The way forward for the African Union

African Update – 10/08/12

As the African Union (AU) celebrates its 10th year metamorphoses from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the discourse has been on what the AU has achieved over the period of its existence, and what is to be expected in the coming years.

The OAU was launched on 25th May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as a pan African body. Its strongest advocate was Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana who fought and gained independence for Ghana on 6 March 1957. On the eve of the celebration, Nkrumah linked the independence of Ghana to other African countries under colonialism. Nkrumah declared that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it was linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” He went to work and by 1963 when they formed the OAU, 28 other countries had gained full independence. Morocco gained independence a year earlier than Ghana while Liberia and Ethiopia were never colonised. The AU was formed out of the OAU as a result of the need to refocus the continental body and move it away from fighting colonialism and neo-colonialism to a vibrant and proactive organisation that is responsive to the needs of the African people. It also soon became clear that economic unity rather than political unity was the starting point. Regional Economic Blocs were encouraged and supported as a strategy which has so far worked well. The AU has since moved away from non-interference which was espoused by the OAU, to collective action to mitigate conflicts in member states.

The question people are constantly asking is; what is the way forward for the future? I have set out what essentially will be the best way for the AU to become more effective and meaningful to the streaming millions of Africans who have entrusted their fate into their hands. The AU has to make itself more felt, more relevant, and more responsive to the problems facing the continent.

To begin with, there is the need to educate people about its activities, there are no information centres in the various countries where people can easily reach out for information about its activities and participate and contribute in any significant way to its development. The lack of such proper organisation of the masses in the union means that people are kept in oblivion about what the AU is doing, even if they are doing something.

The AU should adopt ways in which people from across Africa can build bridges, network, make friends and be well informed about each other. It will not be strange for someone in Ghana to say he has never met anyone from Zimbabwe or South Africa, or Guinea and vice versa. Before any meaningful unity can take place, people need to be educated about each other, how much of African history from different periods in different countries are taught in other countries? Yet we are taught the history of European countries and we know them quite better than we do our neighbours.

The artificial barriers inherited from colonialism need to be broken so that people and goods can move freely from one country to the other without difficulties and compromising national sovereignties and security. This will greatly enhance intra African trade and foster greater collaborations among Africans.

It is not equally strange for Africans to fly to Europe and take a flight to another African country not out of choice but because of the lack of any direct flight. The pivot of the whole plan of African Unity rests on an integrated transportation system that links the major cities of member states. For instance, it is possible to have a railway line linking the whole continent funded through the contribution of member states who must see the project as their own and whatever investment they make is for the good of their people. The AU would have to impress on its member states the significant quantum leap that awaits Africa with the creation of the African Railway Line. This would be communicated to member states to be debated in their various countries to solicit public view and support for the project. If at the end of the process, countries express interest, they would now have to commit themselves financially and politically. Each country would have to fund the construction of the lines within their territory along agreed routes. In that way, the actual cost of the overall project would be widespread and manageable for even poor member states.

It was the railway lines that opened up Europe and ensured a fast tracked economic integration and the dissolution of borders making it possible for citizens of member states to freely move about from one country to the other which drastically increased trade within the European shared market. The US with its big states and vast landmass is well connected and opened up because of the construction of railway lines.

This will extensively open up the African continent; will make it easy to move from one place to the other at a much cheaper cost. Businesses will no longer have to worry about transportation in large quantities from country to country. It will make it possible for Africans to move within, explore and expand their opportunities and businesses, create employment opportunities and quickly transform the continent from a dull huge landmass, to one bustling with businesses crisscrossing and searching for African consumers and customers.

In terms of education, the AU can set up an Educational Fund also from the contributions of member states and other willing-without-conditions donors. The purpose of this fund will be to promote research and development between universities, research institutions and other higher institutions in member countries. Students can go on exchange programs to other African countries of their choice to study and learn about each other in a similar fashion like the EU Erasmus program which enables students to go on grants to other EU countries of their choice to study for a period of time. Research institutions and faculties in different countries could collaborate in research activities for the deepening of knowledge and evolving practical innovations to solve the multi-faceted problems facing the continent. Non-Governmental Organisations and other civil society groups could also benefit from it to strengthen and build the capacity of institutions to enable them deal with the emerging Africa.

The AU should form a proactive strategy for reducing too much dependence on aids and grants with negative conditions that eventually leave future generations’ handicapped. African countries must look for alternative sources of funding for projects rather than depend on the IMF and the World Bank. A lot has been said about the IMF and World Bank’s negative policies since the Structural Adjustment Programs which saw major industries in Africa sold to corporations hiding behind the IMF and World Bank and devastated local industrialisation process.

Information in this era is very important and how this information is reported can be a powerful tool to either misinform or correctly inform populations about an issue. The AU should never expect the international media to portray them in any better light since these media houses have vested interest and agenda in Africa and can never look at Africa through the eyes of Africans. So Africa needs its own media house reporting Africa to Africans and to the world. We need a progressive and radical media house that can provide an alternative to the often dominating western media, one that has its own journalists in every country in Africa and be the first source of information for Africa, one that can leverage the likes of Aljazeera, the BBC, CNN, RT, Presstv, EuroNews and many others.

The AU should fast-track its standby military force project comprising personnel from all member states and go forward to establish military bases in the economic blocs so that they can always be responsive to the many conflicts that arise in these areas.

African countries are recording higher growth rates even more than some of their former colonial masters. For instance, in the first quarter of 2012, Ghana recorded a GDP growth rate of 16% while the UK recorded -0.3% GDP Growth rate. In the second quarter of 2012, Ghana recorded 8.7% growth rate becoming second only to Mongolia with 16.70 GDP growth rate in the world. The UK recorded -0.7% while the US recorded 2.40% and China 8.10% growth rate, the Euro area recorded -0.10% growth rate. The combined nominal GDP of the African Union stands at US$1.627 trillion with a PPP of US$2.849 trillion ranking 6th after Germany.

With democracy growing in many of the troubled countries in Africa and coupled with a vibrant young educated population, African economies will soon bloom and blossom in ways that could never be imagined.

It is important to note that unless there is a deliberate strategy to harness these gains and grow them with the trend; Africa might just again lose an opportunity to project itself in the proper development that would be meaningful to the African people.

Author: Stephen Atalebe, African student of Economics, Mendel University Brno, Czech Republic

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