At any least opportunity, Africa spins and drifts apart, thereby totally disregarding the canons of collective responsibility and togetherness. As the axiom goes, always, there is strength in unity. However, it seems this maxim is not known to leaders and nations of Africa. Even if it is known to the leaders and nations of Africa, they have shown little commitment and enthusiasm to ensure that there is a strong bond and a healthy relationship existing between them since the establishment of the Organization of African Unity some fifty eight years (58yrs) ago on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
One cardinal objective of the OAU then, was “to ensure unity and solidarity among African states.” Now, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) has grown to become what is known as the African Union (AU), since July 9, 2002 in Durban, South Africa. It has been a long while, almost nineteen years since the AU came into existence.
Yet, it is still difficult to tell whether the objective about unity and solidarity has been achieved, whether it is still being pursued, or it has been jilted along the way. Is Africa indeed a bag of rice that can never be kept together? These has been the thoughts and concerns of Kandifo Institute, a leadership oriented think tank with focus on democracy, governance and economic activity.
Pan-African movements preceded any other efforts by Africans at uniting their front, purposely to ensure political stability, independence as well as socio-economic progress. According to M’bayo and Okhonmina, “pan-Africanism involves efforts to mobilize continental Africans against colonialism and racism and was the philosophical grounding for the unity of Africa through the AU” (Kumah-Abiwu 2013).
Pan Africanists argued that Africa could only be strong and take its place among the world’s economic and political powers if it were united. According to the AU, “it is an ideology and movement that encourages the solidarity of Africans world-wide.”
According to the same AU, this ideology is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social and political progress and aims to ‘unify and uplift’ people of African descent. The ideology which the AU talks about further asserts that the fates of all African peoples and countries are inter-twined. At its core, one could understand that Pan-Africanism is a belief that African peoples, both as the continent and in the Diaspora, share not merely a common history, but a common destiny” (Kumah-Abiwu 2013,).
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first Prime Minister and President was at the fore-front of this political unity agenda to save African nations of imperialist activities that turns to put African nations at an economic disadvantage. There was however a realization at some point that, the unity that was being pursued would take a long time to achieve. It was understood that, the then OAU charter recommended for close unity among African states but at the same time established regulations, laws and principles that made unity a more difficult thing to achieve. For instance, the Principle of inviolability of inherited boundaries.
The word inviolability as stated here implies “cannot be changed.” It is straight forward. Africans preferred to exist within the artificial boundaries that the colonial masters created to serve their (colonial masters) interest – the unity agenda can therefore be described to be a façade.
Another one is “Non-interference in domestic affairs”. The OAU Charter states very vehemently that under no circumstances can one country interfere in the domestic (internal) affairs of another country. These principles and others must have been the fundamental reason or reasons why there is not too much of cohesion in the unity adventure of Africa as countries in the supposed union acts and operates independently, regardless of anything. It simply explains why African countries do not see themselves as one continent but several independent states put together. This is where and what puzzles KANDIFO as a think tank.
At the beginning, when the need for an entity to champion the processes of African unity arose, African governments were much interested in policies that would defend their respective country’s sovereignty. Most of these nations harbored the fear that their country’s sovereignty would be short changed for that of the union. It is the opinion of Kandifo Institute that, it should have appeared to the leadership at the time that, policies and practices that are aimed at protecting national sovereignty have the tendency and the effect of making unity between the nations involved more difficult.
Looking at Africa as a whole, one could see great diversity in the area of culture and traditions. There is sharp diversity in language, food, music, folklore etc. These factors go a very long way to hamper the unity Africa is chasing. One could also argue that in spite of the obvious diversity, there are some shared common experiences as colonialism which others contend could play the role of a catalyst in the unity agenda.
In fact, it was for the sake of the phenomenon called colonization that Africans became conscious and conscientious about getting together as a continent; essentially, to solidarize and to ensure that every nation was freed from colonization.
However, one principal fact that eludes most of those who put up such arguments is the fact that it was not every country in Africa that got colonized – typical cases could be Egypt and Ethiopia – so, it is no wonder why until now, the processes leading to African unity is liken to something which is still on paper. Colonization generally, cannot be considered to be a shared common experience in Africa to serve as the basis of the unity Africa requires. It must be something else and to Kandifo, we have to look for that as Africans.
The factors discussed above may be why countries in Africa, at any least opportunity, are seeking to get out of the group and be on their own. Nations in Africa seem much confident in themselves and in seclusion than the collective confidence the union stands to offer. If Africa is a bag of rice where each rice is wanting to get out of the bag, because there is nothing superior to hold it together, then, it should be bound together in ‘hot water and under a flaming fire’, if that is the only way to keep it together. This is the responsibility of leadership and in the views of Kandifo, it must not be taken for granted.
Unity in Africa should be seen as non-negotiable if only we are interested in ending the human rights violations, political instability, dwindling economic fortunes, the unfavorable trading terms with the west, human-trafficking, wanton exploitation of African resources including all the problems associated with it and the lack of social development which are all key indicators of lack of unity. Kandifo as an institute cannot come to terms why the continent has looked on in despair, all along, as if nothing can be done about it?
In the considered view of Kandifo institute, the current situation may have been what has prompted the leadership of Africa to have a re-look at the unity agenda to at least deal with some of the weaknesses that in a way inhibits the attainment of unity of Africa as a continent.
Hitherto, the OAU Charter placed strong obstacles to achieving political unity. But the realization of these obstacles and the attempt to dealing with them by instituting structures similar to that of the European Union to ensure the actualization of the unity dream and to prevent Africa from behaving like a bag of rice is what the institute has termed ‘binding Africa together in hot water and under a flame of fire’ and the institute commend leadership of the union for that consideration.
The earlier pan Africanist activities including that of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana failed to realize that the unity Africa was pursuing was not going to be effective until a time when a common shared value will bind all of Africans together, like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which began operations in the early part of January, 2021 and headquartered in Accra, Ghana.
This was the path walked by the European Union to achieve the exploit they have now. By the judgement of African leaders, colonization became possible because of what they termed as the ‘’divide and rule’’ tactic or strategy. So, to Kandifo, what Africa needed at the time was to look for factors that will bring Africa together once again – and that is where, to the institute, there were a lot of lapses.
The Institute can say at this point that, it was so pathetic why leaders at the time placed premium on national sovereignty right from the onset instead of that of the union. Africans are aware that, the European Union began trading amongst themselves right after the Second World War – it was just around this same time that African countries became conscious of fighting for their independence.
Why then did Africa skip the European Union model for unity by instituting the European common market (ECM)? According to an UNCTAD report in 2019 on economic development in Africa, trade from Africa to the world stood around $760 billion in current prices whiles that of intra-African trade was around 2% in the same period, 2015 – 2017.
It is no wonder, unity is very hard to come by, but it is not impossible – it only takes effective and efficient leadership. Even with the current status of the European Union, Britain is opting out, but the institute do not think Britain will be ignored by the union in Her dealings in trade with the rest. Trade binds nations together. So, ignore intra-African trade and forget about African unity. Africa’s socio-economic and the socio-political outlook has been bleak and consistently keeps deteriorating because of lack of trade amongst themselves.
Africa persistently records trade deficit on its current account, yet, Africa sees nothing wrong with it. The attempt at instituting an AU parliament, an AU Council, an AU commission, an AU court of Justice and an AU central bank is a step in the right direction.
At least, Kandifo Institute is confident and optimistic that, going forward, the dream of African unity and economic development issues will begin to normalize, become more sustained and Africa bounded together forever. The Institute pays reverence to the past leadership for birthing the dream of African Unity (AU). The outfit further celebrates contemporary leaders for helping to shape the dream that will one day lead to the emancipation of Africa into total freedom.
>>>The writer is Executive Director, Kandifo Institute. He can be reached on [email protected]