African Union Day – Time to Let People and Goods Cross Borders

by Japheth J Omujowa & Franklin Cudjoe 

African Union as a phrase in the description of Africa’s past and present would only be true as an irony. In essence, Africa has never been united. For the African Union on this occasion of its day, which it has to be said, is not a day set aside to celebrate Africa’s unity, but a day to mark the formation of the organisation.

The historical foundation of the African Union has its origin in the Union of African States, an early confederation that was established by one of Africa’s greats, Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960s, as well as subsequent attempts to unite Africa, including the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was established on 25 May 1963, and the African Economic Community in 1981.
Critics argued that the OAU in particular did little to protect the rights and liberties of African citizens from their own political leaders, often dubbing it the "Dictators’ Club" (BBC, 8th July, 2002)
The year 2002 saw the dropping of one letter from OAU but the expectations were that it would also signal the end of the era of the "Dictators’ club". The world and indeed Africans were looking forward to a much more responsible and people-oriented organisation. Africans were encouraged by the fact that the AU seemed to be on the path of the European Union not just in the obvious similarities in nomenclatures but also in terms of its ideology and future plans.
They expected that with the formation of the African Union, the African continent would be an economy without borders separating member countries, with no trade restrictionsamongst member countries and essentially the culmination of peace brought about by a borderless intra-Africa movement and trade. This is far from the case. In practice, despite a general preference for protectionism, African countries indeed trade more with other countries than with African neighbours. The ultimate reason for this is not farfetched; these are the same countries that offer grants and aid to their African trade partners. When you look at the volume of trade of each African country with its main trade partner, you’d find a positive correlation between trade and aid. The more the aid from a particular country, the more the trade with that country.
Take China for instance. The Sino-African relationship is at an unprecedented level. Chinese aid to Africa has also increased likewise. China has since become Africa’s biggest trade partner next to the United States. This is not farfetched as China’s aid to Africa has also increased. The AU needs to see beneath the stretched hand of the giver to understand that, in receiving aid, Africa indeed gives so much more in mineral resources.  In the deal with Congo DR, the Chinese will be getting nearly $60bn worth of resources in exchange for $9bn in cash and projects for Congo DR. We will only be better off by trading as equal partners with the world.
Over 50 years of Independence has shown that aid is not the way to Africa’s prosperity. If this had resulted in Africa’s prosperity, we’d be talking about it here as an economic strategy to adopt but this is far from the case.
Africa remains the poorest continent in every sense of the word. With a population of just about a billion people, Africa indeed has a seventh of the global population. If Africa had that same fraction of global trade, it would be the richest continent in the world. If we have a seventh of the world population, it simply means that we have the human resources for production. It is obvious we have a market for products and services and with our mineral resources, we don’t in any way need to stretch our hands asking to be fed by foreign aid. This is what the AU ought to be looking to bring to pass not meetings that never truly reflect positively on Africans.
This is the time for the AU to look into its inaugural document, to see if as an organisation, it is anywhere close to its desired plan when it was  set up 2009.  If there is any organisation responsible for the future fortunes of Africa, it is the African Union. If there is any organization obviously ill-equipped for the future betterment of Africa, it is also the AU. But it can start from somewhere; African leaders should face up to their own or their neighbours’ failures and challenges,  while encouraging ordinary Africans to use their ingenuity to build their own future, through respect for property rights, the rule of law and market freedoms.
Japheth J. Omojuwa is a research associate with IMANI. Franklin Cudjoe is President of IMANI and Managing Editor of