A t the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, the founding fathers envisaged a United States of Africa (USA) characterised by political, economic and social unity, and where Africa will elect a single President and have an African House of Parliament. For them, there was no progress unless Africa became one and spoke with one voice.
The idea was to have AU member countries become States with independently elected governors and contribute to the Federal Government of the USA. Just like in present-day African states, the continent was going to have a single universal currency, and the federal government of the USA supreme to all States within the USA. 52 years down the line, this has proven to be more dream than reality, as Africa suffers disunity. Recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa uncovered areas where the continent remains divided. A USA was to help eliminate border barriers and make trade possible and cheaper thus enhancing economic growth, social life and technological development, but in South Africa, like the rest of Africa, movement is restricted while inequality in the distribution of the commonwealth has driven a wedge between the poor and rich.
A fading dream
The 52nd anniversary of the Africa Day, an annual commemoration on May 25 of the founding of the OAU, which in 2002 became known as the African Union (AU), was marked last month without the usual pageantry that each country applies to their Independence Day celebration. Not a surprise! Of the 54 member states of the AU, only six – Ghana, Mali, Zambia, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe – observe the day as a public holiday.
Like in past years, the 2015 Africa Day was marked low-key across the continent. One reference to the day was by South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma 24 hours after. A fleeting remark at the beginning of his budget vote address to the country’s National Assembly on May 26, Mr. Zuma included a sentence on African unity to solicit for continued support for his party, which since the end of apartheid 21 years ago has formed government but failed to improve the standard of living in South Africa.
“Yesterday‚ the 25th of May‚ marked the 52nd anniversary of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
Celebrations of Africa Day have taken place in various parts of our country with one message – We are Africans and we are one people. As leaders in this House‚ we are also one people. We have a responsibility to unite our people as we move forward in building a better South Africa,” Zuma appealed.
Citing one of OAU founding fathers‚ President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana that “Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle” for Africa’s total freedom‚ Zuma said 21 years since apartheid ended‚ “South Africa continues the struggle of building a better society and an improved quality of life for all‚ especially the poor and the working class.”
Notwithstanding Zuma’s claim that, “We continue to make steady progress in consolidating democracy and in expanding access to important social services such as water‚ sanitation‚ quality education‚ quality health care‚ housing‚ science and technology‚ food security‚ social security and various others,” the unemployment rate in South Africa is about 25 per cent, according to government figures.
Mandela’s dream of South Africa as a rainbow nation “to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination,” is still a dream. The reality today, according to the 2015 figures released by Statistics South Africa is that 21.7 per cent of South Africa’s population live in extreme poverty.
South Africa like Africa
The failure of subsequent governments led by the African National Congress (ANC) to provide employment for many South Africans has been the trigger for various xenophobic attacks since 1994. In 2015, like in other years, locals accused other migrants of taking their jobs, undermining businesses owned by locals and contributing to a high crime rate.
According to local media, Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, at an event had instructed foreigners “should pack their bags and go”, because they were taking jobs from the citizens. Recordings of the Zulu monarch’s speech also showed that he compared immigrants to fleas or lice, a derogatory statement reminiscent of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
King Zwelithini’s comment resulted in the death of an Ethiopian, Zimbabwean, Mozambican, Bangladeshi and three South Africans, and caused a diplomatic spat with Nigeria. As other African nations scrambled to evacuate their citizens from South African soil, Nigeria recalled her high commissioner in Pretoria and deputy high commissioner in Johannesburg, exposing deep-seated divisions between the two African giants.
The Zulu monarch is not alone in this demonising blame-game; there are instances where notable South African have demonised African immigrants, and credited them with the increasing crime rate in the country. President Zuma’s son, Edward accused foreigners of taking over South Africa. “We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of them (foreigners) taking over the country.”
In restricting the access of migrants into the country, South Africa is no different from the rest African states. Many remember ‘Ghana must go’, the 1983 expulsion of up to 800,000 Ghanaians, and as many as two million Africans in total, many of whom, following the oil boom of the 1970s, had come to Nigeria, but as a result of the economic downturn in the early 1980s, were deemed to have overstayed their welcome. Migration. The Ministry of Small Business Development has also been tasked with identifying the issues that are relevant to small business.”
One solution according to local media report is that South Africa’s National Defence Force would deploy 13 landward sub-units over the next few years at the country’s porous borders with Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia at a cost of R2.8 billion.
In June 2009, during his maiden State of the Nation address, President Zuma told of his plans to set up a Border Management Agency (BMA). The country’s Home Affairs Department now promises that the BMA will be fully operational by the end of next year. This measures notwithstanding, poverty and internal conflicts in many African states will continue to push migrants across borders and into South Africa in search of a better life.
‘United States of Africa␣
Several Africans have argued for a union to address the issues plaguing the continent. Back in 1999, Muammar Gaddafi said it was in the interest of Europe, America, China and Japan that there be an entity called the United States of Africa. “This is the historic solution for the continent.” In 2013, Robert Mugabe said, “Get them to get out of the
regional shell and get into one continental shell… The continent of Africa: this is what we must become. And there, we must also have an African head.”
Nkrumah had in his speech a day before the formation of the OAU, criticised the borders dividing African countries, saying, “Unless we succeed in arresting the danger through mutual understanding on fundamental issues and through African unity, which will render existing boundaries obsolete and superfluous, we shall have fought in vain for independence.”
Continuing Nkrumah said: “The people of Africa call for the breaking down of the boundaries that keep them apart. They demand an end to the border disputes between sister African states – disputes that arise out of the artificial barriers raised by colonialism. It was colonialism’s purpose that divided us. It was colonialism’s purpose that left us with our border irredentism that rejected our ethnic and cultural fusion.”
That the challenges plaguing Africa can be solved by a United States of Africa is what some believe. Thing is, what has created xenophobia in South Africa, and has caused many problems in other African countries is simply unemployment, necessitated by poor leadership, and the only way to solve this is a united continent focused on building economic unity from the ground up. Only when Africa prospers can the idea of a USA make sense.
While it may be difficult in the interim to have a USA as envisioned by Nkrumah and desired by Gaddafi, African states can start by being united in solving their collective challenges. Borders can be broken down to encourage movement in trade and residency. An economically united Africa would liberate the continent of poverty and help solve the issue of unemployment that drives people to migrate in search of a better life.
The nagging issue
After the 2015 attacks, a statement released by the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Migration, with the mandate to deal with underlying causes of the tensions between communities and foreign nationals, listed some of the areas to be addressed, as “the implementation of our Labour Relations policies as they affect the foreign nationals; the implementation of the laws that govern business licenses; the country’s border management and generally the country’s migration policies.”
Further down the statement, it was clear that migration was the main concern of the IMC. “On the 22 April the President convened a meeting of stakeholders in South Africa to discuss the country’s migration policy and discuss how various sectors can work with government to promote orderly migration and good relations between citizens and other nationals.”
Tackling the “underlying causes”, the statement read: “We believe that issues of migration can only be resolved by taking a holistic approach that deals with all issues highlighted by communities. This includes identifying and resolving challenges highlighted by local traders. The IMC working with Department of Home Affairs will address the challenges around