Africa Will Not End Its Global Marginalisation until Its Leaders Unite the Continent

Cape Times (South Africa), February 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

Africa Will Not End Its Global Marginalisation until Its Leaders Unite the Continent


BYLINE: Tim Murithi

The recently concluded African Union (AU) assembly of heads of state and government elected Muammar Gadaffi as its chairperson for the next year. To the casual observer this seems to be an odd choice, given the dictator's suppression of dissenting voices within his own country and his liaison with all manner of armed militia groups from around the world.

However, the election of Gadaffi was the culmination of an ongoing internal struggle to define the extent of the AU's reach into the internal affairs of its member states. Since 2005, when the idea of a "United States of Africa" was first mooted by Libya, there has been an ongoing behind-the-scenes battle between those who would prefer to have a gradual transition towards a Union Government of Africa and those who would like to launch it immediately. In 2006, the AU debated and issued a report assessing the feasibility and desirability of a United States of Africa.

In 2007, at the AU Summit held in Accra, Ghana, an extensive debate between the heads of state and government on the scope and reach of the proposed Union Government of Africa descended into discord and acrimony. A last-minute communique by the continent's leaders was not a decisive declaration of a transition to ever-deeper union, but instead, a watered-down compromise that proved to be empty and hollow.

At the Accra Summit, the fault-lines dividing the opposing positions became more pronounced. Libya and Senegal led a small coterie of "unionists" who argued that deeper continental political union was urgent and necessary.

The "gradualists" camp, which included South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Zambia, among others, argued that it would be imprudent to rush into a union government when the AU had not even managed to achieve the rudimentary aspects of operational efficiency. The gradualists also argued that continental integration could only be achieved by building upon the integrative processes already under way within sub-regional economic communities (RECs).

These debates afflicting the AU are not new. The formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the AU's predecessor, was marred by a similar division of interests between Kwame Nkrumah's vision of a United States of Africa and those newly liberated post-colonial African leaders who felt that they were better off retaining their national sovereignty.

This week's election of Gadaffi is therefore an indication that the unionist camp has decided to adopt a higher profile and will seek to use the next 12 months to make the case and push for deeper continental integration, if not lay the foundations for a full-blown United States of Africa. …

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Africa Will Not End Its Global Marginalisation until Its Leaders Unite the Continent
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