Do we have what it takes to be One Africa?
Although Africans have more in common with each other than differences, the real dream of a One Africa, as envisaged by Kwame Nkrumah, remains elusive. Why is this? asks Moky Makura
This summer I holidayed in Africa. This was partly from choice, but also because the wealthier nations that so many middle-class Africans aspire to visit, think that their vaccines don’t work quite so well when administered here, and that the continent is a cesspit of new, scarier variants of Covid that are best managed by an enforced, two-week stay in a government-mandated hotel.
So, we braved the multiple Covid tests, airport protocols and the actual fear of contracting Covid at the end of it all, to spend our hard-earned money on an African holiday.
Travelling through Mombasa on a hot humid afternoon in an air-condition-less taxi, looking at the people, the colours, the food, the traffic, the energy… I felt I could easily have been in Lagos, Kampala, Accra or any one of Africa’s vibrant cities.
It struck me then, that in Africa we have so much more in common than we have differences, and that our whole is so much stronger than the sum of our 54 parts. It felt like we had forgotten the promise on which many countries had built their independence – the pan-African dream of One Africa.
In 1961, Kwame Nkrumah, the visionary who led Ghana to independence, knew this better than anyone when he said:
“It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.”
But before we can bring good to the world, we need to unleash that force on ourselves first – there is much work to be done. For a start, Africa is the least connected continent in the world when it comes to road and rail networks.
Today, post-Covid, it is almost impossible to fly between African countries without stepping into Europe, and Africans still need visas to enter more than half the countries on the continent. Despite being officially ‘launched’ in 2016, there’s little evidence of the African Union Passport being widely used.
Like the passport, there are numerous continental initiatives working towards this goal of One Africa but 60-plus years later, we are still a long way from achieving Nkrumah’s vision.
There is some progress: the African Union, AUDA-NEPAD, the Regional Economic Communities, the AFC, AfDB and Afreximbank are examples of the pan-African structures we have been able to put in place. In turn, they are creating the frameworks and the fabric; the many continental agreements that cover trade, peace and security, governance and democracy in Africa that will lead us to that lofty goal.
Crucial role of soft power
Continental integration is a key pillar of the AU’s Agenda 2063. It also underpins the most ambitious, unifying initiative seen on the continent since the launch of the AU itself in 2002: the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement.
And like many of the other structures, agreements, and policies designed to support continental integration, the focus is on ‘hard power’. They miss out on the growing importance of soft power, cultural diplomacy and the need to develop a real ‘brotherhood’ and shared understanding of our history and culture.
The EU has proved integration can be done – from monetary, to trade, to the movement of its people. But what I learned from Brexit was that the architecture and machinery required for the management of continental agreements and initiatives is mammoth. The EU has a budget of about €1,082bn/yr for its 27 members and over 60,000 employees in the system, while the AU’s budget for 2020 was $647.3m for its 55 members.
Britain’s messy exit from the EU helped us all understand the benefits of being part of a union – benefits they are negotiating to keep. The security and prosperity, access to bigger markets, movement of labour, goods, services and capital are just some of the reasons why Europe came together. It’s the same reason why we should.
But it’s not just lack of funding holding African unity back, some of the agreements that aim to connect and unite the continent are doomed to fail from the outset because in many cases and for various reasons, they are not signed or ratified by African leaders.
In fact, very few countries have signed, ratified and domesticated all the agreements developed. The AfCFTA for example, has been signed by only 36 countries.
It’s not just issues with signing, often there are no guidelines, frameworks, mechanisms, or institutions in place to manage how these agreements will play out in country, or how potential conflicts of interest will be addressed. In other words, there is work to be done if we are going to see One Africa in my lifetime.