May 10, 2010

Pan-Africanism today?

Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president is often held up as the beacon for visionary leadership in Africa. His lasting legacies are 1) financing and support of liberation struggles and nationalist movements across Africa and, 2) forging the idea for a common union of African states – Pan-Africanism. The idea of a unified Africa wasn’t a new one at the time but it gained much traction as African countries gained independence.

Nkrumah envisioned a United States of Africa, writing that under a central government Africa would become “one of the greatest forces for good in the world.” Needless to say, it didn’t work! The leaders of the newly independent counties weren’t about to relinquish their power. With that said, the idea still resonates today in some circles; Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, is championing the same idea and was quite vocal about it during his term as African Union chair.

Is the idea of a unified Africa realistic or just a naive longing of aging freedom fighters?

I honestly do not believe that we have functional and stable institutions that work in harmony for the best interests of the continent and the people of Africa. Also, there are too many egos involved and conflicting regional interests to prevent this. 

The African Union (AU) is seemingly just as toothless as its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). At a practical level it lacks the political credibility to an effective source of power. Its less than rigorous membership criterion means that all African states except Morocco are represented, and this includes all manner of repressive dictators and tyrants. It’s irrational to believe that such leaders would be amenable to sound policies that alleviate poverty and hunger, and stem corruption and the flight of capital to offshore bank accounts. 

To put it simply - member states do not work side by side to negotiate and work on major issues affecting Africans, and this is likely to remain the same even with all the talk of unification. 

More time should be spent on more targeted and tangible "unification." These would include the following:
  • reducing barriers to trade such as cumbersome customs procedures and improving road networks across member states as is currently done through the work of SADC and ECOWAS 
  • eliminating cumbersome visa restrictions to ease the flow of visitors across borders to boost tourism and cultural exchanges
  • introducing exchange programs that allow students and skilled workers to move from one country to another learning from others in their fields, and taking that knowledge home.
 As I think of this further, I have to ask – do we as Africans see ourselves as unified and standing under a common umbrella? Would we want a “Union Government of the African People and not merely of Union of States and Governments?”  And is unification truly a prerequisite for eliminating poverty, disease and conflicts? 


Very interesting post.

I agree that economic integration should come before political integration.

I guess the problem is that "economic integration" needs some element of political will. That of course is not the same as saying political union must come before economic union.

See a quite detailed exchange on this here

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