the African diaspora, its ights, duties and privileges. The African diaspora constituency must be accorded real and tangible (and not merely symbolic) membership. Their representation in the PAP will signal that the AU is serious in its efforts to integrate the continent and the diaspora.

A final area where PAP representation can be made more inclusive is to provide mechanisms that allow the development of continent-wide political groupings, as opposed to national parties now envisaged for the PAP. Should this occur, the PAP members could form coalitions along ideological and tactical directions such as workers, pan-Africanists, liberals, socialists, conservatives etc.


The AU will continue, in the foreseeable future, to be an important vehicle for addressing the continent’s numerous projects. But the AU cannot empower and develop Africa, nor guarantee Africa’s collective security, nor provide a common platform for Africa’s collective diplomacy if the AU remains the way it is today: bereft of a genuine commitment to Pan-Africanism and an empowered African superstate.

Moving beyond this status quo would require, amongst other things, leaders who share a pan-Africanist commitment, and who are willing to engage the African citizenry in a search for solutions that preserves Africa’s independence and dignity: strategies which reflect Africa’s image and interests. As we have seen, much work must be done before the dream of the collective empowerment of all African peoples comes true; until then, the dream of African unity remains only a mirage.

(See hhtp//www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/42077 for full list of references)


United States of Africa coming too early--Govt

10:06:04 - 21 June 2007

The proposal by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to unite the African countries under one government and to implement a federal system is coming too early, Foreign Affairs Minister Joyce Banda said Wednesday.

Banda said in an interview Wednesday when she was asked to give government’s take on the matter.“The idea of unity is very good. But paramount is the question of timing,” said Banda, adding the idea was part of an ongoing debate. Instead, she said right now the countries should strengthen already implemented regional economic commissions  Banda mentioned challenges like customs and currency union, which regional commissions like the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) would have to face in the near future. Malawi is a member of Comesa.  According to the minister, harmonising economic conditions on a regional level should be the first priority.  The idea of a real African Union would become a reality automatically when the challenges on regional level are solved, Banda said.

“The idea of political unity is philosophical but not quite practical,” said Chief Executive of the Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) Chancellor Kaferapanjira. Before the leaders could talk about one federal government system for the whole continent, Kaferapanjira said the leaders should focus on the challenges of trade agreements on a regional level.  “There is a lot of work to be done,” he said. He shared the minister’s view that an African union must start with customs and currency union.

Chancellor College political scientist Boniface Dulani mentioned that the idea of African unity is not an emerging topic, but it has a long history dating to the 1950s.  He cited that statesmen like Ghana’s former president, late Kwame Nkrumah, had started the discussion about a political and economical African union that led to implementation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963--the later African Union (AU).

More than 50 years later the leaders of 53 African countries would discuss in Ghana the question of African unity again.  “Of course, we have to ask why during all these years a political union in Africa has never been implemented,” said Dulani. According to him, several reasons are speaking against the realisation of Gaddafi’s idea of the United States of Africa.  Above all, Dulani argued that the political leaders were not willing to accept limitations of power and national sovereignty. “I do not think that the summit in Ghana will decide to set up a federal system in Africa,” said Dulani.

The debate on political unity is one of the leading questions of that would dominate African Union (AU) heads of state summit slated for Ghana between July 1 and 2.


Towards continental government?

Hakima Abbas (2007-06-21)

The United States of Africa is a notion cherished in the minds of Pan-Africanists from the continent to the diaspora. The proposal currently on the table at the African Union is  elaborated in the 'Study on anc African Union Government Towards the United States of Africa'. Few critics entirely dismiss the principle ofc regional integration, but across Africa there is huge variance in the vision of a united Africa. As a contribution to a public debate on the proposals for continental government, we publish a special issue of Pambazuka News providing perspectives from a range of activists and intellectuals.  'Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world. I believe strongly and sincerely that with the deep-rooted wisdom and dignity, the innate respect for human lives, the intense humanity that is our heritage, the African race, united under one federal government, will emerge not as just another world bloc to flaunt its wealth and strength, but as a great power whose greatness is indestructible because it is built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind.' - Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah

The United States of Africa is a notion cherished in the minds of Pan-Africanists from the continent to the diaspora. Coined during the decolonisation period by liberation leaders and activists seeking the unity of Africa through political, economic and social integration, in 2007, the concepts and debates around the United States of Africa are seeing a rebirth at the African Union (AU). In June, a 'Grand Debate on the Union Government' will be the sole focus at the African Union Heads of States Summit. Symbolically held in Accra, Ghana, as the country celebrates its 50th year of independence marked by the ascent to presidency of one of the worlds leading Pan-Africanists, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, the grand debate is based on the proposals coordinated by the committee of seven championed by Libya, Uganda and Nigeria.

The proposal currently on the table at the African Union is elaborated in the 'Study on an African Union Government Towards the United States of Africa'[1] . The Proposal underlines the need for common policy standards, harmonised approaches and joint trade, investment and development negotiations while underscoring the values of the rule of law, respect for human rights as well as popular and transparent governance as those that should underpin the Union Government. Proponents of a potential federation consider that regional integration will enable Africa to address the common challenges of political and economic exploitation, food insecurity, internal conflicts, amongst others, by empowering the continent with a united, self-determined voice and negotiation capacity that will wield due influence in the global context.

Few critics entirely dismiss the principle of regional integration but across Africa there is huge variance in the vision of a united Africa. Some claim that, given the failure of African nation building at a state level, as is manifested in a lack of democratic participation, civil wars, lack of development and widespread human rights violations among others, the United States of Africa is a dream that must be pursued, but can never be attained until each state is strengthened. Others still criticise the current proposal as too tempered to create any significant change to the realities for the people of Africa.

The study considers the establishment and implementation of Union Government in three phases, with a fully operational Union Government and the constitutional framework for a United States of Africa established by 2012. The Union Government would be composed of an Executive Council with a President and Vice President appointed by the Assembly for a term of six years and with commissioners appointed by the Executive Council. A legislative parliament would be elected by direct and universal adult suffrage with proportional representation.

While the participation of African peoples is envisaged through the African parliament and Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC) consultations, which the proposal enshrines in all Assembly deliberations, the voice of the people most directly affected by potential regional integration have been barely heard, as African policy makers prepare themselves for the Grand Debate. Yet, the rhetoric of the African Union claims the vision of 'an Africa driven by its own citizens' [2].

The strategy for such a people-driven union has yet to be formulated or implemented sufficiently to sincerely suggest that the proposal and debate on a Union Government and United States of Africa are guided by the vision of the people of the continent. The African Union has, since its inception, been didactic, with decisions being made with little consultation. African CSO’s and citizens have little access or understanding of the AU and its organs, so have limited opportunity to meaningfully participate. While the ECOSOCC provides a potential avenue for the voice of the people to contribute to AU decision making, the body is yet to be an influential force. The gap between regional policy makers and the people of the continent have serious implications for implementation of decisions and regional accountability.

Hakima Abbas is Fahamus Policy Analyst for AU-Monitor initiative
www.africa-union.org/report.htm [2] Vision and Mission of the African Union, May 2004.

Publié dans contemporary africa

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