Africa’s dream of becoming a singularly governed entity is receiving renewed consideration at a two-day African Union (AU) ministerial meeting that opens today in Arusha, Tanzania. On the eve of the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU on May 25), ministers from 12 member states, chosen to bring regional representation to the discussion, are reviewing conventions on how to guide an AU transformation toward the pan-African principles that were debated at last July’s plenary summit in Accra, Ghana. AU Chairman, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, is hosting last year’s chairman, Ghana, and officials from Uganda, Egypt, and Libya, Senegal, Nigeria, Gabon, and Cameroon, and Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia. Assah Mwambene is the Information Officer for Tanzania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. From Arusha, he says the Africans want to put certain measures in place before a unitary understanding is reached to ensure that moves toward full unification will succeed.
“During the summit in Ghana, there was one concern from some countries in Africa that there’s no doubt about Africa coming up with one government. But we should first address integration before considering to have a common government. And we should have internal connectivity, like transport, the network within Africa. Somebody traveling from Tanzania to Ghana should not necessarily need to pass through France or London or Spain in order to go to Ghana. He should go straight from Tanzania to Ghana, or from Tanzania to Namibia. But as it is now, the connectivity within, in terms of network infrastructure, these are issues that they felt should be addressed first before coming up with a union government,” said Mwambene.
The Tanzanian official singled out efforts by regional groupings like the East African Community in helping the AU deal with a military uprising in Comoros and the post-election turmoil in Kenya. Despite the high toll in violence and human upheaval, particularly in Kenya, Mwambene sees the resolution of these crises and a growing acceptance of economic interdependence as evidence that the overreaching goal of improving conditions for the entire continent can override local internal and cross-border disputes.
“The East Africa Community, for instance, is one of the thriving organizations in the region. They have adopted common external tariffs. And these are issues that people in East Africa can trade freely – movement of goods, cross-border trades – issues that are being facilitated in a manner that you would see the need for unification,” he said.
Mwambene said the ministers are hopeful that moves toward integration will strengthen Africa’s international prestige in a world influenced more by globalization and trade than by the traditional constraints of protecting and defending borders.
“There are many challenges. Now Africans are discussing with blocs like the EU (European Union) issues of economic integration on equal terms. In the past, this wasn’t really the case. When Africa was really arguing that issues of import substitution should be clearly addressed, these are issues that bring Africa in an equal sort of partnership in discussions to resolve economical hardships because Africa has everything. But the only thing they are not getting access to is all the markets for their products,” he noted.
The proposal to create a so-called United States of Africa was first promoted by Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960’s and embraced most recently by Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi at last year’s AU summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra. Tanzanian information officer Assah Mwambene says that an increasing number of contacts between continent-wide trading blocs is a sure sign that the idea of unification is gaining a foothold on today’s economic agenda.
“They’ve been having Africa – China summits, Africa – Korea summits, Africa – India summits. We soon probably will have an Africa – Turkey summit. These are things other continents are really seeing Africa, not as it used to be seen in the past,” he said.