In Defence of Yar’Adua’s Speech – Unity And Integration in Africa
17 July 2007
Posted to the web 17 July 2007
By Thabo Mbeki
A LECTURE DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, THABO MBEKI, AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CAPE COAST, GHANA, 4TH JULY 2007:
Guy Arnold observes in is book: Africa – A Modern History, that: “At the beginning of the 1960′s, Africa was the world’s most precarious region, its vast geographic centre was ‘empty’ of power, its northern and southern extremities (Algeria and South Africa) in the grip of forces that appeared irreconcilable to the rest of the continent. Its newly independent States with their fragile infrastructure and miniscule economies desperately required help, but help that would not be accompanied by political demands and ‘strings’. Political power depends upon economic strength, and economic strength was what Africa lacked. There were also complex psychological problems associated with independence: African nationalist leaders had to demand and take independence, they could never appear just to receive it. Moreover, the scars of colonialism ran deep for, as Nigeria’s Dr. Azikiwe had said back in 1948: ‘My country groans under a system which makes it impossible for us to develop our personalities to the full.’ And, as another young nationalist said to a European at this time: ‘You have never known what it is to live under colonialism. It’s humiliating’.” (P55, ibid)
Indeed, the former colonial powers were not prepared to let Africa find a development path on her own. In the midst of the Cold War, the western countries, unashamedly and unapologeti-cally, interfered and intervened directly in the internal affairs of independent African countries, resorting, in some instances, to violence and assassinations of those deemed to be against their interests.
Thus, neo-colonialism was not merely a descriptive political term but an actual lived experience of many Africans who had to content with this new insidious, but, still deadly phenomenon.
The fragile infrastructure and miniscule economies that Arnold talks about meant that many African countries were forced to agree to economic aid measures which were, however, accompanied by political demands and manipulations as well as both political and economic strings, which, in some instances, had invariably defined the destinies of some of our countries. Those African leaders bold enough to refuse these forms of neo-colonialism became the targets of the powerful nations of the North and their collaborators on the continent. It would, indeed, be disingenuous to suggest that the same phenomenon is non-existent today.
By the end of the 1970′s, a number of African States had tried, with less success, to take full control of their economies. At this period, many African countries were faced with adverse terms of trade, rising debt, poor and deteriorating infrastructure as well as declining economies. As a result, these countries sought more aid, got into more debt and found themselves increasingly at the mercy of former colonial powers.
Undoubtedly, the western powers liked what they saw because there were limited possibilities for African countries to escape their economic stranglehold.
Clearly, the problems experienced by African States, between the 1960′s and the 1980′s, stem from a number of factors, which include:
The emergence of neo-colonialism which meant few African countries could independently embark on any political and economic development route outside those designed, approved and managed by the erstwhile colonial powers;
The Western powers never envisaged independent African countries to decide their own development paths, rather, they sought to create dependent client States which could be manipulated according to the strategic and economic requirements of these western countries;
Through a number of measures, both political and economic, former colonial powers maintained their ‘spheres of influence’ consistent with old colonial divisions, hence, the zoning and entrenchment, thereof, of our continent as Anglo-phone Africa, Franco-phone Africa and Luso-phone Africa.
The weak and fragile economies of the newly independent countries left them vulnerable to the variety of political mechanisations of imperial powers;
The coincidence in the 1960′s, of the advent of African independence, with African States still being weak, and, the height of the Cold War, made it possible for new actors to enter the African scene in the form of the USA and the USSR. These two powerful players used the continent as one of their sites for their global confrontations at the time when the continent was trying to shake-off the shackles of colonialism. Today, the lives of many Africans attests to the fact that the wounds of those Cold War confrontations are yet to heal;
The colonially-imposed boundaries became fetters in the processes of nation-building, serving as flashpoints of internal conflicts and instability as well as fuelling inter-states conflicts;Debt, aid, manipulations by aid donors and unfavourable trade terms, especially for exports, falling agricultural outputs, natural disasters and others, became an albatross on many African countries;
Conflicts, wars, military interventions and autocracy became widespread, supplanting democracy.
World recession in the 1980′s had a negative impact on the continent’s weak economies;
Economies became either stagnant or declined during this period.
Clearly, for three decades, the combination of these negative factors conspired to deny our countries, individually and collectively, the possibilities of development and economic growth and, thereby, postponing the attainment of a better life for millions of Africans. Unity and integration, as envisaged by Nkrumah, could not happen under these conditions.
It is clear, then, that there are a number of conditions necessary for the attainment of the higher level of unity and integration of Africa. One of these conditions is that all of Africa had to be free. However, with many parts of the continent not free, even in the1970′s, especially most of southern Africa, the matter of integration became practically feasible only in the last decade of the twentieth century.
In 1991, 51 independent African states gathered in Abuja, Nigeria, to establish the African Economic Community (AEC) as an integral part of the OAU. The following are the objectives of the Community:
To promote economic, social and cultural development and the integration of African economies in order to increase economic self-reliance and promote an endogenous and self-sustained development;
To establish, on a continental scale, a framework for the development, mobilisation and utilisation of the human and material resources of Africa in order to achieve a self-reliant development;
To promote cooperation in all fields of human endeavour in order to raise the standard of living of African peoples, and maintain and enhance economic stability, foster close and peaceful relations among Member States and contribute to the progress, development and economic integration of the Continent; and
To coordinate and harmonise policies among existing and future economic communities in order to foster the gradual establishment of the Community.
To realise these objectives it was agreed that, among others, the existing economic communities will be strengthened and new ones established; agreements would be finalised with the aim of harmonising and coordinating policies among existing and future sub-regional and regional economic communities.
Further, there would be the liberalisation of trade through the abolition, among Member States of Customs Duties and Non-Tariff Barriers so as to establish free trade areas in each regional economic community.
The countries also agreed to adopt a common trade policy, ensure a common external tariff and establish a common market. Of importance, there was to be a gradual removal, among Member States, of obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital and the right of residence and establishment.
The 51 African countries then agreed to implement these and other decisions in six stages over a transitional period of 34 years.
The First Stage of a period of five years, for instance, was for the strengthening and establishment of regional economic communities. The Second Stage of eight years was to deal among other things, with the gradual removal of tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers and gradual harmonisation of customs duties.
Then, the Third Stage of ten years had to deal with the establishment of Free Trade Areas while the Fourth Stage of two years would address the harmonisation of tariff and non-tariff systems among the various regional economic communities with a view to establishing a continental Customs Union by means of adopting a common external tariff.
The Fifth Stage would establish an African Common Market for a period of four years and also include the harmonisation of monetary, financial and fiscal policies as well as ensuring the free movement of persons.
The Sixth Stage of five years would be used for the consolidation and strengthening of the structures of the African Common Market, the integration of all sectors, namely economic, political, social and cultural; the establishment of a single domestic market and a Pan-African Economic and Monetary Union, the establishment of a single African Central Bank and the creation of a single African Currency. This Stage would also see setting-up of the structure of the Pan-African Parliament and election of its members by continental universal suffrage.
Of course, as we have seen with the matter of the establishment of the Pan-African Parliament, some of these processes may in fact come earlier than envisaged. But a review of the various regional economic communities (REC’s), which are the building blocks of our integration, will reveal that some of our regions have not advanced beyond the first stages identified by the prescriptions of the African Economic Community (AEC) as outlined in the Abuja Treaty.
For instance, there is uneven development of the REC’s, resulting in some of these bodies being unable to implement the prescriptions of the Abuja Treaty. Accordingly, it would be difficult to argue successfully that we have strengthened all the REC’s.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has made remarkable progress on many of the prescriptions of the African Economic Community. The region has signed a protocol on free movement of persons including the abolishment of visas for citizens of ECOWAS; has approved the free movement of goods, established an ECOWAS common external tariff, removal of all non-tariff barriers of a monetary nature and introduced the ECOWAS travellers cheque. So clearly, this is great achievement in the direction of integration.
My own region, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has not achieved as much as ECOWAS, has adopted an overall strategy so as to realise the lofty vision of the African Economic Community as contained in the Abuja Treaty. SADC has adopted the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan as well as Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics. These two strategic plans are consistent with the vision of continental integration and focus on policy harmonisation as directed by the Abuja Treaty and help with the acceleration of SADC integration agenda.
There are views that, because we have difficulties in implementing the Abuja Treaty, we should abandon our attempts to strengthen the building blocks of our integration and go straight to integrating at continental level. I must say, I have never heard of a builder who abandons the foundation and start with the roof of a house because the building site is full of rocks.
Further, it is clear that the African countries that met in Abuja, Nigeria in 1991, understood very well that integration should happen hand in hand with development. Hence, the emphasis on drawing programmes aimed at the facilitation of better economic activities and the removal of barriers to economic growth and development.
Accordingly, integration is a means through which all Africans should and must collaborate to harness diffused energies and competencies, utilise our vast natural resources and internal economic strengths so as to give our continent a comparative and competitive advantage in the world market.
Because our individual economies are small, our hope for a better market share in the global economy lies in our combined efforts. That is why the Abuja Treaty is such an important benchmark which we should use as we address the many prescriptions it contains among which is the urgent challenge of strengthening regional economic communities.
Clearly, the integration of Africa will be easier and faster when we have, among others, dealt with the many challenges identified by the Abuja Treaty because this is a Treaty drafted from the practical experience of the African people and expressed by a leadership that is undoubtedly committed to the integration of Africa.
If we are to look at the experience of European integration we will realise that part of the challenge faced in this process of integration was to address underdevelopment. Accordingly, the European Union (EU) set up what they called Structural Funds to give financial support to under-developed and economically weak EU regions and countries.
These Structural Funds comprised of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund, Pre-Accession Aid and the Cohesion Fund. Between them, they now make-up a major part of the EU budget.
Through these Funds, the EU has managed to help with the further development of the economies of countries such as Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece as well as the poorer regions of countries such as Sweden and England.
Clearly, Africa is different from Europe in many respects, especially with regard to their respective economic development.
Today, the annual budgets of many African countries are made-up mainly of foreign aid money. Usually, as we know, the donor countries exert pressure on the recipient countries to pursue particular policies.
In this regard, the question that Africans should ask is: what impact will the donor-recipient unequal relationship impact on our process of integration. Will we achieve an integration that benefits the ordinary people of Africa, or would this process ensure easy control of Africa by powerful nations since these outsiders had an influence on the integration path of the continent.
However, these are challenges, which we cannot avoid but should be examined fully and honestly by all of us. Whatever difficulties we encounter we should not lose sight of our main objective of unity and integration. Accordingly, at all times we should consistently and faithfully pursue the prescriptions of the Abuja Treaty and the objectives of Constitutive Act of the AU, develop our economies and ensure that integration and development proceed side by side.
Some observers talk about the coincidence of historical processes represented by the adoption of the Abuja Treaty with the evolving of a very important era in modern African politics, represented by an unprecedented democratisation process and the deepening of that democracy by measures taken by Africans themselves with the participation of the masses of our people.
Although in the 1990′s our continent still experienced a number of wars and conflicts, the decade was characterised more by the return of democracy to many countries such that by the end of the decade, multi-party elections and democratic governments were more a norm than an exception. At this period, with the exception of the Western Sahara, all of Africa was free.
The economies of many of our countries were beginning a process of recovery, registering better rates of growth than had been the case for almost three decades. The masses of our people were themselves, in the midst of socio-political changes, redefining their role in society, away from the docile and pliant citizens to being active agents of change.
Emboldened by these developments, we made bold to declare the 21st century an African Century where our collective energies, the processes and programmes that we have adopted would defeat the wretched conditions of the African people as they confidently march towards a prosperous future.
We entered the new century having transformed the OAU into the African Union and adopted its development programme, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. Many of the NEPAD programmes are being implemented and because we are dealing with a century-old colonial legacy, it will obviously take years for some of these projects to begin making a visible impact on the lives of our people. But the indisputable fact is that: we are on the march!
On Sunday, in Accra, we launched the Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund – part of the NEPAD initiative – with the governments of South Africa and Ghana, as well we African Development Bank playing a central role together with private sector financial institutions from our continent.
We are indeed happy that the launch of this Fund, starting with an initial amount of US$625 million took place when Africa is celebrating Ghana’s 50th anniversary of independence.
The Fund, which will invest mainly in four key areas of Energy; Transport – including rail, roads, ports and airports; Telecommunication; and Water and Sanitation will clearly have a positive impact on the lives of many people.
We are happy that the initial investors are from Africa because they have demonstrated, in a practical way, that we as Africans have both the determination and the ability to meet the challenges facing our continent. As we embark on the projects identified by this Fund, we will need the skills of people such as these that have gathered at this university because we obviously need a lot of expertise to build infrastructure on our continent.
We will also need our brothers and sisters who are in the Diaspora to be part of this initiative as well as the hundreds of thousands of the skilled Africans who left the continent during the difficult years of the past.
In this regard, we have a duty to strengthen our universities, ensure that they have requisite resources to produce graduates with high kills and attract back into the continent, thousands of those skilled Africans who left for the developed countries. This is part of the building blocks that we must use to attain the important steps identified in the Abuja Treaty for our integration. We may not have the billions the EU has in its Structural Funds, but African initiatives such as the Infrastructure Fund affords us the space, among others, to ensure that Africans own their assets and we are able to determine our own loan terms that will help develop our countries rather than put debt albatross in the necks of succeeding generations of Africans.
In one of the epic dialogues of his latest masterpiece, Wizard of the Crow, the Kenyan writer and thinker, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, has this line of thought:
“Why did Africa let Europe cart away millions of Africa’s souls from the continent to the four corners of the wind? How could Europe lord it over a continent ten times its size? Why does needy Africa continue to let its wealth meet the needs of those outside its borders and then follow behind with hands outstretched for a loan of the very wealth it let go? (p681 wa Thiong’o, Ngugi, Wizard of the Crow, 2006, Harvill Secker, London).
The pathos embedded in our history as captured in this moving dialogue invokes the need for Africans to look hard at the mirror of history and at the challenges entrenched in the womb of the present.
We have already started this irreversible process to redress the failures of history. We dare not fail!
The AU Ordinary Session to which I referred at the beginning and which was ably chaired by President Kufour, adopted the important Accra Declaration. We agreed to accelerate the economic and political integration of Africa and move towards the formation of a Union Government with a view to ultimately realise the objective of the United States of Africa as envisaged by the founding fathers of the Organisation of African Unity, and in particular, the visionary leader, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.
The meeting recognised the need for common responses to the major challenges of globalisation facing Africa and boosting regional integration processes through an effective continental mechanism. We also agreed to open-up narrow domestic markets to greater trade and investment through freer movement of persons, goods, services and capital so as to accelerate growth an reduce weaknesses of many of our Member States.
Further, the meeting also recognised that the Union Government should be built on common values that need to be identified and agreed upon.
In all these processes, it is agreed that the African peoples should be involved in order to ensure that the African Union becomes, in reality a Union of peoples and not just a ‘Union of states and governments’. Both these masses of our people as well as the African Diaspora should be involved in the processes of economic and political integration of our continent.
Chairperson, if we implement fully all these decisions that will clearly advance our processes of integration and development then we will have the right to say to Ayi Kwei Armah that indeed the beautiful ones are now being born!
NOTE BY CRAIG EISELE:
I hope that President Mbeki has been apprised of the Trans African Development Company project plan for Africa… it seems we share some of the same visions.