Nkrumah Vision Too Big For Africa’s Current Leaders

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"How can an African country face a Europe that is united, negotiate with a big USA or Japan or China? If we have a United States of Africa, then Africa can be on an equal footing and negotiate with them," the Libyan ruler said.

[African News: Analysis]


African leaders who met recently in Accra, Ghana for the AU summit walked through the chapters of history and relived Kwame Nkrumah's ideals by calling once again for a United States of Africa. Yet the continent seems no closer to that lofty goal.

If Nkrumah were alive this year, he would be 97 years old and would be happy to see the new crop of African leaders treading on a path he would have wished to have happened earlier on in the century.

A few days before the AU summit, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi spoke strongly about the concept of a United States of Africa. He was quite emotional about it and wanted Africans to voice their support for this concept which he hoped would bring dignity for the Africans, bring new hope for its children who are running away to other parts of the world and improve the livelihoods of millions of people on the continent.

"The OAU failed, the Council of African ministers failed, the African Parliament is a rump parliament," Gaddafi told a rally of more than 50, 000 people in a stadium in Conakry, Guinea, before the parley; he was referring to the Organization of African Unity, which preceded the African Union (AU).

"In Africa we have not been able to create a government of union nor any instrument of union to bring about our aim. These instruments must be created in Accra, the voice of the people must be heard at last. The masses of the people want roads, bridges, health, education, agriculture, water and electricity," Gaddafi declared.

"I see in front of me young people who want to leave for Europe by transiting through Libya. Why do we want to go to Europe? We must decide to live and die in our countries—all that must stop, thanks to the creation of a United States of Africa," he added.

People in Africa have heard this before. Is it a question of a new wine in old bottles? Is it something of a political rhetoric coming too soon for a divided continent? The dream of a United States of Africa was voiced half a century ago by Nkrumah.

This long-standing plan for a Pan-African government was shattered by divisions during the days of emerging African ndependence. Can this ideal sail through when divisions between rich and poor, Black and Arab, Muslim and Christian, and scores of armed conflicts are still raging as we see in Somalia and Sudan's western region of Darfur?

"How can an African country face a Europe that is united, negotiate with a big USA or Japan or China? If we have a United States of Africa, then Africa can be on an equal footing and negotiate with them," the Libyan ruler said.

Nkrumah and his crop of independence leaders like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and others wanted to remove barriers to movement which were drawn up by colonial rulers at the Berlin Conference in 1884. Gaddafi reignited the debate on the premise that if the European Union is succeeding as a bloc how can the dream of a United States of Africa first pioneered by Nkrumah fail? He might have been pleading to a quite a few deaf ears, in terms of Africa’s other leaders.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and other African leaders support the view that the Union Government should be established through a bottom-up approach founded on the regional economic groupings such as Sadc, Comesa, Ecowas, the East African Community and the Central African Community. The AU has proposed a three-phase transition towards a Union Government.

2007 to 2009 would see the setting up a new executive commission; 2009-2012 operational and constitutional groundwork for the United States of Africa; and, 2012-2015, ensuring all structures of the United States of Africa at national, regional and continental levels are in place.

Many people in Africa still think it’s premature to talk about establishing a United States of Africa. But practical examples of success, including the EU model, are there for Africans to see. Much ground has been covered to remove barriers to movement and trade in most African trading blocs.

But challenges remain. Visas need to be scrapped. Yet, rich and powerful countries will do everything to divide and weaken African countries. This enables the outside world to exploit Africa's resources without adequate compensation. A strong and united Africa would mean an end to such exploitation and the beginning of a partnership of equals. As early as 1963, Nkrumah had addressed this issue:

"For centuries, Africa has been the milk cow of the Western world. Was it not our continent that helped the Western world to build up its accumulated wealth? We have the resources. It was colonialism in the first place that prevented us from accumulating the effective capital, but ourselves have failed to make full use of our power in independence to mobilize our resources for the most effective take-off into thorough-going economic and social development."

He had added: "We have been too busy nursing our separate states to understand fully the basic need of our union, rooted in common purpose, common planning and common endeavor. A union that ignores the fundamental necessities will be but a shame.

"It is only by uniting our productive capacity and the resultant production that we can amass capital. And once we start, the momentum will increase, with capital controlled by our own banks, harnessed to our own true industrial and agricultural development, we shall make our advance."

These words rang true then and even more so today. If Europe is moving ahead with a common parliament, currency, social, political and economic policies, scrapping visas and forging a new and stronger unity, why not Africa?

Should we continue to evade this important issue by making excuses? Do we still want to see a Kenyan going to the French embassy to apply for a Senegalese visa or Senegalese going to the British embassy to go to Kenya? Do we still want Zimbabweans to apply for a visa just to go across the Limpopo River to South Africa and vice-versa?

Well, let’s allow Nkrumah to again provide the answers: "But if we fail and let this grand and historic opportunity slip by, then we shall give way to greater dissension and division among us for which the people of Africa will never forgive us. And the popular and progressive forces and movements within Africa will condemn us."

Tsiko is The Black  Star News’s Southern Africa Correspondent Based In Harare

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