June 6, 2013
Source: Todays Zaman
It was 50 years ago that a major movement for regional integration, consisting of 32 governments, came together in Addis Ababa to establish the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Many people may not know about this momentous occasion, although it deserves to be commemorated throughout the whole year and, in truth, all over the globe.
The newly created OAU’s desire was to promote the unity and solidarity among African states and act as a collective voice for the African continent. The cooperation and building of stronger ties among African states was one of the major aims in order to achieve a better life for the people of Africa.
After World War II, intelligent leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Patrice Lumumba not only sought independence from their colonial masters but understood so well that survival and prosperity depended on economic and political integration. That integration had to be on a massive scale — at a continental level.
The idea of integration continues to resonate throughout the whole continent and was in evidence at a formidable academic conference organized by the Africa Institute of South Africa and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) held in Pretoria, the South African capital, during May 20-21. The conference entitled “50 years after the founding of the OAU: Africa must unite or perish” considered the prevailing challenges facing Africa including strengthening and improving the efficiency of the AU, ensuring that Africans have a feeling of ownership and strong attachment to the AU as well as entrenching pan-Africanism as a viable program of action to unite Africans by appreciating their differences.
At the conference, the particular difficulty of African integration in terms of the disunity of Sub-Saharan Africa was put forward by yours truly. It remains, unfortunately, very much a fragmented region, composed of 47 small economies. Their combined GDP equals only half of Spain’s, or the equivalent of Belgium. Moreover, these countries continue to suffer from high production costs and low levels of investment which makes the eradication of poverty an uphill task. Therefore, one could summarize the whole continent as one constituted by small countries with small economies and even smaller markets.
Professor Muchie’s proposals
One of the main organizers of the conference, Professor Mammo Muchie, professor of innovation studies at TUT, highlighted the central elements of a coordinated approach necessary to ensure the realization of a genuine continent-wide integration. According to Muchie, whilst recognizing that Africans are indeed varied, their similarities ought to come first is an important starting point. It is through such an approach that Africa can be put first or being African comes before all other identities, thus, permitting Africanness to become a means to express self-definition, self-determination and freedom.
In terms of the ineffectiveness of the AU and its lack of agency, Professor Muchie accepts criticism by highlighting the case of Libya. According to him, this had proven to be a good lesson to learn from, as Africans should have tried to unite and address the problem first before non-Africans had invited themselves and been permitted to push their own agendas forward. When Africans fail to produce a united front and are unwilling to coordinate their actions then they will continue to face external powers putting forward their own solutions to national and international crises.
The Arab Spring points to a rather worrying dilemma for the whole continent. Whilst it can be argued that African states are all sovereign and proceeding toward democracy their economies continue to struggle. In many ways whilst there is advancement in terms of democracy there is a lack of development which leads one to question whether African states have been liberated only to remain poor.
The role of Ethiopianism
Professor Muchie’s convincing suggestion to ensure future unification is to concentrate on past success. He identifies the role that the Christian religion has played in Africa. Africans were treated as slaves and forced to feel inferior in the past. Ethiopians led the way in breaking free from the Church, establishing their own churches to achieve religious independence. This Ethiopianism which won the battle over religion became the precursor to political independence, providing support for other rebellions that took place in the continent.
Given this historically progressive role carried out by Ethiopianism, he argues powerfully that a newer version is best placed to push Africa onto unity. The current conception of Ethiopianism makes no qualms that it is not race, tribe, region, religion nor language that precedes Africa. Africa, simply put, is first. Furthermore, Africa is for the Africans. Ethiopianism, therefore, can be encapsulated by seven notions: dignity, pride, confidence, self-worth, self-reliance, independence and freedom. Finally, in order to quicken the pace for continental unification the revival of Pan-African Congresses are advocated.
The main drawback for African integration remains what it was half a century ago: the gap between expectations and capabilities.
The good news is, whilst the expectations have not changed — political union remains the goal — the capabilities are immeasurably greater when compared to 1963. For too long heartfelt supporters of the continent have been waiting to see, whether disembarking from the ports of Tangier or Cape Town; crossing on foot into Suez; or whether landing at Kinshasa or Freetown airport, a diplomatic sign that reads “AFRICA.” Having understood Professor Muchie’s arguments, one need not be disheartened concerning the unity of Africa. To do so, would be tantamount to abandoning the cause.
*Dr. Süreyya Yiğit is Eurasia advisor at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) and a lecturer at İstanbul Aydın University.
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