From the Editor’s Keyboard

Pan African unity: Can Africa match the bid?

6 April 2007 at 21:40 | 504 views

The idea of a United States of Africa is the visionary outcome of a Pan African Unity. Gichinga Ndirangu presents the case for a United States of Africa and points out some of the major stumbling blocks that need to be overcome before Nkrumah’s dream of a united Africa becomes a reality.

By Gichinga Ndirangu, Guest Writer.

At the upcoming African Union summit in Accra, Ghana, a proposal seeking to establish a continental union government will be debated. Accra is a symbolic, if not significant host for this debate. It was here that Ghana’s founding father, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah(photo), first pitched for Pan African unity in his famous exhortation that Ghana’s independence counted for less unless, and until, the entire continent was liberated. It was Nkrumah’s view that in the absence of forging a common united front, Africa would remain shackled to neo-colonialism.

It was the period preceding the re-launch of the African Union in 2002 which witnessed renewed debate on Pan African unity. Libyan strongman, Muammar Gaddafi, then an intractable opponent of western imperialism, challenged African leaders to unite across common purpose and chart their destiny unshackled by the West. Gaddafi rooted for increased trade amongst Africans, the creation of common continental institutions including a federal government and the free flow of persons across borders. At its relaunch in Durban, the African Union took the sails out of Libya, reaffirming its commitment to the Pan African vision without unveiling a specific roadmap. The leadership of some of the continent’s key leaders - South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Algeria’s Bouteflika and Senegal’s Sane Wade - initiated instead the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), which was seen as an attempt to develop a policy framework towards a unified vision on Africa’s development and bolster, in part, Pan Africanism. NEPAD’s vision was, however, restricted, being more intent on resource mobilization than on its vision for Africa’s social and political cohesion. Conversely, this year’s proposal for a union government revisits the attempts to consolidate Pan African political, social and economic integration and establishes important benchmarks in laying out a renewed vision for continental unity.

The hope, though not assured, across Africa, is that this year’s debate will move the pan-African vision of Nkrumah beyond its fifty-year stagnation. There is no doubt that this is a debate whose time has come, not least because the union government proposal finally reaffirms the quest for uniting Africa’s people across a common thread of shared values and joint purpose. Within the debate, there are many critical voices that claim to welcome the idea of African unity but caution that the hour for Pan African federalism has yet to come. In addition, Afro-pessimists within the ranks of the African Union are driven by the zeal to consolidate national sovereignty and regional hegemony rather than an outright rejection of the Pan African vision.

While hopes are high, consensus on this proposal will take time and effort given the disparity in positions as well as the high demands that will be placed upon each State to realize a union government. The AU proposal wants the union government created as a transitional arrangement preceding full political integration under the banner of the ‘United States of Africa’. This transitional arrangement implies that realizing the actual Pan Africa vision calls for more work, consultation and buy-in. Even then, the transitional vision is bold in its intent and envisions the establishment of parliamentary and judicial systems, common continental financial institutions and standardized monetary policies and procedures, among others. It is these preliminary propositions that Africa’s leaders will be called upon to give thought and focus to at the June summit in Accra.

After many years of internecine conflict within and between states, the need to harness Africa’s potential around a unity of purpose is a necessary and overarching imperative. At the heart of it, the proposal for a union government must be directed towards Africa’s transformation through creative and well-thought out strategies that advance integration and not the isolation or balkanization of any country or region.

The proposal should be used to catalyze developmental policies and programmes that are people-centred and rooted in the finest of African traditions, culture and values. The ideal of a people-centered and united Africa is one that must be welcome and advanced. It is also a prerequisite in an increasingly globalized world that has demonstrated the value in consolidating shared interests that drive policy formulation and implementation.

Not limited to political union, the proposal for a union government will also delve into the concepts and realities of potential economic integration. Colonialism bequeathed on most African states economic inequality and social inequity which have stifled the integration of Africa’s economies to the world market. Intra-African trade has been constrained by weak policy and institutional support at national and regional levels and internal structural limitations, which have narrowed the scope of exploiting the continent’s economic opportunities to the fullest extent. While economic integration has been a key but elusive priority for Africa’s leadership since the onset of political independence, what has been lacking is the handiwork to take this goal beyond the realm of conjecture and optimism. In 1963, the Organisation of African Unity unveiled a proposal to establish a continental African common market that was expected to coalesce into a Pan-Africa community straddling the economic, social and political spheres. Both the Lagos Plan of Action and the 1991 Abuja Treaty that established the African Economic Community (AEC) spoke to the need for such an African economic union. While this level of ambition has not matured to its full intent, the African Union has continued to look upon the various Regional Economic Communities (RECs) as essential building blocs in the quest for continental economic union.

Yet within the current arrangement, there is growing concern that Africa is spreading herself thin and wide in negotiating multiple trade arrangements, which stand to undermine her own development priorities. The common view is that there is limited scope to fully harness the potential of regional integration granted that new concessions are being exerted by Africa’s trading partners.

The African Union views deepening regional economic integration as an important pillar in Africa’s structural transformation. Given the complexity of regional integration in Africa, there is widespread concern that the undue emphasis on trade liberalisation in the ongoing negotiations with the European Union (EU) and other trading power houses could scuttle rather than consolidate economic integration.

The truth is that trade and trade liberalisation are not an end in themselves but a means to help the continent respond to its development challenges. The ongoing trade negotiations between African countries and the EU have shown the complexity of consolidating economic ties amongst African countries which are already pressured into negotiating with the EU under new configurations outside their natural and traditional economic groupings. The regions currently negotiating with the EU have been severely disrupted by overlapping membership to different negotiating configurations. As a result, there is a risk of countries undertaking trade commitments with the EU to the detriment of their traditional trading partners with whom they may have different agreements at the regional level.

In today’s new global economic dispensation, there are few alternatives to economic integration as a strategy in promoting sustainable socio-economic development. It is obvious that only by closing ranks within the framework of continental level initiatives like the African Economic Community and the African Union can Africa avoid further marginalization.

The union proposal acknowledges that African governments have made determined efforts towards consolidating regional economic blocs with the active support of the AU. But the history of consolidating continental unity is limited by many factors including the lack of political will, limited awareness among a large segment of Africa’s population and increased dependence on external assistance.

The African Union must, therefore, work towards providing an appropriate framework, which strengthens partnership between national governments, peoples’ representatives, civil society and other stakeholders towards promoting the continent’s economic and social development.

A union government will, on the one hand, secure the continent’s interests while, on the other, assert its due role in global affairs and build on the continent’s collective capacity to influence world affairs from a position of unity and strength. But, the current proposal could halt in its tracks if debate is merely confined to the hallowed halls of the African Union without active buy-in from Africa’s people. Since 2002, the AU has renewed momentum towards more effective and accountable governance structures. The next frontier in consolidating continental unity must involve making concerted efforts at the national level to develop institutions and processes that will advance the desired new continental architecture and which are rooted in peoples’ popular participation. The debate must include the voices and perspectives of a wide range of Africa’s people through the involvement of key institutions such as national and regional parliaments, civil society organizations and the media. This participation will broaden and deepen the debate that is, ultimately, about the people of Africa

* Gichinga Ndirangu is a consultant with the African Union Monitor.

Source: Pambazuka News.