OAU and the Archive: Rethinking Africa’s Development Paradigm as OAU-AU Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

OAU and the Archive: Rethinking Africa’s Development Paradigm as OAU-AU Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

By: Steve Arowolo*

For half a century, Africa has struggled not only to unite its people, but it has also failed to fully live out the real meaning of its creed and ideology as enshrined in the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) charter of 1963. This golden jubilee anniversary presents a very good opportunity for Africans and their leaders to reflect on the true meaning of Ubuntu–the spirit of nurturing a community of people with mutual respect, love and unity for all humanity. The time to get serious and liberate Africa is now. While it is true that African countries have gained political independence from colonial regimes, many African states are still in serious socio-economic quagmire.

History is replete with the accounts of several attempts that were made to unite Africa and its people. In 1958, a conference of independent African states took place in Ghana, which served as an impetus for the establishment of the OAU. The idea for the possibilities of a unified African market was adopted at a conference in Casablanca, Morocco in 1961, famously known as the ‘Casablanca Group’; its aim was to facilitate economic transformation of African states as well as foster political stability and security through the establishment of African military commands.

In the same year, the ‘Monrovia Group’ emerged from a conference held in Liberia, and it placed more emphasis on the economic unification of African states. These were the groups that jointly established the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. It was clear from the outset that these groups had ‘pan-Africanism’ as their major goal for uniting Africans to a common purpose. The cardinal focus of OAU was to ensure the sovereignty of individual African states; it later metamorphosed into African Union in 2001 with the aim of enhancing the security of the continent among its other objectives–signalling a move away from an obsessive adherence to the principle of non-intervention to embracing a human security approach that gives the AU the legitimacy to intervene in the domestic matters of member states. This was in direct recognition that the civil wars which rocked many African states in the 1990s required the continental body to make itself relevant to the security dynamics of Africa instead of preserving the contents of the Eurocentric Westphalian as model of national security.

It is perhaps against the above background that African leaders have chosen ‘Pan-Africanism and African renaissance’ as the theme for the golden jubilee celebration. However, what is not clear is whether efforts would be made at giving a fresh interpretation to these highly politicised phrases. African political leaders have not been able to do justice to the meaning of these words. The past fifty years have seen Africans and their leaders recording some measures of successes and failures. What is important is to learn from history, to learn from what has worked and what is not working in the continent: a ‘Pan-Africanism and African renaissance’ ideology that would not revamp and rejuvenate Africa’s socio-economic orientation should be jettisoned. The continent is faced with new and humongous challenges, a ‘Pan-Africanism and African renaissance’ initiative that will not alleviate the sufferings of our teeming young population should receive no endorsement.

African leaders must put the experiences of the past 50 years into proper perspective, Africans have had sufficient dose of their rhetoric and lip services, words must be accompanied with actions. For instance, it is simply a scandal that in 2013, half of Africa’s billion people live under a dollar a day!

The purpose of history is to guide us in understanding and appreciating ourselves as a people, rather than as a mere ideology or creed disguised under the veil of ‘Pan-Africanism and African renaissance’ that has failed to secure the much needed socio-economic transformation and regional integration for our continent.

History should inform the decisions and the deliberations of African leaders and the people at large on the significance of bequeathing a good legacy for the coming generation. A legacy of prosperity in place of poverty, a legacy of triumphs in place of tragedies, a legacy of hope in place of despair, and a legacy of abundance in the place of scarcity. The purpose of history is to spur us to the purposeful acts of making deliberate positive difference in our lifetimes.

A ‘Pan-Africanism and African renaissance’ ideology that has not been able to fully deliver the dividends of democracy to the people of Africa needs to be re-examined; in the words of Frantz Fanon, an admirable and strong proponent of Pan-Africanism of ages gone by: “The future will have no pity for those who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference, and sometimes cold complicity.” The new oppressors of African people are people of Africa themselves–precisely because the people are hungry and angry, youth unemployment holds sway, corruption has gone digital and  endemic in many African states–due to leadership that has failed to fuel the engine that could propel sustainable economic growth within the continent.

If ‘Pan-Africanism and African renaissance’ has become a continental deceit used by desperate African politicians for self-aggrandisement and political manoeuvrings based on historical evidences, then the current African leadership should leverage the occasion of the golden jubilee to set the records right. They must walk the talk. The chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, while lighting the symbolic torch to kick start the golden jubilee celebration, said that “The torches symbolise our desire to reverse the current story line of despair into the real narrative of opportunity and potential.” Well said, but Africans could only hope that these words would translate into becoming our collective real life experiences before the end of another fifty years.

The history of a people defines them; it expands their understanding of the various events that orchestrated their existence. The validity of history is revealed in the understanding that it could repeat itself, and to paraphrase George Santayana “those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it”. This is a moment in history when the current crop of African leaders must resolve to prevent bad history from repeating itself. The history of wars and woes, the history of human rights abuse, the history of hunger and poverty, etc. currently ravaging our continent must stop. By the year 2063, when OAU-AU would be commemorating the centenary anniversary, the history of how the continent overcame its many challenges should not only dominate discussions but should be a story of a distant past.

One task that leaders of the AU ought to take up in the next 50 years is to make the institution more relevant to the needs and aspirations of ordinary Africans in the way that Europeans identify intimately with the EU. When Africans start to see the AU as their own instead of an elite project, then they would start to direct the role of the institution. An all-inclusive transformational structure needs to be put in place in order to have individual Africans run to represent their groups and themselves as individuals in the African Parliament.

This type of collective approach towards mitigating our present challenges must be embraced by all and sundry beyond any form of rhetoric or political slogan. When we have erected transformational structures that could stand the tests of time across all facets of our political, socio-cultural and economic institutions, that is when history would vindicate us and our children and their children’s children could pride themselves in our collective achievement that we have given them a continent that they can be proud of.

*Steve Arowolo is a regular Bokamoso Leadership Forum / BLF Contributor. His short biography and past articles can be found here.

Steve Arowolo

Steve Arowolo is a Global Change Scholar with the Applied Centre for Climate and Earth system Science (ACCESS), and a pioneer postgraduate student with the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Steve is a proud Fortharian being an Alumnus of the prestigious University of Fort Hare where he successfully led and pioneered Environmental and Sustainable Development initiatives

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