how do you unite a continent?

A term first coined by the African activist, Marcus Garvey, the United States of Africa is far from a new idea. As a staunch Pan-Africanist, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was a strong supporter of African unity. Now the push for “One Africa” is being lead by Liyba’s coup empowered leader, Muammar Gaddafi. In July of 2007 the African Union (AU) met to discuss the idea of one union government for the continent. Gaddafi traveled by land to drum up the support of the people on his way to the summit in Ghana. Countries such as Ghana and Senegal, symbols of democracy and stability, are in support of the idea. Among the supporters is another African leader with a reputation, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

In 2002 the Organization for African Unity (OAU) was rebranded as the AU, it has continued to struggle to be more than a place of all talk and no action. Most recently its inability to persuade any country other than Uganda to send troops into Mogadishu to patrol the streets and the lack of pressure placed on Sudan to end the Darfur crisis have weakened its credibility. The lavish sums spent by the rotating hosts of the twice-yearly summits have also done little to make the organization feel close to the 850 million ordinary Africans it is supposed to represent. Many leaders want to see African unity grow regionally before it is tackled as an umbrella political entity for the continent.

Gaddafi has been promoting the idea as the only way that the continent can deal with extreme poverty and a variety of other problems including the challenges of globalization. Supporters look to the creation of the European Union (EU). It took many years for the EU to form. If a United States of Africa is to be successful the continent will need key countries that are politically and economically strong with regional economic and infrastructure-building projects in place. The EU is a union of relatively wealthy and stable countries, as opposed to Africa where it is a continent of the poorest and least stable countries making the task seem to be much more daunting. However, many see signs of great hope with the increase in freedoms: expression, movement across the continent, elections, and the growth of democracy.

This coming March I will be Chairing a simulation committee on the African Union and the crises they face. From the economic crisis in Zimbabwe, to the on-going conflict in the DRC, child soldiers in Uganda, building health infrastructures, to the new US military presence through AFRICOM. In my opinion the United States of Africa will not work. In my limited travels of the continent I have seen so much. Africa is a land full of so much culture, so many peoples with so many varying l languages and traditions. In my six weeks studying in Ghana I traveled south, east, west, and central. Each time I embarked on those limited travels I was told that I would experience something that I had never yet seen in Ghana – and it was true. Even the small country of Ghana had so many differences. How can an entire continent be unified under one government? I would venture to say that Africa is far less homogeneous – in cultural, geography, religion, and politics – than either the USA or Europe. Nkrumah, Appiah, the Rastafarians, Pan-Africanists, and even the West would like to see Africa as one united entity. This idea could not be more rooted in imperialist thought. To quote John Ryle, “The very word Africa—that sonorous trisyllable—seems to invite grandiloquence.”

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