Last month marked the institutionalisation of 60 years of African unity with the birth of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa. To avoid border conflicts, the 53-member body froze the colonially inherited map of Africa that contained 16 landlocked countries and mostly agricultural-based exporters of raw materials.
Africa’s colonially deformed microstates lacked the economies of scale to industrialise, with potential regional powers such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria being racked by internal instability, while SA was trapped under a racist albinocracy. Economic development and regional integration thus proved difficult, and intra-African trade remains a paltry 14% now.
The OAU sought for four decades to promote African unity and liberation, the territorial integrity of its members and the peaceful resolution of disputes. External Cold War proxy wars involving the US, Soviet Union and France in Mozambique, Angola, Somalia, Ethiopia and Chad, as well as African political misrule and economic mismanagement, contributed enormously to the continent’s perennial socioeconomic challenges.
Yet, the OAU achieved the liberation of the continent from alien rule by 1994, and African governments vastly extended education and health to their populations, particularly in the first two decades of independence. However, Africa is still on a quest for late Kenyan intellectual Ali Mazrui’s Pax Africana: a peace created and consolidated by Africans themselves.
The 55-member AU was born in Durban in 2002 as the successor to the OAU. It sought to move from its predecessor’s rigid insistence on “non-intervention” to an approach of “non-indifference” to stem military coups, egregious human rights abuses and regional instability. Yet, conflicts still proliferate across the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes, a situation worsened by the devastating effects of climate change, an external debt of $650bn and a growing food crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The continent now accounts for a paltry 3% of global economic output.
Regional integration thus remains essential as a conflict resolution strategy to enable Africa’s development. Its main vehicle has been the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), launched by the AU in 2018. AfCFTA promotes the facilitation of trade; building infrastructure; establishing a common market for goods, services and investment; and ensuring the free movement of people.
However, it must heed the call by Adebayo Adedeji, the Nigerian who helped set up regional bodies in West, Eastern, Southern, and Central Africa as executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, to build strong subregional pillars before seeking to attain an African common market.
Outside West and Eastern Africa, the free movement of people remains a pipe dream as most security-obsessed African governments remain hostile to intra-African migration. African economies remain competitive exporters of raw materials rather than complementary exchangers of diverse goods. Road, rail and port infrastructure remains poor. Rules of origin are often restrictive, while non-tariff barriers are ubiquitous.
Though the 15-member AU Peace & Security Council has contributed creditably to peacemaking efforts in Africa — with its Peace Fund having raised $380m — its New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) has lacked the resources and capacity to develop the continent; the pan-African parliament remains a talking shop; while the idea of the diaspora as a sixth African subregion is an empty shell.
However, African regional bodies have launched praiseworthy peacekeeping interventions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Somalia, Mozambique and the DRC, even as Washington, Moscow and Paris continue to conduct meddling military interventions across the continent.
African armies still lack adequate funding and logistics, and must be funded through assessed UN contributions. The AU’s 25,000-strong African Standby Force should also be urgently operationalised and democratic governance strengthened if the noble aspirations of Pax Africana are to be fulfilled.
Professor Adekeye Adebajo is professor and senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.
This article first appeared in Business Day on 05 June 2023