Afrikan unity? What Afrikan unity?

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In 2016 Afrika is celebrating 53 years of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) whose leaders (Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Kwame Francis Nkrumah of Ghana, King Idris I of Libya, Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania, Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Modibo Keita of Mali, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Kenneth David Kaunda of Zambia, Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Gregoire Kayibanda of Rwanda, William Tubman of Liberia, Francois Tombalbaye of Chad, Felix Houphouet Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire, Dawda Kairaba Jawara of Siera Leone, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau, Ahmadou Ahidjo of Cameroon, Maurice Yameogo of Burkina Faso, Edward Luwangula Walugembe Muteesa ll of Uganda, Antonio Agostinho Neto of Angola, Hubert Maga of Benin, Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane of Mozambique, Banjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Patrice Emery Lumumba of Congo, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, King Mohamed V of Morocco, Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius, Hamani Diori of Niger, Albert Luthuli of South Africa) were determined to assert and pursue the unity of Africa from many disparate and diverse nationalities, cultures, languages and religious backgrounds, and imposed national boundaries.
The historic mission the OAU set itself at its foundation was to unite Afrika against the backdrop of very complex and protracted struggles and to ensure the total liberation of Afrika from colonialism and white minority rule, which objective was only realised in May 1994, with the liberation of South Africa under Nelson Mandela. If we were to count from 1957 when Ghana was the first to rise to the level of Afrikan nationhood in the free world, and look in the mirror to view ourselves as Afrikans, we will have to acknowledge that we have made great strides with our powerful rhetoric for freedom and flag and national anthem independence. This is not to say that our leaders have not tried to pull us out of the bottomless pit of human degradation and reification as Europe went all out to extract our resources, in fact both human and material for purposes of economic and industrial development across the Atlantic. While we celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of our continental efforts towards political freedom, a great deal remains to be done in the realms of real freedom and economic emancipation of the Afrikan masses who continue to languish under the most dehumanizing conditions under the watches of their own rulers, some of whom are from the liberation movements.
The greater part of the Afrikan experience with self-rule over the last 53 years is deplete with corrupt and self-serving leadership and gross mismanagement of the continent’s resources, both human and material. The Great Dreams of the Afrikan people have been shortchanged by shortsightedness and small-mindedness of none but ourselves as Afrikans who have been and continue to be devoid of visions to steward resources to benefit the greatest numbers of our people. The strongest proponent of the new Afrikan Union was South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki for whom the dignity of the Afrikan people in their diaspora was fundamental – such that South Africa was a site of operation and the Afrikan continent his theater to prosecute the war against bad governance and abuse, corruption and buffoonery, underdevelopment and the self-aggrandizement that continue to characterize Afrika’s self-rule. Mbeki was Afrika’s post-Cold War Kwame Nkrumah who in his inaugural speech during the celebrations of Ghana’s independence on 6 March 1957 screamed for Afrika and the world to hear: ‘Ghana’s independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African Continent!’
Before Mbeki became the President of South Africa in June 1999, he was so preoccupied with a new vision for Afrika that in September 1998 he launched an African Renaissance campaign with a call to Afrika’s people to rise up against corrupt, abusive and self-serving leaders, to the workers and peasants, to the business people, to the artisans and intellectuals, to religious groups, to women and the youth, to sports people and workers in the fields of culture, writers and media workers, political organizations and government workers ‘to constitute a mass army for the renewal of the African Continent’.
Mbeki was responding to the call by the first crop of Afrikan leaders seized with a vision and mission to liberate the continent from the last shackles of colonial and foreign rule. These men were not driven by personal glory – that came later as the world twisted them into directions they never foresaw, especially the fight for control between the East and West.
In 2002, the AU took over the mantle of working towards Afrika’s Dream, of the New African Renaissance which, as Nelson Mandela put it in his first ever appearance at the OAU Summit of Afrika’s Heads of State and Government in Tunis, Tunisia, in June 1994, when he thanked Afrika and reminded his peers that the efforts of Afrika should no longer be about political liberation, but freeing Afrika from oppression, diseases, poverty and want, and where all Afrikan people at peace with themselves and their leaders became servants of the people. At the beginning of the AU, Mbeki was ably supported by three Presidents who were assigned by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government to spearhead the new initiatives towards real and durable development of the continent as a whole, namely, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo, Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade. This was the genesis of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which is now neither here nor there. NEPAD was driven by a few fundamental principles, chief amongst them the following: Afrikans to take responsibility and ownership of their own affairs and resources; make Afrika attractive to the markets domestic and foreign; unleash and sustain Afrika’s vast potential; achieve 15% economic growth in 15 years; strive to achieve the millennium development goals; increase investments in human and resource development and promote the role of women in society.
The goals of NEPAD were not achieved and the organization has been transformed into a few sectoral intervention projects. The main factors leading to NEPAD’s failure are: most of NEPAD’s programmes were funded by European countries and that foreign support came, as it usually does, with certain conditionalities by which Europe pushed her own agenda and to mitigate against selfish agendas of wayward Afrikan leaders; when the leadership changed, the next breed did not want to push forward the agendas of their predecessors, good or bad; Afrikan regions and linguistic groups did not pull together towards common agendas as they remain(ed) divided along the lines of their colonial identities; many of the suggested interventions were tied into regional integration reforms as preconditions for further investments, and nationalism as it often does, got in the way of common development dreams; donors realized that many Afrikan leaders were more eager to use the money they were receiving to celebrate their own independence achievements instead of spending it on development projects that would benefit their nations; and there were very little contributions from Afrikan governments themselves and as consequence, donor fatigue came and foreign funding dried up – leaving Afrika pretty much where she was before the AU in 2002, if not worse.
Ten years after the establishment of the AU, Thabo Mbeki wrote a reflective essay on the decade’s existence of the AU under the rubric: A Dream Deferred! He wrote: ten years after the AU was formed, the question must be answered – has the dream been realized or has it been deferred? He went on to issue a serious indictment of the new crop of Afrikan leaders stomping the grounds today celebrating themselves instead of leading their people towards a better rendezvous with their self-determination. Equally he admonished the Western supports of these leaders for taking them for a ride with all manners of promises of foreign aid if they behaved in a certain manner rather than encouraging them to serve the interests of their people.
Historical records will likely prove that Mbeki was one of the most selfless Presidents and Heads of State Afrika has known. Like his mentor, Julius Nyerere, who went to his mother’s hut after he stepped down as first President of Tanzania, Mbeki bought his own retirement home. As President he followed Mandela’s example by moving about in the least intrusive presidential motorcade. Citizens’ lives were hardly interrupted by his presence in the neighbourhood. His wife Sis’ Zanele continued to be part of community activism. After Mbeki was rudely removed from power by what Reuell Khoza described as a strange breed of leaders in the ANC, Mbeki remained disciplined about and loyal to the cause of fighting corruption.
We therefore need to ask serious questions about Namibia’s dream, which remains elusive and undefined. In other words, where is the Namibian dream and is it going in the same direction as the Afrikan Dream that was deferred too long and could explode? The current signs are not very encouraging. It is not only the youth, but there are growing voices crying out for: frugal use of state resources, meritorious leadership, improved crime management, better and a more responsive education system, improved conditions for health care and security and defence workers, accountable officials in the regions and job creation.
How far have we come? At the founding of the OAU on 25 May 1963, the host of the conference, Emperor Haille Selassie, said: “A century hence, when future generations study the pages of history, seeking to follow and fathom the growth and development of the African continent, what will they find of this Conference?
At the same founding Conference of the OAU in 1963, the most ardent champion of Afrikan Unity, Nkrumah said: We are fast learning that political independence is not enough to rid us of the consequences of colonial rule.
Again, Emperor Haile Selassie went on to say: “In a very real sense, our Continent is unmade. It still awaits its creation and its creators.” In the absence of thinkers and dreamers, the creators of the new Afrika we wish to see, Afrika has more to regret than to celebrate. If it is true then we have a long way to our desired Afrikan Renaissance. My good colleague in Kenya, Professor PLO Lumumba asks what Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba would find in Afrika if they came back?
They will find that African states are systems of patronage and are closely associated with rent-seeking activities. Their external relationship is designed to generate funds that oil this network of patronage. Their trading system is designed to collect revenue to oil the system. Much of the productive activity is mired in a system of irrational licences and protection that is designed to augment the possibilities of rent collection.
The Afrikan leaders of old who were dedicated to service would be shocked to see the abuse of power and greed of former liberation movements who are hell bent to turn their countries into ruling party farms; they would be shocked to see the current leaders as members of the AU, operating as a Trade Union of Heads of State, and the very leaders who stand between the people and the New Afrikan Renaissance.

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