As heinous, scatterbrained, and morally bankrupt as Muammar Gaddafi was, it is hard to believe a life so awash with megalomania had unexplainable spurts of illumination. While the “United States of Africa,” as proposed by the former Libyan leader was overly ambitious and impractical, the spirit behind the intent underscores a strong undercurrent that’s so far kept Africa the poorest and most underdeveloped place on our planet. It is indeed true: A house divided against itself cannot and should not stand.
The concept of African union is one that has stayed with us for a while now. From Haile Selassie of Ethiopia to Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana to Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, the call for African states to consolidate both sociopolitical and economic assets and liabilities has been a gospel that has endured generations. From Bob Marley to Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the proposition that Africa’s progress is inextricably linked to a united front has energized many-a-tuneful ballads.
Yet, if there’s anything we as a people have failed so convincedly at, leaders and citizens, it is this attempt at union.
In decades past, we created the Organization of African Unity (OAU); an institution that became so inept and inadequate at resolving many continental issues that it behooved Gaddafi, a leader not renowned for his ingenuity, to save our collective reasoning. At which point, upon completion of the Lomé Summit in 2000, we set course to scrap the floundering excuse of an institution and rewrote the course of our unity. The African Union (AU) was born the subsequent year: new sets of rules, new vision, new structures.
It’s been over a decade since we charted this new course, but old habits prove hard to shake. We have seen an institution unable to bring an end to mass murders in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, stop Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army from ravaging our collective consciousness with acts even the Devil dare not speak of, decapitating poverty burning across the landscape like wildfire, and the impossibility of self-determination for millions of Africans shackled under autocratic and repressive regimes.
While it is easy to fault African leaders who comprise this institution, I have come to admit the primary culpability of the common African.
It is not uncommon to overhear in conversations between groups of Africans of how some deem it anathema to liaise with peoples of different culture and creed within the same border. Furthermore, what I have found more particularly distressful is this egregious perception among some, sub-Saharan Africans matter-of-factly, that Africans to the north are somehow geographically of us but not from us. For me, no argument can be more perplexing.
The belief that the nation states of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and others, by consequence of their proximity to Asia, are for all intents and purposes non-African, contributes immeasurably to the truncation of our mobility via the unity roadmap. And, this belief, in turn feeds a cycle where some citizens to the north feel a total sense of detachment from brothers and sisters below the Sahara. It is of note that sub-Saharan Africans are quick to claim Pharaohs’ Pyramids as tribute to Africa’s legacy, yet, find it convenient in contemporary times to dislocate the region from its place on the continent.
It is a belief riddled with holes and fallacies. The problems that befall North African states are the same that afflict those below the Sahara. Our afflictions and strengths are not by the longest stretch of the imagination mutually exclusive. They are, evidently, common denominators in our daily lives. Before the revolutions of 2011, dictators populated North Africa just as much as they now still do in sub-Saharan Africa. The civil wars that have come to dot the African landscape are not specific to one section of the map; rather, they are equal opportunity employers. It is unfortunate that poverty does not discriminate or oscillate its intensity between north and south; maybe folks campaigning on either side of the divide might have had an argument.
Our indestructibility is shared. It is the reason for our resilience in our many centuries of hardship and challenges. Healthy competition among African states is important, but a north side-south side rivalry is not a zero-sum game: it sacrifices brotherhood on the altar of self-indulgence and pettiness.
It therefore comes as no surprise that we breed incompetent leaders, who go to the AU Headquarters built by China for Africans in Addis Ababa, and accomplish no worthwhile unity agenda outside of opulent living, defending one another’s eternal tenure in office, and masquerading as a collective voice for peoples they care little about.
By our own complacence, we have allowed and encouraged Western entities to subjugate us into divisions by churning out anecdotes and statistics, often, under such labels as “sub-Saharan Africa,” as though figures from the north are immaterial to a wholistic understanding of Africa. There’s no denying the profoundness of certain of our differences, which, are usually along the lines of culture, language, and creed—but what siblings in a large family are by force of nature born with same preferences and idiosyncrasies? It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats … for Africa; this tide is unquestionably a strong and committed sociopolitical and economic union.