25 August 2020
Marcus Garvey was among the first advocates for a united Africa: “Unite all people of African ancestry of the world to one great body to establish a country and absolute government of their own”. To understand the need for a united Africa requires an understanding of history and the economics of development. Once, you get this, the case for a single African country is a no-brainer.
Why was most of Africa conquered with relative ease by colonisers? A stronger force came to loot the continent’s resources and there was little pan-African consciousness among the natives. Very few Africans saw how the defeat of one group by Europeans posed a threat to the next group. The Europeans had a unity of purpose, and carved up the continent amongst themselves at the Berlin Conference so that they didn’t have to fight each other over the spoils from Africa. But there was no unity among the people at threat. Even among Igbos in pre-colonial Nigeria there was no pan-Igbo awareness that would have made the different Igbo clans unite against the invaders. Or see what the conquest of one clan meant for the freedoms of the other groups. The Europeans knew this and played one community against the next. Ever since, divide and rule, playing one group against the other, has been deployed to maintain the status quo.
Since colonial times, colonisers recognised that Africa is the richest continent on earth in terms of natural resources. In fact, much of Western wealth is reliant on African resources. The multinationals that benefit from access to those resources at very low prices, have a stake in continued access and keeping prices down. A relatively small and economically weak African country can have the terms of access dictated to it by a more economically powerful country. A united Africa controlling for e.g. about 70% of the world’s platinum, presents a different ball game, could dictate terms of access, prices and negotiate better deals using those resources as bargaining chips on the negotiating table. A small, economically weak country, you do what you are told and what you are told is usually for the benefit of Western capital not your people.
How did the US or the British Empire become superpowers? It is doubtful if the US would have been a superpower if it were the size of Britain. The size of country represented a huge market that drove demand that improved production and generated growth. It was the same with the British Empire which controlled a quarter of the world, which became a dumping ground for British manufactured goods. Today, a German business benefits from friction-free trade, with the same currency with 20+ countries, including access to skilled labour from those countries.
A united Africa not only makes economic sense, but political sense as well. Africa will never develop economically without political independence. No single African country is genuinely independent. They have neither the economic nor the political might to achieve genuine independence. Libya was one of the most developed countries in Africa, with living standards that others could only envy. Their independence didn’t last as the country was bombed into the Stone Age. This would have been unlikely with a united Africa. The Red Army is one reason no one even thinks about regime change in China. That might has enabled China choose a path to development independent of Western interests.
Any African country that tried to act independently politically or economically, faces economic sanctions, overthrow or invasion to prevent what Noam Chomsky called “successful defiance”. Individually, they can’t resist the pressure, but collectively, it is a different ball game. That’s why Kwame Nkrumah said no single African nation could really claim to be independent and only by uniting can we secure that genuine independence. It was why his efforts to secure a single continental government were undermined by the US and Britain using stooges Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie and Nigeria’s Tafawa Balewa.
The fact that many Africans still do not support a pan-African government and a single country shows that many of us have still not been able to see beyond our noses and have not progressed that much beyond the levels of our ancestors, in which an Onitsha man in southeast Nigeria would have thought the British conquest of neighbouring Asaba had nothing to do with him.
“It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak, united, Africa could become of the greatest forces for good in the world.” Kwame Nkrumah.