USA: The United States of Africa – could and should it happen?

Two years ago, South Sudan became the newest independent nation in the world. It seceded from Sudan, after years of fiscal neglect and a lack of infrastructural development. Even today as a separate entity, the majority of the population is rural as well as poor and the economy is primarily reliant on agriculture. The South Sudanese government has had to relegate prosperity of their new country to the bottom of the priority list, as it fights a war with nomadic tribesmen in the Upper Nile and clashes with Sudanese troops in South Kordofan.

Against this backdrop, it appears that Africa is as divided and impoverished as ever, perpetually in conflict and has serious health issues facing the population. However, there are still groups and individuals, often referred to as ‘pan-Africanists’, who support a continental unification of all African countries under a single government. It is their opinion that an impregnable African government could administer Africa’s resources more efficiently and equally, eliminating the need for nations and tribes to scuffle over land. Rather than a government that favours Christians or Muslims, Hutus or Tutsis, an African government would represent all Africans equally, in the distribution of resources and funding.

The pitch that economic prosperity would result from African unification is laboured by perhaps the most prominent pan-Africanist group, the ‘African Unification Front’ (AUF). The AUF declares that a single African state would put an end to “all economic policies that attempt to subordinate the African economy to international financial capital.”[1] It is true that over the past number of years China has been investing heavily in African mining, drawing suspicion from a number of Africans, with some even going as far as to identify it as crypto neo-colonialism. Although this may be somewhat of an over-reaction, there is merit in the argument that a unified monetary authority of Africa would have a much louder voice in global economics, particularly world trade. The idea that inter-African trade will become substantially cheaper and tariff free under a United States of Africa is particularly appealing to some. British Prime Minister, David Cameron, whilst visiting South Africa in 2011 pointed that inter-African trade would promote jobs and business growth, and ‘transform living standards’. However, some economists advise that protectionism, regulation and control of production is what Africa needs right now.

AUF goes on to endorse a single currency for the continent, as they contend that a pooling of current national GDPs behind one currency would strengthen African’s position to maintain parity with non-African currencies. The AUF have even picked a name for the currency: ‘the Sheba’. This idea seems very romantic, with the North African city of Sheba being an economic hub for trade and industry in biblical times – however, it may not be the economic quick fix AUF hopes for. The West African CFA franc is the shared currency for eight West African countries but, as of August 2013, one CFA franc will get you approximately 0.002 Australian dollars on the currency exchange markets, discrediting the strength in the unity argument.

It should come as no surprise that African countries with stronger currencies, higher GDPs and with better performing economies overall are less inclined to show support for unification than poorer ones. Many citizens in countries like South Africa are of the view that membership to a unified African nation would be a burden, rather than blessing, because South Africa’s economic yield would leave South Africa’s borders to support less productive countries. Naturally, smaller and poorer countries tend to favour unification as a way of escaping their economic woes by diluting it, and passing it on to a higher authority to deal with. In the wake of Zimbabwe’s uncontrollable hyper-inflation, the president, Robert Mugabe, became more and more in favour of a unified Africa.

It has been suggested that some existing African nations have failed to define themselves as one people, as there seems to be a lot of institutional disunity. The theory that African nations as they exist today are not practising true nationhood by virtue of national leaders putting religious and tribal allegiances before national interests, casts doubt on whether all Africans as a whole can unite under the same nation.  Indeed, it is troubling that the two most prominent advocates for a United States of Africa have been Mugabe and Muammar Gaddafi. Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, states that it is a dream of totalitarian dictators and not of the people, and that economic growth is built from the bottom rather than by the imposition of top down uniform control.[2] The economic problems of Africa are difficult to solve, and a United States of Africa seems too simplistic and prone to issues down the track to be considered a realistic solution – if it were achievable in the first place. What is needed though is African unity of a less official kind, especially in places like South Sudan. Peace in Africa is what will accommodate economic prosperity.

2 thoughts on “USA: The United States of Africa – could and should it happen?”

  1. Now, despite the fact that it would make economic sense, and I do agree with your contention here, the fact is that any such grouping of Africa into a “United States” would be simply impossible. You touch on the matter yourself:

    “Against this backdrop, it appears that Africa is as divided and impoverished as ever, perpetually in conflict and has serious health issues facing the population.”

    “It has been suggested that some existing African nations have failed to define themselves as one people, as there seems to be a lot of institutional disunity.”

    Politically speaking, many African countries cannot even organise themselves, let alone trying to organise them into some greater entity. Libya, Egypt, Sudan-South Sudan, Sudan-Darfur, Somalia, Nigeria, Western Sahara, Casamance, the LRA uprising, Cabinda, Maghreb insurgency, Niger Delta, ADF in DRC, M23 in DRC, Guinea, these are all current ongoing conflicts of low to medium intensity, often involving many neighbouring nations in competition, always destabilising internally and externally.

    The continent of Africa is rift with political strife, and no amount of economic sense is going to alter the constitutional make up of the continent until you can eradicate conflict entirely. And that is about as likely as…well, if you could end conflict in Africa you’d probably be a long way towards ending world hunger and world poverty and eradicating HIV/AIDS and polio and malaria as well. These would probably go in lockstep with any economic or political unification of the region. These barriers are nigh insurmountable, and remain but a pipe dream for any pan-Africanists.

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