Greetings to our friends and colleagues,
“Africa is not a country” it seems we have to keep reminding the world. But as the articles in this issue all show, the idea of integration has been widely deliberated upon for a long time. While this might not mean that Africa will indeed become one country, it’s clear that there are many strongly in favour of some level of integration across the continent.
According to Philip Fungurai, Africa is teetering between the forces that divide it and the opportunities for integration. The idea of a United States of Africa goes back to the early post-colonial days, but has failed to gain traction on the ground or garnered serious political will to make it happen. He lists the forces dividing Africa, including ones we are already familiar with, but also less expected ones, such as the regional economic communities. However, the existence of the AU is strong evidence that the yearning for a United Africa still exists. This, coupled with the philosophy of Ubuntu, could provide the necessary foundaiton to move towards a United States of Africa.
It would be impossible to talk about integration on this scale without considering the politics of land, borders and belonging. David Makwerere points out that land lies at the heart of many on-going conflicts on the African continent, and the way land has been managed and divided greatly impedes upon the development of the continent. He argues that while most of the land related problems can be traced back to colonialism, political leaders have also been at fault when land reform has reflected their own agenda rather than goodwill for the people.
Indeed, the personalities and preferences of every African leader will impact the extent to which Africa succeeds at it’s goals. Gabriel Malebang analyses Khama’s chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), considering his role, his influence, and the challenges and opportunities that will face him. His success and the ability to balance internal affairs with regional concerns remains to be seen.
However, Khama is not the only one in the spotlight over regional matters. Edward Chinhanhu argues that South Africa is crucial for regional integration, being the powerhouse of Southern Africa. But outbreaks of xenophobia in South Africa have resulted in downgraded ratings for the country, which in turn threatens regional integration. Given that economists have long agreed that immigration benefits the host country, South Africa needs to make immigration easier, so that those moving to the country can be well positioned to contribute to the economy.
South Africa has also become the subject of hot debate over the refusal to obey an ICC court order to arrest Sudan’s al-Bashir. Tendaishe Tlou believes that this incident is a symbolic indicator that political brotherhood has been prioritised over the rights of the people. Furthermore, the threat to pull out from the ICC indicates the continent could be at the edge of a slippery slope towards impunity and lack of accountability. He fears that when the conversation centres on the desire to not be puppets of the west and have solidarity through partnerships at the leadership level, we have missed the cold facts: people are suffering and dying and we are protecting the ones responsible.
Edward Chinhanhu, on the other hand, defends Zuma’s decision not to arrest al-Bashir. While he does not support withdrawal from the ICC or in any way defend al-Bashir’s crimes, he excuses Zuma because he believes that that the call to arrest al-Bashir was a provocative move, meant to throw South Africa and Zuma into the spotlight and catch them out, by putting Zuma in a lose-lose situation. After all, the ICC has had ample opportunities to call for the arrest of al-Bashir or others before, yet it selectively chose that moment. Besides, he argues, the ICC does not benefit many of the victims of such atrocities. He also highlights a problem of double standards, where western countries are happy to fund mass murderers in the name of business, while at the same time accusing them of human rights violations.
Yet despite the criticisms of western institutions and north-south relations, every day Africans are risking their lives to leave the continent in search of a home in a western country. Medhat El-Banna tells us how, in northern Africa, poor educational structures and a failing economic situation drive young graduates to seek greener pastures in other countries. So poor are the opportunities at home, he argues, that the youth will even be willing to risk their lives on “death boats”, or have papers forged to state that they are Syrian refugees.
While north-south relations remain a somewhat sore point, there is also growing speculation about south-south relations, such as Africa-China cooperation. Is this to be another exploitative relationship, or is there potential for meaningful collaboration? While many remain skeptical of the association, Chadya Tapiwa Diamond argues that the evidence points towards a productive relationship, and fears about China’s intentions are unfounded.
As African states strive to negotiate their relationships with each other, their citizenry and the rest of the world, it’s clear that whatever steps the continent and its leaders decide to take, it should have the good of the people at heart.
The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the ACTION Support Centre or the ACTION for Conflict Transformation network movement.