The African Union and the United States of Africa Project. A Dream or Reality.

There has been increased talks in recent years about the need to create a united states of Africa; reinvigorating the dreams of the forefathers of the OAU (Organisation for African Unity) such as Nkrumah, Nyerere and Kenyatta. While controversies persist, leading to divisions amongst African leaders on the form which a united Africa will take, many have simply thrown the idea to the bank of illusions. Such opinions and stand points about the union government as an illusion could stem from ignorance of the origin and relevance of the project as well as the egocentric desire to protect personal ambitions. It is therefore worthy to set the records straight here while pin- pointing some challenges and making proposals that can be relevant as policy options for the success of this continental initiative. The idea to create a Union Government for Africa all stemmed from a proposal by the Libyan guide Mouamar Kaddafi, considered by the Assembly at its 4th ordinary session in Abuja in January, 2005, on the creation of certain ministerial portfolios for the African Union. The Assembly accepted the pertinence of the proposal and decided to set up a Committee of seven Heads of State under President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda to examine the proposal in all its outcomes. The Committee, in its report, submitted to the Assembly at the 5th ordinary session held in Sirte, Libya in July 2005, expressed the view that the spirit of the proposal went far beyond mere creation of ministerial portfolios in certain areas of activities of the Union. It therefore recommended that there was need to work towards the formation of a Union government for the continent. The Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, at its 8th ordinary session in Addis Ababa from 29-30 January, 2007, decided that the next ordinary session of the Assembly to be held in Accra, Ghana in July, 2007, was to be devoted to a “Grand Debate on the Union Government.” Meetings kept piling up right up to the 12th summit in Addis Ababa in January 2009; yet no concrete decision was taken. Rather the process became more confusing as even the background concept of the Union Government was not made clear. With the confusion, reticence and apathy, the question we now ask our selves is to know if the idea of creating a Union Government for Africa is possible, what therefore will be the best form of Union Government, much suitable and feasible for the continent. What will be the best form of a Union Government for the African Continent? Proposed form of a Union Government Against the above backdrop, we propose that the Union government should take the form of a Federation following the American model, where, existing States will maintain their authority while obeying to a supranational collective entity, acting like the centre that will oversee the actions of the national governments which will become federal units. This supranational entity or federal centre (which should be performed by the AU in the meantime) will act like a watchdog, checking the governance mechanisms and institutions of national governments or federal units and ensuring that the real beneficiaries of the Union Government which are the African people (masses) are treated properly. By proper treatment, we mean; respect for human rights, access to basic needs such healthcare, employment and education, eradicating poverty by ensuring self sufficiency and economic development, democracy, good governance and socio-economic inclusion of all ethnic and religious groups in to the society. This form of Federated Union Government in our opinion should take place independently of the RECs (Regional Economic Communities), given that for more that 40 years of talks of an African Unity through the RECs , the continent has not achieved any major integration. Rather, there has been a sort of balkanization or the creation of “mushroom” economic blocs sometimes

within the same regions which has added to the complication and confusion. For example, despite the existence of the East African Community (EAC) in East Africa and SADCCSouthern African Development Cooperation Conference in Southern Africa, there was the creation of another inter-regional economic bloc called Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern African States (PTA) which later became the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Thus, the existence of a multitude of economic groups creates divided attention on the realization of the RECs and thus slows down the African Unity agenda, reason why we think a Union Government should proceed irrespective of RECs. To support our view on the political form of a Union Government, we believe that setting up a Union Government characterized by a total relocation of power and authority of the present national governments unto a centralized supranational body will be unrealistic and might finally destroy the hopes of African Unity. Drawing inspiration from the 9th Summit of the Assembly that took place in Accra, Ghana in June-July 2007, we notice a specific interest by most Heads of State to the impacts such a Government will have on State sovereignty. Indeed, the particular interest which African leaders accord to their sovereignty has been the major roadblock to the progress towards a Union Government. National sovereignty is so closely guarded and the leaders would not admit loosing their “hard earned” sovereign powers to a so called supra entity. They also fear that the establishment of a supranational structure or entity that will oversee their governance will expose their long-shaded undemocratic and dictatorial systems. In fact, it is the strong nexus that exist between the Heads of State and sovereignty that is working against the formation of a Union Government. As long as leaders are not guaranteed the safety of their power interest, whatever advantage of the Union Government for the African people would only assume a second position; their political interest coming first. This may justify their preference in almost all the meetings, for the strengthening of the existing organs of the AU such as NEPAD, Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the Peace and Security Council (PSC); to the radical political power centralization of the continent. That is why we believe in the federalism based on the American style where the leaders maintain some form of authority (power) but are overseen by a supranational entity. Things to Consider in the setting up of this Union Government For the successful establishment of the above proposed form of Union government, certain things must be taken into account.  It would be preferable for the AU to start the Union Government with just a few technical and strategic organs. The proliferation of organs makes the financial load even heavier that this could discourage member states contributions as the financial demands to manage these organs will be too much for them to handle. Organs that deal with key sectors as agriculture and rural development, health and education which directly benefits the grassroots population should be given preference.  Integration being a cumulative rather than a spontaneous process, a Union Government as proposed above should begin with a few States which are hegemons or poles in each region of the continent. Since disagreements arise on the nature and scope of the Union Government; States based on their economic and demographic strength should act as the locomotive for the Union and later on pull the rest of the regional member states.

 There should be an ownership by the African people, principal beneficiaries of the project. Africans from North, West, East and South should feel united. The concept of a Union Government should remain a thing of the Heads of States and government. To achieve this, integration should be strongly worked out at national levels. Democracy and human rights at national level should be respected; the youths should be involved in decision-making processes at the national level, which will be a form of training ground for them to take important decisions at continental level.  Leaders should establish a common linguistic ground for a Union Government, given that Africa has inherited a complex linguistic legacy (Spanish, Portuguese, French and English). This multiplicity and difference have a divisive impact and does not promote the needed continental cohesion. To conclude, we strongly believe that a Union Government for Africa based on Americanstyled federalism can best work in the present continental context while taking into account the above mentioned considerable.

Author: Mbuli Rene MA in International Relations Special Focus in Peace and Conflict Resolution Affiliation: President of the Association of Young Peacekeepers for Peace and Development