Lagos — The recent inaugural meeting of the African Union (AU), the new continental body that replaced the erstwhile Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is no doubt a welcome development for several reasons. First, is the fact that during the early 60s when the founding fathers of newly independent African States, such as Emperor Haille Sallasie of Ethiopia, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Dr. Kwame Nkommah of Ghana, Ahmadu Ahidjo of Cameroun, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Milton Obote of Uganda, Jomo Kenyata of Kenya, Teopold Senghor of Senegal, Abdel Naser of Egypt, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and a host of others, founded the OAU, what was uppermost on their minds was the total and quick emancipation of African States that were still under the yoke of colonialism.
Little did they anticipate the existing myriad of complex problems across the continent, ranging from ethnic and cross border conflicts, refugee problems, pervasive hunger and starvation, Aids scourge and incessant military incursion in governance, hence at the conference of Heads of State in July 1964, the OAU rather than open a Pandora box by supporting a territorial re-arrangement for whatever reasons, re-affirmed the South American doctrine of "Uti possidetis" (As you possess, so shall you continue to possess), by accepting the existing Colonial territorial boundaries as the basis for African Unity.
Suffice it to note that as events have shown, their position has no doubt proved quite unpopular as could be seen from border disputes between several post - independence African nations, such as Algeria, Morocco, Kenya, Somalia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi- Tanzania, Republic of Guinea-Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria - Benin and most recently Nigeria- Cameroon. Worthy of mention is the fact that the Colonial powers had drawn national boundaries without regard to Cultural affinities and many ethnic groups found themselves split into different sovereignties. Thus, the Yoruba are found in Nigeria and Benin Republic, the Hausa - Fulani in Benin, Chad and Nigeria, the Masai in Kenya and Tanzania, the Somali in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the Ewe in Ghana and Togo, etc.
On achieving independence, some of the states wished to incorporate neighbouring territories on the basis of self-determination. Thus, in a situation where everyone wanted to gain but not lose territory, there are bound to be conflicts and continued conflicts far into the future, across the continent, hence the recent birth of the African Union (AU) should be seen as providing the much needed opportunity for African leaders to establish a permanent Boundary Adjustment Commission to tackle and proffer permanent and lasting solutions to boundary disputes among African States, which has been a major source of tension and wars and by implication the prevalence of refugees, hunger and poverty across the continent.
By so doing the resort to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for settlement of boundary disputes by brotherly African States, such as was the case recently with Nigeria and Cameroon, could be avoided and averted, including the attendant controversy and bad blood.
Secondly, the advent of the African Union is significant and symbolic, considering the fact that at the time the OAU was founded, nations such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and a host of others, were still under Colonial domination and thus were not members of the OAU. It is thus quite gratifying that South Africa which has for decades been under the stranglehold of the evil apartheid regime even until the early 90s is not only a major initiator of the Africa Union but is also its first Chairman, in the person of Thaho Mbeki. It is therefore expected that South Africa with its highly developed economy and State of the art infrastructure, comparable to those of the advanced Western nations, would bring its wealth and prestige to bear on the new African Union in the overriding interest of the long suffering masses of this impoverished continent.
Thus, in close co-operation with other notable African leaders like President Obasanjo of Nigeria, John Kuffor of Ghana, Muhmar Ghadafi o Libya, Abdul Diouf of Senegal and others, President Thabo Mbeki, in his capacity as the first chairman of the AU, should seek to urgently resolve the numerous and lingering conflicts across the continent, if the rest of the world community is to regard the new African Union with a pinch of salt, for a situation where a long standing independent nation like Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), has to rely and depend upon it's erstwhile Colonial master, France, for solution to its internal conflict with the rebels, is indicative of a continent that lacks an effective machinery for conflict resolution. It is for this same reason that many of the smaller and newly independent African nations have had to sign protection pacts and defence treaties with their Colonial masters, from whom they secured independence not too long ago. What a bitter pill to swallow, you may say!
In furtherance of such conflict resolution initiative, the new AU would do well by establishing a standing fighting force, "the African High Command" (AHC) with troops contributed by AU member nations, for the purpose of peace keeping and peace enforcement at short notice, anywhere on the continent, for had ECOWAS swiftly mobilised troops and intervened quickly in the Cote d'Ivoire conflict before the arrival of the French troops, the situation would have been different today.
Needless to overemphasis the fact that the much touted peace deal reached with the rebels in France is not only a slap in the face of the democratically elected government of Cote Dlvoire, ECOWAS and the African Union but runs counter to the pervading tenets of democracy and the rule of law around the globe, since it sends wrong signals to would-be radical elements across the African continent' that resort to force is the best way to settle political grievances.
Furthermore, the establishment of such a standing force would help avoid the pitfalls of the UN Security Council which oftentimes lands it difficult to mobilise troops for its peace keeping/enforcement operations especially where the national interest of the super powers is threatened.
A third and equally potent challenge to the new African Union is the problem of hunger and starvation caused by a combination of factors such as prevalence of drought especially in the arid regions where there is hardly adequate rainfall for most of the year, thus making it extremely difficult to engage in meaningful agricultural activities, ethnic and cross border conflicts, leading to displacement of persons from their homes, absence of year round mechanised large scale farming and dearth of adequate funding and financing of the agricultural sector across the continent.
The on-going self-inflicted situation in Zimbabwe, where the rash and ill-timed decision of President Robert Mugabe to re-allocate white owned farms to land less blacks, has plunged the hitherto food sufficient nation into excruciating hunger and starvation, is instructive in this regard. In like manner, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Liberia and a host of other African nations, are suffering the same faith, with no end in sight, as they continue to depend on handouts from the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC), other aid donors and multilateral agencies, a situation that would greatly diminish and reduce the pride and prestige of the African Union, if left unattended to.
Therefore, given the gravity and enormity of the problem of hunger and starvation coupled with the chronic and devastating poverty among the African population, at a time when the industrialised Western nations are extending incentives to farmers to reduce their farm acreage and food production, the African Union must evolve deliberate and well- articulated policies to enable its member States boost food production through all year round mechanised large scale commercial cropping, using irrigation to stem the scourge of hunger and starvation. This will also enhance maximum benefit from the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), which former President Bill Clinton of the United States of America was kind and benevolent enough to extend to African nations just before leaving office in 2001.
In this connection, it is hereby suggested that the African Union should persuade its member states to adopt the principle of comparative cost advantage in their agricultural programmes and policies. To this end, member nations would be limited to the production of a given number of agricultural and farm products in which they have the highest comparative cost advantage and favourable climatic conditions. In consequence therefore, a nation like Nigeria which currently produces multiplicity of agricultural/farm products, such as yam, maize, millet, sorghum, cassava, cotton, ginger, palm produce, groundnut, coca, rubber, beans, cocoa yam, in commercial quantities, thus a dissipation and duplication of efforts, could be limited to the cultivation of four of these products in which it has the highest cost advantage for exchange with other African nations.
By so doing, the African continent would in the not too distant future overcome the problem of food scarcity, hunger and starvation. Also, under such arrangement, it would become easier to attract the much needed adequate funding and financing to the agricultural sector across the continent, from the likes of the African Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank/lFC, FAO, multilateral agencies and even Commercial Banks. In the same vein, the establishment of an African Centre for Technology Development, for research and development of basic technology for the processing and preservation of food and agricultural products across the continent, would go a long way to reduce over-dependence on imported and expensive foreign machinery for agriculture, as well as reduce cost of food items and make same available to the teeming population on the continent.
Furthermore, the African Union would be well advised to establish a Food and Agriculture Agency to co- ordinate and monitor food production in its member States, as well as create a strategic food reserve for the alleviation of hunger during emergencies in member nations. By the same token, the AU should work in consonance with the appropriate UN agencies and national governments in Africa, to stem the scourge of the AIDS epidemic which is decimating Africa's population. Lastly, the African Union must strive to tackle the prevalent and embarrassing level of corruption in governance among public officials in most African nations.
This could be checkmated by establishing a standing commission on ethics and good governance, to carry out on the spot surveillance across the continent and impose stiff sanctions on Governments and their officials found to be misusing and to have misused and misappropriated public funds, to the detriment of their deprived and suffering populace.
Okoh writes from Lagos