50 Years of African Union: Strife or Jubilation?


African Unity

The African Unity (AU) celebrated its 50th anniversary, from May 25th to 27th, 2013 at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Union has been headquartered in Ethiopia since its inception in 1963. Heads of State and Government from Africa and numerous world leaders, including top level delegations from Brazil, China, Cuba, France, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and the US are attending the colorful celebrations.

Other attending guests include the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of the UNDP, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the EU Commission, two former UN Secretaries-General, – Boutros Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan – and former Deputy Secretary-General – Asha-Rose Migiro, as well as former OAU Secretaries-General and AU Commission Chairpersons. Heads of the African Regional Economic Communities, the South African Development Community (SADC), IGAD, EAC/COMESA, CENSAD/ECCAS, ECOWAS and AMU were also among those attending the celebrations.

The AU started with the Organisation of African Unity, founded on May 25th, 1963 with 32 members. The African Union (AU, or, in its other official languages, UA) is a union consisting of 54 African states. The only all- African states not in the AU is Morocco. The AU was established on 26th May, 2001 in Addis Ababa and launched on 9th July, 2002 in South Africa.

The vision of the OAU was to unite Africa, despite differences in geography, history, race, language, and religion, to improve the political, economic, and social situations for, approximately, over a billion people; the Union promises to protect Africa’s rich cultures, some of which have existed for thousands of years. Though the Union has often been under criticism for the inability to enforce its decisions, it is commended for its voice upon the demand of the total liberation of Africa from colonialism and apartheid. Apartheid is a system of racial segregation, under which the rights of the majority – consisting of the black inhabitants of South Africa – were curtailed and the white supremacy and the rule of the Afrikaner minority was maintained. This was a practice of colonial times under Dutch and British rule.

For centuries, Africa had been plagued with colonialism. Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and between the colonists and the indigenous population. Several European powers (particularly, but not exclusively, Portugal, Spain, Britain, the Netherlands and France) established in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, that ended with the national liberation movements of the 1960s. Thus, one of the major setbacks was that the end of colonialism exhausted the enriched continent of its riches. Moreover, the vibrant culture of the continent was darkened by the hybrid communities of culturally and ethnically mixed populations.

Even today, after several decades of freedom, the continent is gripped in a grave situation. The African countries even though granted independence, were still to be enslaved under a new master “Neo-colonialism”, a term that came into existence after the Second World War era (1939-45), where colonial powers continued to take great interest in their previously colonized countries, only shifting from front-stage to back-stage. Their interference, this time, was more on the line with the modern capitalist business in the economy of the developing African countries, thus exploiting the natural resources and people of former colonies with the help of multinational corporations operating in the name of development. This is akin to the imperial and hegemonic varieties of colonialism practiced by the empires of Great Britain, the United States, France, and other European countries.

According to the Marxist historian, Walter Rodney, imperialism meant capitalist expansion. It meant that European (and also American and Japanese) capitalists were forced by the internal logic of their competitive system to seek abroad, in less developed countries, opportunities to control raw material, to find markets, and to find profitable fields of investment. This idea is supported by the Dependency Theory that reinstates that “poor nations provide natural resources, cheap labour, a destination for obsolete technology, and markets for developed nations, without which the latter could not have the standard of living they enjoy”. Wealthy nations actively perpetuate a state of dependence by various means and counter attempts – by dependent nations – to resist their influences by means of economic sanctions and/or the use of military force.

All these, and many more, were the hurdles for Africa to prosper and flourish as a free and independent continent envisioned by Kwame Nkrumah’s – “Pan-Africanism”. He was the leader of Ghana and its predecessor state, the Gold Coast, from 1951 to 1966. Overseeing the nation’s independence from British colonial rule in 1957,Nkrumah was the first President and the first Prime Minister of Ghana. An influential 20th-century advocate of Pan-Africanism, also the founding member of the OAU, he was the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963 and saw himself as an African Lenin. He envisioned a united Africa – if the states were seen independently they were weak and insignificant, but together, they were a significant population.

Chairwoman African Union, Dlaminini Zuma said, “Now pan-Africanism is even more important, we’ve got a huge population, over a billion. But if you divide us into individual countries, we are not significant. You can’t ignore a billion plus people, but you can ignore five million people.” Hence, according to Nkrumah’s vision, which was adopted by Gadhafi, member states “would surrender portions of their national sovereignty ‘in the full interest of the African community’ ” wrote C.O.C. Amate in his 1986 book “Inside the OAU: Panafricanism in Practice.”

The leaders gathered at Addis Abba to mark the golden jubilee celebrations in a Chinese built AU headquarters, and had little accomplishments to rejoice over. The event did not have any highlights of accomplishments on the social, political and economic front and thus lacked a future agenda, which can be seen as a limited vision of those who lead. The vision of Nkrumah was not to unite to gain independence from colonial powers, but to collaborate and make developments in the economic and social building of the continent by uniting the resources as well. Africa is one such continent where the resources are in such abundance that even if shunned out completely by the world, it can prosper because of its self-sufficient resources. The most pressing need is to effectively manage those resources. Hence, the Union has failed here to manage a united resource management system for the revival of African Renaissance, which is why the dream of Nkrumah is not fulfilled to date. The irony is that the fabrication of interests, earlier by the colonial powers and today by the developed nations, has left the world’s richest continent in terms of resources as the poorest continent of the world.

The Union, in order to fulfill its dream and promises, needs to break off the shackles of its economic oppressors and lower its interest in Western agendas. If the West was sincere, why would President Obama plan his visit, in June, to a few countries that come to terms with America’s interest, and not make it to the AU celebrations where he would have been in direct contact with all the heads of states of the continent? Instead, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, was sent to attend the event.

It’s a fact that even today, the African countries trade more with Western and Asian countries, instead of amongst themselves, which proves that Africa is a slave even today. When Dlamina-Zuma, Chairwoman of the African Union, took office, she discovered that nearly all AU’s programs are funded by foreign donors. “No liberated mind can think their development agenda can be funded by donors” she told a Business Unity South Africa banquet in her honor in Johannesburg.

Besides the neo-colonialism, external powers and organizations with hidden agendas, the corrupt and selfish leaders have been equally responsible in obstructing the path of prosperity for the continent. The Union should not let a few corrupt leaders sabotage its ultimate goal. It is next to impossible to bring all the 54 states into agreement on one agenda, but the Union has to poses deeper control, both monetarily and militarily. It should be strong enough to dictate its terms with the consent of a unanimous majority. A centralized control or management of resources is as important as having a reliable military force at disposal, which is eminent to maintain peace in the continent. This will ensure peace and stability in all its states. The recent unrest in Libya, where the Union was helpless, is one of the current examples to learn from.

In my opinion, events like the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the AU is a sheer showcase of fake compliments to convince the world of the sincere efforts, while the underlying concerns remain unaddressed and unresolved. If Africa is to truly rise from poverty, oppression and deprivation, it has to work on more practical and sincere grounds. To put it in the exact words of President Jonathan of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, “While political independence has been won and colonialism, apartheid and minority rule have been defeated, we are yet to overcome the challenges of neo-colonialism, poverty, disease, violent conflicts, environmental degradation, under-development and economic dependency.”

It may be sad and demeaning, but the conspiracy against Africa is the same plight faced by most of the developing third world countries. Exploited and cajoled under the acts of humanitarianism, the developed nations have had their hegemony and monopoly, mostly because of a handful of corrupt leaders, who prefer the interests of the superpowers in contrast to their own.


is a university lecturer of Social Science Department and an MS student at Mass Communication. Can be reached at fatimaakhter@yahoo.com

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