Celebrating Tajudeen, the OAU and AU: which way Africa?

On 25 May 2013 the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union (AU), will celebrate its Golden Jubilee. The date, also known as ‘African Liberation Day’ (ALD), is one that marks the fourth anniversary of the sudden departure of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem who was at the time of his shocking death the deputy director for Africa of the United Nations’ Millennium Campaign. Tajudeen, or ‘Taju’ as he was more popularly called, was a regular contributor to Pambazuka News with his weekly ‘Pan-African Postcards.’ He died suddenly and tragically in a road accident in Nairobi. Hence, in this special issue we remember him and also reflect on 50 years of the OAU/AU and the direction our continent must take in order to overcome the myriad socio-economic and political problems it confronts.

If Taju were alive today it is likely that he would have contributed many more ‘Pan-African postcards’ on contemporary African and global affairs with his usual profound perspicacity and wit. One can only conjecture what he would have made of the creation of South Sudan in July 2011; the Arab uprisings in North Africa since Mohammed Bouazizi’s fatal action in December 2010 set in motion the toppling of tyrannical dictators which Taju vociferously and consistently attacked in many of his postcards; the prolonged war in the DRC as a consequence of the backing of Rwanda and Uganda for insurgent groups in the country; moves towards peaceful resolution of the conflict in Somalia with a newly installed government; the overthrow of Gaddafi by NATO forces in 2011. Similarly, what would Taju’s perspectives have been on the Tuareg desire for a homeland in Northern Mali that has been hijacked by Islamic fundamentalists and used as an opportunity for French intervention; the Marikana massacre of South Africa in August 2012; the election of Africa’s second female head of state, President Joyce Banda of Malawi in the same year, and in his own home country – Nigeria, the rise of the fundamentalist group Boko Haram that has wreaked deathly havoc in the last four years? What would he have made of the OAU/AU 50-year performance, the Haitian earthquake of January 2010 that led to pledges of aid that have largely failed to reach the vast majority of Haitians; the so-called ‘riots’ of England in the summer of 2011 ignited by the killing of a black man, Mark Duggan, by British police, as well as Obama’s foreign policy around the world, including Africa? These are all socio-political issues that Taju would undoubtedly have had an ideological position on that embraced a commitment to African people around the globe. Therefore, we remember Taju not only for his razor sharp political analysis that is missed, but also his relentless commitment to African unity, African people as well as social, economic and political justice for all human beings.

In this special issue SONNY ONYEBULA recalls the ‘indefatigable’ commitment of Taju to Pan-Africanism in a personal reflection. As Taju once wrote about the African continent: ‘The collective African experience is that we can only be ourselves and we need each other to counter the threat of marginalisation, rapacious globalisation and the consolidation of whatever little gains may have been accomplished in a number of African countries. No one [African] country can be a sustainable miracle if its neighbours are in hell.’ MOTSOKO PHEKO contemplates in his piece ‘how far is the United States of Africa?’ and echoes Taju when he writes: ‘Africa is a house with 54 rooms in it. When one room catches fire, other rooms are endangered.’

As DEDE AMANOR-WILKS points in another personal reflection on Taju, he was a profoundly people-orientated person who engaged in laughter with young and old alike. The depths of his own ubuntuness connected with others that made him a human magnet. He had a way with words, appropriate proverbs and African stories to illustrate his argument and communicate with ordinary people. His high-pitched laughter was infectious and memorable just as his loud voice was distinctive and could be heard at a distance.

Other articles in this issue such as that by the journalist CAMERON DUODU look at the origins of the OAU. MEHARI TADDELE MARU reflects on the positive and negative legacies and lessons of the OAU/AU; its achievements, failures and constraints, whilst TITI A. BANJOKO questions whether the jubilee is really worth celebrating? Similarly YVES NIYIRAGIRA points out the missed opportunities of the organisation but focuses attention on five steps that African leaders must implement immediately rather than wait another fifty years to forge meaningful integration and development. THEODORE MENELIK-MFUNI remembers growing up as a child and how his father’s uncompromising commitment to the OAU positively influenced him. He points out that it took centuries for Europe to build its institutions therefore it will take centuries for Africa to constructively address the myriad of challenges it faces.

The writers TUNDE JEGEDE, DELE MEJI FATUNLA, ADE DARAMY all focus on the imperatives of how culture and communication in its diverse mediums are fundamental to forging greater continental unity and understanding. They also provide stimulating constructive and positive strategies as to how this cultural rebirth can be realised.

Pambazuka News provides a number of audio interviews with Commissioners of the AU who give their views of the accomplishments and missed opportunities of the organisation. Among them is the audio interview with DEPUTY HEAD OF COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATION, WYNNE MUSABAYANA who reveals there are plans on the part of the AU to establish a radio and television station that will disseminate news direct from the AU, deliberations from the summits and various gatherings of the AU bodies to inform African people directly as well as extending its use of new social media forms and strategies. This is undoubtedly much needed, for if what is new about the AU from its predecessor is that on paper it has sought to involve ordinary African people in its processes, it must implement ways in which ordinary people can dialogue with the Commissioners and participate in the Pan-African Parliament and Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) debates. Otherwise it risks being a top-down institution like its predecessor the OAU. Other interviews include an exchange with the DEPUTY CHAIRPERSON, ERASTUS MWENCHA who not only candidly identifies some of the missed opportunities as Africa’s dependency on raw materials for its economic development without adding value but there has until the formation of the AU been a ‘suppression of gender parity for human development.’ COMMISSIONER FOR SOCIAL AFFAIRS, DR. MUSTAPHA S. KALOKO emphasises how the AU will seek to innovatively use culture and particularly sports to advocate social and political issues on the continent; DESIRE ASSOGBAVI who is head of Oxfam International in Addis Ababa discusses how Oxfam works with the AU and also gives an opinion on the achievements of the OAU/AU as well as its challenges and obstacles.

The AU has selected the theme for the year-long jubilee celebrations as ‘Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance.’ As ANTONY OTIENO ONG’AYO writes, celebrations should also involve candid discussions among and between continental Africans and Africans in the Diaspora in terms of what this ‘Renaissance’ means. He argues that part of that discussion should be around the question of identity for this issue remains a pertinent one currently undermining continental unity. For example in Ivory Coast and in the DRC notions of ‘Ivorite’ and attacks on the Banyamulenge (ethnic Tutsis) in eastern Congo seriously challenge notions of integration in Africa. In addition to this, we must challenge the notion of ‘illegal immigrants’, xenophobia, deportations and targeting of Africans residing in other African countries if we consider Africa and African people to be one. Consequently a Pan-African citizenship must be created on the lines of a free movement of goods and particularly people as in the ECOWAS states. This must also extend to abolishing visas for children of the African Diaspora travelling to Africa.

SAMWIN BANIENUBA rhetorically asks: ‘where is Kwame Nkrumah’s United States of Africa?’ He is of the opinion that the reality is that the vested interests since the formation of the Monrovia and Brazzaville block, who sided with a gradualist approach to African unity, have predominated and that was is lacking on the continent is a ‘will of steel’ to implement Pan-Africanism.

Peace is fundamental to any future African unity and development, argues ONYEKACHI WAMBU. He points to the three principles adopted by the OAU which was intended to lead to peace and justice (guaranteeing the existing colonial boundaries; non-interference in the internal affairs of member states; and support for armed struggle via the Liberation Committee) not only led to peace and justice but produced further conflict. He argues that we must continually seek symbols of peace in our cultural practices as a means to resolve conflict and build permanent peace.

MGONGENI NGULUBE poses: what has happened to the agriculture sector of many African countries in the last 50 years and what will become of it in the next five decades – particularly as many African countries continue to be net importers of food? The writer points to the need for greater attention to be paid to agriculture in Africa if food security and hunger that give rise to instability and disunity are to be addressed. Moreover, the AU needs to address the serious question of ‘land grabs’ in Africa. What is the AU position on this race to grab agriculturally rich lands by Gulf oil sheikhs, Chinese and Indian entrepreneurs, Western speculators, among other investors, that dispossess ordinary Africans in parts of Africa? How can countries that are not able to adequately feed the masses of their own populations be leasing land to foreigners?

OTSIENO NAMWAYA and ELIZABETH EVENSON contend that ‘the broader relationship between the African Union and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has not been an easy one.’ They argue that the AU should fully cooperate with the ICC and honour its own commitment in its organisational Charter to human and people rights by not supporting the shielding of any individual sought by the ICC to answer to the charge of crimes against humanity.

We carry the address given by DR. DLAMINI-ZUMA, Chairperson of the AU to the Third Pan African Parliament on 6 May 2013 in Addis Ababa. In her State of the Union address Dlamini-Zuma identifies some positive achievements including the optimistic rate of economic growth in several African countries; the reduction of conflicts from 15 during the 1990s to 5 countries between 2000-2010 and increases in educational provision. However, there remain other herculean tasks to accomplish which are outlined in the Third Strategic Plan for 2014-2017 in which eight priorities are outlined. She insists that the year-long celebrations must ‘reflect on the lessons from our past and our current state, in order to grapple with our destiny.’

ABAYOMI AZKIKIWE surveys five decades of Africa’s flag independence within an internationalist and Pan-Africanist perspective. He makes a number of important arguments including that: ‘in order for Africa and its people to develop there must be a decisive break with the imperialist system of finance capital’ and secondly that ‘the crisis in Africa and the Diaspora is by no means isolated from the broader struggle of the peoples of the world.’ This latter point is essential for the AU and all African people to remember and act on today. Malcolm X reminded heads of state of this point when he addressed the OAU summit on 17 July 1964 and told the African heads of state: ‘Our problems are your problems.’ Since the AU has formally recognised the African Diaspora as a Sixth region – unlike its predecessor, the OAU, the AU has often failed to take up the plight of Africans in the Diaspora and their issues. These issues are many and include the disproportionate number of people of African descent in the US and UK who are incarcerated in the prison system; killed by racist police; discriminated against; and killed whilst being deported e.g. Jamaican Joy Gardener in 1993, and Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga in 2010 – both individuals (among many others) have died at the hands of the racist immigration and security officials respectively. Or what of the case of the many Trayvon Martins and Stephen Lawrences killed by racists in the UK and US respectively? What happens to any African across the globe should be of concern to all Africans both on the continent and in the Diaspora. However, our unity should make us also seek solidarity with other oppressed peoples around the world, particularly in the global south, whether they be garment workers in Bangaladesh or elsewhere struggling to earn a living, and people of African descent in the Caribbean, Latin America, including the poor of the industrialised nations suffering under the weight of an inflicted economic austerity in which the working classes are paying for the rich to continue to live on the backs of the poor in these developed nations.

WHICH WAY AFRICA?

As several of our writers point out there remain many enormous challenges in forging a meaningful African unity. Among those challenges is the opportunity that African people in the diaspora have to advance their organisational level in the Caribbean, North, South and Central America as well as in Europe if they are to fulfil their role and contribution as the Sixth region of the AU and fully participate in the AU structures. They have also more to contribute in various ways to Africa’s economic development in a number of fields such as technology transfer, education, health and in the sciences.

An equally important issue for the AU is the financing of the organisation, which currently depends on substantial outside funds that is a serious impediment to African unity and the meaning of independence in its broadest sense. No continent or union can be genuinely independent if it is tied to the dictates of those who finance it. Moreover, surely with the new found oil wealth of several African countries such as Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya – and the untapped wealth in gas, minerals and agricultural resources of the continent, the potential of Africa to finance its economic, technological and scientific development in the next 50 years is realisable? Neither does such self-reliance mean Africa becomes an autarkic continent and does not engage in partnerships with other nations. But it is necessary that economic planning and partnership with other nations are co-ordinated and principled.

Fundamentally, in the next 50 years, the AU and African people have to engage with what kind of ‘development’ do we want for Africa. How do we define ‘development’? It seems the kind of development envisaged by the AU is one that continues to be committed to the logic of neoliberal capitalism, eternal privatisation; one that speaks the language of ‘foreign direct investment’ (which is essentially privatisation and capitalism via the AU’s much touted Nepad). I recall in personal discussions with Taju his reference to Nepad as a neoliberal ‘kneepad’ to continue the economic subservience of Africans to the North. Similarly, the existence of trade liberalisation; the reduction of the role of the African state; adoption of the IMF imposed Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) which have replaced the Structural Adjustment Programmes of the 1980s and 1990s are policies that AU members tacitly appear to support. In essence, it seems the kind of development that many supporters of the AU, heads of state and member countries with their commissioners and various officials of the AU are in favour of a kind of development that considers catching up with the West as the ideal; that is, becoming a mirror image of the West is the aspiration, standard and goal. Yet, for this to happen Africa would need a continent to enslave and colonise for the reality is that the West was able to industrialise and ‘develop’ by underdeveloping Africa through enslavement and colonisation. In short, this path is not open to Africa as a possibility. Such a path will only contribute to the continued destruction of the earth through rapacious consumerism and brutal capitalist exploitation of its finite resources and failure to lift the masses of African people from poverty.

Hence, new forms of socio-economic development and particularly the equitable redistribution and creation of wealth that is not harmful to the environment but sustainable, need to be created by Africans in the next 50 years. In addition to this break with exploitative neoliberal capitalism must be a break with neo-colonialism and imperialism in its reconfigured manifestations on the continent, as Kwame Nkrumah called for. Those manifestations remain in aid and the continued implementation of IMF and World Bank programmes that have done nothing to lift Africa out of poverty in the last 50 years; the presence of Africom and the joint military training exercises under the auspices of both Africom and other Western nations; the operations of multinational companies; unfair trade enforced by the World Trade Organisation (WTO); tax avoidance, secret mining deals and financial transfers that deny African people basic provisions such as health, education, electricity and good infrastructure.

Neoliberal capitalism is incompatible with social and economic justice and therefore ordinary and progressive Africans must push to transform the system, ultimately creating a fairer economic system of producing wealth in which the majority and not the minority benefit. It must be one in which people’s basic needs come before profits. Such principles should underlie the meaning of socio-economic ‘development’ in the next 50 years.

Finally in the next 50 years, Africa must unite in a way that its voice is heard and respected on the global stage. The Libyan debacle in which African countries were disunited and France, Britain and the US were able through the UN and NATO to marginalise and disregard the AU’s roadmap for a negotiated political settlement in Libya, indicated the imperialist arrogance of the West as well as the AU’s weakness in its inability to mobilise and command the attention of the international press on its position as divisions among those African countries who supported Gaddafi and those who did not seriously hampered the continental body. Consequently, the Western media pundits rallied to the position of their Western governments in seeking to carry out regime change in Libya and the AU was completely ignored. The maxim ‘African solutions to African problems’ has instead given way to a dangerous imperialist and neo-colonial precedent of ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) that NATO employed as pretext for regime change. In the next 50 years will the AU allow/prevent another African country to be victim to a NATO-imposed ‘regime change’ under R2P?

On 24 May 1963 Nkrumah gave a long and passionate speech to his 31 contemporaries imploring them to ‘unite now or perish.’ That speech remains astonishingly relevant 50 years later – perhaps more so today. His emphasis was on a political union based on a common defence, foreign affairs and diplomacy, an African currency, an African monetary zone, and an African central bank but also based on a profoundly socialist framework in the ethos and economic organisation of African societies. Such a framework remains valid today and specifically in Africa after 50 years of SAPs and neoliberalism that has instead privatised social provision out of the reach of ordinary people. Some may argue that some of these institutions Nkrumah called for are in embryonic form today and need to be advanced and in ways that are meaningful to ordinary Africans. However, there is still a long way to go to in achieving the kind of Continental Union Government of Africa that Nkrumah envisioned – if this is the image of unity the AU seeks to realise in the next 50 years. If it proves not to be the vision, Africa’s current generation of young people who comprise over half the population of many countries, and the generation to come in the next 50 years, will have to mobilise to ensure the vision of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, George Padmore and Robert Sobukwe is realised.

* Ama Biney (Dr) is Acting Editor of Pambazuka News.

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