• November 13th, 2019

African unity: Hopeless idealism or workable reality?



Andrew Banigo

Approaches to socio-political thought can broadly be divided into Idealism and Realism. Idealism has to do with revolutionary thinking, and adopts a far sighted approach to present issues and prescribes ideals in response to present realities.

Realism, on the other hand, prefers to deal with cold facts and relies on adapting to or working within the parameters of present reality.

President Kwame Nkrumah’s speech on African Unity, which was delivered on the eve of the formation of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity) in 1963 contained a lot of food for thought for both the idealists and the realists.

African leaders basking in the euphoria of their new post-colonial realities, came together to form an organisation which would consolidate their newly independent status.

In Ethiopia, in front of 31 African leaders, Kwame Nkrumah — the first ever president of Ghana — gave one of his most passionate speeches. He started off with a bold statement, stating that Africa must “Unite now or perish!”[1]

He made this statement because he realised that the problems that persist within African nations may soon spiral out of control if they were not addressed swiftly by a united African front.

He recognised that the economic might of foreign powers are built upon African resources, with 60 percent of the world’s gold coming from the continent, along with a great portion of uranium, copper, diamonds, hydrocarbons and other valuable resources with which the economic and technological might of these nations are built.

He identified that Africa has long been a milk cow of foreign powers, due to the fact that African nations have been too busy nursing their differences and have failed to see the need to unite for the common cause of economic advancement.

He called for a United Africa, in which the continent’s abundant resources are harnessed primarily for the benefit of its people.

He further asserted that we as a continent needed to develop our enormous resources through our united strength.

He identified rapid industrialisation as a means through which Africa could develop and add value to its raw resources and achieve its economic advancement and achieve true economic independence.
In his speech, he pointed to the insistence of African nations to cling to their colonial borders and identities as a factor preventing African cohesion. This fostered disputes and petty rivalries amongst African brother and neighbor nations.

He asserted that most of Africa’s developmental problems lie in the perpetuation of these artificial borders and hence the only way Africa could use its enormous population and resources for its own advancement was to mobilise its moral and physical resources into a political and economic union aimed at solving Africa’s collective problems.

For, in his words, “one nation working singly and individually cannot successfully attain its fullest development potential”.

To achieve this ideal, Kwame Nkrumah suggested an African political union based on defence, foreign affairs and diplomacy, common citizenship an African monetary zone and an African central bank. This will ensure unified economic planning for the benefit of the African continent.

He pointed out that a lot of economic divisions in the continent stem from the reliance on foreign currency and systems in our trade, and therefore the solution will be the establishment of a common African currency, backed by our abundant resources.These measures will help ensure a vibrant internal market for our local industries.

The organisation created after this passionate speech, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), could not fulfil these ideals, neither could its later incarnation — the African Union (AU) — many years later.
Since then that call for a truly united Africa has seemed to remain unheeded.

This article aims to explore the realities that have hindered the ideal of a United Africa along with the benefits that could accrue from this Union.

A starting point will be a brief exposition on development theory, with a focus on two theories relevant to the analysis of African development.

These are the modernization and dependency theories.
The modernisation theory adopts an evolutionary approach to developmental analysis, and states that development is a gradual process; therefore economies have to go through certain stages to attain development. This therefore classifies the economies of the world into different classed based on the stage of development attained. This is the widely accepted view of development prescribed to by nations and international organisations. It therefore advocates that the more developed countries play a big brother role to the less developed ones.

The dependency theory, on the other hand, was developed in Latin America as a response to the modernisation theory, and is more accusatory in its tone regarding underdevelopment.
It claims that underdevelopment is perpetuated by rich and developed nations at the centre. This is done through economic and political interference in the peripheral nations to ensure that their economies remain primary and extractive.

In this situation, these economies become primarily extractors and exporters of cheap raw materials to developed nations and importers of these same materials when they are processed as finished goods and have had an increase in price and value. This leads to a trade deficit in which the developed countries continue to accumulate capital at the expense of the less developed nations.

A look at the colonial history of the African continent particularly the famous Scramble for Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1914, where the presently existing colonial borders were created by colonial powers and where the colonial legacy of Africa was cemented. This is valuable in the analysis of this article’s subject matter, because it gives an insight on the partition of African people’s with a lot in common by artificially created borders, contributing to the disunity that presently plagues the continent.
It is on this interwoven tapestry of theory and history that the issues affecting true African unity can be properly analysed.

The economies of most African nations are primarily extractive with raw resources extracted for use in foreign industries to fuel foreign economies. As a result of this there are few industries manufacturing truly African made goods on a large scale and the few that exist have no favourable demand due to a prevalent taste for foreign goods in most African nations. Hence we have economies that can be classified as underdeveloped by the modernisation theorists, and as peripheral economies by the dependency theorists.
The colonial legacy in Africa has also resulted in rigid national borders amongst nations sculpted according to colonial visions. This has led to language, economic and broader cultural barriers to African integration, with most African nations preferring to maintain their colonial links in post- colonial Africa. An example of this is the Francophone/Anglophone dichotomy within West Africa.

There has also been evidence of post-colonial interference by foreign powers in the affairs of independent Africa states. A great example of this is the Elf/Aquitaine scandal in which the French government and one of its major energy corporations were indicted for using bribes and other means to influence the decisions of African government officials and interfere in internal politics within these countries (Gabon, Congo, etc). This was in order to maintain and further French interests within the African continent.

As a result of these factors, we see a lot of African countries opting for bilateral trade and alliances with foreign powers, rather than with their fellow African countries, with these foreign powers offering political, economic and aid incentives in order to maintain the imbalanced status quo.

Furthermore, as a result of the primarily extractive nature of most of Africa’s economies and a slow rate of industrialisation, there is a lack of industries where these raw materials can be processedto finished goods. As a result,there is little incentive for intra-African trade.

Also, due to the fact that the manufacturing/finished goods industry in most of Africa is mostly at the rudimentary phase, the finished products are usually not up to standard quality and attract less demand. As a result they fail to effectively compete with finished goods from foreign developed nations.

Furthermore, due to infrastructural challenges and attendant difficulties in conducting business, the cost of production of African finished goods is usually high, leading to increased costs or losses, and hence the demand for cheaper goods from Asian countries eclipses the demand for African goods, and further dooms Africa’s manufacturing industry to obscurity.

I have focused so far on the harsh realities facing Africa’s economic cohesion, but surely there is a brighter side to all this. The African hubs of the World Economic Forum’s(WEF) Global Shapers Community have in recent times heeded to the lingering call for African socio-economic cohesion, and declared an initiative called Open Africa.

This is an initiative that seeks to encourage African socio-economic cohesion and advancement, through open borders and open trade within Africa. To promote this, African Global Shapers have gone on what can be termed an evangelical mission through African nations, to promote this gospel of African unity.

What are some of the advantages of this ideal?

A united Africa, which embraces intra-African trade, will be a catalyst to Africa’s slumbering local industries.

If adequate political will can be mustered to realise this ideal, Africa can take advantage of its massive population and its abundant resources and become a strong force to reckon with in the world economy. It will no longer be a mere appendage or a spectator to world events, but a major shaper of world events.
A vibrant intra-African economy will ensure that African industries evolve from their rudimentary states, into advanced industries and can compete favourably with industries outside Africa. Increased demand as a result of unhindered trade and movement will be a catalyst to Africa’s long needed industrialisation, due to the creation of more industries to match the likely increase in demand for African goods.

Open borders will result in a boom for Africa’s internal tourism industry, since Africans will opt to travel within Africa due to lower costs, proximity and less travel restrictions , compared to those they would have faced in other countries. This will also promote African cultural understanding and cohesion due to increased inter-cultural interaction.

Foreign nations have always seen the great economic potential of Africa’s market due to its huge population. This has manifested itself in the form of proposed free trade and open market proposals from foreign nations and the willingness to perpetuate the existing extract-import relations between African nations and foreign countries.

Increased trade, industrialisation and improved social cohesion, occasioned by free movement and free inter African trade will be a catalyst for African socio-economic advancement and cooperation.

The benefits of this new partnership will help combat the Afro-pessimism that has plagued intra-African relations for decades. This will enable Africa to become truly economically and politically independent and achieve its true potential as an unstoppable force to be reckoned with in world affairs.

The benefits of the ideal of true African socio-economic cohesion outweigh the benefits of the present status quo of a fragmented African continent. It is definitely worth it for African nations to dare to tread a new path in search of a solution to the continents perennial problems.

The call for African unity has been echoed continuously through generations by the likes of Kwame Nkrumah, numerous African visionaries and recently the African contingent of the Global Shapers Community.
The question is, would we as a continent ever summon the will to heed this call? – The Herald

* Andrew Banigo is an authority on International Politics and International Law. He is also a member of the Port Harcourt Hub of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Shapers Community.


Staff Reporter
2019-06-07 10:19:58 | 5 months ago

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