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Opinions of Saturday, 11 May 2013

Columnist: Saka, Honourable

Africa Unity Still a Mirage After 50 Years?

The Africa Union (AU) is 50 years old. Hurray! In the coming days, African leaders are expected to gather in Addis Ababa. Many of them will deliver speeches upon speeches, paying respect to the founding fathers of the organization. We will be reminded of how our forefathers fought hard to overthrow colonial regimes and established the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and how a successful AU has finally been established, though Africa still remains politically divided than before.

Ideally, one would expect that after such sessions, leaders will sign a declaration that will give a true meaning to the dreams of the founding fathers of the AU. However, knowing the kind of lip service often paid by modern African leaders, one can only assume that the 50th anniversary celebrations will not be any different. The session may end as one of the usual “tea conferences” without any serious commitment to any of the following dream: politically united Africa, a common African market, a single currency, an African Central bank, a common foreign policy, a common defence system and a common citizenship amongst others.

Fifty years ago, our founding fathers outlined the following as key priorities (emphasis added):

“We all want a united Africa, united not only in our concept of what unity connotes, but united in our common desire to move forward together .... Currently, Africa is clearly fragmented into too many small uneconomic and non-viable States, many of whom are having a very hard struggle to survive. An all-African planning body could take immediate steps towards the development of large scale industry and power; for the removal of barriers to inter-African trade; and for the creation of a central bank and the formation of a unified policy on ALL ASPECT of export control tariffs and quota arrangements. Among immediate needs are the manufacture in Africa of agricultural machinery of all kinds to speed up the modernisation of agriculture. We need supplies of reliable electric power for industrial growth. …The advantage of unified military and diplomatic policies, both for our own security and to achieve freedom for every part of Africa, is so obvious as to need no comment. Transport and communications are also sectors where a unified planning is needed. Roads, railways, waterways, air-lines must be made to serve Africa’s needs, not the requirements of foreign interests”. ~Kwame Nkrumah (Neo-Colonialism, excerpts from chapter 2).

It was against this background that the foundation of the African Union was established in May 1963. It was a time when many African states were gradually emerging from the firm grip of barbaric colonial regimes: regimes which were so wicked that Africans at some point had no choice but to rebel against their oppression. As a reminder to our generation, Patrice Lumumba puts it best in his first ever speech as Prime Minister of the Congo: “Who will ever forget the shootings or the barbarous jail cells awaiting those who refused to submit to this (colonial) regime of injustice, oppression and intimidation?”

But how many of the African youth really know about the true history; how their forefathers shed their blood with the hope to achieve a truly free, united Africa?

Unfortunately, to many Africans, the fact that we do not know our history why the AU was established is not a big deal. After all, today we’re being oppressed by our own governments. We have surrounded ourselves with thick colonial borders. For 50 years, Africans have been waiting patiently for the day when like his European counterpart, he can also travel across the continent without been treated by immigration officials like complete strangers. 50 years ago it was said that “Transport and communications are also sectors where a unified planning is needed”. Therefore why couldn’t Africa adopt a unified custom policy that allows for the sharing of information to facilitate the swift movement of people, goods and services across borders?

Last year (2012), I remember in one of my discussions, titled: (“Intra-African Trade Is Possible But…”) I came up with the some recommendations which were dully copied to the AU and the Pan-African Parliament: · “Ideally, it would be more appropriate for African leaders to abolish the visa restrictions altogether so that all Africans can travel easily to any African territory without having to acquire a visa. This would make economic integration and intra-African trade more realistic, reliable and profitable since all the waiting times would be eliminated altogether. · In the meantime, African leaders must also consider the issuing of Regional Visas (Ecowas Visa, EAC Visa, SADC/COMESA Visa, etc) and abolish the individual country visas. This would also enable foreign investors/visitors the opportunity to visit many African countries on a single visa while avoiding all the long visa queues at the various African embassies. The European Union currently has such a system in place where citizens of the 'third world' can acquire the Schengen visa and travel to as many EU countries as possible”.

Some few weeks after these recommendations were sent; the Pan-African Parliament came out with more speeches, explaining how such a measure could help move the continent forward. Most importantly, even the AU’s theme for last year was “Boosting Intra-African Trade”.

Yet, after one year of setting up various “committees for deliberations”, what happened to the above recommendations? Are these recommendations not worth implementation in our quest to boost Intra-African Trade? When will our leaders commit themselves to their own words and the very principles that will bring economic relief to our people?

Unfortunately, this is the very reason why we have failed to get to the promise land after 50 years. It is said that a people without a sound knowledge of their history are doomed to repeat it.

This is where we stand as a people. The solution to ALL our problems has been well-documented by our founding fathers for decades yet, we still have no idea what to do to move forward.

Indeed, Lumumba and his kind we fall short of today, but we will surely get there. It is just a matter of time. Many of such leaders were selfless leaders who paid the ultimate price with their lives to ensure a liberated Africa which is politically united as one people with a common destiny could become a reality in the shortest possible time. It was meant to ensure that Africa’s abundant resources could truly benefit her people.

Yet, after 50 years of haven paid the price, where is the United States of Africa? Why are the African people more divided today than it was 50 years ago? Do African leaders still believe African Unity is possible? What immediate steps are being taken to ensure the fulfilment of this dream?

Several years ago, America started as a dream to a few and dedicated people. Today, that dream is a reality. Since then, America has become a formidable force. If 300million Americans can rule the world, why cant 1.2billion Africans do likewise? It is basically because we are still divided and fighting among one another. I strongly believe the dream of a United Africa can be made possible. All it takes are a generation of selfless and committed African leaders willing to take the initiative and put meanings into their speeches. If such bold steps could be taken today, we could get there in less than a decade.

Henry Ford puts it best: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right”.

Like any other revolution, indeed getting to the promise land of a One Africa, One People, is not going to be an easy task. But the bottom line is, it is possible. We simply need our leaders to believe that African Unity is POSSIBLE, it is the right decision and it’s long overdue!

Kwame Nkrumah puts it: “Revolutionsare brought about by men, who think as menof action and act as menof thought.”

Africa needs more men of action. We need a new generation of positive thinkers who are ready to practice what they preach. Most importantly, we need leaders who possess the ‘can do’ spirit. The era when we thought Africans are not capable must cease. For there is nothing good we can achieve if we continue to see one another as strangers on our motherland. Unity is a must and we do not expect anything less after the celebration of the 50th anniversary of AU. We are one people, belonging to one African family. Allowing some colonial boundaries to deny us the freedom to move together as one people with one economic vision, makes a mockery of the AU’s image.

Some books written by Kwame Nkrumah, not found in African bookshops and libraries

It is highly recommended that the African youth must read Kwame Nkrumah’s book titled: “Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism”. This is where we currently stand. Leaders and African policy makers are equally encouraged to consult this book. If this is done, the dream of economically independent Africa would be a reality.

Long live the African people. Long live the African Union that must be.

Honourable Saka ( is the project coordinator for the Project Pan-Africa, an organization that was established to unlock the minds of the African people to take Africa's destiny into their own hands. He is a Political Activist and Anti-Corruption Campaigner.