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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 18:32 GMT 19:32 UK
The future of African unity
Colonel Gaddafi with Togo President Eyadema
Libya's Gaddafi (right): A strong advocate of African unity
By Ahmed Rajab, editor of London-based Africa Analysis

Africa has come a long way from the divisive days of old when the ideological rivalry between the so-called Monrovia and Casablanca groups held sway in much of the continent.

The Casablanca group, which included Algeria, Egypt, Ghana and Morocco, represented radical attitudes and the Monrovia group, of which Nigeria and Liberia were the key players, was composed of moderates.

These antagonistic groups were only dissolved by the formation in 1963 of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) - the first attempt to make real the vision of a united Africa.

Tanzania's first president, the late Julius Nyerere, one of the organisation's founding fathers.
Nyerere: The OAU is a trade union of heads of states
It was a vision that had long been espoused by the adherents of pan-Africanism.

The Casablanca group distrusted the Monrovia group, considering it to be composed of "lackeys of imperialism".

As a result, the deliberations on the OAU Charter, at the OAU's first summit in Cairo in 1964, fell far short of pan-African hopes.

The emphasis was neither on unity as seen by Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah nor on the formation of a United States of Africa.

Continental army ruled out

Nkrumah's idea of forming a continental army to liberate African territories still under colonialism or white minority rule was also debunked by the moderates.

They feared that the proposed united army of Africa could be used by Nkrumah and his radical friends to oust them.

Dr Salim Ahmed Salim
Dr Salim: An energetic and creative secretary-general
The OAU settled instead for a liberation committee, which was based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and which did much to assist the liberation movements in southern Africa.

For much of its existence, though, the OAU had, in effect, acted as the "trade union of the African heads-of-state," to quote Tanzania's first President, the late Julius Nyerere, one of the organisation's founding fathers.

Dictators protected

With an out-of-date charter, which narrowly defined sovereignty, it protected dictators by its so-called principle of non-interference.

It had also adopted a softly-softly diplomatic approach in dealing with Africašs dictators.

Despite its shortcomings - and there are many - and contrary to popular perception, the OAU has long made significant contributions to Africa, in addition to its pivotal role in the continent's de-colonisation process.

Of its secretaries-general, the incumbent Dr Salim Ahmed Salim and Diallo Telli, its first, will be remembered as the most energetic and creative movers.

Telli, for nurturing the nascent organisation at a very difficult period politically.

Cold War playground

Then Africa was seen more as a playground for Cold War warriors than as a continent striving for recognition in its own right.

Salim will be remembered for creating the Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution Mechanism and for taking stern measures against member-states with serious arrears.

South African President Thabo Mbeki
South Africa is one of the crucial backers of unity

He will also be honoured for canvassing ideas on reforming the continental body and by taking a strong line against military regimes in Africa.

Salim has also done much of the groundwork in the transformation of the OAU into the Africa Union, as was proposed by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, and whose ratification comes into effect on 25 May.

The Africa Union is an ambitious project fraught with all sorts of difficulties.

It is difficult, for example, to see how such a unity will be achieved, given the current tensions.

Ideas for the union include creating an African parliament and a court of justice. But it is difficult to see how the Union could be democratic if its constituent member-states are not.

Economic unity

There is also the Herculean task of achieving economic unity with all that that entails, including the creation of a common currency, a unified central bank and imaginative industrialisation.

The current regional economic blocks, including Ecowas, SADC, Comesa and the moribund Maghreb Union, would need to be rationalised and turned into instruments of inclusion rather than of exclusion.

The road to the Africa Union will not be an easy one to tread. To advance, Africa has no choice but to take this road.

Perhaps it is just as well that Africa has a maverick such as Gaddafi to push it to take such bold steps.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | Africa
United States of Africa?
31 Oct 00 | Africa
United States of Southern Africa?
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