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Whither Africa, 52 years after Nkrumah: A continent in shackles!

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By Madi Jobarteh

On April 27, 1972, Kwame Nkrumah died in Bucharest, Romania. Nkrumah was the first president of Ghana, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence from British colonialism which he led from 1957 to 1966 when he was overthrown by the military. In 1999 BBC listeners in Africa voted him as Africa’s ‘Man of the Millennium’. His dream was not only to unite Africa, but through unity to guarantee the social and economic development and security of Africa through industrialization.

Fifty two years after Nkrumah, Africa continues to hopelessly wallow in the shackles of dire social, economic, and political situation. Of the 110 armed conflicts currently raging across the world, more than 50 are within the borders of Africa according to the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR states that around 30 million internally displaced persons, refugees and asylum seekers live in Africa, representing almost one-third of the world’s refugee population. According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index, out of 54 countries, only South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Lesotho, and Botswana are classified ‘Free’, and the majority of Africa are either ‘Not Free’ or ‘Partly Free’.

Where does Africa stand and where is it going? The African Union and its regional blocs as well as the governments in Africa are quick to indicate that Africa is rising. Western governments, international organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, or the African Development Bank joined by Western NGOs and think tanks join this chorus that the fastest growing economies are found in Africa. They say the continent has the largest youthful population in the world, where mobile penetration is fastest and therefore the future lies in Africa. Yet Africa always stands on top in global reports depicting low human development, corruption, irregular migration, military coups, poverty, and infant and maternal mortality rates.

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Africa governments and their regional and continental bodies exist purposely to ensure that Africans enjoy peace, freedom, and prosperity in their lifetime. Nkrumah noted in 1960 while addressing a gathering in London,

“What are the aspirations of Africans?  Above all, they desire to regain their independence and to live in peace.  They desire to use this freedom to raise the standard of living of their peoples.”

This was the goal of fighting to end colonialism and gain independence. Another giant and contemporary of Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral buttressed this point when he addressed PAIGC freedom fighters in Guinea Bissau in 1965 that,

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“The people are not fighting for ideas in anyone’s head.  They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”

Thus, as we mark the 52nd anniversary of the demise of Nkrumah, it is pertinent to cast our minds back to his speech before his fellow leaders of the newly independent African states in Addis Ababa in May 1963. Nkrumah’s belief in the unity of Africa was rooted in his unmistakable realization that it was only through a united Africa that they could guarantee the salvation of the continent and her people. He premised the need for unity on not only Africa’s inglorious history and experience with Western slavery and colonialism but also given the ongoing prevalence of imperialism which naturally poses threats to the continent.

“No sporadic act nor pious resolution can resolve our present problems. Nothing will be of avail, except the united act of a united Africa. We have already reached the stage where we must unite or sink into that condition which had made Latin America the unwilling and distressed prey of imperialism after one-and-a-half centuries of political independence. As a continent we have emerged into independence in a different age, with imperialism grown stronger, more ruthless, and experienced, and more dangerous in its international associations. Our economic advancement demands the end of colonialism and neo-colonialist domination in Africa. Unless we establish African Unity now, we who are sitting here today shall tomorrow be the victims and martyrs of neo-colonialism.”

Evidently, the fears and concerns expressed by Nkrumah more than half a century ago are what have come to pass today. Not only is Africa deeply sucked into the western imperialist orbit, but also Africa has now become the playground of the newcomers, Russia, China, India, Turkey, Gulf States and Brazil. Meantime African countries remain torn between the UN, The Commonwealth, La Francophonie and now the BRICS thereby further drifting the continent away from itself hence disabling efforts at unity. As noted by Nkrumah in 1963 foreign powers have never withdrawn from Africa, rather they are, “covered up under the clothing of many agencies, which meddle in our domestic affairs, to foment dissension within our borders and to create an atmosphere of tension and political instability.” The DRCongo War alone is a testament of the hands of foreign powers in the instability on the continent.

That Africa is among the richest regions, if not the richest in the world is indisputable. In fact, Nkrumah noted in a speech to the Ghana Parliament in 1960 that it is not Africa which is poor, but Africans. To harness the huge human and natural resources and potential of Africa inevitably demands unity. This is not a realization of Nkrumah alone, but until today Africa Unity continues to be an active vision and objective that one can hear expressed by African leaders, technocrats, intellectuals, or activists at every opportunity. In fact, in 2013, the Africa Union itself initiated the ‘Agenda 2063’ as a long term plan towards unity.

The question is, why is Africa unable to unite until today? Interestingly, the inability of attaining continental unity was foretold by Nkrumah himself in 1963.

“What are we looking for in Africa? Are we looking for Charters, conceived in the light of the United Nations example? A type of United Nations organization whose decisions are framed on the basis of resolutions that in our experience have sometimes been ignored by member States? Where groupings are formed and pressures develop in accordance with the interest of the group concerned? Or is it intended that Africa should be turned into a lose organization of States on the model of the organization of the American States, in which the weaker states within it can be at the mercy of the stronger or more powerful ones politically or economically or at the mercy of some powerful outside nations or group of nations? Is this the kind of association we want for ourselves in the United Africa we all speak of with such feeling and emotion?”

These issues and concerns raised above by Nkrumah were ignored and so the OAU and now the AU just like its regional blocs such as ECOWAS or SADC among others have become clubs for presidents essentially. By their design and function, they have become inherent obstacles to African unity. Consequently, African presidents and their regimes are at liberty to ignore or flout regional and continental treaties, charters, and protocols and their institutions with impunity. The very idea of unity was truncated in favour of ‘sovereignty’ which is a ruse for protecting the interests of individual presidents and their regimes at the detriment of democracy, human rights, and prosperity of African citizens.

After 61 years since the founding of the AU in 1963, it is clear that the body as it is constituted lacks the relevance and efficacy to achieve African unity much more ensure peace, good governance and democracy in the continent. Thus, the urgent need to revamp the AU as well as its regional blocs cannot be over-emphasized. Indeed, African leaders and their technocrats will continue to impress themselves with conferences and the high-sounding statements they deliver. They will be overwhelmed with the instruments, programs, and agendas they create but these only serve to delay African unity thereby further disempowering their own governments, blocs, and the AU to guarantee freedom, peace, and prosperity for African citizens. Until and unless there is a radical shift in which the AU and regional blocs are dismantled in favour of creating a union government immediately, Africa shall continue to be at the mercy of its few elected and appointed public officials and the world at large at detriment of her citizens. The example of Europe in securing and optimizing the freedom, peace, and prosperity of their citizens through the formation of the European Union is a lesson for Africa to learn from.

Therefore, what is to be done was already foretold by Nkrumah.

“Without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties, big or small, we can, here and now, forge a political union based on Defense, Foreign Affairs and Diplomacy, and a common Citizenship, an African currency, an African Monetary Zone, and an African Central Bank. We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent. We need a common Defense system with an African High Command to ensure the stability and security of Africa. We have been charged with this sacred task by our own people, and we cannot betray their trust by failing them. We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay by tackling realistically this question of African Unity.”

Fifty two years after the demise of Nkrumah, Africa today boasts of nothing less than 40 national currencies, 40 central banks, and 40 customs. Fourteen African countries still use the CFA currency which continues to be linked to the French Treasury. Many African countries continue to demand visas for fellow Africans to visit including Ethiopia which is the seat of the African Union. Several other economic, border and immigration restrictions continue to exist between African countries thereby further disempowering their economies and prosperity. Africa’s financial transactions are conducted within the structures and processes of Western financial systems using their currencies, banks, institutions and financial technologies and tools. This status quo only confirms the irrelevance and inability of the AU, regional blocs and Africa governments.

The solution to African unity hence the attainment of freedom, peace, and prosperity for Africans once and for all had already been well articulated by Nkrumah at the 1963 maiden conference in Addis Ababa.

“As a first step, Your Excellencies, a declaration of principles uniting and binding us together and to which we must all faithfully and loyally adhere, and laying the foundations of unity should be set down. And there should also be a formal declaration that all the independent African States here and now agree to the establishment of a Union of African States.

As a second and urgent step for the realization of the unification of Africa, an All-Africa Committee of Foreign Ministers be set up now, and that before we rise from this Conference, a date should be fixed for them to meet.”

Nkrumah went further to define the terms of reference of this committee of experts comprising two representatives from each state to “work out a machinery for the Union Government of Africa.” They are to draft a constitution and other proposals which would be presented to the heads of state for adoption. He even suggested the location of this committee of experts to be either in Bangui or Kinshasha as the most central place on the continent, hence also serving as the capital for the Union Government.

In essence, Nkrumah’s proposal was for the committee of foreign ministers, officials and experts meeting in this central location to establish the following commissions:

1.         A Commission to frame a constitution for a Union Government of African States.

2.         A Commission to work out a continent-wide plan for a unified or common economic and industrial programme for Africa; this plan should include proposals for setting up:

a.         A Common Market for Africa.

b.         An African Currency.

c.         African Monetary Zone.

d.         An African Central Bank, and

e.         A Continental Communications System.

3.         A Commission to draw up details for a Common Foreign Policy and Diplomacy.

4.         A Commission to produce plans for a Common System of Defense.

5.         A Commission to make proposals for a Common African Citizenship.

Nkrumah concluded his proposals by setting timelines and highlighting funding for the initiative.

“These Commissions will report to the Committee of Foreign Ministers who should in turn submit within six months of this Conference their recommendations to the Praesidium. The Praesidium meeting in Conference at the Union Headquarters will consider and approve the recommendations of the Committee of Foreign Ministers. In order to provide funds immediately for the work of the permanent officials and experts of the Headquarters of the Union, I suggest that a special Committee be set up now to work out a budget for this.”

This is a comprehensive plan which should have achieved the Union of African States within 12 months at least. Certainly, this plan was ignored and instead a loose organization, the OAU/AU was crafted which cannot even fund itself but had to depend on the West and China to sustain itself. African politicians, intellectuals and leaders in every field are indeed quite aware of the predicament of Africa and therefore the need for unity as the indispensable panacea. Speaking at the 55th Africa Day commemoration in Ankara, Turkey in 2018 the Deputy Chairperson of AU Commission, Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa explicitly highlighted this African dilemma and the solution to it: Unity.

“The aim of the Reform is to address the perennial question of our Africa, a continent rich in natural and human resources, but which still somehow, miraculously, manages to remain poor.  Poverty in the midst of plenty? Described, derisively and contemptuously as the Hopeless Continent, by the Economist magazine. To Kwame Nkrumah our visionary, often controversial independence President, even the shape of the continent is like a question mark, with Madagascar as the dot. To President Sarkozy, Africa has contributed absolutely nothing to history. Clearly, he has forgotten to take a look at the French national soccer team which won the World Cup. To King Leopold, Africa was a magnificent cake, what do you do to a cake, to be cut up and eaten, or rather devoured.  Those were his words at the Berlin Conference (1884/85). On this subject, we probably need to have another more detailed conversation. In my view, it goes to the root of the very raison d’etre of the African Union and the Commission – the integration and unity of the African continent.”

What must be said is that the AU should not be lamenting the predicament of Africa and then produce halfhearted plans and initiatives only to continue the same path. What is incontrovertibly evident now is that the AU and its regional blocs just like the rest of the African governments have failed to achieve what they proclaim. Therefore, the time has come to return to the Nkrumah proposal to not only salvage Africa by uniting the continent, but by doing so to fundamentally change the course of world history henceforth.

The demand and objective of Africa’s well-meaning politicians, intellectuals and activists must be to put a definite stop to the status quo and seek the urgent and total dismantling of the AU and its regional blocs. The current structure of the instruments and institutions of the African Union and its regional blocs is irrelevant and counterproductive. They merely weaken and divide the continent thereby furthering corruption, self-perpetuation in power, deprivation, disempowerment, poverty, and injustice on the continent. The time has come to return to the original proposal.

However, it must be noted that the salvation and unification of Africa shall not be carried out by its current crop of politicians, technocrats, and intellectuals. Africa needs her citizens to become the new armies of activists, conscientious politicians and people intellectuals dedicated to working for the radical transformation of this hapless continent as it is. The unity of Africa shall only come about when the masses of African citizens, fed up with the failure and corruption of the ruling and power elites decide to take the bull by the horns to sweep them off from the surface to institute a new Africa they deserve. The time is now. The world as it is continues to be defined by power and interest without any regard for international law, human rights, and justice. Until Africa empowers itself it can neither prevent other powers turning the continent into their playground nor will it be able to chart its own destiny in freedom, peace, and prosperity.

For a unified democratic and prosperous Africa.

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