by Raymond Eyo
“Ask not what [the African Union] can do for [Nigeria] but what [Nigeria] can do for [the African Union].”
– John Kennedy (paraphrased)
Africa’s first continental institution, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union (AU) was created on May 25, 1963. May 25, 2013 therefore marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the OAU and it is consequently expedient to make commemorative projections of what can be done to make the next 50 years more successful than the last albeit, this time, for the AU.
One important factor needed for the AU to move forward is the full support of the leading African nations, especially Nigeria. Nigeria has done it before, for the OAU. She can do it again, for the AU. However, before stating what Nigeria can do for the AU, let us reflect on and draw inspiration from some of the things she did for the OAU.
To begin with, Nigeria’s Prof. Adeoye Deniga and Ladipo Solanke were torchbearers of the pan-Africanist movement that eventually resulted in the formation of the OAU. Also, Nigeria played a leading role in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, which was a major concern for the OAU. From 1972 to 1994, the UN Special Committee against Apartheid was headed, uninterrupted, by Nigerian diplomats.
In addition, Nigeria was instrumental in facilitating the struggle for, and attainment of independence in at least three Southern African countries: Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. In the late 1970s, the British government was jolted into action to grant Zimbabwe independence when in a surprise move Nigeria nationalised the local assets of British Petroleum. Given that the OAU’s main objective was to free Africa from colonialism, it can be gleaned from the above that Nigeria played a leading role in the attainment of that.
Furthermore, in the pursuit of the OAU’s objective for peace in Africa, Nigeria demonstrated several times its capacity as a regional peace-keeping power within the ECOWAS region. She sent troops to Liberia to keep the peace. In Sierra Leone, in the 1990s, until the UN came in, Nigeria acted alone against the rebels to restore order.
From the foregoing, it is clear that Nigeria contributed immensely to the OAU’s modest success.
On that basis, we can therefore call on Nigeria to bring her leadership, once again, to bear on charting the way forward for the AU of the future. I will address the two major challenges encumbering the AU: the lack of funds and the absence of integration.
Firstly, with regard to the lack of funds, here is what Regina Malanda, the deputy editor of the bestselling pan-African magazine, New African, wrote in the magazine’s July 2012 issue, in commemoration of the AU’s 10th anniversary: “One of the biggest challenges is how the AU is funded. Not only do member-states contribute only 40% of the AU’s budget, the non-payment of contributions (or the annoying habit of letting contributions lapse into arrears) leaves the AU vulnerable to Western donor support and dictates. By and large, and sadly so, the AU extends its begging bowl to the West in order to survive. How a continent of 54 countries, with the richest deposits of every natural resource in the world, can still largely rely on outside largesse to finance the activities of its continental union (even the new AU headquarters was donated by China) is a paradox that Africa will have to solve.”
Like Malanda mentioned above, in January 2012, China presented the AU with a new headquarters building, at the cost of $200m, a move that many rightly felt was demeaning and unbecoming of a continent whose recent impressive growth figures should rather engender a renewed sense of independence and boost her conviction and capacity to get standing on her feet.
On February 27, 2012, the former governor of Nigeria’s Delta State, James Ibori, pleaded guilty in the UK to stealing $250m of state funds, $50m more than what China spent to build the new AU edifice! My point here is that Nigeria alone is so rich and endowed to the extent where one of its 36 governors could afford to steal more funds than China spent to build a new edifice for the AU! By implication, if Nigeria’s leaders properly managed state funds, there will be enough to contribute to AU projects, even to the tune of millions of dollars. Until more endowed African countries like Nigeria lead the way financially, the AU will sadly continue to suffer deficiency.
On the other hand, it is a shame that only 10% of Africa’s trade is within Africa, a 2% drop from two years ago. The World Bank’s Africa Office recently declared that “It is cheaper for Nigeria to import food from Peru than from Cameroon”. A new World Bank report, released on May 9, says: “Regional integration is key to reinforce economic competitiveness across Africa.” Last year, Harvard Professor of International Development and the co-chair of the AU’s panel on science, technology, and innovation, Calestous Juma, averred that “African national economies [are] too small to succeed. [They should] integrate!” Regional integration is a sine qua non for Africa’s sustainable development. As the gateway into, and the biggest economy in West Africa, Nigeria has a great leverage, as well as a special responsibility, to champion regional integration in Africa.
In a joint press statement in July 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan and British Prime Minister, David Cameron, urged African countries to trade with each other.
Jonathan said: “Nigeria will work with its partners in Western Africa to liberalise trade with the ultimate ambition of Africa-wide free trade.” Inter alia, the duo said: “An African free trade area could increase GDP across the continent by an estimated $62 billion a year. That’s $20 billion more than the world gives sub-Saharan Africa in aid… Despite recent strong economic growth in Africa, today just 12 per cent of African trade is with other African nations. For much of the continent it is easier to trade with Europe or America than it is to trade with a neighbour… But what will transform Africa’s potential is truly pan-continental trade, underpinned by concrete and substantial agreements… Regional trade is the golden key… For too long 54 nations’ borders have been allowed to hold Africa’s people back. It is time to make African free trade the common purpose of the continent.”
In a March 2009 interview, the then Nigerian High Commissioner to Cameroon, Philip Ali Dauda, said: “In five or ten years [Nigeria and Cameroon] will form the bridge between the West African sub-region and the Central African sub-region. Once you have free flow of trade and citizens, the interaction builds very fast. Hence, there will be commonality between the Central and West African regions [which] will impact positively on the rest of Africa. From West Africa, one can easily find expansion towards North Africa. From Central Africa, one will find expansion towards East Africa then towards Southern Africa…”
This is the way to go! Regional integration will greatly bolster Africa’s development and hence, before long, many African countries will have enough funds not only to cater for their own prosperity but also to meet up with their AU financial obligations for the good of the organisation and the continent.
Speaking to South Africa’s parliament on May 7, Nigeria’s President said: “Together, we shall make Africa a land of great hope and glorious aspirations where dreams come true, for us and the generations to come.” Now is the time to begin walking that talk! Happy 50th Anniversary to the OAU-cum-AU!