The African Union At Fifty
Orangeburg, South Carolina
27th May, 2013
In Addis Ababa and across Africa, the 50th anniversary of the AU is being celebrated. Certainly, while there is cause for reflection, there is little to celebrate.
When the leaders of Africa met in Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa to form the precursor to the OAU in 1963, hopes were high. Free nations were popping up, like mushrooms ,all across Africa.
The hopes and expectations of the continent were captured best by the man, who would later be considered as perhaps, the greatest African of all time, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, when he spoke on 24th May, 1963. Looking to our history, he said, “By far the greatest wrong which the colonialists inflicted, and we now continue to inflict on ourselves in our present state of disunity was to leave us divided into economically unviable states which bear no possibility of real development.”
Elsewhere, he said, “Our continent certainly exceeds all the others in potential hydroelectric power, which some experts assess as 42% of the world’s total. What need is there for us to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water for the industrialized areas of the world? It is said, of course, that we have no capital, no industrial skill, no communications and no internal markets and that we cannot even agree amongst ourselves how best to utilize our resources for our own social needs. Yet all stock exchanged in the world are preoccupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ore.” The he added the coda, “For centuries, Africa has been the mulch cow of the western world.”
How could he understand the present so much better than our current leaders?
He looked forward by calling for:
__ Common Defense
--- Common markets
--- A Central Bank
--- A common currency
Then he closed with the paragraph that should make the speech required reading, not just for every African child but indeed, every African leader; “We meet here today not as Ghanaians, Guineans, Egyptians, Algerians, Moroccans, Malians, Liberians, Congolese or Nigerians but as Africans” He was summoning Africa to greatness. Alas, in the last half-century, we have known everything but greatness.
Unfortunately, too many of Nkrumah’s contemporaries, on a continent used to making changes slowly, saw him as an over-ambitious young man who wanted to be President of the United States of Africa. The forces of division have been hard at work, dividing us.
Our nations have increased, not just from independence but from divisions. Ethiopia has been divided. And so has Sudan. The Democratic Republic of Congo is united only in name. Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Ivory Coast and Nigeria have all had civil wars and a few others have come quite close.
Africa has been unwilling or unable to stop these wars and not even the establishment of the AU’s Peace and Security Council has made a difference.
Our energy problems, despite our resources have made us the continent of darkness, with unreliable power. We have not provided for the common defense and whenever there is conflict on our continent, as in the Ivory Coast or Mali, it is more likely to be resolved by France or America than by any African power.
Food prices are on the rise and despite Nkrumah’s prediction that the Congo basin alone could feed half of mankind, food imports, according to experts, will rise from 50 billion USD per year to 150 billion USD in 2030. In spite of the abundant raw materials Nkrumah referred to, we continue to ask for and to accept crumbs from the tables of the developed world.
Trade amongst African countries is still about 6%, according to Tony Blair’s Africa Commission.
Also, despite the existence of an African Court, Africans are more likely to get justice – or injustice --at the International Criminal Court.
The principal cause is leadership. Nkrumah and quite a number of those who gathered in Addis Ababa were continentalist Africans. Unfortunately for Africa, today, most of our leaders are not even nationalists—They are pure and simple tribalists ,religious fundamentalists or at best regionalists. Too many African leaders today see themselves as power seekers on behalf of their ethnic groups or regions. In Kenya, it is Kikuyu versus Luo. In Nigeria, it is the Muslim North versus the Christian South or some variations of it. In Ghana, it is the North versus the South, Ashantis versus Ewes or some such combination. These divisions are sapping our productive and creative capacities.
Therefore, we cannot celebrate—not yet. And we must stop using Africa’s resources in wasted celebration when in truth, there is nothing to celebrate.
The way forward is obvious. The Americans showed it with a transcontinental nation of common laws and a large market that has become the economic engine of the world and is in the middle of perhaps the second American century.
The Europeans have shown us another variety by forming the European Union. When they signed the 189-page document in Maastricht while orchestra played Mozart, Europe knew it was making the possibility of war remote and creating a central bank that would manage monetary policy and promote collaboration in defense. Amongst other things, the Europeans understood that the absence of peace is itself a threat to development.
To move forward, we must do what is doable in the short term to bring us closer.
? We must establish an African High Command to ensure peace.
? We must lower tariffs and synchronize trade laws to promote the movement of goods and people across our continent.
? The regional groups must create or adopt common currencies to facilitate trade. While a new West African currency will be good, the adoption of the Naira or Cedi will do until the Eco is ready.
? We must empower the African Development Bank or create a new one with authority to handle monetary policy.
? We must require every school child in Africa and every African leader to read – or better still commit to memory, Nkrumah’s Addis Ababa speech.
? We must stop celebrating failure.
Let Africa move forward, not sideways or backwards—together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy