Transforming The OAU - My Take! (Part 2)

By James W. Harris

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 4, 2002

With the abrupt collapse of the Soviet empire and the rapid decline in the spread of communist or socialist ideology, which were once readily embraced by so-called ‘progressive’ leaders, it would be in the best interests of all Africans if their continent were to unite under one roof as the founding fathers of the OAU had envisioned. And frankly, it’s not that Africans don’t want to unite, it’s just that they really haven’t found the correct basis upon which to proceed. But for them to unite on the basis of Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s personal whims or vision of Africa would be ultimately futile, given his well-known record of state-sponsored terrorism and disdain for anything that is democratic. Ask any Liberian or citizen of Burkina Faso, they’ll tell you - he’s no joke!

I’m very sure that many Africans, particularly Liberians, who have witnessed their once beautiful country destroyed completely right before their naked eyes by Libyan-trained forces [thugs], could not imagine living in a union with Colonel Gaddafi as the head. Never! Liberians will remember for a long time to come how their present leader, President Charles G. Taylor, trained by the Colonel, unleashed his killing machine of usually drugged child-soldiers on the helpless Liberian masses, slaughtering more than 250,000. Similarly, the people of Burkina Faso will always remember how their present ruler, Blaise Compaore, also trained by Libya, murdered one of Africa’s young rising stars, the late charismatic Thomas Sankara, in cold blood for greed of power. But it could still be possible, though, for the Colonel to play a leading role in the “new” AU from the way things are going right now. With a lot of resources [financial] at his immediate disposal, he has been able lately to steer the OAU in his own direction through various schemes.

But contrary to Colonel Gaddafi and those Africans who would blindly support him in transforming the OAU into the AU at this time without the correct ‘glue’, like democracy in place, that would bind them together, my personal vision of an African Union is one in which the basic human rights of all individuals would be highly respected. It would be an AU based entirely on genuine democratic principles and practices, where “free and fair” elections [the peoples’ mandate] would be the hallmark of the day as opposed to Colonel Gaddafi’s version of democracy, his “Jamahiriya”.

From the outset, if those that were in the forefront of the movement to form an African Union were all “democratically minded”, by now unity would have been achieved somewhat on the mineral-rich continent, thereby, guaranteeing some sort of stability there, because, you see, democracy clearly has a way of stabilizing things. Don’t it? As the matter of fact, if this latest move to unite the continent was being led by, what I would call, the ‘new breed’ of African leaders, men like, Presidents Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, John A. Kufuor of Ghana or Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, I definitely would have no problem so long as the leaders of member states were popularly elected in ‘reasonably’ “free and fair” elections as they were. But Libya, led by Colonel Gaddafi - I’m sorry, I have a serious problem with that!

Truthfully, what divides Africa today is not ideology per se as it were in the 60’s, but dictatorship versus democracy. These are the two present-day battlefronts. On one end are Africa’s ruthless dictators who are struggling desperately to cling on to power at all costs, and at the other end are the vast majority of Africans who are demanding daily to have a say in their respective governments. And any African that doesn’t want to acknowledge this dangerously growing rift between the two sides is just trying to hide from reality. Period!

Interestingly, in this ongoing struggle, several nations in Africa have switched sides wisely since 1963, apparently to cope with the realities of today, and perhaps, for their own stability and progress. For example, during the early days of the formation of the OAU, Ghana and Guinea [et al], led by Presidents Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sekou Toure, respectively, the so-called “progressives”, were on one side, while on the other side, the so-called “conservative aristocrats”, were Liberia and Nigeria [et al], led by Presidents William V. S. Tubman and Nnamdi Azikiwe, respectively.

Today [thanks to the Ghanaian and Nigerian peoples], Ghana and Nigeria have both emerged from Africa’s new division [between dictatorship and democracy] in the same camp, choosing the road to democracy, while both Liberia and Guinea, in the other shameful camp, are burdened with severely brutal dictatorships. But in due course, and after their own ‘internal’ struggles, hopefully Liberia and Guinea too could join Ghana and Nigeria as “reasonably” free and democratic societies, in which their peoples could finally put their productive skills to good use for the benefit of the whole continent.

I must caution quickly, though, that it’s definitely going to get worse before it could get any better, given the strong determination of Africa’s despots to stay in power for life, no matter what!

As I began thinking about doing this article, about 21 African leaders were meeting in the Nigerian city of Abuja to, as they say, devise new strategies for the economic salvation of the continent. Under the aegis of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the leaders, including some of the continents biggest ‘heavy weights’ (Wade and Obasanjo, for example), were trying to put together a plan that they intend to present to heads of the G8 Group [a club comprising the world’s eight leading industrialized nations] in solicitation of development aid, which plunged between 1989 and 1999 from an estimated $24.2 billion to $14.2 billion.

But here’s the catch. In order for Africa to even be considered for new aid packages, Western countries, like the United States, Great Britain and France, among others, that make up the G8, has made it quite clear that unless African countries move [quickly] towards genuine democracy and market reforms, they just might not get what they want. And I think that’s fair enough, don’t you?

Even if the G8 were to grant Africa all the financial aid that they needed today, it’s a fore gone conclusion where it [aid] would inevitably end up – in some Swiss bank account or on the Cayman Island somewhere. Based on past experiences, it is very unlikely that such aid would ever be used for the purpose for which it was given. Yet still, we (Africans) go year in and year out begging for more. This disgraceful practice has got to stop for real!

As far as I’m concerned, it’s not that Africa lacks the resources; it’s just that the continent’s rich and vast natural resources are continuously being squandered by greedy leaders, like Liberia’s Charles Taylor, and many others, who care less about improving the basic living standards of their peoples as long as they’re living well. Admittedly, this is a BIG part of Africa’s current economic, social and political crises, and I’m really not sure how the transformation of the OAU into the ‘new’ AU could change any of this.

In light of the widespread corruption, gross economic and fiscal mismanagement, the lack of basic human rights, continuing state repression, the lack of free expression, etc., amongst the majority of the OAU’s current 53 or so members, there’s absolutely no doubt that those leaders in Africa that are pushing for more and more aid for the continent are definitely fighting an uphill battle, albeit their sincerity. But it’s refreshing to know that some African leaders, who are the continent’s most powerful and prominent figures, are now coming around to addressing these kinds of issues that have dogged the continent for so long. Unless their “concrete” actions speak louder than their usually “empty” words, come a hundred years from now, the dismal and depressing situation in Africa could remain just as it is today - HOPELESS.

The proposal by the recent Abuja [economic] summit to finally form, what proponents call, an “African Peer Review Mechanism”, which is intended to promote democracy and good governance on the continent, is actually long overdue. But the failure of African leaders to collectively condemn the Zimbabwean government outright for the hostile environment in which elections there were recently held, falls far short of what is expected of them at this historical juncture. And so, while they publicly talk about making the necessary switch to democracy, African leaders usually fail the test when the time comes for them to take strong and decisive actions, maybe because they are all “birds of the same feathers”.

In that regard, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said it best when he recently give his honest opinion on the widely criticized Zimbabwean [and perhaps other] hotly contested elections that took place on the continent not too long ago. He said: “I’m DEEPLY, DEEPLY, DEEPLY [emphasis mine] distressed and DEEPLY disappointed that our country [South Africa] could be among those that said the election was legitimate or free and fair when we are claiming to be adherents of democracy”, adding, “ when democracy is not being upheld, we ought, for our own sake, say it is not so.”

I agree totally with the Bishop on this score, because an admission of this sort would signal “clearly” to the rest of the world that today’s African leaders are now prepared and sufficiently mature, more than ever before, to break away from the ugly past of complete silence and tolerance.

Certainly, it could be nothing but hypocrisy for African leaders to continue to blame [as they always do when faced with clear choices] all of the continent’s many problems on ‘neo-colonialism’ or ‘neo-imperialism’, and then turn around and go right back to their same old colonial masters, with hats in hand, to beg continuously for ‘development’ aid. In like manner, it could also be a higher form of hypocrisy for a group, calling itself, Bishops for Peace in Africa, to try and criticize Archbishop Tutu for his usually sincere remarks about the Zimbabwean election, instead of calling “a spade, a spade” as they should in these crucial times. It’s very unfortunate that some folks just don’t like to hear the harsh truth.

And to accuse him (Tutu) of “being a parrot …or being used by the British” as his fellow clergymen have done is to be highly unprincipled in my book, and that certainly doesn’t help the situation at all!

If even we were to agree, as some people would argue, that the land issue in Zimbabwe was the main cause of the conflict there, it still won’t make it correct either to deny the people, through intimidation or other cynical means, their right to vote as the Mugabe government is being charged.

In fact, is he [President Robert Mugabe] the only one that could resolve the land issue, or better yet, lead Zimbabwe to a brighter future? I really hope not, because Africans need to get over the selfish business of wanting to stay in power for life as if their respective countries were their personal fiefdoms.

Honestly, instead of always nagging others for aid, African leaders could try something different, like urging the developed nations, including, Switzerland, the US, etc. to completely deny access to their financial institutions [banks, etc.] by greedy and corrupt government officials from various African countries. This surely would be a major deterrent as there would be hardly any place left where these officials [crooks] could safely keep their loots. Better still, they [African leaders] could ask the same countries to literally seize all ill-gotten wealth that are currently deposited in overseas accounts and give the monies back to whom they rightfully belong - the African peoples - through their “elected” government [and I don’t mean governments that were “elected” fraudulently, either].

Considering that there are millions of Mobutus [Sese Seko, who is said to have plundered his country, the DR Congo, of more than $4b (as in billion)], Abachas [Sani, who is believed to have stolen at least $4.5b from Nigeria’s public coffers], and many other highly corrupt officials all across Africa with huge bank accounts abroad, that should surely be enough money to go around, and as such, no need to keep begging for more aid. Furthermore, it would really be interesting to know where those unscrupulous officials, who normally steal from their peoples, thereby leaving them miserably poor, would then do with their ill-gotten billions. Wouldn’t it!

But here’s another thing. Would the West and other countries that benefit generously from such loots want to cooperate at all on this level to recoup some of that much-needed cash for the benefit of the peoples of Africa, knowing fully well that their own selfish and ‘immoral’ financial interests could also be jeopardized? Well, we will never know until we try, won’t we! As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best way to fix the vexing problem of corruption and greed that are currently holding Africa back.

Finally, on paper, everything looks good regarding the so-called transformation of the OAU into the AU. For example, the idea of a continental Parliament or Congress on par with the “Congress of the United States” as Colonel Gaddafi envisions is brilliant, but how would the African peoples choose their own representatives to that body? Also, the idea of a “continental Supreme court” [or “African Court of Justice”, as they call it] too is good, but who would make up that body and which laws would come into force? How would these new institutions affect Libya [that has a different set of (legal) standards (if any), or Liberia, that supposedly has a ‘functioning’ judiciary but yet controlled by Mr. Taylor? The skepticism goes on and on!

I firmly believe that the best basis for transforming the OAU into the AU would be for all emerging democracies in Africa, like, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, for example, to first come together based solely on practices that they share in common - practices of good-governance, transparency, accountability, freedom of the press, etc. Am I suggesting that these countries don’t have problems? Definitely not! All I’m saying here, is that by them choosing democracy over dictatorships, these countries definitely have a better chance of remaining stable and moving forward progressively than under any other known system as recent history has shown us.

Doing it any other way, especially with the Colonel in charge, would surely spell complete disaster for the entire continent. That’s why I’d prefer the late Liberian President Tubman’s approach - going slowly with this one. By the way, can anyone tell me why African leaders, with the exception of a very few, like, Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Jerry John Rawlings (Ghana) and Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), always want to stay in power for life? Maybe the answer just might give us THE clue as to why Africa is in fact backwards today.

There is no doubt that if Africa MUST progress with the rest of the world, it MUST continue religiously to follow the ‘new’ leadership trend started by these gallant sons [above] of the soil as Africa marches forward forever with democracy as the main basis upon which to finally achieve total unity amongst us. And that’s my personal take!

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