African Leaders Should Stop Brouhaha and Move on to AU

By Finnigan wa Simbeye

The Perspective
Paris, France

Posted May 27, 2002

WHEN Ghana's first President and perhaps Africa's greatest statesman Kwame Nkrumah proposed prior to 1963 for the world's second largest continent to have a union with single currency, bank, judiciary and parliament, many, including Tanzania's founder President Julius Kambarage Nyerere were opposed to the idea and instead favoured forming regional sub-groupings as a way towards gradual integration.

Mwalimu Nyerere and the majority of African leaders opposed to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's idea of a greater African sort of government, managed to carry the day in Addis Ababa where a symbolic political institution, Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established in May 25, 1963.

Founding members of the OAU went on to forming sub-regional groups such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and the much broader Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), just to mention a few outstanding ones.

On May 25, many African countries will be commemorating African Day to mark the 39th birthday of OAU which has, to some extend, managed to carry out, amidst a myriad of obstacles, key objectives which include liberation of all of the continent's 53 member states except Western Sahara which remains a subject of heated, sometimes emotional debate.

Realising that the OAU Charter, which laid emphasis on political other than economic liberation of the continent is no longer conversant with today's realities, African leaders meeting in Zambian capital of Lusaka last year, overwhelmingly decided to endorse a declaration on transformation of the organisation into an African Union (AU).

African heads led by former Zambian President Fredrick Chiluba and retired Secretary General Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, unanimously endorsed a programme to transform the OAU into the AU in a year's time.

The bold move was undertaken, as usual amidst opposition and brouhaha by some elements who felt the idea as being far fetched pointing out financial constraints as major barrier till when Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Ghadafi donated his country's petro-dollars to facilitate the initial move. Libya has already offered the AU parliament building in Tripoli.

South African President Thabo Mbeki and his government who are going to host the AU inaugural ceremony next July, argues that Africa needs to unite and embrace New Partnership for African Development NEPAD as a single development plan if its bargaining power in an increasingly hostile world economy is to be given fair share of the cake.

NEPAD, which is Mbeki's brainchild, is an ambitious blue print vision of the continent's development direction. It has already been criticised by some elements in Africa who feel that NEPAD's core approach to the issue of the continent's development is largely based on the South African experience which may not fit squarely in far away places like Mali, up in the north-west of Sahara desert, with a relatively different experience.

But even after visionary ideas from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were incorporated into NEPAD, skeptics did run out of potential areas of weakness.

" NEPAD has been hijacked by South Africa which feels that it is largely Thabo Mbeki's project," a senior official at OAU was quoted as saying recently.

Heavy weights in Addis Ababa including OAU Secretary General Amara Essy are said to be opposed to President Mbeki and South African government's domination in the continent's affairs where even NEPAD headquarters and key officials are from South Africa instead of Addis Ababa, the continent's traditional seat.

NEPAD is headed by a secretariat headquartered in Johannesburg and led by President Mbeki's senior economic advisor Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu. Of the continent's 53 states, only 15 are said to have so far endorsed NEPAD as part of their development plan while the majority are still skeptical about what the whole thing is all about.

Most African leaders have no home grown visionary development blue prints like NEPAD and instead they have relied upon rubber stamping Western tailored development programmes often from World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) with a motivation of financial backing. Most of such programmes, which include, structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), were highly embraced by African leaders and only came to regret when they failed badly.

Today many African leaders don't have any scientific visionary development plans for their countries and rely upon Western tailored programmes to implement development projects in their countries. At least one of them Nigeria's President Obasanjo has publicly denounced IMF programmes as having failed in his country's efforts to create employment and chose to break free.

Many others including those who are questioning NEPAD are today facing serious economic problems after embarking on wholesale Western tailored development plans, which lack a lot in common to the continent's local realities on the ground.

Former World Bank chief economist and vice president Professor Joseph Stiglitz said most of the IMF projects in developing countries fail because of lack of experience in local economies to which such panaceas are prescribed.

"That partly developed because the bank (World Bank) maintained staffs in developing countries and listened to varied voices as opposed to the person who stays in a five star hotel for a few weeks, looking at some data," Prof Stiglitz said while criticising the IMF failed policies in developing countries.

But the latest row circulating in African capitals today as the OAU clocks 39, is whether the AU should be launched as planned next July in Durban. An Eminent Persons Advisory Panel (EPAP) appointed by Secretary-General Essy to advise him on critical issues on the continent, made a negative statement early this month on the AU's launching plans by advising against such a move arguing that more preparations need to be done.

South African Foreign Minister Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma rebuffed the EPAP negative statement and accused its members, who include former Nigerian military ruler Yakubu Gowon, Kenyan history expert Prof. Ali Mazrui, former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel (now Nelson Mandela's wife) and Mamphele Ramphela, a South African World Bank managing director, of usurping the OAU heads' role.

"The decision to launch the AU in July was taken by the heads of state and it can only be changed by the heads of state," Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement.

Many of the AU launching opponents are singling out shortfalls in technical and financial backing as posing a threat to or undermining the transformation process but supporters argue that if Africa is to wait for everything to be in place as pre-requisite for transformation then the AU may not come to fruition.

Supporters of the Union argue that in a fast growing global economy with much of the continent's economies lagging behind, the AU's parliament, justice system, bank and secretariat will usher in a new sense of collective bargaining in international circles with a feeling of participation by the majority of its over 700 million inhabitants.

"The peoples of our continent want to see an end to poverty and underemployment, which condemn the majority of Africans to a life of misery. They want an end to the situation according to which as the rest of the world experienced growing economies, our continent regressed into even greater poverty. They want the global marginalisation of Africa to come to an end," President Mbeki said in his letter to the ruling African National Congress (ANC) website this week.

In 1963, African leaders rejected Dr. Nkrumah's idea of an African Union as utopian and chose to go for sub-regional groups most of which are no where to be seen today as civil and border wars are on rampage in every corner of the huge continent mostly due to foreign interference and poor leadership qualities among the political elite.

The AU will have a collective regulatory mechanism backed up by common strategies, resources, legal infrastructure and possibly an African high military command, in the future, to enforce agreed on common home grown values which should be in line with international law and regulation but not necessarily Western standards many of which have failed to work in the continent.

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