Today is Africa Day. However the African Union is still struggling to achieve a common goal for an African Unity. So hope lies with the young generation as a driving force to unify Africa. I spoke with Dr. Margaret Nkrumah, former Vise-President of SOS Children’s Villages International, and askd her opinion on the African Union agenda.
Question: What is the role of the African Union and is it succeeding in it?
MN: The origin of the AU was the organization of the Africa Unity and that was the intention of its founding fathers of the organization of the AU. Kwame Nkrumah, my father in law, was one of biggest supporters. Therefore what they envisaged was an union of the African states, which would work together economically and politically in order to reclaim Africa’s rightful position in the world. However later on, the African Union merged to Africa Unity and they are doing a lot in terms of making more coherent policies. However, the problem is that the Africa Union is represented by different countries with different objectives and philosophies, so it is quite difficult to achieve an unified approach. For instance, we have not been able to form an economic union which embraces trade within Africa, although we do have regional blocks. So I think, while it has done quite a lot in trying to promote a common approach to problems, I do not think it has yet achieved its original purpose.
Question: How and what is working well?
MN: In terms of economic union, we are dealing with regional blocks, but what I am talking about, a continental common block, which then trades with the rest of the world, doesn’t exist yet. Let’s look at Africa’s natural resources: e.g. as a continent we are still disadvantaged in the kind of deals that we are able to make with big multinational organizations or mining companies, we are still dealing country to country, getting the worst negotiations so that in the end, we gain very little for our own natural resources. However blocks like ECOWAS, SADC etc. are successfully trading in goods. Africa as an entity, as continent, it is still not dealing like an “United States of Africa”. Many of the African countries are very small, they cannot really play their political games on their own, but we are still trying to do so. Nevertheless, we have made progress with regional blocks in trading among of those regions.
Question: What should happen, in order to achieve the original goal of the AU?
MN: Because, everything relies on the political will of the individual countries, which make up the African Union. So I think, the basic accusation is whether the countries themselves can decide to work together and be stronger. We have a lot of conflict zones within Africa, which if we had an African response – maybe like Boko Haram and other – the regional cooperation is working very well, e.g. between Kenya, Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries, which are doing this. So I think a lot is being done, but we have politically to push the political agenda so that we do have an unity, and in response both economic and political and, in fact military solutions as well.
Question: In your opinion, who will be able to push the AU agenda towards a common goal/continental mindset?
MN: I think the youth of Africa. We have a huge young population in Africa and they are going to be the next generation to make this dream a reality. But in order to do so, they have to have the right education, the right political mindset and the right knowledge through education, so that they can make the right choices. Our future lies with the youth and we must equip them with the right tools to be able to face the future with confidence.
Question: Looking at the African Union’s agenda for 2016, the motto is: “Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous & Integrated Africa. One people!!! One destiny!!!” How do you think this can be achieved?
MN: If you are looking for a “Peaceful, Prosperous & Integrated Africa” , I think the first thing is that we have to deal with poverty. We have to get rid of poverty or bring it to a level, where people are not desperate enough to be fleeing the continent, fleeing from wars and leaving for other countries because they cannot make a living. This is tied with the inequality and imbalance in the world. So although Europe is under siege from refugees, if Africa, the Middle East or the rest of the world were more prosperous, Europe would also have peace and no refugees. So the poverty is also directly driven by the imbalance of the resources not being used in Africa. I believe if we can solve that, then we will be able to rely on the potential offered by people, especially from women and youth in Africa.
Question: Which countries can be held as role models in terms of achieving this goal?
MN: The countries that I see in Africa making tremendous gains at the moment are Ethiopia, which some decades ago was known all around the world for its starving millions, and is now achieving economical and agricultural miracles. Another country is Ruanda, where this horrific genocide took place, but which is now actually promoting policies to the people out of poverty and to educate the youth and children. I would even site Ghana, because of its peace and stability over the years and its universal free education although there are not enough schools, but the intention is there. South Africa is the biggest economy we have in Africa, it is the most industrialized and the most economically advanced. However it also has great inequality between millions of people, who are still living in poverty. However, I still feel given the right political leadership, it is going to be one of the countries which will be an engine for growth in Africa. Everything depends on the governance and political leadership, and that’s why I was saying that we need to educate the youth, so that they will be a different and better generation of leaders for Africa. But first we gotta go and inspire them.
Question: And how can we inspire the youth?
MN: You know apart from academic education, there is also civil education. I remember when we were young and growing up, we had the love of the country and patriotism which brings us the willing to sacrifice our personal ambitious for our countries. This technological-driven generation seems to lack a love for the country, I suppose in a way because the world is one big global village. But in Africa, I think we still need this commitment to the country because we still need to make sacrifices in order to help the countries grow. So we still have a long way to go and we cannot afford to focus on our own selfish material comforts and ambitious. This is what we have to make the youth understand. The youth can be a very “idealistic stage of growth”. I have found in personal experiences that if you stick to that idealism in youth, they respond but not many people are given them that impetus. They are not inspiring them to help others and therefore, help their country. You know at the SOS-Hermann-Gmeiner College how much the young people gain by doing community services. It is very effective and I wish every school could embrace the community services within the school activities. Then they would bring up a generation of youths who are thinking of others and how to help and make things better. With more exchanges, between different countries in Africa, the youth very soon realize that they may have different languages and different nationalities, but the basic fact of their Africanism is that, they are AFRICANS and then they are human beings, there is no difference. It is only when you don’t know people from other countries, when you will have Xynophobia and that is when you will get suspicious. But once you know even one person from another country, you will never generalize people from that country again. As you would know that they have the same goals, the same problems and the same desires. Therefore I hope we will also find a way for free movement across Africa.