This article has been edited and was first published on April 27, 2016.
Since the establishment of the Organisation of the African Unity (now the African Union) on 25 May 1963, the United States of Africa has remained a highly cherished dream among great pan-Africanists like Ghana’s founding president Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Jamaican founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association Marcus Garvey, Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie and even former Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi.
But decades later, surges in ethnic and political violence experienced in pockets across the continent along with other forms of instability beg the question of whether this dream of a unified Africa was and continues to be a mere rhetorical statement or if it can one day come true.
During his 2013 speech in Harare after meeting the former chairman of the African Union Thomas Boni Yayi, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe argued that a leader was highly needed to move Africa beyond regional blocs and into the global super-league – a United States of Africa:
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“Get them (Africans) to get out of the regional shell and get into one continental shell. The continent of Africa: this is what we must become. And there, we must also have an African head.”
This direct statement by Mugabe seems to have lost relevance with most if not all African leaders; pessimistic arguments prevail over the call for one African state.
Lindiwe Zulu, international relations adviser to South African president Jacob Zuma, has argued that Africa has lots of issues to tackle – political democracy, buoyant economy and effective state institutions – before attempting to establish a single African leader.
“There is a lot more to be done. We are still agonizing over sovereignty. When you call for one president, you are calling for ministers to serve under them, one parliament and one legislative process. There are too many things that divide us on political, social and economic levels. We need to have a common agenda and approach to human rights and development before we can talk about one president. We need to deal with democracy on the continent and leaders who think beyond themselves,” she maintained.
Meanwhile, Director of the Royal African Society Richard Dowden has described the entire call for a unified Africa as unworkable.
“It is a dream of totalitarian fantasists, not the people. Africa is becoming increasingly local. I’m in Kenya at the moment and the forthcoming election is all about ethnic arithmetic,” he added.
Aside the expression of ill hopes on the possibility of a United States of Africa, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade revealed during the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly that Africa was likely to become a unified state in 2017.
“At the level of the African Union, we are planning to reach the United States of Africa by 2017. Concomitantly with its plans for a United States of Africa, the AU is moving forward, inexorably, towards the establishment of its ‘Sixth Region’ which will institutionalize the African Diaspora as a formal member of that body,” he stated.
Be it all as it may, Africa still remains one of the continents bonded by culture and tradition – two variables which place the continent on a sure path to a unified government only if political heads of the AU find the best timing for such a momentous development.