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27 Jun 2007 18:33
From Cape Town to Algiers, many Africans welcome Libyan leader Moammar Gadaffi’s plan for a United States of Africa with a strong voice on the global stage, but most say it simply comes too soon for a divided continent.
Gadaffi, long regarded as a pariah in the West for his anti-colonial rhetoric, is touring West Africa to promote the long-standing plan for a pan-African government, which will be put to a summit of the African Union on July 1 in Ghana.
Flush with cash from an oil boom, the leader of the North African Arab state has won backing from Senegal, Zimbabwe and some other countries. But diplomatic heavyweights like South Africa and Uganda are staunch opponents.
Many ordinary Africans say it is premature for the continent of nearly one billion people divided between rich and poor, black and Arab, Muslim and Christian, and criss-crossed by conflicts like the wars in Somalia and Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
“It’s a good idea but it’s far-fetched.
We have so many different ideologies, different tribes, traditions and religions,” said Jubilee Kamara (50), a teacher in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.
In areas like trade, where Africa’s impoverished farmers have clamoured in vain for the United States and Europe to scrap billions of dollars of subsidies, the continent could benefit from more negotiating power, officials say.
“When you are many, you’re stronger. That can solve problems in exchanges with foreign countries because [Africans] very often lose out,” said Sebastien Djedje, Reconciliation Minister of war-torn Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, which Gadaffi visited on Wednesday.
But existing pan-African institutions have failed to gain traction. A degree of political and military cooperation occurs through the African Union, but its pan-African Parliament is widely seen as a talking shop while the continent’s long-serving presidents jealously guard their grip on power.
“I can’t see any African leader agreeing to be like a senator in his own country,” said John Muchiri, a taxi driver in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “The stronger countries would probably want to rule the rest.”
The success of blocs like the expanded European Union has given renewed credibility to the idea pioneered by Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to become the first black nation in sub-Saharan Africa to throw off the colonial yoke 50 years ago.
Nkrumah and other independence leaders like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere wished to scrap the artificial frontiers drawn up by colonial rulers at the conference of Berlin in 1884.
Many people question, however, whether there is a common African identity spanning the continent that would bond it together. Others wonder how a central government could impose policies some states may not have the means to implement.
On the streets of the continent’s wealthiest country, citizens worried they would end up footing the bill.
“We’ve got enough problems in South Africa. How many problems are we going to have if we have one government,” said Kallie van der Merwe (52), a tour bus driver. “Where’s all the money coming from? From South Africa? Then we are going to pay tax like hell.”
And on a continent ravaged by rebellions often supported from neighbouring countries, some find it hard to imagine governments putting aside conflicts stretching back decades.
“There are some countries which are perennial enemies and for any sort of United Africa to work there must be understanding between countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea and peace in Sudan and Somalia,” said 20-year-old international relations student Anne Nyambura in Nairobi.—Reuters
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