Opinions Thu, 28 May 2009

Whither African Unity

With the celebration of Africa Day by the continental Africa Union, it is the season for so-called 'Pan-Africanists' to trumpet their misguided notions of African Union, and parade their ignorance as arrogance!

The path to union as trumpeted by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and currently promoted by misguided ones like Gadaffi will NEVER ensure a union of African states.

Of course, it is all good to shout 'Africa Must Unite', after all even the dead extol in numbers, as our elders advise. But we must be guided more by WISDOM and less by emotion and useless semantics when discussing the road, path to unity for Africa and Africans.

As Mwalimu Juluis Nyerere of Tanzania once remarked wittingly, as was his peculiar wont, the moment you have 30 or more heads of state, multiplied by all the 21-gun salutes, and OFFICIAL cars, it becomes difficult to cede political power! And of course, Nkrumah as the first head of an independent sub-Sahara African (assuming Sudan is not partly sub-Sahara!) Nation to gain independence, dismantled common institutions set up by the colonial Britain for common services for the four Anglophone West African countries that could have served as a launching pad for the road to unity. Nkrumah then went on a 'uniting' spree by entering into what I have described as DYNASTIC alliances with leaders of some African countries. To wit, Sekou Toure of Guinea; Modibo Keita of Mali; and a Memorandum of Understanding on unity signed with Patrice Lumumba of the Congo Leopoldville.

Throughout mankind's history, since the first ape-man swung a piece of wood against his other, and thus began warfare, LASTING unity among people/nations has been achieved when those involved have shared common VALUES, or instituted a value system that provided a new ideology to underpin new values and strengthen UNITY.

In precolonial Ghana, the people who became known as Asante (Osanti, as coined in derision by my great Agona Clan ancestor Nana Bo Amponsem of Denkyira and corrupted to Asante!) of Ghana provided such a template for unity in 1701. The Golden Stool commanded from heaven by an Akuapem prophet, served by rules, values and guidelines developed under said prophet- Okomfo Anokye Kotobre, and Opemsuo Nana Osei Tutu I, the first Asantehene, ensured as --R.S. Rattray "Asante Constitution" opines, a lasting unity. An Asantehene (head of the Asante Union) serves as a primus inter pares (first among equals), to borrow Adu Boahen's phrase cited in "Topics in West African History" and thus can be removed from power for misrule and malfeasance, as has happened in the past to Nana Kusi Oboadum, Nana Osei Kwame; Nana Kofi Kaakari, and Nana Mensa Bonsu (Bonsu Ketewa). With shared values, anchored by a strong shared ideology, Asante has remained a lasting union, in spite of the machinations and negative incantations of locals and foreigners alike!

The 13 British colonies of America, achieved a similar feat later in the same 18th century about 75 years after the Asante feat! I wonder if George Washington was 'educated' on the norms of Asante Union by some of the enslaved Africans sent to his plantation from Asante dominions!!

Even when a people share a common language and religion, unity has eluded them. The best examples are 'Italy' and 'Germany'. It took wars to finally achieve the Italian Risorgimento led by Mazzini, Count Cavour and Garibaldi to create the Italian nation in 1861. German national union was proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in 1871 when one of my major historical figures Prince Otto von Bismark ('The great questions of our day cannot be achieved by speeches and majority resolutions but by iron and blood'! Bismark said in 1848 upon the failure of the Frankfort Assembly and the proposed unity of the German states), led the Prussian army to victory over France in the Franco-Prussian War. Italian unification was finally completed in 1871 when Rome was made the capital of Italy with the defeat of the Papal forces, and the defeat of France by Prussia. Otherwise, ‘Germany’, like ‘Italy’ until 1871 was a ‘mere geographical expression’, as contemptibly put by Metternich the Austrian Chancellor earlier in the 19th century.

Imposition of unity from above either through dynastic alliances of the kind pursued by Nkrumah is futile. Similarly, imposition of unity by force, such as the one achieved by Prince Otto von Bismarck in Germany is simply a non-starter in our present world.

The choice left, is for African nations to forge democracy and the rule of law in their respective countries, and then respect such laws in the governance institutions so that if a Ghanaian accustomed to democratic governance and rule of law with all the attendant benefits and rights accruing, traveled to Togo, Namibia, or Libya, he would expect to be accorded values that he is already accustomed to in his native country, and vice cersa. In time, as our elders advise, ‘birds of the same feathers fly together’, or; ‘nsee gro atipen, atipen’ and voila, shared values in economic, political and judicial spheres, as well as in religious tolerance would trounce local and provincial tendencies.

Developing shared values to underpin unity is the path followed by Europe since 1958. Recall that European unity had been pursued since Emperor Charlemagne, King of the Franks crowned himself Emperor of Europe–The Holy Roman Empire in the 8th century, to no avail. Leading Lord Gibbon (author of the seminal The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), to write that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor an empire. It is only since 1958 that Europe has truly been on the path to a lasting union, and all because the members agreed to shared values in economic, political, judicial, and other matters. And those aspiring to membership must meet the strict values test set by the European Union before they are considered for membership. The path has taken some years, but the benefit is one of a lasting union.

The ongoing claptrap that Gaddafi of Libya would lead Africa to unity is wholly misleading and laughable. Gadaffi is feasting on his ego. In the 1970's he threatened to march his entire Libyan population to Egypt to force union with the latter! It made for good theatrics. Presently, Gadaffi is playing Africa like one would a toy! Gaddaffi does not believe in democracy, and he cannot transition to one under African unity! Nor can Africans transition to a united Africa under dictatorship!! Neither can unity be attained by mere sloganeering fed by excess petro-dollars, as is the case with Gaddafi’s Sirte Declaration. And Africa can ill-afford Gadaffi’s quixotic act of getting some “Chiefs’ and traditional rulers in sub-Saharan Africa to bestow the title "king of kings" of Africa on him, as he had done in Benghazi in 2008!

It is my view therefore, that until African nation-states become democratic in their governance, and the leaders and people subscribe to the democratic values, the notion of a Union of African States as presently articulated by so-called Pan-Africanists is wholly misguided and unattainable. Africa currently masquerades all types of regional and continental institutions. There are among numerous others, the African Union (AU) Parliament, ECOWAS parliament. These are sheer waste of resources and talent. When the majority of African leaders refuse to subject their rule and policies to th AU Peer Review to which they assented, whither the parliament?

Africa Must Unite. Absolutely! But a vision must be fed by reality and pragmatism. Otherwise, the vision becomes mere sloganeering; and that has been the bane of those shouting ‘Africa Must Unite’ since the attainment of independence!

Columnist: Ellison, Kofi