The African continent comprises of 54 countries that are all, in various ways, trying to see the emancipation and economic development for the sake of the citizenry. While I may not have all the solutions to the ever-growing and complex problems of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, one thing I am deeply aware will make a difference is when Africa eventually comes together and becomes a union. This is a thought shared by many others before me, and many others on the frontlines of current efforts towards this goal.
Let me ask you a question: what makes the economies of the United States or Europe as good as they are? I am sure there are many answers which could be both different and true at the same time. However, the underlying reason why, say, the United States is a powerhouse economy in the world has to simply be that it is basically 50+ states all contributing to a federal economy on the basis of their unique resources.
According to HowMuch.net, the three regions that contribute the most to the US economy are the Far West (18.6%), Southeast (21.3%), and Mideast (18.2%). California (13.3%), Texas (9.5%), and New York (8.1%) have the largest economies in the country. They have a very cool chart that shows how much each state contributes to the $20.5T economy here.
I do not want to over-simplify this at all but what is very clear here for a non-economics commentator like myself is that because of the free movement of people, goods, and services, economies in these various states have thrived and thereby contributed to the larger economy of the United States. States that are smaller in their contributions are not insignificant - they do contribute as per their resources and output, and they also benefit from the larger federal economy's gross domestic product.
Now, think about a scenario where a single state in the United States would try to go toe-to-toe with say, China or Russian in a business deal? They will be much weaker than when a whole federal economy comes together with all its force and resources.
Mozambique on its own can seem like a very small boy when negotiating a deal with the European Union but imagine a world where Mozambique was just but a part of a union and its force emanated from this very union. The truth is, not all countries in the world are equal. And for us to go forward as African people there will be a need for us to come together.
When leaders of African states met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May of 1963, one man named Kwame Nkrumah (who was the president of Ghana) hoped more would come out of the meeting than others. When he stood up to speak, Nkrumah implored with his fellow African brothers and sisters for the unification of Africa "now". In his impassioned speech, he said:
Our objective is African union now. There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish. I am confident that by our concerted effort and determination, we shall lay here the foundations for a continental Union of African States...We have already reached the stage where we must unite or sink into that condition which has made Latin America the unwilling and distressed prey of imperialism after one-and-a-half centuries of political independence.
Of course, at that time, Nkrumah was among the few who saw the urgency of uniting Africa. In fact, going into that meeting in 1963, there were two informal factions that were divided on the direction which the continent ought to take.
The Casablanca Group, which comprised of Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Libya, Mali, and Morocco wanted a federation of African states. Pierre Englebert and Kevin C. Dunn in Inside African Politics, note that what united them was this specific belief in the need for African political unification or federation. They believed that only significant, deep integration, as has since occurred in Europe through the European Union, would enable Africa to defeat colonialism, achieve peace, foster cultural dialogue, increase the continent's geopolitical influence and promote economic development.
They believed in morphing the many sovereign powers from each country's government to a "supranational, pan-African authority". Nkrumah even argued for the establishment of a pan-African army that could be deployed to fight colonialism or white minority rule across the continent.
On the other hand, there was the Monrovia Group. This group wanted African unity without the need for a federation or morphing the sovereign powers of governments into one supra-power. They believed each state needed to be strong on its own - its army, institutions and economies - and that ought to be the priority. Of course, their stance was less radical and it prevailed, and eventually, the Organisation for African Unity was formed.
Ever since this momentous conference, the conversation has not stopped. Is Africa better off with what we have right now in the form of a toothless African Union (formerly known as the OAU) or move forward towards a federal government, or what others have termed the "United States of Africa."
My feelings on this subject have always been pretty strong. As some of our founding fathers asserted, it is only a united Africa that can actually stand toe-to-toe with the economic, political and military bullies of this world. There is no way our little economies can ever withstand the pressure from both the East and the West. A continent such as ours which is so wealthy continues to rely on aid and help from outside. We are relegated to the kiddies pool because we have been scared of making grown man decisions and standing on our own.
Now, of course, it is complicated. But I think it still ought to be done. I find it curious that Nkrumah came to the United States and spent ten years studying, and his stance on a united Africa only seemed stronger. I have felt the same in the little amount of time I have been here. The individual states of America are of course great on their own, but an outsider can see how they derive their super muscle from the federal government. But this country has gone through many wars and many revolutions which have led them to this point. And there is a price to pay for Africa to ever attain the political and economic place she should rightly occupy in the world.
In my next posts, I will talk about some of the potential challenges there will be in attempting to even have a federation in Africa because these are real and heavy matters. I will also go on to look at what are some possible ways to do so, and also acknowledge the small steps that are being taken by various regions to unite the continent. I would have loved to make this one post, but it's just so much to say, so hopefully, you can bear with me as I unpack some of my thoughts on this matter.