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Is a United Africa Possible?

Independence is an indispensable phenomenon for a nation. For this reason, struggles are fought for the sake of independence, wars are waged, and a sovereign state is established by removing the influence of internal and external factors. The dominant nationalism in the emergence of nation-states has shaped the post-imperial period. Along with other motivations, these nationalist policies have sometimes moved away from their pure aspect into race-based political ideologies, and have become the most important influence causing conflicts and larger-scale world wars in many regions.

Independence is burdensome. Meeting this burden sometimes brought along various difficulties for new countries. Some countries that left the empires kept the recovery process shorter thanks to their past state experiences. In addition to the countries that have emerged on the stage of history more powerfully thanks to their geographical and political characteristics, there are also examples of countries that have difficulty in bearing the burden of independence. The political chaos and economic bottleneck experienced after the countries of South and East Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa gained independence from the imperial powers have been the determining factors on both domestic and foreign policies of these countries.

When we look at African countries in particular, the independence that many countries, which were exposed to the exploitation policies of countries such as France, Germany, England, Belgium, and Portugal, gained after the sixties, sometimes achieved through armed and sometimes political struggle, had some reflections on world politics. These countries, which are often looking for alternative friendships outside of Europe, turned to axes such as China and the USSR, and in the following years, they lived between the two poles and their supporters in the Cold War dilemma. The solution to the problem was sometimes to deepen relations with Western countries and sometimes to get closer to the East. In fact, it is clear that the main cause of political chaos is economic stalemate. For this reason, it is possible to see political leaders and the countries they represent oscillating between the Washington and Beijing accords.

The most important of the intellectual currents of this new process in Africa is undoubtedly the Pan-African thought. This movement, which is a vision of a united Africa, has risen with the strong discourses of its intellectual leaders. In particular, the continuation of racism and anti-blackism as ideologies accepted throughout the West fed the dreams of a united Africa for a long time. The Pan-African movement, which rose in the early nineteenth century, has continuously developed in an intellectual context. The Fifth Pan-African Congress, convened in Britain in 1945, is considered one of the most important building blocks of this movement. Its attendees included prominent figures such as Kwame Nkrumah and future Kenya founding leader Jomo Kenyatta, as well as other African leaders. This series of conferences, which develops Pan-African thinking through a common stance against capital domination, is important on the road to independence.

In 1958, Nkrumah hosted the Conference of Independent African States, which included Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Republic. The conference aimed to encourage discussion of ways of working together to achieve the end of colonial rule across the continent. As the footsteps of independence began to be heard, Nkrumah was calling on African states to take measures to increase economic cooperation and develop a common foreign policy. Once the independence of Ghana was won, Nkrumah insisted that it would not make sense until the independence of all of Africa was achieved. The framework drawn by Nkrumah is not just an economic union. He was explicitly speaking of a single country with a single border (Nkrumah, 1963: 149). However, Nkrumah knew at that time Africa's share of the world's production of agricultural products and minerals, and he predicted that this would be a major factor in collective independence. Africa supplied sixty-six percent of the world's cocoa production, sixty-five percent of palm oil, fifty-eight percent of sisal, and fourteen percent of coffee. Again in terms of minerals, it produced ninety-six percent of diamond, sixty-nine percent of cobalt, and sixty-three percent of gold (Ibid.: 151). Such a productive power had to be combined with independence and the continent had to get out of the situation it was in.

Other leaders have also seen Nkrumah's effort make sense. The African Union, which was established despite the various obstacles of the imperialists, had a great meaning for Pan-African thought at that time. Julius Nyerere, the founding leader of Tanzania and the originator of Ujamaa, said: “Africa's unity is a solid bridge that will allow us all to walk confidently through this whirlwind of power politics and more easily bear the economic and social burdens that threaten to crush us.” (Nyerere, 1963: 1).

With the recent efforts of leaders such as Abdoulaye Wade and Muammar Gaddafi, the heated debates after independence began to take shape. Pan-Africa, which was regarded as a utopia in its foundation years, continued to be discussed over the question of what foundations it could be built on in the future.

Although the relatively ineffective appearance of the African Union in the following period is perceived as a failure, there are successful examples in the regional context. The East African Union has taken many successful steps in cooperation on issues such as visas, economic moves, and common defense.

The question is how to achieve a supranational approach in Africa. States are reluctant to leave their authority to an institution other than themselves. Although this situation has been partially achieved in the European Union and within certain borders, it has not been achieved in regional organizations in the African continent. The fact that internal problems such as border problems and ethnic nationalism create problems in other dimensions with different ally preferences in foreign policies are obstacles in front of such structures.

East, west, north, and south of Africa, in short, all regions of Africa should be evaluated differently from each other. The most common mistake is to consider the continent in a monolithic structure and to make the mistake of thinking that a solution in one region will give the same result in all other regions.

Pan-Africa brought independence to African countries with its intellectual growth. The next stage will be the same ideology both blocking neocolonial initiatives and balancing the countries that follow an unbalanced path in terms of relations with the continent. At this stage, Pan-Africanism will continue to be the most important factor. In today's political conjuncture, unfortunately, it is seen that political leaders are more eager to protect their power than the idea of a united Africa. The inability to end the border conflicts, the fact that even a single terrorist organization can be effective in more than one country, and the persistence of ethnic tensions within countries seem to be obstacles to the dream of a united Africa.

If a united Africa is to be formed in the future, it should be discussed on what basis this structure will be built. The proposals of leaders such as Nkrumah, Nyerere, Lumumba, and Sankara should be re-evaluated to fit the present and the future. The success of such a structure depends on the fact that the structure to be established is purified from ethnic-based nationalism and at the same time not based on black nationalism. It is normal for such a structure, which will rise on the basis of an equal relationship with the rest of the world within the scope of its natural riches and unused economic opportunities, to raise its voice in international organizations in the political context. Today, there are concerns that such structures are a platform for the strong to impose their rules on others, rather than being a world institution. The first condition for this system to turn into a positive direction for Africa is economic empowerment. This strengthening should be achieved primarily through regional unions, and then through a large organization formed by these regional unions. The African Union seems to be a different alternative from its current structure. When the new structure to be formed comes to the international arena as a deterrent force both economically and militarily, it can be seen that the order has changed positively.

All this is not a utopia because the independence of African countries was also seen as a utopia at the beginning of the twentieth century. The point where the world is going, the ever-growing foreign debts of African countries, and unequal allied relations will necessitate a new united African order in the medium and long term, if not in the near future.

So, what are the obstacles to the realization of this new order in the near future?

  1. Country borders created by Western countries are mostly artificial. This artificiality requires people from the same tribe and nation to live in different countries. Artificial borders trigger border conflicts between countries. In many countries, problems with armed conflicts are experienced in autonomous regions. It is not possible for countries that cannot overcome border conflicts to take a common stance together.

  2. Countries do not want to transfer some of their sovereignty to another common structure. While the internal regulations are made by long-term ruling parties and even by structures that have become party-states, the fact that they are made by a supranational organization will pave the way for political changes in many countries. This issue will not be viewed positively by the governments.

  3. Economic alliances in foreign policy are an obstacle to unification. This article, which can be read through the competition of China and Taiwan on the continent, can also be reflected in the attitudes of western countries. China makes it conditional on the continent countries getting help from it, on the condition of stopping relations with Taiwan. There are very few countries left that continue relations with Taiwan. In such a case, it becomes difficult to establish alliance relations on a common basis. It will be difficult to reach a consensus between the political, military, and economic partnerships of the countries with different countries in the newly formed structure.

  4. How can the problem of a common language being used by a continent where more than three thousand languages are spoken in such a union be solved? In such a situation, can the transformation of English or French into a unifying factor mean real independence? Undoubtedly, the time period in which these questions will be answered should be after the realization of the other items. However, the more difficult it is to dissolve ethnic differences, the more difficult it is to dissolve linguistic differences.

As a result, it is essential to support the common dream of Nkrumah and Nyerere and to re-discuss the intellectual works in this direction at least at the level of the sixties. From a realistic point of view, although a unified and single country state may not be established, it will be inevitable in the future to create a supranational strong structure and to draw the powers of this structure to the level of representation. The issue of which pillars such a structure will consist of and how much the sovereignty of the areas related to these pillars will be transferred to this supranational structure will be an issue that African thinkers and peoples should discuss at length.


Nkrumah, K. (1963); 1998. Africa Must Unite. London: Panaf.

Nyerere, J. (1963). The Journal of Modern African Studies Vol. 1, No. 1: 1-6

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