Africa’s long walk to unity
Dr. Oyeleye, a consultant, journalist and policy analyst, can be reached via:
May 15, 2023132 views0 comments
SATURDAY, May 25, 1963, remains a memorable day in the history of the African continent. “This is indeed a momentous and historic day for Africa and for all Africans. We stand today on the stage of the world affairs before the audience of world opinion. We have come together to assert our role in the direction of world affairs and to discharge our duty to the great continent.” These were the words of Haile Selassie, emperor of Ethiopia, on that day, when the heads of state and government of 32 largely newly independent African states gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to chart a new direction for the yet to be completely decolonised continent. That gathering gave rise to what was formerly known as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and now known as African Union (AU), an intergovernmental entity presumably aimed at promoting Africa’s liberation, integration and unity based on the ideals of Pan Africanism. Since then, more and more African countries were decolonised, swelling the membership number over the years to the 54 independent countries today. Sixty years after Haile Selassie’s historic statement, African countries have gone through thick and thin. Many countries have experienced internal crises, various degrees of civil strife, cross-border hostilities, many cases of coup d’etat, climate-related disasters, economic downturns, famines, displacements of people and mass migrations. The statements of Haile Selassie have simply paled into insignificance as they appear like mere rhetoric, going by the events that followed till today.
In the past 60 years, the meetings of the heads of state and government have been held on an annual basis without much progress made on integration and convergence at the continental level. It was the case that, after every meeting, individual heads of states and government simply went back to their respective countries without following up on anything discussed at the annual meeting as if there was nothing binding on them. Year after year, annual meetings became an annual ritual for the heads of nations of Africa. They have operated the continental organisation mostly from the standpoint of weakness and helplessness when, in fact, many of the heads of governments live in opulence. The pan-Africanism dream has thus long remained mere mirage. In about a fortnight’s time, the 60th anniversary of the union will be celebrated in Addis Ababa. And heads of states and governments are expected to converge as usual. But, what are they going to be celebrating? It surely promises to be a forum for storytelling and buck passing in terms of reasons for past and present failures, which will not move the continent forward an inch. However, it offers a platform for introspection, retrospection and looking at prospects for the continent. For this year’s gathering to have real meaning, it should not be business as usual. It should be a time for having a hard look at the problems of the African continent and proffering pragmatic solutions to them.
Part of what should form the focus of discussions and attention has been addressed about a week ago in Nairobi, Kenya, by the country’s president, William Ruto. Speaking during the Ibrahim Governance Weekend in Nairobi, a private forum focused on discussing leadership in Africa, President Ruto faulted the many old approaches to governance in Africa and suggested some changes that need to be introduced henceforth. In that forum, organised by the Sudanese philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim, Ruto was critical of the traditional approaches of African leaders to the integration issues. “We have a challenge. The positive thing is that there is a realisation that it can’t continue this way. We have what it takes to fix it. The conversation has already begun on what do we realistically do to be able to get the African Union to take charge of the affairs of our continent.” Addressing the issue of African leaders trooping to China, Russia, Japan, US or Turkey on invitation of a president, Ruto has this to say: “We have also decided that it is not going to be business as usual. We have these meetings: Africa-US meeting, Africa-Europe, Africa-Turkey, Africa-India, Africa-Russia and Africa-Japan. We have made a decision that it is not intelligent for 54 of us to go and sit before one gentleman from another place. Sometimes, we are mistreated. We are loaded into buses, like school chicks. It is not right.”
According to Ruto, the decision we have made as AU is that, going forward, if there is going to be a discussion between Africa and any other country, we are going to be represented by the chair (AU Commission) and the chairs of the five regional economic communities (RECs). That should be sufficient. They should be able to represent Africa. That is the position I am taking as the president of Kenya for any other meeting that we are going to have with all these requests that we have a meeting between Africa and one other country. We respect the sovereignty of others. To ask for reciprocation is not to ask for too much, and for us to agree to have this kind of setup.” On trade, Ruto said: “We decided, for example, that we are going to assemble our market, using the African Continental Trade Area (AfCFTA) market ecosystem. It was unbelievable at the rate at which we were able to achieve consensus. And we were able to achieve ratification. It is among the things that happen within the shortest time possible. It tells you there is greater realisation that, unless we act in concert, unless we act together, we are unlikely to make any impact anywhere.” He was of the opinion that Africans should endeavour to solve their problems internally. If we don’t respect ourselves, nobody is going to respect us. We should be able to take that kind of decision. When we say African problems, African solutions, we must be serious about the solutions. It cannot be rhetorical. It cannot be talk. It must be accompanied realistically and practically by what we are doing.”
In the reform agenda of the African Union, Mo Ibrahim said there needs to be a serious discussion about the structures and how African countries can give sovereignty to the AU (to represent them) like the EU. “When they are together, they negotiate better deals,” he said, adding that, “together we are stronger, we do things better.” Urging the national political leaders, he said, “we need to cede some of our sovereignty for the African Union. Our collective sovereignty is huge. We could be respected. Reacting, Ruto added that “it is about how to protect our interests. Engagement of Africa with the rest of the globe is going to change. That is why we are having the climate action summit, because we want to go to the UN General Assembly and COP28 with an African consolidated position, speaking with one voice.” According to Ruto, the September 2023 Climate Action Summit in Nairobi is planned to precede COP28 to enable African countries to come up with one position at COP28.
Ruto revealed that, in a conversation with Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the AU Commission, it was discussed that it is time as a continent when “we must take charge of our destiny. We must take charge of our security. Sixty years after the formation of the African Union, we cannot continue to depend on Europe, the EU, the US, China… to manage our own affairs.” On security, Ruto mentioned Sudan, saying “we believe, as AU, we should sort out this problem. And we have what it takes to sort out the problem.” Going further he lamented that, today, we cannot even support Somalia. We are waiting for the EU to give us $85 million. We cannot fund it as AU. It is stupid. Are you telling me (that) 54 countries, sixty years after independence, cannot manage $85 million to sort out Somalia which has no government?” Delving into the issue of the standing army for Africa, a ready standby force under the command of the African Union, Ruto said “we have the wrong architecture in the management of the African Union.” He said Moussa Faki, who is the chair of African Union Commission, can do very little because we have retained all the powers as heads of state. And yet, you cannot run one country and run the continent of Africa. That is why we took the decision in DRC. We didn’t look for resources from organisations. We used Kenyan resources. In Uganda, we agreed that every country should deploy troops, using their own resources, because we need to take charge of our region. These are our issues. We need to deal with the security of our region because if we do not deal with the security of our region, we are foregoing opportunities of investment, of job creation, of growing our economies and we are basically working against ourselves.”
An interesting question on funding of the AU got an interesting answer at the Governance Weekend meeting. In response to Mo Ibrahim’s question about how many countries have paid their AU contribution this year, Moussa Al Faki answered diplomatically, saying “majority paid.” To this, Mo Ibrahim added that “African countries don’t respect their own union. If you don’t respect your own union, nobody respects you.” If we believe we have an African Union, we need to have an African voice.” An African intellectual and a vocal public analyst, Professor PLO Lumumba also spoke on the AU status recently in an interview. “One of the things that I hope that [the] African Union will begin to do particularly when we are going to celebrate the 60 years since the creation of OAU now AU in the 23rd, 24th and 25th days of May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is to rethink how we finance our affairs. [The] African Union itself is almost 70 percent financed from outside, financed even by NGOs, European NGOs. And what they do is they simply tell you, if the agenda is climate, they tell you to go to climate. If the agenda is human rights, now the main agenda is LGBTQI, they tell you if you don’t behave, we are going to cut aid.” On next steps to take, Lumumba suggested that “what we must do as a continent is to use our institutions for purpose of financing our affairs.” He was specific in his reference. For instance, he said “the African Development Bank was going to be such an engine, but we now know that it has almost 88 shareholders. The second largest shareholder is the United State of America. Japan has shareholding. The United Kingdom has shareholding. France has shareholding. They have seized and captured and paralysed the African Development Bank. It is only African in name. And, as they say, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Even this sanction that you see, being deployed against countries such as Zimbabwe, it is because we don’t have pan-African institutions.
Going further, Lumumba said that “as long as we are dependent on the IMF and the World Bank, our economies are going to be simply shadow economies of the American economy, or the Russian economy, or the Chinese economy, or the British economy, or the European Union economy. Latin America, at a certain time, specifically Chile, Brazil and Argentina succeeded in weaning themselves off the breasts of the IMF and the World Bank. We must now do it. And the time is now. He drew attention to development donors and their aids, saying that, “even at a small level, we can make all these organisations irrelevant” and tell them “we don’t want your money. They give you $100,000, they think they own you and own your future generation. They ask you to write [a] report every week and they proceed from the premise that you are thieves, you are stealing from them anyway. You have no independence, your dignity is lost.”
With these comments, do African leaders need to dither any further about solving African problems by Africans? Any better way to commemorate the 60th anniversary other than critically addressing these core issues?
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