“To many Africans, the greatest achievement of the organisation in 50 years has been its ability to stay together at all.
If anyone thinks that mine is a harsh verdict, let him be reminded that Africans still need visas – often expensive and time-wasting – to visit each other’s countries.
Contrast that with the fact that the European Union, which came into existence in its present form 30 years after the formation of the OAU – now allows citizens from its 27 member countries to reside and work in each other’s countries.
Free trade, which was prevalent throughout Africa before the European powers imposed borders on Africa during colonisation, is now restricted to regions that have signed specific protocols to allow free entry to each other’s goods and services – groups such as the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu).
Indeed, according to the AU’s own figures, intra-African trade stands only “at around 10%, compared to [the] 60%, 40%, and 30% … achieved by Europe, North America and Asean respectively”.
A plan with lofty objectives – the New Economic Programme for Africa’s Development (Nepad) – has been drawn up to try and improve trade relations and economic co-operation on the continent. But if the past is anything to go by, its implementation could take many decades.
The only hope for the continent’s revival through strengthened political and economic links is the fascination with which the youth of the continent view such events as the Africa Cup of Nations football competition.
The youth will ask impatiently: “Why is it so difficult to travel to go and watch matches elsewhere on the continent?”
The arrival in force of the smart phone in Africa will make such questions ever harder to answer.
So, it is the upwardly mobile middle class – whether apolitical or not – that will generate the socio-economic pressures that will bring a truly organic version of African unity about.
The tail (the educated African populace) will wag the dog (the politicians and the bureaucrats).
It will constitute a slap in the face for the latter, no doubt.
But on the basis of their performance in the past 50 years, a well-deserved one, I think.”
Ghanaian novelist and journalist Cameron Duodu’s thoughts on the AU, 50 years on
Couldn’t agree more.