Africa, as both an idea and a symbol, has long had an ambivalent and frequently contradictory place in modern knowledge hierarchies. To understand the core argument, one must consider Africa as a country, its people, and, of course, time and space. There is a diversity of thought beyond the societal normative ideas of culture, religion, language, and skin color. When we see the great idea of “Africanism” coupled with “commodification,” we see the conflict.
In comparison, the majority of Pan-Africanists and conscious people want to see Africa as a cohesive economic and political entity that can be loved and idolized, which is a healthy perspective. Others say that Africa should maintain the status quo and be divided into fifty-five or further partitioned nations under the flag of a “sovereign state,” which is another viewpoint.
I have been criticized on countless occasions for romanticizing and idolizing Africa as a nation and having such a beautiful perspective of Africa and its people. I am aware that Africa is made up of fifty-five unique nations with diverse ethnic, racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds and over a thousand languages.
One may argue that the identification of Africa and its people is where the concept of Africa is most internally coherent. Despite the numerous and varied African civilizations, this is the best source for a comprehensive and unbiased perspective.
I see Africa’s variety as a unique blessing rather than a source of strife.
The geographical space and names of Africa and Australia are typical metaphors to demonstrate this case. If Australia can serve as both a continent and a country, many academics should find the African model no stranger or more objectionable than the Australian one.
If the fifty-four states that comprise the US can work together as a country, it is theoretically conceivable for Africa to unite as a single entity known as the United People of Africa (UPA).
Similarly, China and India have populations comparable to Africa and are divided into twenty-eight zones. This demonstrates that progress is possible if political will and a proper governing framework are in place.
From the global framework to postcolonial Africa’s political dynamics
Greater African unity has long been an intellectual desire for many Africans, but it has grown increasingly difficult to realize as a result of illusive and un-pragmatic approach. It is apparent that African unification cannot be achieved merely by political efforts or by focusing solely on economic dynamics; instead, a comprehensive strategy is required.
With a more fundamental realization of the need for regional unification and a better understanding of the circumstances that led to previous failures, a new movement for extending political and economic ties across Africa’s many nations has arisen.
But I truly wonder if there is a more transparent roadmap in place that permits states to cede sovereignty and set up a common governance system.
The unity of Africa is necessary not because it will offer us an ideal future but because it will enhance the lives of ordinary Africans in the present and future. Political leaders, scholars, and pan-African activists have long fought for the concept of a better, more prosperous, and united Africa.
Even with the finest intentions, persuasive speeches, rhetoric, official conferences, and formal treaties, things must improve on the ground. Africa has yet to heal from its political and social fissures, and African residents are still unable to freely travel to neighboring countries.
Contradictorily, African political leaders promote investors from the rest of the world while rebuffing and alienating Africans already living in their individual countries. Despite all of the terrible news, Africa and Africans still have the opportunity to rethink the space they will occupy and determine their own fate.
Immediate vs. gradual unification
It is critical to analyze the postcolonial African debate on immediate vs. gradual African unity in a sacred manner in order to appreciate the entire failure of governance that has occurred up to this moment.
As someone who has spent more than a decade researching the subject, I have critically examined the central argument from two perspectives. I was particularly interested in learning more about the proposed governance strategies of both camps, as well as whether the recommended method had substance or if the argument is based on a conceptual void.
Prior to the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), African states were divided into three primary political groups: Casablanca, Monrovia, and Brazzaville. There were several causes at play, but ideology and colonial language played a crucial role in fostering the divide. Furthermore, the African Union’s governance structure concept was central to it.
The Casablanca group thought that political unity was required for the later integration of the African economy. The Monrovia and Brazzaville groups, on the other hand, maintained that African unity should be taught through economic cooperation and, eventually, political unity.
There was no doubt that both factions wanted to see Africa as a coherent society defending its rightful place in the world and establishing a favorable environment for its people. The only difference was how to get there.
Both sides engaged in a heated argument with the goal of influencing Africa’s future. Despite the fact that both sides had good intentions and good arguments, my research demonstrates that neither side had a written, specific plan or ideology for uniting Africa.
This is not to say that there were no emotive declarations or belief-based disagreements on either side.
The Casablanca group was considering dramatic steps toward unification, such as adopting a unity government led by the continental head of state and a combined African military high command. The Monrovia side, on the other hand, pushed for a more methodical approach, with partnership in economics, culture, education, and politics acting as the foundation for an ultimate pan-African administration.
Despite the fact that no official plan document was provided that was supported by extensive research, both groups agreed that speedy decolonization, the end of apartheid, and the rapid establishment of pan-African institutions that matched the demands of the African people were required.
Assume for the sake of argument that those in Casablanca who argued for quick political unions won the debate over those who advocated for gradual African unity through economic cooperation. What are their thoughts for the ideal form of government, the judicial system, the military, and the security strategy beyond the traditional model of hierarchical civil administration? How should the central government be organized, as well as the president and cabinet structure?
Aside from emotional statements, neither side provided solutions to these questions.
The same is true for those who support Africa’s gradual unification; when they began their advocacy, there needed to be a solid plan in place for how to direct the unification process through economic cooperation. However, they understood for certain that the aftermath of colonial rule had yet to prepare Africa for a single centralized administration.
I disagree with the slogan “Africa Reunited or Perish” since it is an emotive rather than an analytical proposition. The bulk of pan-African projects do not sufficiently answer the questions of how, when, why, and who. This is why most ambitious plans to better Africans’ lives fail and become a laughingstock.
It is time to pose and raise critical concerns about why Africa is falling behind and at the bottom of the world and why people’s suffering is unending.
Postcolonial Africa’s unification schemes and incongruities
The imperfect pursuit of African unity had various facets, each of which raised issues that the political elite had not effectively addressed. There is a significant difference between idealistic objectives and pragmatic action—activity grounded on fact-based, data-driven, and feasible plans of action.
Africa’s desire for unification has been impeded from the start by the fact that it is dependent on the support of African political leaders rather than the African people themselves. As a result, the presence of a unified African continent does not jeopardize the sovereignty of the various African nations.
It is indisputable that each sovereign nation should be allowed to pursue policies that balance domestic concerns with those of the continent as a whole. There are well-known African unification plans, such as the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA), the Lagos Final Act (LFA), and the Abuja Treaty.
Without a doubt, these texts had a significant impact on how policy was adjusted to combat economic pressure from Bretton Woods institutions. Simultaneously, ideas for African economic integration had a similar effect.
The Lagos Plan of Action, developed by the UN-ECA and backed by the OAU, differs from an African continent’s economic integration proposal. The strategy sought to increase Africa’s self-sufficiency and economic growth between 1980 and 2000. It aimed to minimize its reliance on Western financial institutions by empowering Africa’s natural resources.
Nonetheless, the Abuja Treaty calls for the establishment of an African Economic Community through a progressive process of coordinating, harmonizing, and integrating activities by establishing Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa.
However, detractors claim that it lacks a structure that specifies how and when the economic integration program would be executed outside of generic recommendations. Furthermore, when it comes to accord implementation, the RECs must catch up.
In conclusion, “A thousand miles begin with one step,” remarked Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Nonetheless, the first step should be crucial in signaling the ultimate aim if it has the most specific concept and is supported by the beneficiaries; otherwise, it remains a pipe dream.
What variables influence the feasibility and utility of “Africa as a nation”? This viewpoint asserts that there are at least two morally uncompromised perspectives on “immediate vs. gradual African unity.”
The commentary is meant to aid in the critical, analytical, and productive usage of the term “African unity.” However, as the new century unfolds, more and more individuals recognize that Africa is the ideal laboratory for others.
For Africans, the time has passed for experimentation; instead, there is only one way to realize the oneness of millions, if not billions, of Africans.
How far can we stretch our epistemological imagination, or what inspires us to pose fresh questions about the nature and foundations of our knowledge in order to address the never-ending desire for African unity? Can Africa be both a continent and a country? Yes, without a doubt. It even has the potential to emerge as the world’s leading political and military force.
A robust, self-sufficient, and peaceful Africa is not only a desirable choice for Africans but for all of humanity.
Seife Tadelle Kidane (PhD) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Pan African Thought and Conversation (IPATC); Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg.
Contributed by Seife Tadelle