In 1963 leaders of African countries that had gained independence met in Addis Ababa to form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Out of the current 54 African countries only 32 had gained independence at that time.
And so the question of independence was on their minds; but even those that had attained it had a plethora of problems that needed to be confronted. In all, there was the realisation that Africa’s problems were intertwined and that mutual solidarity was essential.
There was a term for this unity of purpose: Pan-Africanism. And so, the likes of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ahmed Sekou Toure, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and of course, the Osagyefo (The Redeemer) himself, Kwame Nkrumah would go on to articulate why such unity was sine qua none.
Precisely, they sought unity as a counterweight to Empire (the Soviet Union and the United States), as a vehicle for supporting those African countries that were yet to gain independence, for bringing an end to Apartheid rule in South Africa; it would also seek to dismantle settler colonialism in Northern (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), among other lofty aspirations. Crucially, such ambitions were underlain by the conviction that a still balkanised Africa could not afford to pursue any of them single-handedly.
Enormous success was registered. But colonialism would not go down easy; it fought back. One after another progressive leaders were deposed and replaced by retrogressive rulers in a series of military coup d’états in which the fingerprints of the former colonial master were all too noticeable.
And so the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin Dada, Juvenal Habyarimana, and, later, Sani Abacha took charge of the destiny of Africa, including that of the OAU. They would turn out to be a diametrically opposed bunch in disposition and practice: mediocre in aspirations and anti-intellectual in orientation.
In short, they killed the dream of the OAU. The organisation remained the same in name only for a period lasting over three decades from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. Their actions earned the OAU the moniker of the Dictators’ Club, a term that is loathed by today’s members of the organisation.
It is for this reason that in the late 1990s they met in the late Ghaddafi’s home town in Sirte to consider renaming the organisation, to pursue a different identity; to distance themselves from the legacy of the OAU they created the AU in 2002.
Ask anyone how easy it is to get rid of a nickname, especially one that you are not keen on answering to; or, ask a person with a bad history how easy it is to acquire a new identity, for that matter. It is not.
Rwanda, the redeemer
If truth be bold, even at its best the OAU was always at conflict with itself. Perhaps the most divisive conflict was over how to go about pursuing the agreed ambitions. As most readers recall, the result of such division was the creation of two camps: Monrovia and Casablanca.
Nkrumah’s camp, the countries of the Casablanca group, wanted the immediate formation of a single African political entity. For them, this was the most effective approach for responding to the continent’s enormous challenges, especially Nkrumah’s trepidation with the threat of neo-colonialism.
Nyerere’s camp, the Monrovia group, sought a gradual pursuit. For them, the formation of regional political blocs in the mould of the East African Community, would be more practical given the continent’s diversity.
The conflict never ended. Gaddafi inherited Nkrumah’s argument; Museveni adopted Nyerere’s. It ensured unwarranted tension in the AU, and a situation that affected the implementation of agreed programmes. This, in turn, helped to ensure another unflattering reputation of a body that says a lot and does little; great plans but little implementation.
Same goals, different methods. The difference has always been tactical in nature; it is whether to pursue a conventional war or the method of guerrilla warfare. In military terms, a conventional war calls for the constant pursuit of the enemy until victory is won; in our local bars it is what they call going “Kizimbabwe.”
Then there is the guerrilla method. It calls for the mounting of sporadic attacks against enemy positions with the objective of gradually exhausting the adversary into submission. In terms of substance, however, the difference is life and death of the fighters and possibly the movement, in the case that the commander makes a wrong call by misreading the nature (capacity and capabilities) of the enemy.
Rwanda is AU’s co-signer
The AU comes to Rwanda because, if truth be told, the movement risks dying off. It seeks to shed off an unflattering identity, to assume another; it badly needs a co-signer on a loan. It needs nothing other than credibility if it is to remain relevant.
Rwanda is the only co-signer with good credit. Its record over the past two decades not only screams credibility but its experience shows that you can employ the conventional and guerrilla warfare strategies simultaneously. It talks the big game and backs it up. It says, ‘you don’t have to believe me; come see.’
Finally, Rwanda’s leader oozes confidence because he knows he’s legit. He understands he’s the only one who can redeem the AU; they want him and he knows it too. It explains the bounce in his step, the three car convoy, and the swagger in his picture with Uhuru.
He is the Osagyefo.
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