United States of Africa: Ultimate Dream of a Pan-Africanist
Samir Bhattacharya, Research Associate, VIF

Every year on May 25, the world celebrates Africa Day. It was on May 25, 1963, that the first organisational body of Africa, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was established in Ethiopia. [1] The organisation was an endeavour to unite the diverse and far-reaching political trends that prevailed in different African nations and beyond. While its ideological root can be traced back to the late nineteenth century Pan-Africanist movement, OAU was a political organisation to reflect the African realities of colonial subjugation and counter any form of foreign oppression.[2]

As the principal objective of the organisation was to promote African Unity, the ideologies of The founding charter of the OAU reflect the views of several famous thinkers and heads of state. Most notable among them are Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and Sekou Toure of Guinea. Many new areas were added to the organisation in 2002 to give it greater vigour, and it was renamed as African Union (AU). The AU was provided with the goal of creating "an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, led by its own people and representing a dynamic force in the world."[3]In that regard, this year is significant because it marks the 20th anniversary of AU.

The Genesis of the United States of Africa

In 1957, Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan country to gain its independence.[4] Its first President, Kwame Nkrumah, in his independence speech, declared that Ghana's independence was 'meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa'.[5] Next year he convened an "All-African Peoples Conference" in Accra, Ghana intending to develop strategies and work together to eradicate the colonial rule from across the continent.[6] For this meeting, he also had Trinidadian writer and activist George Padmore, another staunch Pan-Africanist. In fact, at that time, Padmore was working with Nkrumah as his Advisor on African Affairs.

In this fateful conference, Nkrumah met Patrice Lumumba, the first Prime Minister of liberated Democratic Republic of Congo and Frantz Fanon, a gifted writer against colonialism from Martinique and Algeria. As Lumumba was tortured, shot, and killed by Mobutu's revolutionary army in 1961, he could not succeed in propagating his bold ideologies of freedom throughout the continent.[7] However, legacies continue to enthral the continent even 60 years after his demise.

This conference was probably the most significant event in the history of Pan-Africanism as representatives from across the continent, and the diaspora attended the all-important conference, the first of its kind. In this meeting, Nkrumah declared his bold vision for the continent, the formation of a United States of Africa.

From the very beginning, Nkrumah urged the African states to effectuate different measures to enhance economic cooperation between African nations. He also advocated for a common foreign policy for the continent. He called for an integrated Africa and criticised that most African countries trade raw materials with their former colonial powers rather than with one another.[8] His visions included more intra-African trade, harmonised systems, and no borders.

His idea of Pan-Africanism i.e.the United States of Africa was never realised. Instead, in 1963 OAU was formed, which was a compromise between 'radical' and 'moderate' Pan-Africanism. Nevertheless, it was the first victory for the idea of Pan-Africanism, even though for the African governments and not for the peoples of Africa. For the next four decades, before transforming into AU, the biggest challenge for the organisation was to combat neo-colonialism and the effects of the Cold War, where both the major powers were busy extending their grip across the continent.

In its almost four decades of existence, OAU managed to provide considerable support to Portuguese colonies Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, which got independence in 1974 and two island nations, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe, in 1975. Two other countries, Zimbabwe in 1980 and Namibia in 1990, also received support from OAU on their way to independence. Finally, OAU played a significant role against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The idea of the United States of Africa received another churn when in 1999, the ex-Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, convened an extraordinary summit for OAU Heads of State. In fact, it was in this extraordinary summit the seed of the new organisation, the African Union of today was planted.[9] The transformation of OAU to AU revitalised the continental body strangled by the 'club of dictators', as infamously known. It also helped create a more robust continental organisation reflecting the post-cold war era and more suitable to the realities of globalisation. While Gaddafi openly supported the creation ofthe United States of Africa, other leaders remained cautious. With the death of Gaddafi, the idea of a United Africa died as well.

African leaders decided in March 2018 to form an Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). It aspires to generate roughly 15 billion dollars in GDP for each country and 3 trillion dollars for the continent soon, covering more than 2 billion Africans, most of whom are youth. [10] While the AfCFTA is a daring attempt to unite Africa economically, the continent remains politically divided, with war, corruption, famine, and dependency.

During the UNGA resolution condemning Russian aggression, only 27 African countries' supported it, exposing the growing rift among the nations.[11] Sudan, Mali, and the Central African Republic, all long-time African allies of Russia, were among the 17 African countries that voted against it. Given that it has always opposed both the Israeli occupation of Palestine and NATO's operation in Libya, South Africa's absence was unexpected. Six additional African countries have decided not to participate in the election. Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous country, and Cameroon did not participate in the election. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the motion.

This split house was also evident during the African Union's (AU) annual conference earlier this year. While there were many essential topics to discuss, such as military coups and COVID pandemic recovery, the entire summit was hampered by tensions among African Union Member States over Israel's observer status.[12] Despite Algeria and South Africa's fierce resistance to Israel's admission to the Union, Kenya and Ethiopia publicly endorsed it. Several other African countries, such as Morocco, which signed the Abraham Accord, had tacit support for Israel. Although the Union opted to postpone the debate to next year's gathering in order to avoid an unprecedented rupture in the house, the debate could further exacerbate the already polarised continent.

United States of Africa- Within Reach or a Distant Dream?

Every year, the African Union picks a subject for the day, reflecting on the continent's shared challenges. "Strengthening Resilience in Nutrition and Food Security on the African Continent" is this year's topic.[13] The subject emphasises the importance of food and nutrition security across Africa, particularly in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine war. The theme also reflects the Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063, which advocates for nature-based solutions to climate change, health problems, agriculture and food security, and sustainable livelihood opportunities.

This year, parallel to Africa day, the Union has also convened two extraordinary summits in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, on May 25-28: one to discuss the humanitarian issues and another on terrorism and democratic backsliding in several African countries.[14] As the special summit evaluates the progress toward its different goals, analyses problems, and finds solutions, it is also an excellent time to recap the successes and failures vis-à-vis the fixed objectives and highlight the positives and the negatives. The evaluation should help African countries to learn from each other and work collectively toward achieving theircollective goal.

The Good: Controlling Corona Outbreak, Rise in the Number of Democratic Elections, the Peaceful Transfer of Power

Despite their reputation for having shaky state health systems, Africa could contain the spread of coronavirus through a well-coordinated plan. When the first Covid19 patient was detected in Egypt on February 14, it sparked widespread fear and concern that the newly discovered virus could cause mass deaths and devastate already weakened health systems.[15] Fortunately, despite periodic outbreaks, the virus remained mostly under control.

Policymakers must take credit for limiting its proliferation, as they took various proactive actions. Even before a single case of Covid19, countries like Lesotho declared a state of emergency and went under quarantine. The good news is although the virus is still raging, governments have started to redirect their resources. Rather than chasing after the evasive vaccinations, they have been concentrating on extended testing and monitoring techniques that will progressively improve the continent's healthcare systems.

Despite claims of a democratic retreat, Africa has witnessed several peaceful elections and democratic transitions. In Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema made history by defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu.[16] In Morocco, the coalition of liberal parties won an overwhelming victory over the Muslim Brotherhood, illustrating political Islam's waning appeal.[17]

Similarly, the peaceful transfer of power occurred in Gambia, [18] Niger[19], Malawi[20] and DRC[21]. In Sao-Tome & Principe[22] and Cape Verde, [23] two island nations, opposition candidates were victorious. Finally, Somalia successfully conducted its election, defying the resurgence of the extremist Islamist group Al-Shabaab.[24]

Ethiopia's election was held on schedule in June despite the civil war, and Abiy Ahmed won by a landslide.[25] Finally, this month, Somalia has successfully organised a peaceful election despite the revival of the dreaded terror group Al-Shabaab, which continues to destabilise the country with periodic terrorist strikes.[26] All these elections augur well for African democracy. According to a survey performed by Afro-barometer, most Africans want to live in democracies.[27]

The Bad: Series of Coups, Civil War in Ethiopia, rising threats of Islamist Terrorism

Despite the peaceful elections in many African countries, most of Africa witnessed regression in democracy, aggravated by the Covid pandemic and remains at the bottom of the democracy ranking.[28] Since 2010, there have been about 40 attempted coups in Africa, out of which 12 ousted existing elected governments, replacing them with military rule.[29]

Most recently, in April 2021, the President of Chad was killed in an "institutional coup d’état. "[30] In May 2021, Mali witnessed its second coup in nine months[31]. In fact, Colonel Goita was also in charge of the last coup in August 2020, which occurred amid a wave of intense anti-government rallies. Now Goita announced the postponement of the election till 2026.[33] France has been the principal security provider for the country since 2013. Irked by the coups and rumoured presence of the Russian private army Wagner group, the French government has opted to pull its troops out of the nation worsening the security environment in Mali and the larger Sahel area.[34]

In September 2021, Guinea, a tiny West African coastal country, also underwent a military takeover.[35] In October 2021, Sudan's military General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan conducted another coup, deposing Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and several of his close associates from his transitional government.[36] Meanwhile, countries like Niger, Madagascar, and Guinea-Bissau have survived failed coup attempts in 2021 and are still lurking in uncertainty.

When Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared war against the Tigrayan Liberation Front (TPLF), it was expected to be swift and over within weeks, if not days. Surprisingly, the war continues amid countless twists and has now transformed into a civil war, putting the fate of 115 million Ethiopians in jeopardy.[37]

While Islamic terrorism is a global problem, several countries of Africa are particularly prone to terrorism perpetrated by extremist Islamists. Countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic (CAR), Mozambique, Somalia, and many others have been suffering from some form of radical Islamism, impeding the human growth and infrastructure development of the country.

The Sahel region of West Africa is currently the most exposed to the threat of radical Islamism. Islamists continue to assault security forces and civilians in nations such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. Since 2017, Islamist extremists have been active in Mozambique, exacting a heavy toll on lives and livelihood. Other countries where Islamist radicals are active include Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Bottom Line

In 2000, the Economist magazine's cover story was titled 'The hopeless continent,' but in 2011, it was renamed 'Africa Rising.'[38] With its youthful population, the continent represents an enormous opportunity for the future. It is also abundantly rich in human and natural capital. 60% of the world's arable land is located in Africa.[39] The continent also boasts of a massive reserve of fossil fuels. Currently, Africa contains six of the world's top ten fastest-growing economies. Africa has made a long journey since the inception of OAU and its latest version AU.[40]

In 2013, the AU celebrated the 50th anniversary of its foundation of the OAU. And this year, AU celebrated its 20th anniversary. However, increased food prices as a result of Covid-19, climatically driven drought in parts of Africa, and the Ukraine situation tainted this year's celebrations. In addition, political instability across the continent still remains a severe concern. Despite adopting a well-pronged strategy to prevent the ethnic-based coflicts in several countries, civil war in prevailing in many African countries. In 2020, in the aftermath of Covid pandemic, African leaders decided to put more focused on internal migrations and the goal of "Silencing the Guns" by 2020 has shifted to 2030.[41] Ironically, the answer to most of these migrations is to silence the guns.

Regardless, Africans and the African diaspora worldwide would continue to celebrate the day since it symbolises their shared resistance against the colonial powers and racism and their struggle for development and economic prosperity. The day is aptly called the African Unity Day since it works to unite the continent's varied peoples into a single identity. The decision to emphasise the issue of malnutrition and food insecurity in a society ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change is both timely and vital. Strengthening nutrition and food security resilience will go a long way toward tackling a number of interrelated issues.

African leaders and the African Union framed a sustainable and inclusive development plan for the continent,"Agenda 2063, "reflecting Pan-African values.[42] It is still possible to achieve most of its ambitious goals, including a more integrated Africa, if not the United States of Africa. Africa Day is more than just cultural and culinary celebrations. The day should also be about evaluating the state of the African Union and charting its future course of action towards a united continent. As hope springs eternal, the continent must strive to march ahead togetherin its "long walk to freedom".


[1] “Africa Day harps on nutrition as AU meets in Malabo”. Africa News. May 25, 2022. https://www.africanews.com/2022/05/25/africa-day-harps-on-nutrition-as-au-meets-in-malabo/
[2] “African Union At 20: Advances, Challenges, And Future Opportunities”. Nigerian Tribune. May 29, 2022.
[3] “Explained: What Is African Union and What Is Its Importance”. India Times. May 19, 2022. https://www.indiatimes.com/explainers/news/what-is-african-union-and-what-is-its-importance-569971.html
[4] “What Dreams May Come”. Style Weekly. May 25, 2022.
https://m.styleweekly.com/richmond/what-dreams-may come/Content?oid=18805888
[5] “How Kwame Nkrumah’s midnight speech set a tradition for marking the moment of liberation”. The conversation. March 5, 2022. https://theconversation.com/how-kwame-nkrumahs-midnight-speech-set-a-tradition-for-marking-the-moment-of-liberation-178609
[6]Prashad Vijay. “Africa Is on the Move”. Monthly Review. May 01, 2022. https://monthlyreview.org/2022/05/01/africa-is-on-the-move/
[7] “Patrice Lumumba (1925–1961)”. Jacobin. January 17, 2017. https://jacobin.com/2017/01/patrice-lumumba-congo-belgium-colonialism-murder
[8]Africa Must Unite. Kwame Nkrumah. London, Heinemann, 1963. Pp. xvii + 229. 21s.
[10]”How two leaders, decades apart, envisioned the African Union”. Middle East Monitor. September 16, 2021. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20210916-how-two-leaders-decades-apart-envisioned-the-african-union/
[11]Bhattacharya Samir. “The African Continental Free Trade Area and Opportunities for India”. VIF. March 2, 2022.
[12]Proposed U.S. law seeks to punish African countries for ‘aligning’ with Russia”. Premium Times. May 20, 2022.
[13]Bhattacharya Samir. “Israel’s Africa Conundrum: Bilateral Relations, Multilateral Opposition”. February 17, 2022.
[14] “Build resilience in nutrition: Accelerate Africa's human capital and socio-economic development”. NEPAD. May 24, 2022. https://www.nepad.org/news/build-resilience-nutrition-accelerate-africas-human-capital-and-socio-economic
[15]African Union.https://au.int/en/summit/2022-extraordinary-malabo
[16] “Egypt confirms coronavirus case, the first in Africa”. Al Jazeera. February 14, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/2/14/egypt-confirms-coronavirus-case-the-first-in-africa
[17] “Zambia opposition leader Hichilema wins landslide in presidential election”. Reuters. August 16, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/zambian-opposition-leader-hichilema-heads-closer-victory-presidential-vote-2021-08-15/
[18]Bhattacharya Samir, “Future of Post-Islamist Morocco and India-Morocco Relations.” September 22, 2021.VIF.
[19]Bhattacharya Samir, December 13, 2021. The Re-election of Gambian President Raises Hope for Justice
[20]Al Jazeera, March 22, 2021. Niger’s top court confirms Mohamed Bazoum’s election win.
[21] “Malawi Court Dismisses Presidential Elections Challenge”. Voice of America. November 27, 2021. https://www.voanews.com/a/malawi-court-dismisses-presidential-elections-challenge/6330333.html
[22] “Felix Tshisekedi wins DR Congo presidential vote: Electoral board”. Al Jazeera. January 10, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/1/10/felix-tshisekedi-wins-dr-congo-presidential-vote-electoral-board
[23] “Sao Tome and Principe: Electoral commission confirms presidential election result”. Garda World. September 7, 2021. Sept. 6. https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/521541/sao-tome-and-principe-electoral-commission-confirms-presidential-election-result-sept-6
[24]Reuters, October 18, 2021. Opposition candidate Neves wins Cape Verde election.https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/opposition-candidate-neves-wins-cape-verde-election-2021-10-18/
[25] “Somalia: UN welcomes end of fairly contested presidential election, calls for unity”. UN News. May 16, 2022.https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/05/1118292
[26]BBC News, July 11, 2021. Ethiopia election: Abiy Ahmed wins with huge majority. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57791868
[27]Muhumuza Rodney. “For new Somalia government, al-Shabab a threat to authority”. AP News. May 25, 2022. https://apnews.com/article/politics-somalia-government-al-qaida-africa-6a36b8bb308dad450fd961eea05ba62d
[28] “Do Africans want democracy — and do they think they’re getting it?”. The Washington Post. October 22, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/10/22/do-africans-want-democracy-do-they-think-theyre-getting-it/
[29] “Africa: COVID has ‘pushed back’ democracy, Ukraine war further raises risks”. UN News. May 6, 2022. https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/05/1117702
[30] “Why West Africa has had so many coups and how to prevent more”. The Conversation. February 15, 2022. https://theconversation.com/why-west-africa-has-had-so-many-coups-and-how-to-prevent-more-176577
[31] “Chad's opposition slams 'coup' as major powers quiet on army takeover.”Africa News, April 22, 2021.https://www.africanews.com/2021/04/22/chad-s-opposition-slams-coup-as-major-powers-quiet-on-army-takeover//
[32] “Mali’s military detains president, prime minister”. Al Jazeera, 24th May, 2021,.
[33] “Mali hit with sweeping sanctions over election delay”. Africa News. January 10, 2022.
[34] “Mali cuts defence ties with France over security 'violations'”. TRT World. May 2, 2022. https://www.trtworld.com/africa/mali-cuts-defence-ties-with-france-over-security-violations-56833
[35]Bhattacharya Samir. “Military Coup in Guinea and its Implications for Democratic Governance in Africa”. VIF. September 9, 2021.
[36] “Sudan’s army seizes power in coup and detains prime minister”. The Guardian, October 25, 2021.
[37]Bhattacharya Samir. “The Crisis in Ethiopia is not all about Ethiopia”. Modern Ghana. May 20, 2020.https://www.modernghana.com/news/1159217/the-crisis-in-ethiopia-is-not-all-about-ethiopia.html
[38]Bhattacharya Samir. “Africa Day 2022: the Good, Bad and Ugly”. May 27, 2022. https://www.modernghana.com/news/1160749/africa-day-2022-the-good-bad-and-ugly.html
[39] “Averting an African food crisis in the wake of the Ukraine war”. World Economic Forum. May 16, 2022. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/05/averting-an-african-food-crisis-in-the-wake-of-the-ukraine-war/
[40] “The United States of Africa?”. History Today, April 4, 2019. https://www.historytoday.com/miscellanies/united-states-africa
[41]African Union and ICRC Marks 30 years of Partnership on Humanitarian Issues”. African Business. May 20, 2022. https://african.business/2022/05/apo-newsfeed/african-union-and-icrc-marks-30-years-of-partnership-on-humanitarian-issues/
[42] “Agenda 2063: Africa's promise of grandeur?”. The New Times. May 18, 2022. https://www.newtimes.co.rw/opinions/agenda-2063-africas-promise-grandeur

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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