African foreign ministers begin a two-day retreat and executive council meeting Tuesday in Durban, South Africa to brainstorm what has been referred to as the “Grand Debate” on the political and economic integration of the continent. This is a prelude to this year’s African Union summit, which will be held in the Ghanaian capital, Accra from June 25 to July third where leaders are expected to further discuss the idea of forming a United States of Africa. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, is credited for popularizing the idea of a United States of Africa.
Sulayman Nyang is director of the African Studies department at Howard University in Washington. He told VOA there are several reasons why African leaders are now gravitating towards Nkrumah’s idea of a United States of Africa.
“One is that the rest of the world is moving fast on the part of regionalism and continentalism. The Africans are learning this. So there is now a deliberate attempt to integrate at the regional as well as at the continental level. The second thing, is that the idea of Pan-Africanism was planted in the last century, but the Africans were not able to move beyond the OAU (Organization of African Unity). Now the OAU has evolved into the AU, the African Union, and there is now a growing reality on the part of the Africans that in order for them to realize the dreams of ECOWAS and others, they have to work together,” he said.
Nyang also said another factor which might be driving the renewed call for Pan-Africanism is the fact that the notion of African dignity and personality that was once hailed has been compromised because the continent is riddled with refugees, diseases, AIDS and many other things.
Some analysts have suggested that some powerful African countries may slow the idea of a united Africa down because they might be wary of losing their regional influence.
“There will be certainly unequaled strength, but what has to happen thought, if they are genuinely interested in integration and in mutual development of the economies, they have to learn from the experiences of other federal arrangements. So in the African context, the African political scientists, economists, and all the other people who are involved in communications and all that, they have to work it out among themselves and see to what extent a new political dispensation for Africa could be inclusive to embrace all African countries. But it will also be structured in such a way that the big ones will have certain benefits by virtue of numbers,” Nyang said.
He hoped that this arrangement might help Africans deal with the issue of regionalism. For example, he said Kenyans and Ugandans will begin to see themselves as east Africans or Africans, and Liberians, Sierra Leoneans, Gambians, and Cameroonians they would be West Africans. That way, Nyang said, they will all learn to live with each other.
Nyang said the perceived closeness of some African countries to their former colonial powers, while it is a reality, is not likely to have much effect on the proposed United States of Africa.
“You’re going to have those kinds of political peculiarities because many of these countries came out of a colonial past. However, in the interest of Africa and in the interest of individual countries, the politicians as well as their diplomats who are going to pay close attention to this issue would have to work out a framework within which compromise and bargaining would take place,” he said.
Nyang said if Africans can organize themselves this time around, they can at least form something like a confederacy as a starting point like the United States and the European Union and then gradually move toward a union of Africa.