Unity is strength. Unity is security. Unity is self reliance. Unity is self sufficiency.
Dr. Fathi El-Shihibi
April 3, 2011
The convening of the third summit between the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) which was hosted by the Leader of the Revolution Muammar al-Qathafi in the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (November 29-30) and focused on exploring ways to increase economic and investment cooperation between the two continents prompted me to revisit the prospect of creating the United States of Africa and how would that create new possibilities and opportunities for the citizens of both entities.
Having become more and more aware that this cherished dream is gradually taking a backseat to more urgent matters in individual countries such as the upcoming referendum in the Sudan scheduled for January of next year on whether Southern Sudan remains part of the country or chooses independence and the intermittent civil war in Somalia, I thought that I should remind everybody that the sooner unity is established the better are the chances to overcome the seemingly daunting problems on the continent.
Furthermore, judging from the international political atmosphere the United States of America, the European Union as well as the United Nation and the rest of the world community will positively receive the creation of this union as a major step to combat and overcome the many problems plaguing the continent including conflict, famine and disease.
As a matter of fact the governments of the United States of American and the Russian Federation as well as China have been signaling their support for the creation of the union through the remarks of their high officials including US President Barak Obama and his Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation and President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China.
The United States government in a congratulatory note to the president of Malawi Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika on his election as the new chairperson of the African Union, firmly expressed high hopes in continuing and upgrading the country’s partnership with the AU to establish peace throughout the continent and help member states attain and maintain stability and prosperity.
Nowadays when I ponder the future of the African Union and the strong possibility of finally creating the United States of Africa my thoughts hover between the famous words of the English socialist author George Bernard Shaw and the African revolutionary Kwame Nkrumah. Shaw reflecting on humanities’ resilience to transform dreams or visions into reality concludes that “You see things and you say why? But I dream things that never were and say why not? ”
1. Kwame Nkrumah being a visionary who embodies Shaw’s characterization of the dreamer turned visionary, having formed his vision of a pan-African Union and being committed to pursue his vision with vigor and determination, uttered these famous words “Revolutions are brought about by men, by men who think as men of action and act as men of thought”
2. On another occasion Nkrumah asserts that the path to unity has to be charted by the Africans themselves and in accordance with their own vision not the vision of others “We face neither East nor west; we face forward”
3. The ideas of Nkrumah and like-minded African leaders such as the late President of Egypt Jamal abd al-Nasser, eventually led to the creation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.
Muammar al-Qathafi, leader of the Libyan revolution and former President of the African Union, asserted his vision as did Nkrumah and continued the march towards unity which culminated in the establishment of the African Union.
Furthermore he, echoing the words of his predecessor “Africa must unite or perish (4), has been leading the way towards the establishment of the final phase in Africa’s pursuit of unity and complete independence by calling for the establishment of the United States of Africa. These efforts towards this cherished and noble destination have encountered and continue to encounter numerous setbacks and hurdles whether internal or external.
On the one hand any moves towards unity have been facing challenges by opposition groups and diverse ideologies especially during the cold war. On the other hand, early on many outside players’ particularly former colonial sates used their economic leverage and their surviving connections inside many African countries to hamper any efforts towards more unity.
Nevertheless, there are many challenges confronting the establishment of such a union be they internal or external albeit being for the most part a mixture of both which can also be solved:
The challenge I consider a priority is that some African governments’ opposition to moves intended to expedite the creation of such a union. It is a known fact that some centers of power in these countries still harbor lingering loyalty to their former colonists mainly England and France due to mutual interests or economic, political or military pressures.
This is the reason that these same heads of states and other power enclaves seem to be uncommitted regarding Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s timely proposal to ease restrictions on travel between African states, lifting or easing of regulations that stand in the way of free trade and the creation of a single currency (the Afro) which is similar to the Euro currency used by members of the European Union.
When it comes to the unwillingness of some African governments or heads of states to push forward with the creation of a union, the solution to that is to advance Colonel al-Qathafi’s proposal to the African people not their governments per say to debate and determine the future of their continent.
This move towards popular participation can start by resurrecting the Arusha charter hence (the African charter for popular participation in development and transformation) that was agreed upon by member states meeting in Arusha, the United Republic of Tanzania, but was hardly implemented since its inception in 1990. Therefore, involving the African people and not only their governments can produce the leverage needed to expedite the moves towards the envisioned union.
The next challenge is that of globalization which provides some Western states with a pretext to enforce economic and political domination. As the saying goes there is strength in unity since a genuine union particularly on the economic level can give the continent leverage not only in world affairs but also the mean to cope with the challenges of globalisation. Having a union could lead to the promotion of the status of African countries from proxy or client states to partners in the world economy.
Despite the lingering effects of colonization in the majority of African states that left them dried of needed resources if not utterly impoverishment, these same countries can with the right planning and cooperation with each other recoup their losses and be in a position not only to withstand the impact of globalization but to influence the policies and standards created by multinational corporations.
Although many of these countries are still reeling from heavy debts and under development which left them vulnerable to the dictates of such multinational and mostly Western financial organizations such as the IMF (the International Monetary Fund), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation, they can still overcome such setbacks by creating their own financial institutions along the line of the African Economic Community that was established in Abuja in 1991 but then the plan was hardly put into practice.
The third challenge that stands in the way of African unity is security. The issue of security on the continent is as it stands now moving in two different directions. The first direction is pursued by some African countries that remain suspicious of a continental defence forces and consequently opt to rely on the West for their security.
The West including the United States and in the absence of a reliable and effective AU defense forces have been providing protection by direct military intervention in African hot spots such Somalia or rely on client states or proxy states to do their bidding such as Tanzania’s invasion of Uganda to topple Idi Amin in 1979 or Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006 that was launched to uproot the insurgency and al-Qaeda sympathisers as part of America’s war on terrorism.
The United States, along with former colonial powers France and England are reshaping post-cold war policies to expand and protect their interests on the continent especially in oil and other African riches or to ward off the expanding influences of China, Iran and the Russian Federation.
A prime example of the ambitious resumption of influence by the USA and Its Allies can clearly be seen in the creation of a new central command known as the United States African Command or AFRICOM for short.
The declared mission of this command, which was established during the administration of George W. Bush, is to oversee military operation as well as other duties to augment US security back home and abroad. The command has been operational since the establishment of its main headquarters in a number of willing African allies that still orbit the Western sphere of influence.
The second direction is the one adopted by African countries that highly value the exercise of complete independence in decision-making, movement or action. Thus in order to safeguard the continent there are two complementary courses of action one long term and one short term. The first is to educate and enlighten Africans that achieving a lasting union would mean transcending internal strives and civil wars as well as interstate rivalries and military conflicts.
The second is the establishment of a continental defense force that will safeguard the integrity and independence of member states which will eventually enter into a federation thereby guaranteeing their security and independence. Nowadays African states are to a large degree dependent on the United Nations and Its Security Council for assistance in matters of war and peace.
However, as we have seen in the Darfur situation in the Sudan the UN resolutions are mostly influenced by former colonial states due to the absence of a united African block that promote and protect the integrity of individual African states. A strong African security forces would have stepped in and put an end to the conflict without any need for outside interference.
Here I would like to conclude this modest study of Africa’s Unity and ways to establish the long cherished vision of a United States of Africa by expanding on the saying “Unity is strength” and adding that “Unity is security”, “Unity is self reliance” and “Unity is self sufficiency “no matter how steep the sacrifices are or will be to achieve such a noble undertaking.
About The Author
Dr. Fathi El-Shihibi is a professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religion, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.