ACCRA, Ghana (Reuters) — Supporters of the immediate creation of a federal state stretching from Cape Town to Cairo waged a fierce debate at an African summit on Monday with leaders who want much slower integration. The African Union summit, on its second day, got down to heavyweight discussions on its only agenda item — the creation of a United States of Africa.
While almost all the 53 member nations agree with the goal of African integration and eventual unity, most of the summit leaders, led by South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, believe this must be a gradual process. But with impassioned leadership from Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, a smaller group wants a federal government to be established immediately as the only way to fight Africa’s poverty and myriad of other challenges including globalization.
“It is getting heated between Gadhafi and the southern Africans,” one delegate, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters as he stepped out of the conference hall. Gadhafi, describing himself as a soldier for Africa, is impatient with the slow pace of integration. He did not attend the summit’s opening session on Sunday and believes the decision over unity must be made by Africa’s masses and not leaders closeted in a conference hall. Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, a member of the gradualist camp, expressed strong support for unity in his speech. “The advantages of Africa’s unification are enormous for our people. … A unified Africa will have stronger bargaining power,” he said.
But reflecting the views of many of the leaders, Kibaki added that at a recent conference on the issue in Kenya, “opinions were varied on the pace this process should take.” Kibaki said Africa’s eight regional economic communities should be the building blocs of a united continent and their integration should be accelerated.
He called for a pan-African language to unite the continent and advocated the use of Swahili — spoken in much of eastern Africa — saying its use as a common tongue “will assist in nurturing greater unity and cooperation amongst our people.” Even this issue illustrated the divisions standing in the way of unity, with north Africans calling for greater use of Arabic.
The summit leaders have come under criticism for largely ignoring pressing issues like Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe at this meeting to concentrate on unifying the continent. Many regard this as an unrealistic, if noble, dream. Skeptics point to decades of wars, coups and massacres that often sprang from ethnic and religious fault lines on a continent whose countries were artificially carved up by former colonial rulers. Alpha Oumar Konare, the AU’s top diplomat, supported an integrated continent in his summit opening speech on Sunday, but said many challenges must first be overcome, including the future of existing pan-African bodies and regional economic blocs.