4 Jul 2007
Why United States of Africa Should Wait
The 9th AU summit in Accra, Ghana came to a close Tuesday night with majority of Africa’s leaders rejecting Muamar Ghadaffi’s fast track approach to African integration. The Libyan leader, in his characteristic manner had stormed Ghana with a message for the immediate merger of the 53-member African Union countries and the formation of a 2 million strong army to protect the continent. The summit ended with no agreement on the issue. Instead a committee was instituted to study the issue for future deliberation.
The Ghadaffi message fell on receptive ears like Senegal’s but was not embraced by such African giants like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. These countries and a larger flock favored a gradual approach to African Union. The issue of bringing the mosaic African people under one umbrella was first proposed by the late Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah almost half a century ago.
Ghadaffi has only helped to rekindle the debate on a complicated topic that even many living on the African continent cannot properly appraise. This debate did overshadow the discussions on other pressing African problems like the Darfur crisis, conflict in Somalia and the crumbling nation of Zimbabwe.
While integration looks appealing on the face value, there are underlying fundamental problems that militate against such a merger. For diplomatic reasons and for the sake of AU cohesion, opponents of immediate merger have been hinting at some of these problems in a rather covert and discrete manner.
“Politically we should only integrate with people who are either similar or compatible with us”. Says Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. Also, Nigeria’s Musa Yar’Adua while addressing the Accra summit said; "This brings me to another critical variable in this debate: the degree of our commitment to our continental body and the essence of our Africanness. To the extent that we continue to subscribe and owe more allegiance to extra-continental bodies to the neglect of the AU, our steps towards functional integration will remain faltering."
The two leaders are not explicitly pointing fingers at a particular problem but their statements bear a relation to what I perceive as one of the most difficult hurdles on the path to African integration---the coexistence between the Arabs of the North and the black Africans of Sub-Saharan Africa. Sudan has been a clear test of what might be expected when these two groups are living under the same roof. The Non-Arabs of Southern Sudan fought a civil war with their Arab compatriots for two decades before a shaky peace accord was arranged. The civil war then switched to Western Sudan where the Arab - led government in Khartoum is accused of allying with the Janjaweed Arab militia to wage a genocidal war against the black Africans of Darfur.
It is also common knowledge that vestiges of slavery still exist in Sudan and Mauritania (see link http://www.iabolish.com/modern_slavery101/)
with Arabs being the slave masters of black Africans. This uneasy relationship is causing friction between people living along the belt dividing Arabs and non-Arabs in other countries such as Niger Republic and Chad. Many Arabs on the streets of Cairo are more likely to think of themselves first as Arabs before being Africans. They are certainly more at ease with the Arab League than with the AU. When Museveni talks of “similar” and “compatible” and Yar’Adua talks of “allegiance to extra-continental bodies” it is obvious in this context to guess what they may seem to mean. In addition to this concern is the legion of other obstacles peculiar to the continent namely; tribalism, linguistic plurality, religious dissimilarities and egoistic politicians lording it over mini states.
For all practical reasons, it is feasible to see a possible future integration of Africa starting from several regional blocks and in gradual phases. Africans themselves have to work extra hard to allay the fears and suspicion of living together if they really long to build a United States of Africa.
Njei Moses Timah