by Abayomi Azikiwe
History is not as far removed from the crises afflicting Africa today as many people seem to think. Imperialism has fought against the continent’s genuine independence and socialist development over the last five decades. As Nkrumah said, independence was only the prelude to a tougher struggle for the right of Africans to conduct their affairs according to their own aspirations.
Africa at the Crossroads: the Fate of the African Union
by Abayomi Azikiwe
This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News.
“The alternative to a totally liberated and unified Africa is imperialism in its most profane and exploitative phase.”
May 25 marked the 54th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor to the African Union (AU) formed in 2002. This continental organization brings together independent nation-states and the still colonized territory of the Western Sahara under Moroccan occupation.
With the readmission of Morocco into the AU this year, some have begun to question the anti-colonial mission of the organization. The monarchy in Rabat has not made any commitment to the United Nations mandated and supervised elections aimed at granting the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic the right to determine its own destiny.
Some African states opposed the reentry of Morocco for this very reason. Either the organization firmly supports the rights of colonized peoples to self-determination or it does not. There is really no room for a middle ground.
At the founding of the OAU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963, the divisions were largely centered on the issues of the character of the African unification process. Should Pan-Africanism be a gradual process of the merging of regional entities or should it develop at a rapid pace?
Africa being carved up during the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, and events leading up to that critical period in history, laid the basis for the contemporary crises of the 21st century. From France, Britain, Portugal, Spain, the United States, Germany and the Netherlands, the imperialists drained the continent of its human and material resources creating the conditions for the development of Europe and North America and the instability and underdevelopment of the continent.
“Nkrumah appealed to the African heads of state for continental unity as the only viable solution to the problems of mass poverty, super-exploitation and the consolidation of neo-colonialism.”
Yet, long before the dawn of the present century during the founding summit of the OAU, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister and later president of independent Ghana, appealed in his address delivered on May 24, 1963 to the African heads of state for continental unity as the only viable solution to the problems of mass poverty, super-exploitation and the consolidation of neo-colonialism. The events which took place in the former Belgian Congo in 1960-61 where the elected government of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was overthrown through the machinations of the Belgians, the U.S. and the UN illustrated clearly the monumental tasks of acquiring genuine national independence and unity.
Lumumba was eventually driven from the capital of Leopoldville (Kinshasa) where he sought refuge among his supporters in the Congolese National Movement (MNC-Lumumba) in the East of the vast mineral-rich state. Eventually he was captured by the imperialists and their agents.
By late January 1961, Lumumba had been vilified by the western media, unjustly detained, beaten, tortured and executed. This series of events portended much for the future of the struggle for Pan-Africanism, exposing fully the institutional resistance on a global scale to the forward advancement of the oppressed and exploited workers, farmers and youth of the continent.
Nkrumah emphasized in his 1963 speech in Addis Ababa that:
“A whole continent has imposed a mandate upon us to lay the foundation of our union at this conference. It is our responsibility to execute this mandate by creating here and now the formula upon which the requisite superstructure may be created. On this continent, it has not taken us long to discover that the struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence. Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist controls and interference.”
Contemporary challenges from Egypt to Nigeria
These words from Nkrumah were indeed prophetic. Looking at the situation today in the North African state of Egypt sheds enormous light on the present crises. Egypt is the third-largest populated country on the continent. It is the gateway to Western Asia where there is a historic link with the ancient civilizations, which shaped the scientific, cultural and intellectual foundations of the modern world.
Nonetheless, this potential is stifled due to the continued domination of imperialism. Egypt is faced with political divisions between Islamist and nationalist forces. The military coup of July 2013 further solidified the role of the military within the state. There is an armed opposition based in the Sinai where natural gas resources abound. These assets cannot be fully utilized for the benefit of the African continent because of the dominant role of the state of Israel and the U.S.
“Egypt is faced with political divisions between Islamist and nationalist forces.”
Egypt remains impoverished despite its enormous wealth. At present there is still the failure to resolve the issues surrounding the usage of the Nile River. Ethiopia is constructing a Renaissance Dam which could impact the access of this waterway from Egypt to other contiguous Nile basin states including Sudan, Uganda and Kenya. The peaceful resolution of these disagreements will determine the outcome of any development projects for the region.
In the West African state of Nigeria, the largest populated nation on the continent, with its gargantuan oil and natural gas resources, is battling a renewed economic recession. The price of oil has dropped precipitously over the last three years due to overproduction.
Since the post-colonial African states are dependent upon the purchasing power of the West which determines the price of commodities and the terms of trade, the currency values and foreign exchange reserves have dropped significantly. Nigeria as well is divided through the guerrilla war which has been raging in the northeast since 2009 where Boko Haram has caused havoc among the people of that region, often described as the least developed due to the legacy of British colonialism.
From Somalia to South Africa: The problems of water and resource harnessing
The Horn of Africa has been a source of imperialist intrigue on the continent for at least four decades. In Somalia, where oil resources exist in abundance in the north and offshore in the central and south of the nation, the country is undergoing a calamity of unprecedented proportions.
Millions are threatened with famine as a result of the lack of food and potable water. Crop failures stem from the lack of stability and security. The war between Al-Shabaab and the western-backed government in Mogadishu is by no means subsiding. This is the situation despite the presence of 22,000 African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) troops stationed in the country for the last decade. Obviously the wealth of Somalia is being siphoned off by the transnational corporations based in the West and their allies within government.
South Africa, the most industrialized state on the continent, is suffering from high unemployment, continuing poverty, declining currency values, inadequate service delivery and a burgeoning energy crisis. A sub-continental drought and lack of investment in infrastructure has rendered the nation without the proper capacity to generate power for the much-needed second industrial transformation. There has been a systematic disinvestment by capital since the ascendancy of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in 1994 after decades of intense struggle against settler-colonialism and apartheid.
“Imperialism has never accepted the advent of genuine independence and socialist development.”
Considerable pressure has been brought on the society from international finance capital to the extent that now there are intense polemics within the tripartite alliance (the ANC, the Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions) over how to proceed in the National Democratic Revolution. All the while opposition forces led by the objectively racist and pro-imperialist Democratic Alliance (DA) are being positioned for the staging of a political coup that would re-institute a form of neo-apartheid. The lessons of Congo (1960-61) and Ghana (1966) are not as far removed as many may surmise. Imperialism has never accepted the advent of genuine independence and socialist development over the last five or more decades.
As Nkrumah also stated in his OAU lecture of 1963, “We are fast learning that political independence is not enough to rid us of the consequences of colonial rule. The movement of the masses of the people of Africa for freedom from that kind of rule was not only a revolt against the conditions which it imposed. Our people supported us in our fight for independence because they believed that African governments could cure the ills of the past in a way which could never be accomplished under colonial rule. If, therefore, now that we are independent we allow the same conditions to exist that existed in colonial days, all the resentment which overthrew colonialism will be mobilized against us. The resources are there. It is for us to marshal them in the active service of our people.”
These are some of the lessons of the last 54 years that must guide the AU member-states into the concluding years of the second decade of the 21st century. The alternative to a totally liberated and unified Africa is imperialism in its most profane and exploitative phase.
Lessons from the north
Another series of mass demonstrations have taken place in the North African state of Tunisia where the uprisings beginning in December 2010 led to what has been described as the “Arab Spring.” After Tunisia the situation in Egypt unfolded with huge protests, rebellion and the eventual seizure of power by the military in mid-February 2011. Obviously no revolutionary party or coalition of national democratic forces had the political capacity to seize power on behalf of the people in order to make a clean break with the United States and its imperialist allies.
The events in Tunisia and Egypt prompted demonstrations in Algeria as well. However, in this North African state the color revolution did not escalate to the point of driving the National Liberation Front (FLN) from power. Of course the history of Algeria is quite different from both Tunisia and Egypt. The FLN fought a seven-year guerrilla war against France. This war of independence distinguished Algeria from the historical trajectory of Egypt where the national democratic revolution was engineered by the Free Officer Movement of lower-ranking military figures such as Gamal Abdel Nasser. The seizure of power by Nasser and his comrades in 1952 and the consolidation of power by him in 1954 led directly to the nationalization of the Suez Canal and the subsequent invasion by Britain, France and Israel two years later. Nasser prevailed in 1956 in part due to the inter-imperialist rivalry between Washington, Paris and London.
The administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower opposed the European invasion of Egypt not because of its support for African independence. Instead the U.S. was seeking to consolidate its hegemony as the world’s uncontested imperialist center. Overtures to the emergent national liberation movements were part and parcel of a broader strategy of neo-colonial rule which is predominant in the 21st century.
“The brutal assassination of Gaddafi in Sirte was actually ordered by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the administration of former President Barack Obama.”
Tunisians in recent weeks have focused on the failure of the energy industry to provide benefits for nationals. In the south of the country where the unrest began in late 2010, there has been the blockading of extractive outlets aimed at closing down operations. However, security forces have arrested numerous people while others have been injured and at least one person killed.
According to a May 24 report by the Agence France Press (AFP): “Thousands attended the funeral Tuesday of a protester killed during clashes in southern Tunisia as officials warned tensions could escalate amid demonstrations over social and labor issues. Anouar Sakrafi, in his early 20s, died of wounds suffered Monday when he was run over by a national guard vehicle during clashes with security forces at an oil and gas plant, the scene of long-running protests over joblessness. Security forces fired tear gas as protesters tried to storm the El Kamour facility in the desert region of Tataouine, radio reports said. The government said Sakrafi's killing was accidental.”
The lack of any fundamental socio-economic transformation in Tunisia was even pointed out in an article in Forbes magazine. This is a journal of record for international finance capital and therefore its conclusions would not be the same as anti-imperialists and socialists.
However, Forbes said of the political atmosphere in both Egypt and Tunisia: “A popular uprising that began in Tunisia and Egypt…calling for an end to corruption and the creation of economic opportunities, has yet to achieve these goals. In fact, Tunisia and Egypt have not become less corrupt since then, and unemployment continues to remain in double digits.” (May 20)
Undoubtedly the worst outcome of developments in 2011 was the counter-revolution in Libya, which began in February. The suppression of the western-backed rebels by the Jamahiriya under Col. Muammar Gaddafi provided a rationale for the passage of two United Nations Security Council resolutions providing a pseudo-legal cover for the blanket bombing of this oil-rich state for seven months.
Tens of thousands of people died in the aerial bombardments, which destroyed basic infrastructure and provided cover for the rebels to seize control of key cities including the capital of Tripoli by August. The brutal assassination of Gaddafi in Sirte was actually ordered by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton under the administration of former President Barack Obama.
Today Libya is a source of instability, terrorism, human trafficking, corruption and neo-colonial intrigue. Numerous attempts to impose a compliant regime that could win the support of the disparate rebel groups installed by the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NATO have failed miserably.
Only a revolutionary anti-imperialist approach to the crises in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia could provide real hope for stability and reconstruction. Efforts which have taken place in Southern Africa provide a glimpse of possibilities for other regions of the continent.
Legacies of imperialism: Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola
A radical land redistribution program in Zimbabwe in 2000 drew the wrath of the former colonizers in Britain and their allies in Washington and Brussels. Sanctions imposed on this sovereign state in defense of settler colonial economic relations further exposed the actual foreign policy of the U.S., Britain, the European Union (EU) and its partners in Southern Africa.
The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front party (ZANU-PF) has held steadfast in defending its independence. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during his tenure as chairperson of the AU and the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) put forward a Pan-African program urging heads of state and the popular forces to reverse the cycle of dependency upon the West through regional integration and an independent foreign policy based on African interests.
Recently in Namibia, which like Zimbabwe waged an armed mass struggle for national liberation, the ruling Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) declared its support for the legal claims filed against Germany by the Herero and Nama people for the genocidal policies during the initial colonial period under Berlin between the 1880s and 1915 when the European state lost its colonies in Africa to other imperialist powers such as Britain and France.
“In order for sustainable development to be realized the continent must turn inward.”
In Angola, the continent’s second largest producer of petroleum, the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), which also won its independence through the barrel of the gun and its consolidation through the assistance of internationalist forces from the Republic of Cuba, announced that long time President Jose Eduardo dos Santos was turning over control to a new leadership. Angola has been impacted negatively by the sharp decline in oil prices placing a brake on the rapid economic development inside the former Portuguese colony.
At a SADC Summit held earlier this year, a proposal for a regional industrialization was approved by the body which represents 15 independent states in the region as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Seychelles. Despite the inevitable obstacles to such an ambitious project it represents the future of Africa. In order for sustainable development to be realized the continent must turn inward in order to exert its latent power on the global stage.
Only unity will truly liberate Africa
An Africa Liberation Day radio broadcast aired on 24 May 1964 by President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana spelled out clearly the necessity for continental unity up to the point of the formation of an all-African Union Government. Nkrumah noted that Pan-Africanism and Socialism provide the only viable solutions to the post-colonial stagnation and continued underdevelopment. This historic speech relays in part:
“As I have said time and time again, the salvation of Africa lies in unity. Only a Union Government can safeguard the hard-won freedom of the various African states. Africa is rich, its resources are vast and yet African states are poor. It is only in a Union Government that we can find the capital to develop the immense economic resources of Africa. Only a unified economic planning for development can give Africa the — economic security essential for the prosperity and wellbeing of all its peoples. It is also quite clear that not a single African state can today defend herself effectively. Therefore, many African states are forced to enter defense agreements with their former colonial master. Recent events in Gabon and elsewhere show clearly how these military pacts can be used to subvert the independence and territorial integrity of African states. The only real and lasting solution is a defense arrangement for Africa on the basis of a unified military command.”
During this 54th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity and its successor the AU, the continental organization must review these important issues. The alternative represents more of the same: greater reliance on the imperialists, which has resulted in a renewed burgeoning debt, greater penetration of Pentagon and CIA elements in the region and the further fragmentation of existing nation states.
Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor, Pan-African News Wire.