“The independence of Ghana is meaningless without the independence of all Africa,” Nkurumah stated at the independence of Ghana. This statement was part of a larger movement of Pan-africanism were as Marcus Garvey put it, “Africa is for the Africans” and former Egyptian President Nasser said that “it is time we begin to unite with our brothers in the south.” What is political unity, how far have we moved on this trajectory to political unity, what are the arguments around it, and do we even want this unity as Africa?
Two broad groups have developed over African unity, the federalists and the gradualists. The federalists led by the ideas of Muammar Gaddafi and Nkurumah believed Africa should unite immediately, forming a single government, with a President and federal governors of the present countries, inspired by the USA system, a seemingly top-down approach to unity. There are also the gradualists who led by Kenyatta and Thabo Mbeki forwarded the idea that the process of unity should be taken step by step; each country developing at its own speed until we are strong enough to unite, a more bottom-up approach.
The gradualists are currently dominating with the regional powers such as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa leading the integration of Africa. Even though Africa is far from being a single country, the growth of solidarity is there; especially at climate conferences that affect us all, in most United Nations General Assembly issues and World Trade Organization dealings.
Is the idea of unity truly tangible though? It is important to realize that when unity beckons, it is the people that unite and not merely the political bargaining chips among the leading elite who will be playing around with the continent as if playing chess. Does the average African-that rural, half-literate African condone to African Unity? Is the Bemba in Zambia will to unite with the Shangani of Mozambique? Are the Tutsis and Hutus willing to make the Great lakes region one for all? The splitting of Sudan in half made the idea of African unity seem like a farce. Such religious differences have seen some North African nations deeming themselves more Arab than African. We should ask ourselves why has Morocco is still not a member of the African Union?
These questions all need answers for us to see Africa in the next 50 years voting for one president. For some nationalists, such an idea is actually too much. The pan-African parliament in terms of power is still one in name, not having any real teeth to have policy effect that could actually affect the whole continent. If referendums were to be passed to give more powers to the AU, would majority vote yes? Africa is vehemently fighting for an African country to be given a seat in the Security Council. My question is instead of a specific country being assuming the seat, why can’t the AU chairperson be given that seat?
Only when ‘Africa’ is not an ideological phrase, but a reality on the ground among the masses who they themselves want Africa to unite, only then will we be united. When Africans wanted independence, they fought for it. That same fighting spirit will have to be ignited to defeat African Unity’s greatest enemy…our own procrastination.
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