African Union at 50

(Versión en español)

The recent jubilee celebrations marking 50 years of African unity set the stage for us to reflect on the successes and challenges the continent has faced, and present Africa with an opportunity to formulate a workable plan with a vision of bringing to an end inequality, conflict as well as boost economic growth in Africa for the next 50 years. Africa has enormous potential that is yet to be fully utilized yet for Africa to fulfill its dreams the continent must be unified and progress as one.

The celebrations come at a time when unity of citizens in member states seems unattainable, and many people are not clear on the AU’s mandate and what it means for their individual countries. There is a serious disconnect between the AU and its citizens – many see the AU as an elite club of heads of states protecting their own interests, rather than an institution that represents interests of all Africans. The AU has seemingly failed to forge the strong, unified continent envisioned by the “founding fathers”. Contrary to what the regional economic block such as ECOWAS, COMESA, SADC, EAC and IGAD have managed to do. Facilitation of low-level inter-regional trade and economic integration, which is working well, though in some ways could be a contributing factor that has led to the fragmentation of the continent. Therefore the AU to succeed in unifying the continent it must forge stronger ties with these economic regional bodies.

For a more unified continent and realization of genuine development can only be achieved by bringing African citizens to the table for meaningful collaboration and engagement – devoid of unwarranted suspicion particularly when it comes to difference of ideologies and opinions. The AU therefore needs to create avenues where the African people can freely express their opinions, and share their ideas, visions and priorities for progress, particularly ideas that will build a prosperous, self-sufficient continent. Shaping Africa’s future need not be left to a few individuals but rather it should be an all-inclusive process, for it is the citizens who work hard everyday building this continent shape the future.

The largest percentage of the African population is the youth and women. They too must be allowed to participate in steering Africa’s agenda through provision of adequate representation in all sectors. AU member states must demonstrate their commit by ratifying as well as implementing the AU protocols that promote the rights of youth and women. In addition, their voices must be heard as well as be supported on matters related to African leadership and development, rather than being relegated to the periphery of decision-making. The AU through its member states must recognize citizens’ contributions towards development and growth, and their crucial role in holding leaders and governments accountable.

While Africa has taken great strides since the post-colonial period, a lot is yet to be done if we are to keep moving forward. It is therefore critical for us to examine the shortfalls and search for workable, lasting solutions that improve the lives of people in this continent. Famine, conflict and poverty can be a thing of the past rather than being part of everyday life for millions of Africans. We can fulfill the dreams of Africa, but only if we work as one. Consequently the AU must find innovative ways to reawaken the passions of Pan Africanism and rekindle the ideals that played a critical role at the onset of the OAU back in 1963. People disillusioned by the current AU leadership have to be inspired to dream again along with working together towards a better Africa, just like how Nyerere, Nkrumah and all others who stirred the spirit of Pan Africanism dedicating themselves to the general progress of African continent inspired the citizens of Africa and beyond. Together, Africa can formulate and implement favorable policies for the benefit of all. Otherwise the rebirth and unification of this continent will remain a distant dream for many generations to come.

Fran Equiza

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