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Africa’s Hope for Unity Lies in Information Technology


Sunday, January 6, 2008
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Ghana, formerly Gold Coast, was in 1957 the first African nation to attain independence from Britain. That was 51 years ago, and Ghana’s charismatic leader Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the visionary leader that he was, spoke about the urgent need to liberate and unite the whole continent of Africa for the empowerment of its people.

In July 2007, half a century after Ghana’s independence, leaders of 53 independent African states convened in a summit in the Ghanaian capital of Accra to revive the Nkrumah dream of forming “the United States of Africa.” The meeting ended without a clear roadmap for establishing such unity.

Libyan leader Col. Muammar Ghadhafy put up a strong proposal calling for the establishment of an African Union (AU) government with centralized defense, currency and foreign policy by the year 2008.

Ghadhafy’s proposal was backed by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade who saw the conventional wisdom of uniting Africa to speak with one voice and unleash its vast natural resources to cope with globalization in the midst of other economic giants that Africa trades with.

Africa’s first woman President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, was quoted at the end of the three-day summit asserting that Africa had made a “step forward” towards unity, “but we’re not there yet.”

The need to have an African Presidency, a continental parliament and ultimately the elimination of current boundaries and state sovereignty could not be rushed into, argued South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki who instead advocated a “step by step” approach to unity.

Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General and a native of Ghana gave a counter proposal of Africa first creating an “oil and diamond community” before embarking on total political unification and economic integration.

Some African intellectuals and political thinkers favor the “regional integration approach” that would first strengthen existing regional economic groupings such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC). Eventually these would be merged into one common market.

Admittedly, regional economic communities like SADC are on course towards the creation of a common market. SADC has projected to have 85 percent of all products traded in the region enjoy zero tariff by 2008. Such economic groupings will ultimately form the building blocs of continental unity.

Ghana’s President John Kufuor commenting on efforts to create the United States of Africa was of the view that the road towards unification would not be brought about through revolution, but rather through evolution.

Africa’s economic problems were well articulated by former President of Uganda, Godfrey Binaisa when he spoke at a Labor Day Conference in North Virginia on Sept. 5, 1999 under the auspices of the African Civil Rights Movement. He floated this resolution, which was unanimously adopted by the watchdog organization:

 “Africa is still agonizing under the colonialism of the IMF and World Bank, both put in place at the end of World War 11 by European powers and the United States. And they control the economies of Africa with an iron hand clad in a velvet glove, to serve only the interests of the supposedly departed imperialists.

“…. Even the paper independence we attained was paid for at a very high price of pain and suffering, incarceration and deaths of millions of African freedom fighters. The IMF and World Bank through their founders, continue as our new colonial governors, to control all aspects of our economies and development, rendering our paper independence null and void and of no use whatsoever…”

This message has hit right on target. This is at the core of Africa’s problems. African think tanks have gone further to analyze the impending danger of Africa being marginalized in the face of creeping globalization. They argue with political correctness thus:

“We are living in a world where the term globalization denotes exploitation of labor and natural and human resources for the vast majority of the world’s population. For that reason, struggle in Africa finds itself at the world stage. A local struggle must by necessity locate itself in the global struggle. The international arena has become the theater of change. Therefore, those serving change, whether as writers, historians, scholars and political activists in and for Africa have to be willing to serve, in word and deed, contemporary struggles against continued marginalization elsewhere…”

Africa has squandered many chances in the past. During the 19th century industrial revolution, Africa remained what economists call a laggard, while Europe innovated and put into work technologies to process raw materials into finished products with value addition. The current age is that of Communication and Information Technology with business deals being conducted online. Africa cannot afford to lag behind in this revolution.

Africa needs its Google and Yahoo! technologists like those of Silicon Valley. We need creative minds like that of Jerry Young, the 38-year-old co-founder of the Yahoo! and Bill Gates of Microsoft.

According to the latest findings of a Future Tech Magazine, the United States is no longer the center of the digital universe as London, Mexico City, Moscow, Seoul and Tokyo are rapidly rising to the challenge. The Unites States, however, remains the home base for Web services like Google and Myspace. Other aggressive sites are- Habbo – a social networking site for children operated from Finland, Joost of Luxembourg that presents free TV programming including comedy central, Moo from London specializing in calling cards for Web denizens.

As the world is moving forward fast due to advanced technology, Africa has to join this bandwagon if it is to remain an active global partner for progress. This cannot be achieved by each of the 53 nation states in the continent acting in isolation. We need a continental effort, all the 53 sovereign states acting as one – a United States of Africa.

Let this political unity and economic integration come through evolution, through regional economic blocs forging greater unity, but let it happen sooner than later. Without a united Africa, the talk about Africa being the future of global economic development will remain a mere pipe dream as small fish easily fall prey to bigger fish.

While Africans must be engaged in this crucial talk about unity with seriousness, let us also take concrete steps to mingle in and be a part of this IT revolution. It is a tool for unity and economic development. We have to jump aboard in full force lest we remain sidelined and mere spectators, as was the case during the Industrial Revolution.

Let it be clear to all Africans that there is strength in unity!

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About Swallehe Msuya

Swallehe Msuya was a senior staff writer at Mshale with extensive media experience in his native Tanzania. He was a general assignments writer. Investigative stories that Mshale undertook were normally his responsibility. Swallehe passed away in Sept. 2009 at the age of 61. Mshale will forever miss his tenacity and wisdom.

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