A United Africa: A Dream Worth Fighting For

By Christopher Ndegwa

There is strength in unity; a common adage that depicts the spirit on which a number of today’s unions are founded upon. The United States of America has been a stellar example of this principle by becoming one of the greatest powers on the planet. With economic prowess and military prestige, the 50 states have become a force to reckon with. A number of African leaders have floated the idea of coming up with the United States of Africa. Were they merely building castles in the air or on the verge of a monumental idea?

In 1963, African leaders came together to form the Organisation for African Unity. Its main aim was to speed up the process of decolonization of African states; an objective it achieved. Not a single African country is still a colony.

The OAU was also formed with the intention of speeding up the process of economic growth of its member states and the promotion of social coherence and integration among the African people. Some of the achievements the OAU can boast of are the settling of boundary disputes among member countries and the emancipation of African countries. Furthermore, the eradication of apartheid in South Africa would not have been possible without the consistent support of the OAU.

However, with time, the OAU began to wither in strength and its impact began to slowly fade like an echo in the distance. This was, as opined by many, due to the perception created in the minds of the African people. They believed that the OAU was no longer the loving and caring shepherd that guided them to economic and political ideals. It had become the wolf that fed on the sheep for its nourishment. The names of a number of African leaders associated with the organisation were synonymous with nepotism, civil wars and pilferage of their respective state coffers.

There was a pressing need for change if the dream of a united African continent was to survive.
"We really have not become integrated as an African people into a real union" – Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe.

Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader, spearheaded talks to revive and improve the organisation. Being an adamant fighter for African unity, the leader who ameliorated his country’s literacy levels to 83% believed the organisation could be salvaged. After the dissolution of the OAU, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the African Union was born on 9th July 2002, in Durban, South Africa.

Comprising an AU assembly currently headed by Haile Mariam Desalegn – the twelfth Prime Minister of Ethopia, a parliament composed of 265 officials and an African Court of Justice, inter alia, the presence of the AU cannot be ignored. Peacekeeping missions have been sent by the AU to places such as Darfur and countries like Burundi, Comoros and Somalia. This shows that the maintenance of peace and security on the continent is still of paramount importance.

It is this spirit of unity that has been the propelling force behind the AU. This spirit was advocated and championed by many a famous African leader such as Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. He was a staunch Pan-Africanist. He believed that as long as Africa was divided then it was destined to be economically and socially inferior to the West and other nations situated outside the black continent. It is this spirit of Pan-Africanism that is the wind beneath the wings of the AU that has given it the power to fly.

Although the AU is seen by many as an entity that has borrowed heavily from the European Union, both in structure and in goals, the similarities are undeniable. The establishment of the African Central Bank, for example, is seen as a mirror image of the European Central Bank (ECB) projected on an African platform. Its structure is a replica of that of the ECB.

Similarly, the idea of an African passport finds its roots in the Schengen visa which allows for its holder to travel freely within the Schengen area in Europe. This visa has, undoubtedly, made travelling much easier and consequently, promoted European relations. Further, the idea of a single African currency can be thought of as the African rendition of the euro; the currency that has united more than 17 countries economically.

The elephant in the room must be addressed; different African countries have economies growing (both positively and negatively) at varied speeds. This would translate into the strong lending a helping hand to those less powerful in economic terms. This is indeed the spirit of helping your neighbour. All for one and one for all!

Looking at the idea of a United States of Africa through a social prism may present a few challenges. To begin with, Africa is rich in culture. Africa is a melting pot of cultures, traditions and customs that form a rich blend of diversity. The United States of Africa – should it ever come into existence – possess a colossal threat to this crossroads of cultures. This is because the Proposed Constitution for the United States of Africa provides for a “national” language – Kiswahili. Although its unifying ability cannot go unmentioned, it will, as posited by some, overshadow the other languages and it is common knowledge that language is the main tool in the transmission of culture. Does this really affect our unity?

“Unity is not opposed to the multitude…what it excludes is the division of each thing to its components…” – Thomas Aquinas, Philosopher.

We must celebrate our differences. William Cowper, an 18th Century English poet once said that variety is the spice of life that gives it all of its flavour. It is precisely the diverse cultures and languages that make Africa unique. We are many in tribe, culture and tradition but we can be one in our goals, dreams and ambitions.

Africa has walked a long and tumultuous journey to reach where she is. Hers is a story of blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice that have built this great continent. It is not yet over. It is a story that must continue to be written in the pages of history.

“We have a cause for great satisfaction in our achievements. But we have no cause at all for complacency. We have done quite well; but with effort…we could do better…we must build on what we have achieved…” Julius Nyerere – First President of Tanzania

Rise up Africa! Unite! Conquer! Prosper!

Written by:
Christopher Ndegwa,
Student at Strathmore Law School, Nairobi, Kenya

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