On the 25th of May 1963, 32 African nations, many of whom had just been granted independence by their former colonial masters, came together in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to herald the beginning of the OAU (Organization of African Unity). The first OAU conference had in attendance African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo, etc. They all had grandiose ideas of creating a “United States of Africa” as a solution to colonialist problems in each country. As is usual in African climes, the specificity or political will to achieving that “United” Africa was absent in their plans.
May 25 has, since then, been set aside to celebrate Africa Day and the birth of OAU, both by Africans in Africa and diaspora. However, the OAU, which underwent a change of name in 2002 and became the African Union (AU), has undergone little, or no change since 1963. The formation of OAU, which was supposed to mark the “beginning of a quest for the unity of the continent and for the political and economic emancipation of its people as well as cooperation among them,” has failed to live up to billing. Its promulgators were deposed through a flurry of military coups and civil wars that Africa has seemingly not recovered from.
While the grand idea of a United Africa, a sum of its parts, was being nursed, these leaders took no cognizance of the “parts” that made up Africa, i.e. the countries they were leading. Kwame Nkrumah, the father of pan-Africanism was deposed through a military coup inspired by reckless spending and corruption that was pushing Ghana to a recession under his watch. Ethiopia’s last emperor and the first OAU chairperson was also ousted by his soldiers for failure to institute reforms that would transform Ethiopia from a monarchy to a democracy. Civil war broke out in most of Africa, largely due to corruption, religious and ethnic bigotry, and African “Big Men” who refused to step down from power.
Nowadays, the present AU talk about an African International Passport, in its bid to create a more “United” Africa, drawing inspiration from OAU’s grand designs. However, its plan to introduce continent-wide International Passports seems like an ill-timed venture. Introducing an African Union passport will create a borderless and unstable continent, important in the grand scale of widespread insecurity across borders. African countries are still, in 2017, inundated with rumours of certain coup d’états, army mutinies, systemic corruption in government, secessionist movements all over the continent, octogenarian dictators still in power, minority groups being denied human rights; most of the same problems that plagued it more than 50 years ago.
An international passport won’t solve these problems but instead, add to it. To create a more homogenous continent, transparency, accountability, the rule of law, and Human rights (kryptonite to the continent’s leaders) must be upheld. These are key determinants to measuring a nation’s democracy. On these factors, most African countries score very low. Regional bodies like ECOWAS and SADC should also be strengthened. We want to be like the European Union but discard the fact that its political systems work. It is these political systems that make their economic templates for trade across borders work for them. Africa has to remove barriers within its nations before removing barriers between nations.
Hence, seeing analysts yesterday refer to the African International Passport as a sign that the values of the Africa Day are finally being realised seems naive. Africa is not closer to being a singular entity if its parts and its people do not have self-expression. We have to start re-defining what we celebrate on Africa Day. Before we can advocate for the political union of all African countries, we should advocate first for good political systems in each African country. That, too, is a grand gesture in itself.