May 27, 2013 Editorial
Last Saturday, Africa commemorated the 50th anniversary of the formation of the forbear of the present African Union (AU), the Organisation of African States (OAU). As with our Independence anniversary that came a day later, the occasion offers us an occasion for reflecting as to what went wrong with Africa, a continent from which most of our ancestors were brought as slaves to create this country through their labour. Of course, we all know that ultimately all humans originated in Africa, but today we confine our gaze on the temporal arc from the era of decolonisation to the present.
The grand meeting was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the OAU had been launched on May 25 1963. The organising theme is ‘Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance.’ The theme of “Pan Africanism” is a pointed reminder of the origins of the movement in the Fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester England in 1945, when leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah and so many others who led their countries to independence, recognised that the destiny of Africa was inextricably bound up with the fate of Africans both in Africa and the world diaspora. It is noteworthy that William Blyden, arguably the “father of the Pan-Africanism” was of West Indian origin and returned to Liberia in 1851. The Trinidadian Pan-Africanists George Padmore and the American WEB du Bois, both moved back to Ghana to work with Nkrumah.
The recognition of the need for a Pan-African vision to carry the continent forward inevitably brings up the name of Walter Rodney, who is acknowledged as one of the foremost theorists and activists to fuse Marxist and Pan-African perspectives into a single, living praxis. Rodney’s name is enshrined in the small pantheon of outstanding individuals that kept the Pan-African flag flying high. It has been noted, however, with much truth, that a prophet is not recognised in his own country.
The goal of the OAU was to create a “United States of Africa” and Nkrumah played a pivotal role to bring the former French and British colonies into a single body. However the respective “Monrovia” and “Casablanca” blocs had differing conceptions of what “unity” meant and this helped to dissipate the energies of the early OAU. The Francophone Monrovia group insisted on a structure that would ensure retention of ties with the “mother “ countries. With hindsight, that move can be condemned for the folly it was but the lesson that “unity” demands an agreement on core principles is still being ignored – not only in Africa. For Africa, we consider Pan-Africanism to be a non-negotiable threshold issue.
The experiences of the European Union (EU), after which the AU was explicitly was modelled and launched in 2002, and the Asian nations that have clawed their way out of poverty, have demonstrated that intra-bloc trade is crucial for success. It leads to a virtuous cycle of local investments because most of the profits are not drained away to develop other regions. In the last decade, Africa has outperformed Europe in growth rates, but most of that growth has been as a consequence of the exploitation of its natural resources by the emerging Asian economies and Brazil. They have enjoyed the profits of the later “value addition”. While the latter countries have also invested in developing local infrastructure, the low population density of Africa demands much greater investments in areas like agriculture.
Most of the reasons for the failure of the drive for unity articulated in 1963 was due to the machinations of the US and USSR during their Cold War. Each side fought very “hot wars” through their proxies in which millions of ordinary Africans perished. The tragedy in the Congo, for instance, has continued unabated since the 1960’s when the West arranged for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and installed the dictatorial Sese Mobutu, who ruled from 1965 to 1997.
In the evolving new dispensation, only a united Africa can demand an equal seat at the table and not become a client of the new prospective hegemons.
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