Friday, July 6, 2007

Nchi moja kwa Afrika? (One Country for Africa?)

The 9th Ordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) recently convened in Accra, Ghana on the first of July - the third of July, 2007. Now, you'd think that with so many countries (53) and a contested territory (Western Sahara) there would be plenty to discuss along the lines of conflict resolution, building infrastructure, increasing sustainablility, stabalizing and growing economies, health concerns and generally working towards the achievement of the Millenium Development Goals. Instead, the Heads of State of the African Union had just one main item on their agenda to debate during this rare gathering of leaders. The issue was unity.

Unity is essentially a central theme at the African Union and it rightfully should be. The issue surrounding the degree of unity and the rate of its implementation has long been discussed in depth by members of the AU's predecesser organization the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and was brought up again at the inception of the AU at the dawn of the new millenium. The question of unity, umoja in Swahili, is truly an interesting topic. I myself found it so alluring that I wrote my senior poltical science-international relations essay on the concept of African unity known as Pan-Africanism.

The problem with African unity being discussed at the summit in Ghana is that it appears to have eclipsed debate on any of the seemingly more demanding and immediate issues I mentioned above. President Gaddafi of Libya was the main proponent of a rapid transition to a United States of Africa. He even toured the West African region before the summit began giving speeches on his grand vision of a collective state that may finally have a voice in international politics. Talk of one African state continued into the summit and was clearly the dominating issue. I hope it was fun for the presidents in attendance to speak of such lofty goals, but in the meantime they largely ignored or barely touched on a multitude of humanitarian, social, political and economic crisises happening across the continent.

These crisises are precisely the reason why I think Africa is not ready for continental integration at the political level. Africa is not one big crisis, there are plenty of stable countries and even regions that are on healthy roads to development and sustainability. In some places however, battle has ensued and millions have been killed or forced from their homes. Resource management has been difficult for single countries and states within countries, how would a continent divide its natural treasures? Would the leaders of African countries that rule in an authoritarian manner be able to take orders from above? Would there be a new continental currancy released and what language would they speak?

There are too many diffulicult questions to be answered by instant integration. That is why gradual integreation based on regional economic blocs makes mores sense. This allows the institutions neccessary for unity to be created slowly and carefully so they actually have a chance to function properly. And ultimately, I think Africa is just too big and diverse for continental political unity. I would hope that after uniting political by region each region would have a loud enough voice to have some impact on the global stage. Because of their shared history, if Africans want to enjoy interstate economic benefits between regions that would be great, but the problems individual states are experiencing curently are too great and too numerous to be dealt wih by a single African authority. Before any serious political developments happen at all, I'd like to see progress towards the erosion of the culture of curruption and in some places there is along way to go.

I hope all that made sense. I really hope African leaders will work hard towards addressing serious issues at future summits. I continue to believe as Kwame Nkrumah did that Africa Must Unite, the question however, is to what degree?

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