http://www.southern timesafrica. com/inside. aspx?sectid= 7117&cat= 10
Whither African unity government?
By Olley Maruma
Thursday, July 16, 2009
The advent of the African Union (AU) in 2001 raised hopes among ordinary Africans that the African continent was on the cusp of creating a strong, united continent composed of brotherly, peaceful and democratic states; the same way the European Union had fashioned itself. Cognisant of the fact that the AU's promise of a people driven union remains a mirage, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the current chairman of the continental body, was determined to push towards reality Kwame Nkrumah's dream of a United States of Africa.
Like many other Pan Africanists on the continent, he believes that turning the continent into one country is the only way the AU will deliver on its promise to build "a partnership between governments and all segments of civil society…to strengthen solidarity and cohesion among our peoples." Alas, the Libyan leader soon discovered that African leadership is still riddled with people who are still quite prepared to swap their sovereignty and freedom for the material illusions of Western prosperity.
At the head of this pack, we were told by an SABC reporter on the ground, was Botswana, which believed that Colonel Gaddafi's attempts to push the AU towards being a United States of Africa were "unbecoming. " Botswana we were told, would not respect the AU resolution to nullify the indictment of Sudan's president, Omar Al Bashir, by the ICC. It would arrest him and hand him over to the ICC if he ever turned up in Botswana. Rising to the height of absurdity, the SABC reporter informed us that the position taken by Botswana had found resonance with many other African countries, thereby "dashing Gaddafi's dream of seeing a United States of Africa in his life time." In his life time? What if he lives to a 100? Can the SABC reporter crystal ball gaze that far?
It was hard to believe that the black man reporting for SABC news comes from a country where its former president is one of the architects of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD); a man who during his term of office was fond of talking about an "African Renaissance. " That report was indicative of what is wrong with attempts to integrate the continent. It is considered a project for the leaders of Africa and not a process involving the ordinary people of Africa, such as roving reporters.
Coming in the wake of Botswana's standoff with the South African Department of Trade over its interim EPA with the European Union, Botswana's posturing at the AU summit in Libya raised serious questions about that country's trade and foreign policies and its commitment to continental integration.
Ever since independence, the respective governments of emerging African states have repeatedly declared that African Union was essential for economic reasons. Based on models, the Organisation of American States (OAS), the European Economic Community (EEC), emerging African states in 1963 founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa. One of the principal aims of the organisation was "to coordinate and strengthen the relations and endeavours of the African peoples so as to achieve better standards of living.." However throughout most of the history of the OAU, it became clear that certain African Heads of States considered economic matters a tedious subject of secondary importance to political matters.
Traditionally, the continent's leadership has been divided into two groups: radical leaders like Colonel Gaddafi who favour transforming the continent into a United States of Africa, with one government, one army, one foreign policy, one central bank and a unified judicial system; and conservative "move with caution" leaders most of whom are so dependent on Western aid for their economic growth, they never want to upset the goose that lays their golden eggs. Opponents of a USA also argue that both the OAU and the AU have a nasty reputation of charting ambitious Pan African state building projects which have never taken off or achieved much. While this is true, the reason for the failure of some these projects is directly linked to the way the OAU and its successor the AU operate.
The office of the president and ministry of foreign affairs are the key agencies in most countries for preparation for AU summits. The ambassadors based in Addis Ababa, who sit on the Permanent Representatives Committee (PRC) of the AU, form the critical link between national governments and AU institutions. In 2002, the AU reorganised the secretariat of the former OAU and established the AU Commission, currently headed by Alpha Konare. Many of the staff inherited from the OAU secretariat have found it hard to change their old habits and attitudes.
They still treat information about the AU's policies and documents like state secrets. African leaders did not take steps to put in place institutions and processes to respond to the new continental architecture. Because of this hiatus in communication, there is no interaction between the AU secretariat and ordinary African citizens. Indeed, the standoff between Harare and London over domestic economic policy (land reform) exposed how inadequately many African states prepare for AU summits. In that country's case, where there were Western sponsored efforts to bring Zimbabwe before the United Nations Security Council over alleged violation of human rights, lead ministries relevant to critical issues to be discussed at the AU's summit had not been informed or had their input sought!
The problem is the lack of capacity of governments and embassies in Addis Ababa to collate, analyse and distribute the required information. However this strengthens the argument for turning the African continent into a United States of Africa, rather than weaken it. The AU Commission reached the end of its first phase of its strategic plan (2004-2007) two years ago. It was time for AU leaders to draw lessons for the next stage of continental institution building at the Sirte Summit in Libya.
What were some of the best practices that had contributed to effective intra-state coordination and consultation with non-state national actors, thereby fostering public accountability? What policy and practice changes are necessary to improve the quality of continental policy making and implementation? How can the AU be made more open and transparent to its citizens? Most of the continent's citizens know very little about the African Union's important structures, which include the Peace and Security Council, the Secretariat for the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), the African Peer Review Mechanism, the Pan African Parliament and the African Commission on Human Rights.
The establishment of these organs and the Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), as well as the absorption of NEPAD into the AU, had given rise to a widespread belief among Africans that a new African era was on the horizon. The inclusion of ECOSSOC in the organs created by the AU Constitutive Act, giving civil society representatives a formal advisory role in AU institutions and decision making processes, raised hopes that AU operations were becoming more open and transparent.
When the Pan African Parliament was set up in South Africa in 2004, the mood became upbeat among the advocates of a United States of Africa. On his appointment as the Chairman of the African Commission, Alpha Konaré pledged his personal commitment to involving civil society in the development of the Commission's vision and mission. Whether he has succeeded seven years down the road is a question for debate. Despite all the progress notched up by his Commission, many institutional obstacles are still hindering the realisation of the African Union's original vision. Becoming a United States of Africa may well be the only long term viable option for the continent.
If Africa is going to become a USA, its leaders will have to pay more attention to educating their citizens on how their governments prepare for their continental summits and their related ministerial meetings. They will have to become more transparent about how they implement the decisions and resolutions made at their fora. If they do not do so, African citizens will not be able to contribute effectively to the building of the Pan African institutions which at present is a project largely restricted to a small elite.
Turing the continent into a United States of Africa will also force African governments to simplify and improve the multiplicity of legal frameworks, institutional arrangements and policies and procedures. When institutions have to respond to the daily needs of people whose transactions, movements and activities are no longer encumbered by immigration checks, border patrols, currency restrictions, customs barriers, uncodified legal rules and regulations, they act fast, driven by the exigencies of relevancy and change. So the countries that are against Gaddafi's desire to turn Africa into a United States of Africa may well be on the wrong side of history.