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Fifty years ago the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was set up as a compromise accord between the Monrovia (Senghor, Boigny, et al) and Casablanca (Nkrumah, Nasser, et al) groups. The latter was keen on moving towards political union as soon as possible, arguing; it will not be possible for the new small independent African nations to negotiate their way into development/freedom in the prevailing world system! Nkrumah delivered a passionate plea to this end on May 24th1963. Some consider the speech his best ever, at least in regards to African Union & Pan Africanism. We have reprinted an extract next column. On the other hand, the former group contended, the newly created nations must first economically integrate and then gradually move to a political union. In short, the countries in this group wanted to savor their newfound freedom before they can embark on the spirited initiative of political union. One should realize at the time the general populous of the various countries was also intoxicated with the fetish of nation state-flag independence and probably would not have agreed to the Casablanca initiative!
More substantively and of course in hindsight, we also believe African countries wouldn’t have gone very far in the unification project (amongst other things) because of resource differentials and their attendant treatment by the reigning world order (recall Katanga-1960)! Be that as it may, the debate between the two groups was finally resolved when elder statesman Haile Selassie, reasoned; for both trajectories to make sense, there must be, a priori, complete liberation from colonialism and apartheid. As a result, the question of unity was formally accepted but was put on the backburner! Following the agreement, 32 independent countries signed the charter establishing the Organization of African Union with circumscribed mandate. The occasion took place in Africa Hall of the ECA building (Economic Commission for Africa – Addis Ababa) on May 25, 1963, thereby anointing Addis ‘the political capital of Africa.’ The rest is history!
Even flag independence didn’t come easy! A lot of support was extended from progressive states like the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. Once ‘flag independence’ was attained many of the African countries opted for planned economies, facilitated by state operators (SOEs). At the time and naively (we still argue) such initiatives were equated with ‘socialism’, whatever that meant. Nonetheless the scheme didn’t go very far in fostering development, material or otherwise. Moreover, the economic model came apart when the accumulated debt became unsustainable. Starting in the early eighties, it was more or less back on leash for many of the African countries, this time via structural adjustment program (SAP) and its likes. It is because of such sinister moves Nyerere warned about the impending ‘Berlin Conference Round II.’ The flirtation with such economic model cost Africa a good quarter of a century.
The new millennium began with the visible rise of the BRICS in the world system, which allowed some breathing space to Africa’s development.The last decade registered some progress in the economic, social and political front. However, there is again a catch in our newfound development scheme, which we must critically reexamine if we are to avoid the pitfalls of the past. For a start, Africa must interrogate the prevailing ‘fossil fuel’ civilization, which is unsustainable, not only because of its accelerated depletion, but also its impact on the earth’s life support system (climate change, etc.,). This is another topic on which the majority of the so-called African elites are muted. Unthinking to their cores these elites still prod us to blindly walk through the decaying world system that is now visibly imploding! The prevailing world system props up such spineless elites by bestowing them with high sounding titles, fat salaries and vacuous responsibilities so they can go on pretending to be important while delivering nothing. Beware, going forward Africa needs fresh/radical thinking not regurgitated nonsense!
Since Africa is a mosaic of people, history and geography it is crucial to manage the existential diversity without the interference of outsiders. But this is easily said than done. As a result, we are again confronting increased centrifugal forces, which are difficult to contain. It is inevitable our fragmentation will accrue immense benefits to those who eye the extraction of resources on the cheap. Currently some countries in the Maghreb and the Sahel are going through such realities, to say nothing about failed states like Somalia. This might well be a precursor of things to come, if Africans don’t resist empire’s (covert/overt) offensive. Overall, critical leadership espousing new ideals/values will have to come to the fore if Africa is to make significant change for the better within the existing world system that is built around our continuous impoverishment.We reiterate, by leadership we don’t only mean political leadership, but rather the collective and individual leadership across sectors of society; civil society, private sector, etc.
Since the beginning of this world system, (around 1492) Africa and its descendants have suffered slavery, colonialism, apartheid, discrimination, etc., all over. Therefore, to think our salvation lies in the same old system that thrived on our continuous subjugation is at best ludicrous! Here again the pompous elites of post-independent Africa are failing us. By and large, this genre has become, unlike those of the founding fathers (of the OAU and other freedom movements) mere ‘belly thinkers’, uninterested in the bigger pictures and only satisfied in collecting crumbs from old masters. This attitude is widespread, particularly amongst the African private sector and paper professionals. If the model of private sector led development is to be sustained, indigenously organized and nationally motivated operators must, perforce, take up the critical role of leadership.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the OAU/AU, we raise our hats to those who gave their lives (in one form or another) to secure freedom, justice, peace, social harmony and human dignity for all. We salute the armed fighters, the Pan Africanists, and the Diaspora that fell during the various struggles! We also honor our brothers/sisters, mothers/fathers, who toiled under slave masters/colonialists/racists (across the continents) while trying to make ends meet, against all odds! Finally we thank all those human souls who supported Africa’s liberation, even though they were of different descents!
Unlike our oppressors, we Africans have time-tested and distinctively organic values that can be of help even to our adversaries (psychopaths/sociopaths in power) still bent on pursuing alienating accumulation, sickening gluttony and suicidal ecosystem. Or as the Mwalimu put it: “To measure a country’s wealth by its gross national product is to measure things, not satisfactions.We, in Africa, have no more need of being ‘converted’ to socialism than we have of being ‘taught’ democracy. Both are rooted in our past — in the traditional society which produced us.” Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Good Day!