In a recent address, South African opposition politician Julius Malema proposed the integration of Africa into one country to leverage on its resources. He suggested that a United States of Africa, should adopt a common currency and kiswahili as the continent’s official language. With these statements, Malema has revived a debate once pushed by departed Africa leaders as a step in uniting the continent against imperialism and colonialism.

So while these calls for a more united Africa are not new, the questions that arise hinge on their sincerity and practicality, especially coming from controversial individuals such as Malema. Such statements certainly need scrutiny to understand the motives behind them and to ascertain if it is not political rhetoric for expediency. 

Although Malema’s calls are welcome, there is a need to question the statements, given that the argument has often been used for grandstanding. While Malema has been branding himself a ‘true’ pan-Africanist, he has proved inconsistent in his political ideology. Malema has previously made some questionable statements that exposed his empty, populist ‘pan-Africanist’ rhetoric. On many occasions he has uttered divisive, xenophobic statements meant to denigrate and vilify other African nationals – a clear deviation from the values and ideals of pan-Africanism.

Where is the wisdom of our fathers now? Kwame Nkrumah (21 September 1909 – 27 April 1972) was the first President of Ghana, the first Prime Minister of Ghana, and an influential 20th-century advocate of Pan-Africanism

Nevertheless, to focus on the issue of the United States of Africa as such, this discussion did not start with Malema. It has been going on for decades, with such proposals being pushed by eminent black activists like Marcus Garvey. Various other leading black figures, such as Kwame Nkrumah and Haile Selassie, have been fierce proponents of such ideas. In fact, this is what eventually led to the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.

The proponents of a United States of Africa are mostly pushing for a federal form of government, where there is one single government and power is centralised. It would also mean that member states of the African Union would have to surrender some of their sovereignty to one singular African government with jurisdiction over all states.

What are the arguments in favour of a United States of Africa?

There are many arguments in favour of the creation of the United States of Africa. Those arguments can largely be grouped under political, economic and social gains. The political gains are more stable government, increases in global power and prominence, and less foreign intervention.

The economic gains are vast increases in trade, a regulated and centralised economy, and power in the political marketplace. Consider that, in 2016, intra-African exports made up 18 percent of total exports, compared to 59 percent and 69 percent for intra-Asia and intra-Europe exports respectively. Hence, a borderless continent would allow for free trade and the removal of unnecessary tariffs.

African leaders meet in Kigali to sign the continent’s free trade agreement.
Paul Kagame/Flickr

The social gains are a greater sense of community and pride, reduced or eliminated ethnic conflict, and stable governments who can provide services to citizens. 

Those pushing for the idea of the United States of Africa have consistently argued that a unitary African government would represent Africa equally, particularly in the distribution of resources and funding. This would therefore enable Africa to administer its own resources more efficiently in an equal manner and in the same vein, removing the artificial barriers we recognise today as nations.

What are the arguments against it?

The proposed integration has had its criticisms, particularly the fear that independent African countries would have to relinquish their sovereignty to enable the establishment of one government. More stable economies, such as that of South Africa, with higher GDPs, have had citizens arguing that an integrated state would be a burden and they would not benefit much from the poor economies. Already the economic migration to South Africa has triggered such objections, resulting in xenophobia.

The dream of a United States of Africa cannot be realised when the continent is so impoverished and deeply divided. Consider, for example, that most people in the Arab world on the continent do not want to call themselves Africans. Equally, issues like corruption, dictatorship, neo-colonialism and the failure of such bodies as the Africa Union to foster economic and political independence of member states have been grave impediments. Lindiwe Zulu, South Africa politician and international relations adviser, confirmed this in 2013 when she said, “When you call for one president, you are calling for ministers to serve under them, one parliament and one legislative process. There are too many things that divide us on political, social and economic levels. We need to have a common agenda and approach to human rights and development before we can talk about one president. We need to deal with democracy on the continent and leaders who think beyond themselves.”

The dream of a United States of Africa cannot be realised when the continent is so impoverished and deeply divided.

There have been some small efforts to foster unity among Africans, such as the introduction of the AU passport to eliminate visa barriers for Africans to travel in the continent. As it stands, Africans need visas to travel to 54% of their continent.

The dream of African unity will continue being derailed as long as Africa fails to fight neo-colonialism and a new form of colonisation, especially from the former colonisers and now countries such as China. Hordes of African leaders were recently in China, for the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting, an initiative by the Chinese government to ‘co-operate’ with African countries for the continent’s ‘development’. It is unfortunate that the development they seek is but a thinly veiled stampede for Africa’s resources. On such a trajectory, the United States of Africa will remain a mere dream.