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Opinions of Thursday, 15 September 2011

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

Nkrumah, African Unity And Democracy

Nkrumah, African Unity And Democracy ( Part One)

No Unity Without Freedom

By Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo

Since Ghana’s independence in 1957, the question of the unity of all African states has continued to elude the leadership of the continent. In his speech declaring independence on March 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the new nation, stated that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked up with the total liberation of all the African continent. The visionary leader therefore set about founding the Organization of African Unity, and in 1963, the OAU charter was ratified in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But from the start, the Organization was seen as a talking shop for the continent’s motley crowd of unlikely bedfellows posturing for positions of power. Thus for nearly four decades after the formation of the continental body, the Organization failed to impact the unity of the African peoples in any meaningful sense. In July, 2000, by the Constitutive Act enacted in Lome, Togo, the continent’s leadership opted to transform the body into the African Union (“AU”). But the African Union has proved itself to be worse than its predecessor. The recent leadership role by NATO in the overthrow of the Ghadafi regime has exposed the toothlessness of the continental bulldog and left many wondering about the relevance, future, use and function of the AU. It is the submission of this writer that there can be no African unity without the blueprint of true democracy solidly built on the universal rights and freedoms of the African peoples.

The preamble to the OAU Charter did make reference to freedom, equality, justice and dignity as essential ingredients for the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples, but there were no enabling clauses in the subsequent articles to give effect to these noble objectives. Indeed, Article Three of the Charter clearly proscribed any member country from interfering in the internal affairs of other member countries. This Article was a broad protective sweep which gave ample cover to the leaders to launch assaults on the fundamental freedoms of their peoples. Thus in Ghana for example, the Great Leader built what was then the largest prison in Africa not to accommodate criminals but to imprison his political opponents. The Redeemer declared the nation a one-party state with himself as life president and set about developing a personality cult through the Young Pioneers who were indoctrinated to betray their parents and neighbors who said anything negative against the Great Leader. In these and many other state actions, freedom of speech became anathema to the Ghanaian populace, and the court system which was seen as the guardian of the people’s rights came under siege when the Chief Justice was fired for failing to return a verdict favorable to the Great Redeemer. All this while, the Great Leader was gallivanting on the continent to preach freedom from imperialism in his quest for the total liberation of the whole African continent. And what he did against his own people became off limits to the scrutiny of the Organization essentially because of Chapter Three of the Charter which proscribed any interference in the internal affairs of the member nations. Thus from the very beginning, the OAU was a mere conduit for the expression of the overweening ambition of certain African leaders, and never a means for the procurement of any fundamental rights of the African peoples.

What freedom were the architects of the continental unity babbling about when the people’s rights at home were shortchanged to protect the personal aggrandizement of notorious leaders? When these leaders met to articulate in sonorous terms the total liberation of the African continent, exactly what did they mean? Freedom from poverty for themselves and their cronies? Freedom to kill, maim, imprison and persecute their own people? Freedom from accountability? Freedom for the total expression of their perverted aggrandizement?
The uniform democratic credential which would have guaranteed the fundamental rights of the people was neither properly articulated nor minimally enforced by the OAU Charter; so from the very beginning, the organization did not endear itself to the masses of the African peoples. Indeed, the OAU was totally alienated from the African peoples insofar as their fundamental freedoms were never foregrounded. The organization became an esoteric cabal for scoundrels who had no interest in the true freedom of their peoples and who merely organized to engage in shenanigans to out-maneuver each other for positions of power. The democratic thrust which should have formed the foundational concrete to bind the African unity was reduced to an aspirational shibboleth which was given no teeth to bite. The leaders merely got together to lisp the mantra of African freedom and unity without so much as a hint as to what this meant for the people, or what forms of governments would undergird the proposed unity. The futility of the union was as obvious as the alchemist’s doomed effort to transmogrify stone into gold, or the chemist’s effort to effectuate bonding in two unlikely metals. Thus the concept of a continental union was still-born ab initio as the leaders never tackled the question of the kinds of freedom which the citizens will have and the forms of government which will better give true expression to the fundamental freedoms of the citizenry. Existing abuses were never questioned nor sanctioned because of the overriding clause that prohibited interference in the internal affairs of the member nations.
And it was not as if there was no history to guide the continental leadership about the evolution of humanity away from autocratic leadership. The era of enlightenment had given birth to the American Revolution founded on the concepts enshrined in the declaration of the rights of man. These rights had been further articulated and distilled in the Bill of Rights as well as the League of Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights ratified by member states as far back as in 1948. In this latter document are thirty articles setting out the universal rights of mankind. Among these rights are the inviolability of the dignity of the citizenry, non-discrimination on account of race, color, sex, language, national origin, property or birth. Furthermore, the document asserts the citizen’s equality before the law, the right to due process, the right for one to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, the right to the freedom of speech, to the universal adult suffrage, to firm democratic institutions that give power to the people to determine their leadership……. Despite the beautiful concepts propounded by these sacred documents, it was possible for African leaders to bunch together to form a continental union without any enforceable clauses that would guarantee the aforementioned freedoms.
It was not until in 1981 when the Banjul Charter on Peoples and Human Rights was enacted, and not until 1986 when it was supposed to have come into force. The freedoms set out by the Banjul Charter are the very self-same freedoms enacted by the League of Nations as far back as in 1948.
Despite the re-enactment of these rights, they have not impacted the governments in Africa. How far have the people been granted their fundamental rights by governments in Africa? Indeed, the demographics of the governments in Africa reveal a proscription of the core freedoms of the people: discrimination on account of ethnicity and the taking away of life, liberty and property without any due process of the law.
Thus although there were some efforts to correct the gaping omissions in the original OAU Charter, the fact still remains that majority of African governments are far from granting any form of freedom for their peoples. And in fact the Charter of the AU is even worse when it comes to the guarantees of the rights afforded to the citizens. Here, there is not even any independent paragraph on the peoples’ freedoms. Rather the paragraph on non interference of the internal affairs of independent states is strongly inferred. Leaders remain free to kill and imprison their people or curb their freedoms of speech and assembly while remaining under the protective wings of the AU. The AU is required to stand behind these leaders when they come into a direct conflict with their own people as a result of their authoritarian regimes.
That is why the unity of the continent as espoused by the leaders has no meaning to the generality of the people; and that is why when the leaders assemble to talk of continental unity, the issue is really about themselves and how to entrench themselves in power forever. It is never about how they will guarantee the rights of the people or how they will facilitate those universal rights of man that will give true meaning to the power of the people. That is why whenever the leaders declare that they will not recognize any uprising in any country, they don’t pause to inquire into the types of oppression that occasioned the uprisings in the first place, or how best to enhance the democratic culture to prevent the peoples’ need to embark on rebellion.
As long as there are no uniform prerequisites for the democratic dispensation that will ensure the true freedom of the peoples of Africa, there will be no true African Unity. The talk about African unity is meaningless unless there exists the mechanism and institutions that guarantee true justice, equality, due process, freedom of speech and the other human freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declarations of the Rights of all peoples.

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Juris Doctor, lives in Austin, Texas. You can email him at