Email Our Editor

Join Our Mailing List

View Our Archives

Search our archive:



The Last 20 Days' Editorials

12/11/2017 "The Black Economy 50 Years After The March On Washington"


Email This Article  Printer Friendly Version

Establishing The United States Of Africa (July 2001)


It is the largest effort at political and economic unity in modern history. The Organisation of African Unity’s drive toward establishing an African Union, popularly referred to as the United States of Africa, is simultaneously ambitious, inspiring and challenging. Once depicted by its detractors and even some of its sympathizers as too difficult to construct, with each passing day it becomes more apparent that the OAU, against tremendous odds is successfully forging the union that many have prayed for, others have hoped for and still others have feared.

The African Union envisioned de facto and de jure by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and former Prime Minister and President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, is well on its way to becoming a reality with the recent ratification of the proposal by well over a majority of Africa’s 54 nations.

While the OAU has made tremendous progress in advancing the African Union, it is not difficult to understand why so many have doubted the prospects of the proposal from the moment it was announced. On the surface, the challenge of fostering unity and cooperation across a continent of nearly 750 million people is staggering.

A cursory glance of the continent and its numerous cultures, reveals dramatic lines of apparent division, which many believe are too difficult to cross. It is easy to point out possible scenarios of division and disunity. Some may ask how can the continent's estimated 800 languages, and 1,000 cultural groups be merged into an African Union?

How can the cultural differences and bad feelings be bridged on either side of the Sahara? How can Arabs and Berbers be united with Amhara, Mossi, Fulani, Yoruba, Mossi, Kongo, Zulu, Akan, Oromo, Hausa, Masai, Dinka and Igbo peoples? The possible depictions of disunity are almost limitless in nature. If anyone is looking for evidence to support the opinion that the African Union will not work, they seemingly have a plethora of inventory from which to choose.

But why haven't the voices of the doubt been able to slow the building momentum of the OAU’s efforts? Could it be that the force, circumstances and events, which are propelling the OAU's initiative forward, are greater than the obstacles, challenges and trials that accompany the process? And furthermore, is it possible that the economic, cultural and political foundations of the African Union are much more sound than many have thought?

In this weeklong special report we focus on the economic foundations upon which an African Union should and must stand if it is to be lasting. Our approach is to weigh the prospects of the African Union not simply from the preliminary parameters drawn up by the OAU but on a scale which includes Africa's economic history, the worldviews which underpin the prevailing economic regimes of this world as well as a vision which recommends how Africa can unite upon an economic foundation that is strong, consistent and eminently workable.

So, how did we get here one may ask, approaching the doorstep of an African Union? In an attempt to answer this basic but important question we take a look at a recent article by Ahmed Rufai, International Editor of the Final Call Newspaper, which has provided extensive and invaluable coverage of the steps taken toward the African Union.

(Editor's note: In July, the Organization of African Unity is scheduled to meet in Lusaka, Zambia, and continue its move toward an African Union, similar to the European Union. The African Union, which replaces the OAU, has a 12-month transition period that began May 26. The details of how the continental body will function are still being worked out. The following article gives the historical background on the seeds of this potentially powerful grouping.)

(FinalCall.com)—"Never before have a people had within their grasp so great an opportunity for developing a continent endowed with so much wealth. Individually, the independent states of Africa, some of them potentially rich, others poor, can do little for their people. Together, by mutual help, they can achieve much. But the economic development of the continent must be planned and perused as a whole. A loose confederation designed only for economic co-operation would not provide the necessary unity of purpose. Only a strong political union can bring about full and effective development of our material resources for the benefit of our people."

The above quote from the 1961 book "I Speak of Freedom" by Ghana’s first President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah sums up the dilemma that Africans faced in early post- independence years.

For 38 years, African nations have struggled with the idea of creating a continental body to ease the negative effects of European interference in Africa’s destiny.

This interference was seen in 1884 when European nations met in Berlin and sliced up Africa among themselves. They did not take Africans’ ethnic diversity into consideration. The fact that most African societies had their own governments was not considered either.

Thus the Yoruba people, previously united under the Oyo Empire found themselves now divided into the colonies of Dahomey, Nigeria and the Protectorate of Lagos. The Asante of the Asante Empire found themselves in Ivory Coast (now Cote d’Ivoire) and Ghana. The Mossi were divided into Ghana and Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta) while the Kanuri of Kanem-Bornu Empire became colonial subjects in Nigeria, Cameroun and Chad. In southern Africa, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe became countries that developed out of not only the actions of Shaka, the Zulu warrior, but also intrigues of British settlers led by Cecil Rhodes.

Africans challenged this European interference. But in the face of superior military strength and technology, Africans' military response proved futile.

The very success of the European colonization also set in motion nationalist and Pan-Africanist forces, which later led to African independence. Pan-Africanism was pushed in 1900 by Blacks in the Diaspora led by the Trinidadian, Henry Sylvester Williams. It was not until 1945 when Africans on the continent became leaders of the movement through anti-colonial struggle. This culminated in the 1945 Manchester Conference, which affirmed the right of all colonial peoples to control their destiny and demanded decolonization.

Between 1945 and 1960, territorial nationalism and Pan-Africanism were perceived by many in Africa as inextricably linked together. When Kwame Nkrumah stated that the independence of Ghana was meaningless until it was linked with the total liberation of Africa, he was expressing the hope of many African leaders who almost instinctively joined the Pan-Africanist bandwagon.

As African colonies became independent and sovereign states in the early 1960s, strategies for continental unity were explored and debated by nationalist statesmen.

After independence, which began with Ghana on March 6, 1957, many of the newly independent states jealously guarded their newly acquired sovereignty. The main struggle was, therefore, getting the new continental leaders to sacrifice their national interest for continental survival. That dream was realized on April 26, 2001, when Nigeria became the 36th nation to sign the instrument for the establishment of the African Union and formally brought to end the Organization of African Unity.

The immediate post-independence debate focused on Kwame Nkrumah and his critics. It was intense, emotionally charged and ideologically based. But it was a healthy one between confederalist ideologues and federalists.

The confederalists argued their approach would have little assault on national sovereignty. Federalists, on the other hand, called for a much more radical approach, shifting political loyalty from its narrow territorial base to a continental base. This debate resulted in the division of Africa into militant and moderate camps. The former was outwardly socialist and known as the Casablanca group of states. The moderates were predominantly conservative and called the Monrovia group.

President Nkrumah articulated the view of the impatient African radical, who had suffered greatly from the regime of colonialism. He saw himself as a colonial prison "graduate."

Colonialism, as well as neocolonialism, were to him the true face of white racial arrogance, indeed its quintessence.

In his view, the only solution was immediate political integration of Africa’s mini-states into a federal political union. Mr. Nkrumah provided the argument of those who believed "Africa Must Unite Now!"

This approach alone, the Nkrumanists perceived, could provide the best solutions to the problems facing the continent as a whole.

The moderate view was led by Nigeria’s Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. Mr. Balewa represented a more pragmatic approach to African unity. The Balewa school, to which a great majority of leaders of independent African states belonged, believed a gradual race to unity was the best insurance against premature derailment.

They argued that a solid attitudinal change among African leaders was a precondition for achieving a constitutional agreement that reflected an African loyalty shift away from nation-states to a continental community.

As President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia explained in 1964, "To know one another better, we must first learn to respect one another and understand the problems of each in the interest of all. Our minds must get accustomed to the idea of unity with its material and moral implications. A thorough psychological preparation is needed and without it nothing worthwhile can be accomplished."
Realization of the dream of an African Union crystallized in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, in 1991 when OAU leaders signed the protocol for establishing the African Economic Community. Then came the Sirte Declaration of September 9, 1999 in Libya, which laid the groundwork for the African Union. The ratification on April 26, 2001 by Nigeria made the African Union a legal framework for more than two-thirds of the Motherland’s nations.

At Final Call presstime, 43 countries—seven more than the two-third member nation requirement—had ratified African Union documents, an indication of the current attitudinal change on the continent.

In the words of OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim, between 1963 and 2001 "have been thirty-eight years of holding on together as a people, deriving strength in our common identity, and pursuing the vision of a shared destiny."

Mr. Salim said the African Union was inspired by "the recognition of the imperative necessity for Africans to pool together our strengths, solidify our unity and solidarity and dedicate ourselves to our common destiny. Only by doing so shall we be able to live in dignity and prosperity as a people."
The African Union, he declared, marks the rebirth of Africa into a new entity, much stronger, more capable and closely connected to the people. Unity, Mr. Salim said, is not an "option."

"After all, the challenges that face us, including the HIV-AIDS pandemic, natural and human made disasters, abject poverty, an excruciating debt burden, the recalcitrant conflicts and tensions invariably exert a collective rather than an individual impact. We need to be together," he said.


Today, at the center of the African Union effort is Muammar Gadhafi, leader of Libya. Loved by many on the continent of Africa while hated in the West, Gadhafi has been the single most consistent and tireless advocate of the African Union in the last 10 years. Picking up the mantle of his hero, Gamel Abdel Nasser, it was a 27-year old Gadhafi, as an Army Captain who came to power in Libya in 1969. Today, over 30 years later but still similarly inspired by Nasser’s vision of a United Africa, Gadhafi has forged ahead with his efforts to unite all of Africa. He has been particularly cognizant of the tensions that exist between Africans in sub-Saharan Africa and those of Arab descent in the Northern part of Africa.

One of the most striking aspects surrounding Gadhafi has been the international polarization that his presence and involvement in almost any issue generates. He is loved and openly called a Brother and friend by former South African leader Nelson Mandela and he is well received by European leaders. At the same time the United States and England insist that international sanctions remain on the nation of Libya.

His involvement in pushing forward the African Union, which he affectionately refers to as the “United States of Africa”, has been equally remarkable for the dichotomy that it has engendered. On one hand, Gadhafi has been able to generate an impressive consensus among African leaders on the issue, taking only months to rapidly obtain the ratification of the OAU proposal in 43 of African nations. On the other hand, his efforts in pushing forward the African Union have been demonized in the West, most notably in the establishment media like the Washington Times, who in a recent editorial depicted Gadhafi’s drive toward an African Union as a deceptive effort to Islamicize Africa and as a public relations stunt to improve the image of Libya worldwide.

However, the latter picture does not seem to fit reality in light of the Libyan leader’s immense popularity on the African continent. It is hard to imagine that the Libyan leader has deceived the OAU and the governments of 43 countries who have ratified the proposal. In addition, considering that Libya has been in the vanguard position in pushing forward the idea in the last three years, one can only wonder how difficult it would have been for the Libyan leader to have successfully led the effort to unite Africa over that period of time without having to answer many of the most difficult questions and deepest reservations and criticisms hurled at him, in Africa.

We think that the picture of a popular but not perfect leader successfully driving the initiative forward and building a consensus on the continent is a more accurate picture than that provided by the Washington Times, of a man who is tricking an entire continent into serving a self-centered agenda that would leave Africa oppressed and under the Islamic regime of one man.

In order to see Gadhafi’s efforts and Libya’s role in fostering the African Union in a better context we look at this article from the Final Call newspaper, written in 1999 by its editor James Muhammad who has been present in Africa at a majority of the most significant OAU meetings pushing the African Union forward:

SIRTE, Libya—In the face of mounting competition from global economic blocs and the threat of neo-colonialism, African leaders meeting here for the 4th Extraordinary Summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) determined that Africa would become the world’s largest economic and political bloc, and perhaps the leader of the next millennium.

A record 43 heads of state answered the call of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi for the urgent Sept. 8-9 sessions to discuss the pace at which Africa is moving in the face of such global challenges. Col. Gadhafi, following the example set by the great revolutionary and Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, and others, specifically called for the establishment of a United States of Africa, with its own central bank, military and parliament.

The extraordinary meeting culminated a 10-day celebration of the September 1st Revolution (The Great Al-Fatah Revolution). The colors of each African nation’s flag decorated cities throughout Libya, African dance troupes performed nightly on the central square in Tripoli and revolutionary slogans and photographs of African presidents draped walls and billboards.

A massive parade Sept. 7 in Tripoli witnessed by nearly two dozen heads of state, Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat, Algerian revolutionary Ahmed Ben Bella, a Nation of Islam delegation led by Chief of Staff Leonard F. Muhammad, and others marked the official observation of the Revolution. The parade was delayed until Sept. 7 for the presidents’ arrival.
Announced near midnight on their target date of 9-9-99, OAU Secretary General Salim Ahmed Salim told more than 100 journalists that the leaders had agreed to quicken the pace of unity.

"As we prepare to enter the 21st century and cognizant of the challenges ... we emphasize the imperative need and high sense of urgency to rekindle the aspirations of our peoples for stronger unity, solidarity and cohesion in a larger community of peoples transcending cultural, ideological, ethnic and national differences.

"It is our conviction that our Continental Organization needs to be revitalized in order to be able to play a more active role and continue to be relevant to the needs of our peoples and responsive to the demands of the prevailing circumstances," he said.
The OAU determined it would:

Quicken the pace of implementing the 1991 Abuja Treaty which established an African Economic Community

Speed up the process of establishing all of the institutions provided in the Treaty—an African Central Bank, an African Monetary Union, an African Court of Justice and a Pan-African Parliament

Strengthen and consolidate existing regional economic communities

Mandate its Council of Ministers to ensure implementation of those decisions, particularly to prepare the legal text necessary in light of the existing Charter and the Abuja Treaty

Mandate OAU Chairman and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and South African President Thabo Mbeki to engage African creditors with the goal of securing the total cancellation of Africa’s debt.

Mr. Salim said the OAU would establish the Pan-African Parliament by the year 2000 in order to provide a common platform for African peoples and grass roots organizations to be more involved in discussions and decision making on problems and challenges facing Africa.

A return to Sirte

The Council of Ministers should submit its report on implementation at the next meeting of the OAU scheduled for Lome, Togo, next year, he said, adding that December 2000 is the target date for ratification of the agreements. Then the OAU would return to Sirte in the year 2001 to adopt the document, he said.

"This is a very, very serious milestone. Africa for a long time has been underestimated because we have not been united," Liberian President Charles Taylor told The Final Call shortly after the meeting as the heads of state hurried to their cars after long hours of debate and discussions. "The time for unity is now, the unity will be organized. We are moving toward a parliamentary situation, and then the problems of Africa ... can come into focus because we have decided that we are going to unite as a union."

Ghana’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mohamed Ibn Chambass called the deliberations "very profound and very radical. We needed to be taking these steps (toward consolidating Africa) decades ago. We are happy that Africa has now realized we need to take our destiny into our own hands and catch up with the rest of the world."

Throughout the summit meetings, Col. Gadhafi worked with a determination to reemphasize the need for unity. He dressed in his traditional Arab garments for the official meetings and dinners, but journalists and delegates alike were well aware of his focus on aligning himself closer to his African neighbors, particularly following their decision at an OAU summit in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to defy the UN ban against flights into Libya. That move in 1998, observers feel, was a major dent in the wall of U.S.-led sanctions on Libya, whom the U.S. holds responsible for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Col. Gadhafi had accused Arab leaders of the Middle East of not standing with him in the face of sanctions.

"We’ve been waiting for this day with a particular eagerness," Col. Gadhafi said to foreign ministers Sept. 7, at a preliminary meeting in Tripoli prior to the official opening the summit. He said any union Africa determines must be comprehensive—economics, politics and culture.

Mr. Gadhafi invoked the name of Mr. Nkrumah as the catalyst for the meeting. He also said that everything needed for a new charter already exists in the Abuja Treaty.

The institutions were there, he said, but they were bodies without souls. "We want something considerable ... a new soul to bring life to these institutions and bodies," he said.

The way forward

While Africa is still a continent in crisis, all agreed that the mandate of the original OAU Charter—fighting colonialism—has been achieved. The focus now is to bring internal stability to member states—some of whom are involved in civil wars and rebel attacks against their governments—so that the countries can gain control of their mineral and human resources to strengthen their economies. The way forward must be deliberate, yet careful, most observed.

In debating his point at the inception of the OAU Charter, Mr. Nkrumah argued that an African "continental union government" would have a two-house legislature: an upper house of two members from each state and a lower house based on the population of each state, with power to formulate a common foreign policy, common continental planning for economic and industrial development, a common currency, monetary zone and a central bank of issue and a common defense system with one military High Command, according to "Inside the OAU: Pan-Africanism in Practice" (1986) by C.O.C. Amate.

"Since the conception of the OAU in ’63 we have been advocating unity and solidarity," said OAU spokesman Ibrahim Daggash. "We used it in the liberation struggle and we succeeded. Why don’t we use it in our economic struggle as well?
"We have to refuse marginalization. In the new millennium there’s no place for small entities. It should be viable political and economic groupings," he said.

"If we succeed in an intergrational process (in other areas), we’d succeed also in a common monetary unit. But we still have a long way to go," said Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan, referring to what has happened with the European Union.

Among the special guests at the summit were Gamel Nkrumah, son of the late Kwame Nkrumah, and Roland Lumumba, son of the late Congo freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba. At the close of the Summit, after giving Revolution Awards to the heads of state present, Col. Gadhafi, in a symbolic uniting of the past, present and future, awarded both sons the Revolution Award. With a horde of photographers chasing them, Col. Gadhafi walked out of the hall hand-in-hand with Nkrumah and Lumumba.

"My father would have been proud of Gadhafi today," the young Nkrumah told The Final Call in an interview. "I wish he could be around to see that somebody else has taken up his dream very seriously. It would have been a great day for him."


A grasp of the popular opinion of Muammar Gadhafi in Africa, among the people and their leaders, juxtaposed to what is thought of him in the West is an important aspect of understanding the dynamics that are impacting and moving the African Union forward, at its current rate of speed. In a sense the African Union is not about Muammar Gadhafi and in many ways it is. No matter what the West may think of Gadhafi, it is apparent that the vast majority of Africans aware of the OAU’s efforts see no need to bifurcate or separate the message of the African Union from its principal messenger, at this moment, Muammar Gadhafi.

But in a significant way, the emergence of Gadhafi’s leadership role in advancing the initiative demonstrates a much larger phenomenon or aspect of a law of nature of a political sort.

Canadian economist Reuven Brenner, in his book, Betting On Ideas, approaches identifying this law, or at least the contemporary manifestation of it, when he writes:

Suppose that there has been a change in the distribution of wealth among some countries. For example, the U.N. might have voted for changing the borders between two countries, or one country has occupied another one, or one country has suddenly become stronger than its neighbors (because somebody there invented a more sophisticated weapon). What will people do in a country whose relative position in the distribution of wealth has suddenly diminished?

According to the arguments presented in the previous section, it is likely that an individual - call him a political leader - will come up with some ideas that constitute a challenge to the allocation of wealth and advocate a redistribution. These are ideas that the rest of the population now has a greater incentive to gamble on: they represent the fixed point of reference in the midst of the sudden chaos. The idea may take many forms: advocating peaceful negotiations for compensations, justifying terrorist acts against the now richer country, or advocating a strategy of war...

These arguments and the views presented in the previous section also show how a “nation” can exhibit a predictable behavior: when its expectations are frustrated, “the right man at the right time” may come up with a political slogan that the rest of the population may gamble on – it is in this sense that one can speak about a “nation’s” behavior. Paraphrasing Orwell’s (1945) more poetic language on the behavior of nationalists, one could say that the political leader secures more power and more prestige not for himself, but for the nation in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality (remember that Orwell defines a nationalist leader as one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige{p.157}).


Certainly, much of what Brenner writes above has been manifested in Gadhafi’s call to establish “The United States Of Africa” and the subsequent reactions.

However Muammar Gadhafi is not the originator of the idea nor is he responsible for the manner in which it has resonated on the continent and particularly among African policymakers. He is the latest political leader to carry the call for “one Africa”, in that respect he is the heir to both Kwame Nkrumah and Gamal Abdel Nasser. And in many respects he is the embodiment of what generations of pan-Africans have called for. But ultimately, Colonel Gadhafi’s call for an African Union is largely the result of the work and desire for those who have come before him who were neither political leaders, nor intellectuals. The Nation of Islam Leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad described this law of nature when he wrote in an article that would become part of Message To The Black Man, “wherever there is a longing or demand for a change, nature will produce that man, who will bring it about.”

Note: All of the above is an excerpt from a 200-plus page special report, "Establishing The United States Of Africa - The Economic Foundations" published last year by BlackElectorate.com


Monday, July 8, 2002

To discuss this article further enter The Deeper Look Dialogue Room

The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of BlackElectorate.com or Black Electorate Communications.

Copyright © 2000-2002 BEC