Africa is a continent torn apart and afflicted by so many vicissitudes. Thus it would make sense that African countries unite in order to develop. This is what they apparently decided to do with the creation of a pan-African institution called the African Union (AU). However, is the African Union the political, economic, industrial and military equivalent of the European Union (EU)? A pragmatic observer’s answer should be: not at all.
If the answer is no, one should wonder why, since the creation of the late Organization of African Unity (OAU), the mother of the African Union, there seems to be no real progress unity-wise at the African level? Perhaps there is a need for a paradigm shift which would consist of avoiding to put the cart before the horse! Let’s remember, for instance, that Africa is a gigantic continent with an area of 30 million km², compared to about 4.5 million km² for the European Union. Also, the population of Africa is estimated at 1.2 billion people compared to about 512 million people within the European Union (EU). And let us not forget that the EU did not start with 28 countries. The integration process was selective and progressive because, in total, there are 44 countries in Europe including Russia. But not all the countries of Europe are members of the European Union. And there are historical and geopolitical reasons that explain why about 36% of European countries are not member-States of the EU. But, in Africa, almost all African countries are forming, at least on paper, a compact block.
The size of the African continent, the historic, geographic and social contexts, as well as the level of “underdevelopment” of most countries seem to make it difficult for them to actually unite as one block. If it is quite obvious that African populations are enthusiastically longing for a powerful pan-African institution, the reality, unfortunately, reminds us that it is not the case. And this reality should not be taken lightly.
Instead of a top-down approach regarding African unity, it is advisable to emphasize a bottom-up approach. Indeed, the impression we have is that Africa’s unity will materialize in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) where the headquarters of the AU are located and from where heads of States make decisions which are supposed to be transposed in the laws of member-States. This approach does not seem to have worked wonders since the inception of the African Union’s precursor
The RECs (Regional Economic Communities) seem to be one of the possible bottom-up approaches that could be prioritized. Indeed, it appears that people from West Africa may have more in common culturally, religiously and historically among themselves compared with people from Southern Africa, for instance. This is why regional clusters are likely to be more efficient in materializing their political and economic unity and integration. If there is a maximum of five economic and political blocks in Africa that can work towards their own integration, these five blocks would become the cornerstone of, why not, a Federation of African States. Is it not, conceptually, much easier to bargain a consensus with 10 or 15 countries around the table rather than with 50 countries? Africa is not like China that has a strong central government that can easily impose decisions from a top-down approach.
Does the bottom-up approach indicate the death of the African Union? Not quite so. If this approach becomes the norm in Africa, then each of the five blocks will be represented, during AU summits, by one (1) head of State who will defend the interests of his region or cluster. Thus, powerful and more productive AU summits would be centralized around 5 presidents maximum, instead of more than 50 today. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, isn’t it?