This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Organization of Africa Unity-African Union (OAU/AU). Three issues–Pan Africanism, which includes continental integration, sustainable development and the empowerment of women, according to African Union Chair Nokosazan Klamini-Zuma “loom the largest,” for the group’s meeting planned for May 25-27 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The AU’s predecessor, the OAU, came into existence as a compromise between leaders like Osegyefo Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who advocated “a union government and a continental military high command,” noted The Guardian newspaper, and “the more conservative outlook of the pro-western leaders of Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Liberia, who insisted on a gradual approach.”  

The expanded mission was born in 1999 in Sirte the hometown of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. There the African Union was created in part to continue Nkrumah’s “vision for a strong and united Africa.”


But how much progress has been made toward attaining a unified Africa? Today it appears as unreachable as when Nkrumah and Guinea’s Sekou Toure signed a joint declaration in Conakry in May of 1959. The question then becomes, what will inspire, encourage, cajole, or force African leaders to institute Nkrumah’s vision of a “Union of independent States of Africa,” the principle configuration the Ghanaian president hotly debated at each annual OAU summit up until he was overthrown in 1966 in a coup?

In Nkrumah’s vision, which was adopted by Gadhafi, member states “would surrender portions of their national sovereignty ‘in the full interest of the African community,’ ” wrote C.O.C. Amate in his 1986 book “Inside the OAU: Panafricanism in Practice.”

But what would cause African leaders to relinquish some power for a higher objective then personal and national agendas?

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan during a 1993 speech given in front of 19 African heads of state during the African African-American Summit in Gabon, said the problem is lack of visionary leadership, and a failure to use the precepts of a higher power, whether derived from Christianity, Islam or Animism, that many profess to believe in.

President Barack Obama

”The problem in the world today is not the followers or the people. The problem in the world today is with the leadership,” Farrakhan declared. “The Bible teaches: ‘If the blind lead the blind, both fall in the ditch.’ If our leaders are spiritually blind and morally bankrupt, then we have no right to lead our people.”

Farrakhan said African leaders have to realize this is the end of the time of “White supremacy.” This “time demands that neo-colonialism … never be allowed to be substituted for an old form of colonialism which allows a Black face to administrate over the same old plantation system of our former colonial masters,” he said.

Today some say that Black face in the highest place is President Barack Obama. In March he hosted, at the same time, four African heads of state so other African leaders could see what America feels is good government. In June Obama goes to Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa. His travel to Africa, according to published reports, is to countries where America stamps her seal of approval. Though Lindiwe Zulu, international relations advisor to South African President Jacob Zuma, has warned “if he doesn’t (visit SA), we won’t forgive him for that!”

No one has yet said it, but it’s actually a slap in Africa’s face for Obama, to visit Africa and not attend the 50th anniversary of the OAU/AU. Why come to the continent and not attend a summit where each one of the African heads of state will be in attendance? This appears to validate his Black American critics, including the Congressional Black Caucus, who throughout both terms, have taken him to task for not focusing on the African American community, similar to how he’s made issues like immigration, gay rights, and Israel a priority.

Secretary of State John Kerry will be attending the AU Summit.

Africa, if it is to be free, has to show less dependence on Western powers. Col. Gadhafi, when he chaired the AU said, the continent’s long-term solution was unity–a federal government endowed with the power to speak for all countries on economic development, on continental defense and foreign policy.

His words were sound. The fact that African countries trade more outside of the continent then between themselves, means Africa remains a slave to Western and Asian powers.

When Dlamina-Zuma took office she discovered nearly all AU’s programs are funded by foreign donors. “No liberated mind can think their development agenda can be funded by donors,” she told a Business Unity South Africa banquet in her honor in Johannesburg.

One thing Gadhafi did do was put his money where his mouth was. Much of the AU’s annual budget was paid by Gadhafi. In fact each year he paid the dues of member states that may have fallen on hard times. Gadhafi was, before his assassination, taking his idea of an economically independent Africa a step further by establishing a unified Gold Dinar currency across the African Union, which would be based on a gold standard. Considering the huge gold reserves Gadhafi had in Libya, and those across Africa, such a move would have put Africa on a more equal footing with the West, and lessened the influence of financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Dlaminini-Zuma said, “Now pan-Africanism is even more important, we’ve got a huge population, over a billion. But if you divide us into individual countries, we are not significant. You can’t ignore a billion plus people, but you can ignore five million people.”    

Jehron Muhammad, who writes from Philadelphia, can be reached at [email protected]