By Matthew Ayibakuro
The United States of Africa! A country with the landmass of China, The United States of America, India, Japan and all of Europe combined, with an Island perfectly shaped for the United Kingdom. Population, 1.111 billion. Its people speak English, French, Portuguese, Arabic and over 2,000 other languages. Its currency is the ‘afro’ and demonym, African. It has the highest GDP of any country in the world and the unprecedented growth rate of its economy shows no signs of slowing! I feel like I could go on and on with this.
But beyond the pageantry and sentimental feeling that the paragraph above evokes, is becoming a single country a workable and beneficial option for the continent of Africa? Akon surely thinks so. In an elaborate interview on Aljazeera a couple of weeks ago, the ‘American-born Senegalese’ artist and businessman stated his strong conviction in the idea of a ‘United States of Africa’. Although for the usual reasons, the headline that emerged from the interview was his statement that ‘America was never built for black people’. I found that insightful also, but that is a subject for another day.
Akon is surely not alone. The legendary reggae musician Bob Marley repeatedly echoed the idea of ‘one Africa’ in the lyrics of his songs and long before him, Marcus Garvey alluded to it in his celebrated poem, ‘Hail! United States of Africa’. In the first stanza, he writes:
- “Hail! United States of Africa-free
- Hail! Motherland most bright, divinely fair!
- State in perfect Sisterhood United,
- Born of truth; mighty thou shalt ever be.”
Although Garvey’s poem did not inspire the creation of the United States of Africa, it is however believed that his poem deeply influenced the birth of the Pan-Africanist movement and inspired the golden generation of Kwame Nkrume, Haile Selassie, Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba and others.
In recent times, who can forget the entourage of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi attending the African Union summit in 2009 as the ‘king of kings’ of Africa and rendering the lines, “I shall continue to insist that our sovereign countries work to achieve the United States of Africa”. The support of other leaders was rather variegated and the vision never came to fruition.
Perhaps I should say not yet, at least. At the Summit of the African Union (AU) and World African Diaspora Union (WADU) which held in Harlem in 2011, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal again called for the ‘establishment of a United States of Africa by 2017”. The Accra Declaration of 2007 restates the commitment of the AU to “accelerate the economic and political integration of the African continent, including the formation of the union government for Africa with the ultimate objective of creating the United States of Africa” by 2025. So whilst the late Gaddafi did not live to see his vision come true, Akon might yet see his realised.
But not many agree with the idea of a United States of Africa. In fact some commentators refer to the idea as ‘wishful thinking’, and the comments on the video of Akon’s interview on youtube contain borderline opinions like, “United States of Africa is a retarded idea. Anyone with such thoughts should be locked up in a mental hospital”. Reading comments on stories on social media will always provide one or two of this kind, so no harm done.
The proposition stirs up many fundamental questions though – Is a United States of Africa feasible, and if so, is it imperative to the development of the countries and the peoples of Africa? What would be the official language and the currency? How would leaders be chosen? Does it make sense to hold a general election in the whole territory of the continent as it is today, to choose a single leader and a single parliament? What would be the ostensible benefits of having such single country and at what cost? Would the latter outweigh the former? In other words, does the strength of the peoples of Africa lie our diversity or in our uniformity? The answers are probably more convoluted that they first appear.
One further question worth considering is whether efforts at creating a single country in Africa would be more beneficial if directed towards strengthening the African Union (AU) and building on its gains. As a youth, I feel a bit ‘quagmired’ making this argument at a moment when the AU’s recent choice of leadership is, to state it as mildly as possible, most disparaging – a subject for another day.
However considering the reasonable achievements recorded by organisations established to achieve regional economic integration in different parts of the continent – ECOWAS, SADC and especially the EAC in the last fifteen years – the the replication of same at an Africa-wide level would appear a more feasible and rational path to tread for the time being than the pursuit of establishing a United States of Africa.
I can share the sentiments and enjoy the Pan-Africa feelings that the idea kindles in me, but beyond that I find very little rationale to pursue the idea further as imperative to the development of the countries and peoples of Africa at this moment.