Ibrahim Anoba

5 Reasons Why a United States of Africa Will Not Work

In a recent video, South African far-left leader, Julius Malema, admonished Africans to find indigenous ways to address their challenges and unite under a single state. He proposed the elimination of borders created by colonialists and  the promotion of tolerance among Africans. To some extent, Malema is right. Borders are alien to Africa and people need to love one another, but he is fundamentally wrong about the prospects of Africa as a country.

Here are five reasons he and other advocates of a United States of Africa should have a rethink.

1. Africans are Historically Autonomous 

One of the incoherent assumptions of this school of thought is that colonialism brought different tribes together without considering their distinct cultures. This they suggest should be replaced by uniting all ethnic groups on the continent – over 3000 of them –  under a bigger entity.

Perhaps, they are deliberately neglecting the fact that contemporary African countries are struggling because of the bad arrangements by colonialists. Another amalgamation of sort, especially a larger one, will only create further problems, moreover, Africans have always been autonomous.

Before the scramble and partition of Africa in Berlin (1885), every African tribe lived within their own space with peculiar values and customs. Trade was one of the few things that brought them together while they always respected each other’s identity.

In fact, traditional Africans often broke away from their original tribes to form new communities for self-realization and freedom. The thought that this way of life can be changed by imposing a single identity is simply absurd and un-African.

2. The Language Barrier

Malema proposed Swahili as the ideal language for a united Africa considering it is the most widely spoken indigenous language. But Swahili only has some 140 million speakers, which is less than 15 percent of the 1.2 billion population of the continent.

An adoption of such language, if at all accepted by speakers of the other 2000 African languages, would require an extraordinary amount of effort, especially funding.

China and India are often referenced as good replicas for Africa in this regard, but both countries owe their success to shared ancestral language among their people. Whereas, imposing an alien language on a group, is an attempt to erase their identity. If Malema want Africans to reject English and French because they demean their identities, then he should not be guilty of the same.

3. What’s an Ideal Administrative system?

Most advocates of a United States of Africa often propose a unitary system with one parliament and President. Others believe either federalism or confederalism would work better to preserve the autonomy of the numerous ethnic groups. Either way, the geopolitical structure of the continent would defy any of these unification.

The African society is too complex to work under a unitary system. There are preferred modes of administration peculiar to each tribe and country. It makes no sense to suggest they all adopt a unilateral administrative pattern different from what they have know for thousands of years.

A unitary system is only ideal for a small geographical area with common values. Africa on the other hand covers a staggering 11.7 million square miles – almost three times the size of Europe – and it is deeply pluralized. Equally, neither federalism nor confederalism would likely work. Both systems has horribly failed in many African countries and blocs. Nigeria and the African Union (AU) are good examples.

Nigeria, for instance, has over 250 ethnic groups, just like there would be in a United States of Africa. However, since the country adopted federalism in 1963, it has struggled with structural problems ranging from resource control to ethnic marginalization and defining the extent to which federating units should be autonomous.

Also, if the AU had achieved its goal of uniting Africa under a confederacy, there would be no calls for another form of union. The bottom line here is, people do better when they are not forced into a coalition.

4. Different Economic Values

Different tribes have specific attitudes towards the economy. Constricting everyone into a single mode of economic reasoning is inhumane as much as it would be, chaotic. It is antithetical to how Africans have lived for centuries.

No traditional African society was the same in its approach to commerce and trade as the other, and those values stand until today. This peculiarity is one reason centrally planned economic reforms in many African countries often fail to yield expected results among different tribes.

Again, a critical reason the economies of equally larger unions such as China and India has worked is because of the homogeneity of values among their people. Regardless of whatever economic model is adopted in a unified Africa, the would difficult to make it work for every society.

5. A partway to Tyranny

Perhaps Malema and his comrades have yet to realize that the more powerful a central government is, the greater the possibility of tyranny. This is evident in the level at which post-independence African leaders have grossly abuse power. One leader in control of a big entity with enormous resources, going by modern African history, is extremely dangerous.

More so, rotating the office of the Head of State among each tribe without problems is almost impossible as we have seen in the old Sudan, Rwanda, the Central African Republic and Nigeria.

There equally cannot be a parliament comprehensive enough to accommodate every tribe that makes up the continent. The end result would be an insufficient representation of interests, which often result in calls for session.

Nonetheless, the effects of Colonialism on Africa is a proof that bringing people together without considering their traditional ways of life is wrong. What Africa needs to work is for countries to allow more autonomy for local and regional governments. Not another forceful unification.

Ibrahim B. Anoba is an African political economy analyst and a Senior Fellow at African Liberty. Tweet him @Ibrahim_Anoba.


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3 Ways How President Mnangagwa Can Make the New Zimbabwe A Success Story

Republished from Rational Standard 

by: Ibrahim B. Anoba

The curtains of celebration are gradually drawing home in Zimbabwe as President Emmerson Mnangagwa assumes office to lead the country out of its numerous ordeals. As expected, there would be calls to initiate state-driven economic reforms to solve the three development-related problems of cash purchasing power, institutional corruption and food shortages. Instead, Mnangagwa must learn from the consequences of Robert Mugabe’s 37-year experiment with collectivism.

On Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)

If Mnangagwa truly believes that Mugabe was wrong in meddling with the market economy, he should simply avoid following suit.

For instance, following the currency instability that started in the late 1990s greatly because of the confiscation of private farms from white landowners, Mugabe adopted a state-driven strategy that would eventually influence the bulk of present economic problems. He made the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe routinely print money to fund budgets and reward his political allies until the currency bloated to an unmanageable level in 2009. This neither helped economic productivity nor encouraged investment as he promised.

Rather than experiment with another centrally-designed programme, it is best to have private-driven reforms by repealing laws that constrain foreign investment and property ownership. The return of corporate interest and security of property would almost instantly stimulate the value of the currency through a natural inflow of foreign exchange and increase in informal start-ups.

It is more interesting when considering the possible benefits of replicating this approach in the prolific mining sector. Zimbabwe has the world’s third-largest reserve of platinum, a highly-valuable commodity for electronic and medical industries. It also has lithium, which is in great demand by tech companies for making batteries.

With these enormous market opportunities, a complete shift from the usual state-led extraction and exchange would attract more investment and allow competition among corporations to gradually increase the PPP of the Zimbabwean dollar.

Managing Corruption

If pro-market reforms are necessary to resuscitating the Zimbabwean economy, reducing corruption to the barest minimum is more integral to sustaining it.

In 2016, Transparency International reported that corruption cost the country $1 billion annually. This is primarily because of the wide dependence on government to provide basic amenities including healthcare, education and social welfare, which are considered cultural rights in Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa should avoid this by not burdening his cabinet with unnecessary headaches. These are services best provided by a competitive private sector.

It is not rocket science that entrusting any administration to provide private goods invites corrupt tendencies. The enormity of government bureaucracies subject funds meant to finance these responsibilities to pass through numerous offices before actual disbursement and there is practically no way to avoid corruption. Instead, Mnangagwa should give individuals and corporations room to own up but concurrently ensure a tolerable framework of justice.

Keeping corporations and the government void of corruption may be achievable if the incoming president can experiment with the procedure of public interest litigation (PIL). PIL is a sure way of adopting the law to strategically realize social change. The procedure simply utilizes litigation and other legal actions to raise issues of broad public concern. As argued by Transparency International Zimbabwe, PIL can help provide a check on government agencies, statutory bodies and public officials by holding them judicially accountable through fair and unbiased judicial procedures. Mnangagwa should draw lessons from Kenya and Uganda as they have robust experience using PIL in addressing corruption.

Food Shortages

The World Food Program estimated that some 1.5 million Zimbabweans are critically hungry – about 16 percent of the population. This is among the worst anywhere in the world. Although there are external factors to consider in addressing this problem, especially inflation. The primary considerations for Mnangagwa should be to repeal existing discriminatory land reforms and plan for artificial irrigation.

For example, the 2001 the ‘Fast Track’ Land Reform, which initiated a compulsory acquisition and redistribution of land, dispossessed over 4,500 white farmers of their farms and resettled a million black Zimbabweans instead. The policy critically affected the agricultural productivity that drives the economy and complicated the legitimate ownership of land. Moreover, the wide negative impact on agricultural exchange since 2001 affirms the unfortunate outcomes.

If Zimbabwe is to produce its own food to solve the shortage, it needs to allow fair land ownership. People are more productive when they have dividends to economize properties they rightful claim.

For a country where drought is the most common climatic threat to agricultural production and only 7.6 percent of its farmers practicing conservation agriculture, having a dependent alternative to rainfall is smartest. Zimbabwe should partner with countries that have recorded success in adopting the technique. Although, there could be financial constraints in funding such audacious undertaking but this is another reason it needs better relationship with corporations.

Zimbabweans have every reason to demand fast economic transformation after decades of suffering but, Emmerson Mnangagwa must be cautious yet market-oriented because every policy no matter how small, determines the future of Zimbabwe.

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