May 25, 2016 (South African Institute of International Affairs/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — ‘I dream of the realisation of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their effort to solve the problems of this continent.’- Nelson Mandela
People of Africa have shared interests and should be united around common goals. This is the main idea behind Pan-Africanism. Many of its proponents envision a unified Africa with no borders. Is this a pipe-dream or a realistic scenario? Ahead of Africa Day on 25 May, it is worth reflecting on the current state of African unity.
Pan-Africanism can be traced back to the early 1900s propelled and informed by the thinking of amongst others, W.E.B du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah.
Yet it manifested in institutional form only with the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. It was created to promote unity and solidarity amongst African states, achieve a better life for Africans and defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of its members. The OAU was meant to help Africa chart its own destiny and lead it to a better future. But its leadership, consisting of anti-colonial struggle rulers, was ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of a rapidly evolving world and the arduous and complicated task of building functional, modern states.
Arguably, the OAU’s most notable achievement was maintaining national sovereignty and respect for the borders inherited following years of colonial rule. In an ironic twist, this ultimately diminished African unity, as artificially-created boundaries were upheld and ethnic and religious groups were separated by different state lines, creating challenges related to building social cohesion. These divisions contributed to frequent conflict. The Biafran war of 1967 illustrates this, as the eastern region of Nigeria attempted to secede to form an independent state.
The objectives of the African Union (AU), which replaced the OAU in July 2002, sought a more comprehensive and less state-centric approach geared towards addressing the needs and aspirations of increasingly globally connected African populations.
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