President Muhammadu Buhari, over the weekend, urged what many pan-Africanists before him had prayed for in vain: that Africa as a continent speak with one voice. The Nigerian president spoke Friday in Istanbul, Turkey where he met with Guinean president Alpha Conde. The two African leaders were in Turkey for a summit of the D8 group of developing countries.
Buhari said African leaders “must speak with one voice, independent of foreign influence, to achieve economic integration, development, peace, and security on the continent.” According to him, he and his colleagues should “learn from history to effectively tackle conflicts, violent extremism, and proliferation of small arms and light weapons.” President Buhari assured his Guinean counterpart, who is the current Chairman of the African Union (AU) that Nigeria woul
d “continue to strengthen its engagement with all AU member states to address current security challenges in restive areas” such as South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and the political crisis in Togo.
In his remarks, Conde praised Nigeria’s leadership on the continent, particularly President Buhari’s “great job” on corruption and his strong voice on African issues at the international stage. The Guinean leader stressed the need for Guinea and Nigeria to accelerate economic cooperation, particularly in the natural resources sector, where Guinea boasts 25 percent or more of the world’s known bauxite reserves.
As we pointed out in the beginning of this comment, the ‘one Africa, one voice’ exhortation has become a refrain, almost a platitude, that is sung and soon forgotten. Much as this is seen as a necessity if Africa’s voice must be heard above the strident voices of an united Europe (EU), America and Asia led by China, the dream has remained a mirage. There are several factors responsible for this.
The dominant factor
is that of history. Almost all of Africa today is a victim of European colonialism/imperialism. The colonial powers were the British, the French, the Spanish and the Portuguese. Although the continent is today politically independent, the former colonisers still treat their former colonies as spheres of influence. One of the instruments they use is the seed of mistrust that they have successfully planted on the continent through language. The leader of a French-speaking African nation is more comfortable with the leader of France than the president of an English-speaking country. Take, for instance, the talks in Istanbul between Buhari and Conde. The Guinean president knowingly failed to respond to Buhari’s call for Africa to speak with “one voice”.
This manipulation of linguistic barrier by the former colonial masters is what has worked against the African Peer Group Review mechanism created by the AU to whip dictators on the continent and corrupt leaders into line. The intention was to make
African leaders watchdogs of democracy and good governance. However, this has not happened because no leader would like to submit to supervision by another. Even the AU, as it is, can only do as much its member states are prepared to allow.
Take another case, the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICCJ), based at the Hague in the Netherlands. Almost all the cases the court has entertained so far have involved former or sitting African presidents, notable among them ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor, currently serving a life jail term in the United Kingdom (UK). Human rights violation charges against President Uhuru of Kenya and Sudan’s al Bashar are pending in the ICCJ. A motion brought to a recent AU summit asking African countries to withdraw their membership of the court was defeated because they coul
d not find that ‘one voice’ that Buhari today is calling for. Those countries that cancelled their membership have done so unilaterally.
Linguistic differences, colonial hangover and an unwillingness to cede some of their powers to a supranational authority to speak for Africa on the world stage and be heard are the same factors that have crippled regional economic blocs like ECOWAS and SADC. These regional organisations were formed with the ultimate aim of integrating the economies of African countries. But several decades after, they are still struggling. ECOWAS, for instance, has repeatedly cancelled the launch of a common monetary instrument.
Yes, one voice for Africa is a laudable goal but achieving it is a long shot. But it is not impossible. The EU that people are quick to point to as a strong, authoritative voice for Western democracies is still a work in progress. Britain recently voted to get out. In the case of Africa, we have to keep at, show a readiness to live down our differences and fears. This way, we can make some headway.