Africa: forty-six years on, continent can be optimistic about the future

(Kampala,New Vision) — Today, May 25, is the African Liberation Day. I congratulate all Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora for celebrating this historical moment.

The day honors the 1963 signing of the charter establishing the Organization of the African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU). It pledges solidarity for the liberation of Africa.

The OAU was criticized for not living up to the mandate of uniting Africa and responding to its various challenges. Many of the criticisms were understandable though not all of them were deserved.

The OAU was set up to finish the anti-colonial struggle of the 1960s and also unite Africa. Read Nkrumah's book: Africa Must Unite. It was successful on the liberation of southern Africa from racist settler regimes and former Portuguese colonies of Guinea Bissau, Angola and Mozambique. The organization mobilized human and material resources across Africa in support of these struggles and also won diplomatic and political support internationally. Its weakness, therefore, should not cloud some of its success.

The charter, signed in 1963, was a compromise between the radical Casablanca states, led by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Tubman of Liberia and Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt, who wanted the immediate political union as opposed to the conservative alliance represented by Monrovia and the group of states who found a credible spokesperson in Mwalimu Julius Kambarege Nyerere of Tanzania.

Although Nyerere was not a conservative, he was opposed to Nkrumah's fast-tracking and urged for a functional unity (economic unity before political). Today, we have the same debate on the United States of Africa.

The division was superfluous because the economic co-operation did not happen due to lack of political will. It would have been a complimentary process of concrete political and economic programmes to advocate a shared vision of unity.

The promised compromise on the charter also included an agreement that the borders inherited from colonialism remain inviolate, which was absurd. The situation on the ground probably dictated that due to interstate conflicts.

Soon after that, the OAU emerged as the most important trade union of "dictators" backed by their personal armies and militia. Consequently, the organization was unable to sanction any of its members like the late Idi Amin, chairman of the OAU 1975, and Mobutu Seseko of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was because oppression of the African people by their governments became internal affairs in which dictatorships had "sovereignty".

The international environment of a bitter cold war and the emergence of neo-colonialism also constrained the various groups from achieving total unity. Therefore, what mattered most then was whether regimes were pro-east or pro-west and not their Pan-Africanists credentials. The latter became victims of economic and political conspiracies as evidenced in the fate of Tom Mboya, Patrice Lumumba, Nkrumah, Modibdo Keita, Abdel Nasser, Ben Bella and Sankara.

Today, the African Union, although a lame duck, has managed to contain conflicts on the continent. However, conflicts in Somalia, Darfur and now Madagascar are some of its challenges.

As we celebrate 46 years of OAU, we have reason to look forward to the future with optimism. We pray that the current breed of leaders will continue respecting the African Union constitutive Act - the African Peer Review Mechanism. Our dream for continental unity is on course. I salute all those who strive to make this day a reality.

The writer is a Pan Africanist.