Africa Day in retrospect

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By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu

THE African continental organisation, the African Union (AU), formerly called the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), celebrated its 55th anniversary on May 25 2018.
Founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963, the then OAU’s immediate aim was to give material aid to colonised African countries to free themselves from colonialism and become independent without any delay.
It was also the OAU’s strategy to use the independent African nations collective diplomatic pressure at the UN, by those associated with the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO), the Commonwealth and by international labour bodies such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) as well as other world for a, to accelerate the liberation of the whole of Africa from colonial oppression.
On the anti-colonial stance, the entire sovereign African leadership saw eye-to-eye although there was a difference of opinion on the urgency the leaders accorded to the decolonisation process as well as the means to be used by each affected country.
Some OAU founding leaders such as Ivory Coast’s (Cote d’ivoire) President Felix Houphouet Boigny, Libera’s President William Tubman and Ethiopia’s Emperor Hailie Selassie preferred negotiations to violent demonstrations, let alone armed struggle.
However, the most important thing was that the OAU, as a whole, was of one opinion about the need to liberate the African continent from colonialism.
In attendance on behalf of Zimbabwe at the historic launch of the OAU were Cde Joshua Nkomo as the head of a delegation, two of whose members were Cde James Robert Dambaza Chikerema and Cde Joseph ‘Bruno’ Msika.
The OAU founders regarded the decolonisation of the whole African continent as a short-term project – that is, as a process to be carried out and be done with within about a decade.
There was a highly publicised wish by an OAU group that the liberated nations should immediately form what was referred to as ‘the United States of Africa,’ and that every country that became independent should become a member of that macro-African state, an imitation of the US in constitutional terms.
Those for an African union were generally called the pan-Africans and were regarded as radicals.
The most outstanding of the group were Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Guinea-Conakry’s Sekou Toure and Mali’s Modilo Keita.
The three presidents had earlier declared that their three states had already agreed to become the nucleus of the United States of Africa.
They were supported by Algeria’s Ben Bella and Egypt’s Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, but only in principle.
President Nasser had, in 1958, brought Egypt into a union with Syria to form what was named the United Arab Republic (UAR).
However, both Algeria and Egypt repeatedly declared they were African countries first and foremost and Arab nations second; the first, geographically and the second, ethnically.
Shortly before the OAU was launched, several African inter-state consultative meetings were held, culminating in the pro-United States of Africa group meeting and declaring their pan-African aspirations in Casablanca, Morocco, while the gradualists had met in Monrovia, Liberia.
It was from those two African cities that the two groups derived the respective descriptions of ‘the radical Casablanca’ group, and ‘the moderate Monrovia’ faction.
A new opinion on the matter emerged at the 1964 Cairo OAU summit when Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere strongly intervened after Nkrumah had called for the immediate formation, in fact, of the United States Africa by all OAU member-states.
Tanzania was a member of what was called the East African Community (EAC) whose other components were Kenya and Uganda.
Nyerere most emphatically counter-proposed that free African countries should form regional groupings first, and move on later to amalgamate the African continent.
He cited geographical proximity, already established socio-economic historical relations and, in several cases, common language or languages as merits that would facilitate the founding and administration of such regionally based groupings.
President Nyerere gave the EAC as an example of a functional regional grouping.
Although the EAC was dissolved following the January 25 1971 military coup by Major General Idi Amin, while the Ugandan head of state, Milton Obote, was attending a Commonwealth leaders’ conference in Singapore, more or less similar economic organisations were formed in a number of African regions later.
In southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was launched while in West Africa, the Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS) was created to promote the importance of African co-operation.
Most OAU pioneers died before the continent was liberated from Cape Agulhas, its southern-most end, to Birzeta, its most northerly tip, and from its horn on the Indian Ocean in the east, to its bulge on the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
The continental body is trying to bring political stability to some volatile AU member-states among which are Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, the Sudan, Mali, Libya, Eritrea and Burundi, as well as one or two Nigerian regions.
There are also a couple of low-key localised crisis areas such as in Mozambique, Egypt and the Saharawi which has been on the UN agenda for more than three decades, an unfortunate remnant of colonialism on the continent.
An outstanding AU objective is the political unification of the continent, a second passion of eminent pan-Africanists such as Nkhrumah, Sekou Toure, Modibo Keita, Ben Bella, Nasser and, a much later leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
If that could be achieved, border disputes such as the recent quarrel about the ownership of land between southern Tanzania and northern Malawi as well as parts of Lake Malawi could not occur, nor could nasty incidents such as the slaughter of Zimbabwean cattle that stray into Botswana.
That objective is, undoubtedly, still either work to be done or work being done.
Meanwhile, most AU member-states are currently headed by people whose major concern is obviously to consolidate their respective micro-nations rather than to add political flesh and power to the continent by making it a macro-nation, which is what the name African Union implies in effect.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo-based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email: sgwakuba@gmail.com

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