At the end of the recent extra-ordinary summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, President Paul Kagame tweeted out his tribute to his peers for their adoption of reforms that would “transform the capabilities of our institution for years to come”.
He added: “Together we are making Africa stronger and better and building the Africa we want and our people deserve.”
He had good reason. African leaders had just adopted some of the reforms that his team had proposed. However, the job was not complete. Not all the proposed reforms were adopted at the summit.
Some of the leaders had misgivings about a number of them and so have to be persuaded some more.
This should not come as a surprise. For all the years African countries have been independent, they have been pre-occupied by the very issues the reforms seek to address: how to unite Africa, free it from external control and make it strong; how to give it a strong voice and enable it play its rightful role in global affairs.
Efforts are still continuing.
Over the past sixty years, various measures were taken and institutions created to realise these goals. The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was formed in 1963 for this purpose.
Later the African Union replaced the OAU with the mission to create “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”
In between, regional economic groupings were formed or revived to facilitate greater integration.
Some of these efforts have, to varying degrees, succeeded. Others are still work in progress.
The OAU did bring together countries with different ideologies and political systems into one body. The leaders would at least meet and talk even if they did not agree on many things.
Even on those they agreed, they made very little movement to implement. Still, they met every year, and took turns at being chair of the organisation, including such figures as Idi Amin who actually served two terms in the mid 1970s.
The OAU’s greatest achievement was the liberation of the remaining colonies, mainly in southern Africa.
For its part, the AU has kept the continent together and given Africa a voice on the global stage it did not have before. There is some momentum towards greater unity and self-reliance.
Such efforts as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, in addition to regional economic groupings promoting free trade, the Protocol on the Free Movement of People, the Single Air Transport Market and the AU reforms all point to the desire for a stronger, more integrated and prosperous Africa.
In each of these key moments in the history of African unity, we have learnt an important lesson. Great causes are often driven by an individual with sufficient belief in, and single-minded commitment to them, and willingness to put all their energy and even reputation into their realisation
The OAU was spearheaded by President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and like-minded leaders like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika then.
The liberation of Southern Africa was made possible by the leadership of Mwalimu Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and the sacrifices of the people of the Frontline States. This, of course, together with the liberation movements themselves.
In the late 1990s Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi, perhaps for his own personal reasons, was instrumental in the transformation of the OAU into the AU.
Former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is often associated with a movement for the rebirth of Africa – the African Renaissance.
Today President Kagame leads the reforms of the AU to make it stronger, more effective and responsive to Africans.
However, despite all the good intentions and the dedication of the leaders involved, the pace towards greater unity has been slow. In some cases it seems to have been deliberately impeded. This is the view of many Africans who would like to see faster movement.
Everyone, political leaders among the loudest, professes the desire for a stronger, more self-reliant and competitive Africa.
But when it comes to turning profession of faith into deeds, some of them suddenly develop cold feet, others become struck by a strange muteness, and many more actively work against what they claim to believe in and to be committed to.
How else can you explain the deliberate actions of some to scuttle agreed regional integration projects? What makes them say one thing and then act contrary to it?
What causes some to drag their feet regarding the 0.2% levy to finance AU activities? And the slow ratification of the AfCFTA and other agreements, what lies behind it?
The explanation often given is that this is the result of lack of political will. What is clear, however, is that there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the profession of faith. Some of our leaders approach continental issues with two-facedness, and that is the tragedy.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.