is easy for many people in the global North to write off Libya’s leader, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, as an
erratic dreamer. But this ‘dreamer’ is now the chairman of the African
Union, a rotating position admittedly, but one with significance.
It is in this role that Qaddafi plans on pushing with all deliberate
speed for the unification of Africa into a
“United States of Africa.”
this has long been Qaddafi’s dream, this is not one that he originated.
Throughout the African World, for most of the 20th century and into
the 21st, there have been those who have dreamed, suggested and/or
fought for a unified Africa; Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, W.E.B.
Dubois and Kwame Ture being only four of the better known proponents.
Yet these dreams have been frustrated by various factors,
not the least being virulent opposition from the countries of the
global North (particularly Western Europe and the United States of America). Such
opposition was not limited to harsh rhetoric, but included an active
policy of overthrowing governments that were led by proponents of
African unity as well as covert operations directed at destroying
organizations that advanced the Pan African vision.
insistence on the need for African unity has gained significant
international attention. The mainstream media, however, has gone
out of its way to bring forward anonymous African leaders who are
quoted as dismissing the call for a “United States of Africa” as,
at best, premature and, at worst, delusional.
is it either?
of Col. Qaddafi’s intentions, his call for African unity could not
be more timely, albeit still quite difficult to realize. The current
global economic crisis demonstrates that the approach toward economic
development pushed by the USA and Western Europe has
not only been a failure for the global North, but has been especially
disastrous for the countries of the global South. Africa
continues to lag behind other continents on most indices, particularly
in the realm of poverty, but also in healthcare and infrastructure
Qaddafi, and those who traveled this road before him, recognize
is that the boundaries the current African nation-states inherited
from their colonial era have been central to the underdevelopment
of the African continent. In some cases, the nation-states are too
small to build a sustainable economy. In other cases the nation-state
boundaries ignore historic tribal/ethnic boundaries, often leading
to near endless ethnic conflict.
fact, when Qaddafi criticizes multi-party democracy in Africa, the
grain of truth in his remarks is that multi-party democracy in Africa
has often meant political organization on the basis of ethnicity
rather than on ideological or political bases. [Note: this is NOT
a suggestion on my part that a single-party state is a panacea resolving
these issues. Many African countries utilized the single-party state
model, but as Congolese theoretician Ernest Wamba-dia-Wamba pointed
out decades ago, this only meant that the multi-party struggle took
place WITHIN the single party].
Africa to break with its past of subordination
to the global North, it will need unification. Although the African
Union, the current body - and successor to the Organization for
African Unity - designed to coordinate the work of African countries,
is to a great extent modeled on the European Union, African unity
will not look anything like that found in Europe, or North
America for that matter. Nor will African unity be something that
can simply be proclaimed into existence, despite what Col. Qaddafi
might otherwise hope.
could, however, speed up the process toward a productive resolution
would be concerted attention by the AU on the building of stronger
regional bodies, and specifically, the development of coordinated
regional economic development programs. In this sense, unity can
become that “change we can believe in” rather than an abstract notion.
Qaddafi should remember the experiences in the Arab World with which
he is intimately familiar. Whether it was the unification of Syria
and Egypt into the short-lived United Arab Republic, or the efforts
to expand the U.A.R. to include Iraq (all in the early 1960s), these
efforts at badly needed unity failed to address not only external
opposition from the USA and Western Europe, but internal tensions.
Top-down unification, in the absence of building trust which crosses
national boundaries, most especially trust between the peoples of
these nation-states, along with a pro-active approach toward cross-border
economic strategy, will be hollow at best, and at worst, lead to
Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the
Institute for Policy Studies,
the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and
a New Path toward Social Justice
(University of California Press),
which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here
to contact Mr. Fletcher.