In a few hours, all of us on this wretched continent will be celebrating African Union Day. May 25th will be a public holiday in almost every country – except in Morocco, which is not a member of the AU. It’s a commemoration that is supposed to remind us to focus on the need to unite as one big nation. After all, they say, we are one people – torn apart by colonialism and slavery.
I am looking forward to May 25th. Who doesn’t like a public holiday? But I’m so not looking forward to what that day represents – one big United Republic of Africa. I am very sure it will not happen in my lifetime.
Just about two years ago, when African leaders gathered in Accra they chose to turn a blind eye to all the major challenges confronting the continent at the time. Darfur was on fire, Mugabe was delighting himself by plunging his country deeper into economic and political chaos and Somalia was (and still is) every brute’s paradise.
If our leaders had been wise and perceptive, they would have seen the global food crisis and the escalating fuel prices coming. They would have deliberated on how to deal with the impending crisis. Now the crises are here and look at them scrambling around like frightened rats.
In July last year, all they wanted to talk about was ‘African Unity.’ Our leaders look at the European Union and they think they can easily replicate it here in Africa. They even want to go further and create one big African nation. It took the Europeans 50 years to build their union. Mind you, it’s not a big federation yet. But, our leaders – always with warped ambitions – think they can achieve what the Europeans have not been able to achieve in five decades.
Those few days of the AU summit (which, by the way, was very badly organised) made the rest of the world wonder whether there were more ostriches than human being in Africa. Why ignore today’s problems and spend the whole time thinking about how to force a dream to come true? The world laughed at us. Between July 2007 and now, a lot has happened on this continent that demonstrates clearly that we are a bunch of jokers who like to dream silly dreams and talk and talk and talk about everything and nothing.
Take the recent attacks on African migrants in South Africa as an example. For more than a week, South African gangs have been attacking their fellow “brothers and sisters” from other African countries, accusing them of literally taking over their country. According to the rampaging mobs, the other Africans have left them jobless and spouseless whiles contributing to the increasing crime wave in their country.
It’s a strange case of xenophobia which doesn’t really surprise me because Ghanaians can be very xenophobic too – especially to people from other African countries. For example, there are a lot of people in this country who talk about Liberians as if they are aliens from another planet. Just cast your mind back to the recent incidents at the refugee camp at Buduburam. Even government ministers were spewing xenophobia all over the place. The Interior Minister was throwing tantrums because the Liberians had dared to say that Ghana is not good enough for them. Ghana is not good enough for even Ghanaians so what’s so strange about refugees saying that they do not like to stay here any longer? For daring to complain, our own government, which prides itself in pushing the African unity agenda, is feverishly preparing to send back more than 20,000 Liberians to “their country”, according to Nana Obiri Boahen, a ‘hanger-on’ minister at the Interior Ministry.
After all the talk of African Unity one would have thought that Africa is for all of us and that Liberians are supposed to feel at home in Ghana, my compatriots should feel at home in South Africa and Ethiopians should be able to settle in quite nicely in Eritrea. Thanks to xenophobic attitudes like what we saw with the Liberian incident and what we are seeing in South Africa, Africans cannot help but feel like strangers in their own land.
Where there is no xenophobia, you see major strife that makes the whole idea of African Unity appear like an attempt to build a mansion without a foundation. For example, Chad and Sudan are threatening to go to war. Sudan’s president, Omar Al Bashir, accuses his counterpart from Chad. Idriss Derby, of sponsoring and arming a group of rebels who almost took over Khartoum a couple of weeks ago. Last year, when some rebels came so close to his palace in N’Djamena, Mr. Derby blamed it on Mr. Al Bashir. Can anyone realistically expect these two ‘warlords’ to bury their differences for the sake of a united Africa? They should but they won’t. Ethiopia and Eritrea are still sworn enemies. Add all the civil wars to these and you will see that we surely have a long way to go.
Even in the sphere of economic co-operation, which should form the basis for future political integration, our continent is not doing as well as it should. Nigeria will not allow textile from other African countries. They will not even allow us Ghanaians to sell our tomato puree in their country. And we in Ghana do not want Nigerians to engage in buying-and-selling in our country – unless they can pay a fee of 30,000 dollars. The Lebanese can afford to pay. But for our average brother from Naija, this is more than his working capital. A few months ago, police men went about closing down the shops of Nigerians who had not paid up. It was yet another eloquent demonstration that we like to talk more than act.
Just a few months after African leaders had discussed their grandiose African Unity plan Stanbic Bank of South Africa put in a takeover bid for our Agricultural Development Bank. The very same people who were arguing for African Unity turned around to say that “Ghanaian banks like ADB should remain in Ghanaian hands.”
To make it even worse, the political sphere in most African countries is a chaotic mess. It’s true that some of us have taken the democratic path. But dictators are large and in charge in several other countries. Mugabe has no intention of ending his madness anytime soon in Zimbabwe. If he hadn’t been acting so silly for a man of his age, Zimbabweans would have had no reason to go to South Africa to add to the number of illegal immigrants there. No African leader is willing to call mad Mugabe to mellow. The problems he has caused in that country will take a long time to heal.
Almost every African country has major problems that will take decades to be resolved. For most of them, there isn’t even a resolution of any sort in sight. Somalia is one of them. So is DR Congo. And Chad. And Djibouti. And the Comoros. And Sudan.
This means that if the unity they talk about is to be achieved anytime soon, the chaos in Somalia, the genocide in Sudan, the xenophobia in South Africa and the corruption in Nigeria will all be problems for that one United Republic of Africa to deal with. And come to think of it, is there anyone amongst our current crop of leaders who can serve as the first president of the United Republic – thinking more about the welfare of the people and less about himself? Kufuor buys jets when his hospitals are collapsing, Mbeki can’t see a crisis where there is one, Kibaki won’t concede defeat, Odinga comes in and appoints all his cousins as ministers (and gives each of them a fleet of official cars) and Mugabe, well, doesn’t seem to have his head screwed on properly.
If what the AU has achieved in over 50 years of existence and what it is noted for is anything to go by, then we are better off being a disunited Africa – each nation for itself and its citizens. This is how it will be long after I’m even dead and gone.
A United Republic of Africa will not happen anytime soon. But if our leaders push it to boost their egos, I’m sure it will turn out to be one hell of a chaotic, banana republic. I definitely do not want to be a part of it!
>>> First published in May 2008 in ‘The Daily Dispatch’. It’s been republished here with a few modifications.