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African Union failed the crucial test

By Caesar Zvayi
The Herald
July 12, 2007

No one denies that it is only through a Union government and unity of purpose that Africa can claim its rightful stake in the world.

Barring unity, Africa would continue suffering the depredations of Western nations bent on exploiting its vast resources for self-enrichment.

But so vast are the challenges Africa has to overcome that a really radical approach is needed if the dream of a United States of Africa is to be realised, which means there is no room for placating the West in this revolutionary undertaking.

Radicalism, however, does not mean haste, which is where Libyan President, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, appears to have got it wrong. Col Gaddafi wanted a Union government elected at the African Union Summit in Accra, and did not make it a secret whom he believed should lead it.

A few examples of the hurdles to be overcome will suffice here; all of which are linked to the colonial legacy of divide-and-rule politics.

The biggest obstacle of all is, of course, crunching poverty. That and differential development are major stumbling blocks to the proposed Union government, which would demand, among other things, a vibrant unified economy with economic parity. This does not exist on a continent that largely plays host to economies dominated by multinational corporations and foreign investors.

Even where the impressive economic indicators exist, they do so on paper only as the profits are repatriated to the metropole. In fact, most African countries, with the notable exception of South Africa, rely on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund for alms, two organisations that are used by the United States and the European Union to entrench their interests in the developing world.

This dependence is also manifest in the AU institutions, some of which are African in name only; this is why it is vital that all institutions are truly African before they can be trusted with propping up the envisaged Union government.

It is also unforgivable that in this day and age, if one wants to go to the so-called Francophone West Africa, from, let's say, largely Anglophone Southern Africa, one is forced to pass through that region's former metropolis, France, unless the flight is charter. Likewise, if one wants to travel from Francophone West Africa to Anglophone East Africa, one has to go via London.

In short, there are no direct flights between most African countries, yet there are direct flights from nearly every African country to the capitals of the countries' former colonisers.

What this means is that the transport links existing in much of Africa today were not developed to promote intra-continental communication, but to make it easy for settlers to siphon the continent's resources to their home countries since most of them lead either to the coast or directly to Europe.

In fact, to this day, some poor countries route their international calls through former colonial capitals.

Similarly, if one wants to know about, say Malawi, one has to rely on Associated Press, CNN, BBC, AFP, and many other Western news agencies that never really mediate accurately, but always package their news in the service of Western interests.

While Africa saw the dangers of this and sought to address the problem through the Pan-African News Agency, perennial dependency saw Westerners compromise the agency with their ruinous conditional funds. To this day, PANA has failed to live up to expectations, which is why Africa continues relying on Western news agencies. Any wonder then, that at the just-ended AU Summit in Accra, Ghana, Western news agencies were given royal treatment where African media was treated like trash?

The organisers saw it fit to give Western media organisations unfettered access into the Accra International Conference Centre, while African journalists were barred, save for those from the host country, of course.

In fact, the officials in charge of media liaison read out the names of the agencies from a list they had, and did not even have time to hear the protests of the African media personnel present. African journalists had no choice but to picket the Conference Centre to present a strongly worded petition to the General Assembly.

What this simply showed was that the organisers were keen to ensure that the West was kept well-informed of deliberations, while Africans, whose lives were bound to be changed by the decisions reached in Accra, were kept largely in the dark.

Africa must really be wary of such signs that simply confirm that Western approval is still highly valued by some, meaning Western tentacles are still very much alive on the continent.

This brings in the question, for whose interests are some leaders pushing for hasty continental unity, even when it is apparent that as currently constituted, some of the AU institutions supposed to prop up the Union government are African in name only, with many others existing only on paper?

This writer will not mention names here, but neither will he draw punches. Some African leaders known to be darlings of the West even threatened to go it alone in a Union government if those counselling a bottom-up approach remained adamant.

Again, no names here, others questioned the similarity between the Africa itinerary of former British prime minister Tony Blair's last tour, and the countries that a certain African leader visited as part of his grand campaign for a Union government.

Again there is no finger pointing at anyone, but eyebrows were also raised as to why a certain African government appears to have bought all copies of New African's May edition that had a splash on Zimbabwe.

The jury is still out on whether the government in question bought the copies because of an unflattering article therein that questioned its cosy relationship with the West, or whether it had to do with an attempt to obliterate the truth about the situation in Zimbabwe?

Whichever reason one wants to believe, in Accra, the AU failed one major test that would have confirmed it was man enough to face the Western bullies on equal footing.

Granted, the Assembly made it unequivocally clear that Zimbabwe has every right to attend the EU-Africa Summit set for Lisbon, Portugal, in December; but that does not remove the fact that the AU failed where it matters most, that is in condemning the illegal Western siege on Zimbabwe.

What is more, it was actually Portugal, an EU state, that came closest to speaking like an African when it said the dispute between Harare and London was merely bilateral and should not be allowed to scupper engagement between Africa and Europe.

The irony was too deafening to ignore, here were 51 African heads of state and government, convening in Accra to deliberate on forming a Union government, yet those mandated to speak on the continent's behalf had nothing to say over the attempted siege on one of their own.

The satire did not end there. The AU Summit was in Ghana as part of that country's golden jubilee celebrations, and also in recognition of the legacy of Ghana's founding president, Dr Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, a man cut from the same cloth as Cde Robert Mugabe.

In fact, as far as Africa is concerned, the script the West is trying to direct in Zimbabwe was first tried in Ghana against Dr Nkrumah. The mediation the Western media is exercising over Zimbabwe was honed on Dr Nkrumah's Ghana.

The similarities between what is obtaining in Zimbabwe and what obtained in Ghana from 1960 are so striking.

Ordinary Ghanaians, civil society organisations and university students saw it fit to speak boldly in solidarity with Zimbabwe to the extent of organising a resounding welcome for President Mugabe at Kotoka International Airport on June 30, and a day later, July 1, a solidarity rally at Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park where the great African statesman lies today.

In fact, due to his tight schedule, President Mugabe ended up failing to feature at another rally, dubbed "International Solidarity Forum on Zimbabwe", that had been organised by the Pan-African United Front at Osu Presby Hall on July 2. Part of the flyers for that rally boldly declared:

"Africa is under severe attack from the forces of our anti-colonial struggles. Zimbabwe is a symbol of our struggle for sovereignty and ownership of our land and all the resources therein. Zimbabwe's fight is Africa's fight! Touch one! Touch All! African Liberation, no compromise!"

The editor of New African magazine, Baffour Ankomah, in his piece, said, among other things:

"... Now please come with me to my own country Ghana. At least we have no hunches there, sorry, the people have no hunches but some officials in government have. And we shouldn't allow them any longer. I know if Nkrumah can read this where he lies at the Old Polo Ground in Accra, he will turn and turn and turn in his grave.

"To the shame of all discerning Ghanaians, our country, the land of Nkrumah, the torchbearer of African liberation, our beloved Ghana, is fast becoming the 'weakest link' in the African liberation/solidarity chain. And it is time members of the current government in Accra sat up in front of huge mirrors and had a good look at themselves. We have had seven years of ambling along, seemingly oblivious of our high place in Africa ..."

In fact, one Ghanaian student could not have put it any better: "We should not delay the Union government in Africa much longer, for we already have the President, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe."

This writer concurs. If Africa had the courage of its convictions, that is the only man with the stature to lead a Union government.