Thursday, February 21, 2008




By Jerry Okungu

Once more, all roads are leading to Accra, Ghana; Kwame Nkurumah’s birthplace this coming weekend. African Heads of State and Government will converge in the coastal city of this ancient Gold Coast to deliberate on several divergent agenda with a thin connecting thread that runs through them all.

As I write this article, my bags are also packed ready to join the thousands of excited Africans that will join in the debate in several forums. Already, hundreds of experts and diplomats from 53 African countries together with their development partners have started burning midnight oil to prepare tons of resolutions for endorsement by African rulers.

But if I may ask, what exactly is the excitement about, considering that this AU summit has become such a routine when you consider that the same leaders nowadays meet as often as every six months across the continent? It is easy to remember that between June 2006 and now, this will be third such meeting in Banjul, Addis Ababa and now Accra.

The difference this time is that a circulating document received from the Chairman of the AU Commission is very categorical that that the only agendum in the AU premier Summit will be the discussion on the proposed Africa’s Union Government. And to show how serious the proponents of this project are, several debates have been initiated in several capitals across the continent to give the ever vocal civil society an opportunity to debate the proposals.

Listening to these lively debates through BBC Network Africa, one gets the impression that Africans are still as divided as they were in 1963 when Kwame Nkurumah first tabled the same proposal at the OAU summit. Strangely enough the most vocal opponents of this union government debate are still the same elites that killed it forty years ago!

As the South African and Algerian presidents will be bracing themselves for their governance records to be reviewed by their peers, another heated debate will be on how to integrate the operations of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development into the African Union bureaucracy. One of the ardent champions of this integration has been Abdulahi Wade of Senegal, who has never wasted an opportunity to criticize the NEPAD Secretariat in South Africa for its ineptitude and dragging of its feet on the process.
More telling was Wade’s recent outburst that NEPAD had lost direction and instead its management spends millions of dollars a year attending useless meetings that have no connection with NEPAD’s original goals.

However, considering that the APRM and NEPAD forums will precede the Union Government debate, one may be forgiven for thinking that everything else will end up being a side show in readiness for the big debate.

Reports reaching us in Nairobi indicate that already the big boys of Africa like Muamar Gaddafi of Libya; one of the most vocal proponents of the Union Government has already pitched his tent in neighboring Sierra Leone, waiting to roll into Accra in his characteristic style for the grand debate.

Back here in East Africa, this debate must cause us some nightmare of sorts if not utmost confusion. Yes, it must, considering that in the last eight or so months, we have spent sleepless nights hitting the road with the campaign for an East African Federation.

Now, suppose Africa reaches a consensus for a continental government, shall we abandon our project half way when we have just admitted our neighbors, Rwanda and Burundi into our Community? What about the COMESA accord that took place in Nairobi just last month and paved the way for a common Customs Union?

But again, Africa being Africa, there is a remote possibility that such a decision with far reaching consequences will be achieved in Accra in two days of deliberations.
The diversity of interests and ideological differences cannot possibly allow for a speedy decision. One just needs to look at the economic disparities, poverty levels and internal conflicts bedeviling several member states. It will be impossible to imagine Robert Mugabe acceding power in his lifetime to a fellow African leader no matter how popular that leader may be across the continent.

Since this union government agenda is driven by aging African strongmen, there is a real possibility that they will drag the agenda long enough to allow them finish their terms in office. If they agree on dates like 2015 and 2025 as the period of implementation, leaders like Thabo Mbeki, Robert Mugabe, Muamar Gaddafi, Yoweri Museveni and Mwai Kibaki will be celebrating their 90th and 100th birthdays if they will be lucky to be alive. In East Africa, only Tanzanian, Rwandan and Burundian presidents will be lucky to witness the event in their twilight years.

But again, why not? In a way, this debate will be good for us in East Africa where we have been grappling with our own small federation idea. May be it will be a wake up call for us to rethink our own regional debate.