Africa's Future: The African Union Must Be Proactive

Published on 27th April 2012

President Nelson Mandela in his Long Walk to Freedom said, “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.

I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended,” and so continues our long walk as the Continent to both political unity and economic liberation.

I would also like to quote extensively from the acceptance speech of the first Chairperson of the Organisation of African Unity during its launch in 1963, Haile Salassie. I do so because a lot of what was said then is still very relevant today: “We name as our first great task the final liberating of those Africans still dominated by foreign exploitation and control,” continuing that, “Our liberty is meaningless unless all Africans are free. Our brothers in the Rhodesias, in Mozambique, in Angola, in South Africa, cry out in anguish for our support and assistance.”

Continuing he said, “As we renew our vow that all of Africa shall be free, let us also resolve that old wounds shall be healed and past scars forgotten…memories of the past injustice shall not divert us from the more pressing business at hand. We must live in peace with our former colonisers, shunning recrimination and bitterness and forswearing the luxury of vengeance and retaliation, lest the acid of hatred erode our souls and poison our hearts.”

Going on he said, “History teaches us that unity is strength and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to the true African brotherhood and unity.”

The first task of ensuring the liberation of those Africans still under colonial rule has been virtually achieved. Selassie went further to define the second task which was, “Unity is the accepted goal. We argue about means; we discuss alternative paths to the same objective; we engage in debates about techniques and tactics. But when semantics are stripped away, there is little argument among us. We are determined to create a union of Africans… it is our duty and privilege to rouse the slumbering giant of Africa.”

He continued, “But while we agree that the ultimate destiny of this continent lies in political union, we must at the same time recognise that the obstacles to be overcome in its achievement are at once numerous and formidable. Africa’s peoples did not emerge into liberty in uniform conditions. Africans maintain different political systems; our economies are diverse; our social orders are rooted in differing cultures and traditions. Furthermore no clear consensus exists on the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of this union. Is it to be, in form, federal, non-federal, or unitary?Is the sovereignty of individual states to be reduced, and if so, by how much, and in what areas? On these and other questions there is no agreement, and if we wait for agreed answers, generations hence matters will be little advanced, while the debate still rages. We should, therefore, not be concerned that complete union is not attained from one day to the next. The union which we seek can only come gradually, as the day-to-day progress which we achieve carries us slowly but inexorably along this course.”

The formation of the African Union is one of the processes carrying us towards that Union. It is our responsibility to ensure that eventually that goal is attained. It may not necessarily be attained tomorrow but every step we take brings us closer to the ultimate goal of political unity and economic integration.

Obviously the Africa that we strive to create is an Africa that is emancipated – politically, economically, culturally, socially and spiritually. That emancipation must by definition include that of women. The African Union having declared 2010 to 2020 as the Women’s Decade has to ensure there is visible progress in this regard.

At the time of the launch of the Organisation of African Unity, this was also said, “Today, travel between African nations and telegraphic and telephonic communications among us are circuitous in the extreme. Road communications between two neighbouring States are often difficult or even impossible. It is little wonder that trade among us has remained at a discouragingly low level.

These anachronisms are the remnants of a heritage of which we must rid ourselves, the legacy of the century when Africans were isolated one from the other. These are vital areas in which efforts must be concentrated. “Africa was the market for the produce of other nations and the source of the raw materials with which their factories were fed.”

Can we say we have overcome this legacy? Obviously the answer is no. Even though there has been progress, this has not been sufficient.

Infrastructure and connectivity

Indeed the vital areas should be the development of infrastructure that facilitates connectivity between and amongst ourselves by road, rail, air, sea, telecommunications. It is important we should be connected because without connection, we cannot begin trading with ourselves and we will remain as the markets for the products of other nations. We will therefore not be able to utilise our markets for our own benefits as Africa.

Connectivity will also encourage us to know one another and our various countries better. At the moment, many African countries have a better awareness of Europe rather than Africa and this can be attributed to the connectivity and the infrastructure that presently exists.There are more flights out of Johannesburg, for instance to other continents rather than to our own continent. It is critical that we ensure that we build the North-South Corridor, from Cape to Cairo and the East-West Corridor, from Senegal to Djibouti. The construction of these, and other, roads must be accelerated.

More than 50% of trade from Asia to the West goes through Africa’s coastline. All our imports and exports are transported by foreign ships to and from our countries. If we are to improve trade amongst ourselves, we have to look very seriously in participating in areas of ship building and ownership. If we own our vessels, it will be easier and more cost effective to trade between ourselves. We can collaborate with countries of the Indian-Ocean Rim to undertake such crucial, long term projects.

How can we improve tourism amongst ourselves if we are not connected by road, rail, sea and air? But it is not only the physical infrastructure. We need to align some of the regulations and laws while strengthening our institutions in order to be able to facilitate people, goods and capital flow in and out of our country.

Agriculture and food security

Africa accounts for more than one-quarter of the world’s arable land and is a source of livelihood for 70% of our people. However, it currently generates only 10% of global agricultural output and imports tens of billions of dollars of food each year. Using our land resources more effectively will enable us to not only contribute to our economic growth but to ensure we can feed our people ourselves. We will also be able to contribute towards job creation and income distribution. It will also enable us to use the foreign currency which at the moment is being used to import food for other developmental imperatives on our continent. Food security must therefore be something we strive to achieve immediately.

Mineral and natural resources

Africa is the continent with most possibilities and potential, with its vast mineral and natural resources including sunshine, wind and biodiversity. We must use our natural resources more efficiently to benefit our countries and its people. We committed ourselves in the Lagos Plan of Action to, amongst others, co-operate in the field of natural resource control, exploration, extraction and use for the development of our economies for the benefit of our peoples and to set up the appropriate institutions to achieve these purposes; and develop indigenous entrepreneurship, technical manpower and technological abilities to enable our peoples to assume greater responsibility for the achievement of our individual and collective development goals. We need to take control of our mineral resources, in terms of extraction. We should beneficiate and also ensure that we do get sufficient benefit from these mineral resources. At the moment, the company doing the extraction/beneficiation gets the resources while the country and its people receive very little.

African demographics

At the formation of the OAU, Africa’s population was 250 million people. According to a Standard Bank report released in September 2011 entitled, “The Five Trends powering Africa’s enduring allure,” the continent’s population currently stands at over a billion and is expected to rise to two billion by 2050.

Africa currently enjoys a positive economic outlook with a growing population that stands at just over one billion people. This growing population will support the on-going emergence of Africa’s consumer base while robust economic growth and a rising population are colluding to create dynamic improvements in spending power across Africa. Further to this, studies by the African Development Bank recently found that the middle class in Africa is also growing. Critically, Africa’s growing population is not only increasingly affluent but also exceptionally young.

The report went on to say, “Africa’s young people will be the driving force behind economic prosperity in future decades, but only if policies and programmes are in place to enhance their opportunities and encourage smaller families. Population change is not the only force shaping Africa’s development. But failure to take advantage of the potential demographic dividend could dampen development prospects, while public policies and advocacy to enhance it could reap substantial rewards.”

Healthcare and education

We have to ensure education and healthcare for our populations so they are skilled and healthy.We can work together on the continent to identify institutions of excellence which we can all share without having to duplicate existing efforts, especially in the areas of science, technology, research and development. Our institutional knowledge should be used for our collective benefit.

We must also fight wide inequalities. Research has indicated that citizens are more restless in communities with wide inequalities and great differences between the rich and the poor.

What therefore is the role of the African Union? We must do all this in order to improve the lives of all our people – fight poverty and underdevelopment. We must not leave things to unfettered market forces. We must lean towards becoming developmental states and put more emphasis on those areas of economic growth that produce jobs.

Whilst every country will have their own national programmes for development, the African Union (AU) should co-ordinate the sharing of experiences among member states, facilitate and encourage the implementation of agreements and protocols that have been adopted both by the OAU and the AU. But more importantly it should identify a few priorities that will unite us as a continent and that we can do together.

It should also mobilise partnerships but in a way that these partnerships do not entrench dependencies but assist us in charting our own destiny. We must also look at the best human resources the Continent has to offer and move away from our narrow national interests.

It must also work towards full economic integration and political unity. Economically strong countries must play a bigger role in assisting our continent and the African Union to make a bigger contribute to these programmes. We must ensure as called for by Selassie “an adequate [African Union] secretariat able to provide the necessary continuity between meetings of the permanent organs” so that the African Union secretariat is well resourced so it can do its work efficiently.

The African Union must ensure we play our rightful place in global affairs so that the African voice is heard and respected. We should remain the advocates for development, human dignity and an equitable world for our peoples and member states.

The African Union must ensure that New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the African Union Peer Review Mechanism is integrated in the African Union activities. The African Union should continue to strengthen its peace and security infrastructure and co-operation with the United Nations to find African solutions expeditiously as and when problems arise. Member states must also be ready to inject resources into NEPAD projects and to encourage the participation of partners without creating new dependencies.

Africa’s economy has continued to grow, even in this period of a global economic recession. This is reassuring but we must ensure this wealth is distributed equitably because if not, we will see more youth protests.

By  Dlamini-Zuma
Minister of Home Affairs, South Africa.

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