Defend Truth


Let’s learn from the failures of our past in our pursuit of pan-Africanism


Stevens Mokgalapa is Build One South Africa’s (BOSA) Head of International Relations and former mayor of Tshwane.

It is an understatement to say that Africa still faces tremendous challenges and that those challenges are being compounded by the war in Europe and high levels of inflation.

As the world has moved towards a newly segregated and more regional configuration over the past decade, the African Union has — at least from a functional point of view — stood firm. Threats to break up the region with splinter nations and divergent interests have not materialised. There is no “Afri-exit” on the horizon, as African unity has remained intact.

That being said, a deeper dive into the organisation on this Africa Day shows a continent that is being torn between global financial and political interests from both the traditional West and East. We may seem unified from the outside, but there are external forces that appear to be waging a divide-and-conquer pursuit of African states with the benefit of global finance and infrastructure.

As Bosa leader, Mmusi Maimane, recently said, “We should be fixated on crafting a new global approach that requires tough choices and dogged commitment to those choices in the interests of Africa. 

“South Africa plays a vital leadership role on the continent, and we must use that leadership role to protect and advance African interests.”

The strategic relationships within our region and internationally hold powerful potential for economic development. Our relationship with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries must be reformed to create a trading bloc that fosters economic development and growth. 

By following the Association of Southeast Asian Nations development partnership model, we propose conducting a review of the SADC visa process to facilitate this.

Africa has a massive endowment of natural resources, but it also has governments that routinely fail to translate this to the benefit of the people and their countries. This is compounded by incoherent and weak ruling elites — ideologically, organisationally and militarily — that are prone to corruption and tend to kowtow to foreign powers.

Economically, AU economies are dominated by primary product export enclaves created by foreign resource companies that are linked to the outside world but have minimal linkages to the domestic societies beyond payment of royalties and other taxes, and contributing to environmental disasters. African societies, on the other hand, consume imported manufactured products.

And, finally, Africa suffers from extensive emigration of professionals and entrepreneurs who migrate to developed Western countries. Africa’s biggest export by 2050 will be its people — a systematic brain drain of the skilled workforce.

The lofty goals of the OAU and AU have frankly not been realised and this is due to the weakness of its institutions — financially and operationally. On the peace and security front, there is a conflict in the eastern parts of DRC; there is currently conflict in Ethiopia and there is conflict in Sudan. In addition, terror groups in the Sahel region continue to destabilise the region.

On the democracy and national sovereignty front, there have been coups across Africa in the last decade — for instance, Burkina Faso (2015, 2022), Chad (2021), Guinea (2021), Guinea Bissau (2022), Mali (2020, 2021), Sudan (2019, 2022) and Zimbabwe (2017).

There have been concerns raised about the treatment of opposition leaders in many countries, and concerns about the treatment of members of the LGBTQ+ community in numerous countries on the continent.

From a poverty perspective, the number of people living in absolute poverty in Africa has increased from 284 million people in 1990 to over 500 million people presently.

It is an understatement to say that Africa still faces tremendous challenges and that those challenges are being compounded by the war in Europe and high levels of inflation. To adequately address these and other challenges, the AU needs to be financially capacitated and independent.

However, when it comes to financial independence, the AU is still far off — the AU is largely funded by the European Union, with 54% of its funding coming from the European bloc. The influence of China has also come into question of late.

China funds the AU secretariat, the Pan-African Infrastructure Development Fund, the ICT Development Fund and the Africa Peace and Security Fund. In fact, the new African Union headquarters was built by the Chinese government in Addis Ababa.

As we celebrate 60 years of the existence of this pan-African body, we must note that to realise true self -determination and sovereignty, we need the AU to be financially independent and the AU institutions to be fully funded by African states.

The lack of financial muscle of the AU comes from its failure to integrate the region and enhance intra-African trade. Africa has failed to harmonise and integrate its domestic and continental protocols to allow for better integration of trade within Africa.

The economic sustainability of Africa rests on the development of local manufacturing, local beneficiation and increased intra-African trade. These aspirations are not out of reach – in fact, they are closer than they have ever been.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is a major contemporary and current achievement of the AU which can help address the challenges outlined earlier. 

This agreement has created the single largest trading area, with over 1.2 billion people and a GDP of $2.2-trillion. 

The AfCFTA is projected to cover 52% of African trade by 2025 and to increase the strength of local manufacturing and agriculture, potentially creating general welfare gains of $16-billion.

Linked to the AfCFTA is the Tripartite Free Trade Area encompassing the three regions of SADC, the East African Community and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. The Tripartite Free Trade Area encompasses 26 countries with a population of 632 million and a trade value of $1.2-trillion, and accounts for 60% of African output. These two above-mentioned programmes and others prove the point that there is potential in Africa.

In addition to the consolidation and harmonisation of trade areas, Africa stands to benefit from a massive demographic dividend at a time when much of the world’s population is ageing. While the current population of Africa is 1.2 billion, it is projected to increase to 2.5 billion by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is growing at 2.7% a year, which is more than twice as fast as South Asia (1.2%) and Latin America (0.9%).

Effectively, in terms of numbers, Africa is adding the population of France every two years. 

While some are concerned about this demographic trend, a well-organised Africa can increase productivity and economic output with this generation of young Africans. A third of East Asia’s economic miracle is attributed by economists to its “demographic dividend” — namely, the ratio between the number of working-age people and that of children and pensioners

South Africa has a role to play in the realisation of the pan-African visions of 1963 and the Africa 2063 vision document. We are the most industrialised nation in Africa and the second largest economy; we have a sophisticated and world-class financial system, and we have a history that has given us unique but painful insights into dealing with racial and ethnic tensions. We stand to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the successes of the continent, especially in the trade area.

Unfortunately, we have not always played our role as a continental leader to the level of our capacity and in alignment with our values. 

It was due to the proactive leadership of Rwanda that the AfCFTA came into being. It was due to strong leadership from Ecowas that coups no longer offered a legitimate path to governance for military juntas. It was the leadership of South Africa that led to the formation of Nepad. There are new challenges on the horizon that need the strong and decisive leadership of South Africa.

Africa needs to guard against the role of global external actors in the affairs of the continent and the domestic affairs of African countries. In the same vein, South Africa needs to guard against those who use the principle of sovereignty as a cover while they erode rights which were agreed to at the continental level.

We must actively uphold the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights. We must actively uphold the African Charter for Democracy, Elections and Governance. And we must make sure that the Pan-African Parliament becomes a fully representative body. DM


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  • Miles Japhet says:

    A well written article that is full of wishful thinking. Ethical servant leadership is absent in the vast majority of African countries. Only when there is change here will the laudable goals of the AU become possible.

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