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The United States of Africa

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Could there be a United States of Africa in the near future?

Moammar Qadaffi, the leader of Libya, and a handful of other African leaders, certainly hope so.

Qadaffi has been elected chairman of the African Union (AU), an organization that provides a forum of discussion for 53 nations of over 850 million people.

During the AU’s recent summit in Ethiopia, Qadaffi presented a proposal that would officially create the United States of Africa, a federation that includes all African nations, modeled loosely on the European Union or the United States of America.

“I shall continue to insist that our sovereign countries work to achieve the United States of Africa,” Qadaffi said in a speech before African leaders.

Qadaffi’s proposal calls for a grouping of all African nations with “one currency, one military and one passport” for everyone.

Opinion about the proposal has been sharply divided.

Supporters say an African federation will enhance the influence of the continent in an increasingly competitive global economy. It will also be easier for corporations and tourists to do business in Africa with a single currency and passport.

In a recent interview with Newsweek Magazine, Jean Ping, a diplomat from Gabon and chairman of the AU’s commission, said the proposal has some appeal because African countries need bigger markets.

“Africa is a big continent full of raw materials, but it is divided by numerous borders,” Ping said. “Even the voice of a larger country like Nigeria or South Africa is inaudible in international negotiations. But collectively it’s impossible to ignore 53 countries with almost one billion inhabitants.”

Opponents, mostly leaders of larger African nations, are reluctant to share power with a big continental government.

Other observers say that while a United African government is a worthy goal, it cannot be realistically achieved or practically implemented.

Dr. Monroe Little, a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), doesn’t believe the proposal will be implemented any time soon.

“You’re asking 800 plus African ethnic groups with different cultures and historical antagonisms to all of a sudden say ‘Hey, I think we should all get together,'” said Little, chairman of IUPUI’s African-American and African Diaspora program. “Some kind of man made or natural cataclysm would have to make people forget about all that stuff and see the value of collaboration, or to not think of themselves as Ebo or Hutu, but as Africans.”

The idea of a United States of Africa is not new, and was first mentioned in a poem by Pan African movement leader Marcus Garvey in 1924. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the first post-colonial African president, presented the idea in the 1950s.

Jose Lusende, an Indianapolis resident who is a native of Congo, said in light of globalization it only makes sense for African countries to work together more cohesively to become a more respected market.

“However, the vestiges of colonial exploitation have left Africa in a very bad position to achieve any kind of meaningful unity in the short term,” said Lusende.

Some observers are concerned that the proposal has been pressed by Qadaffi, who has been a highly controversial figure since coming to power in 1969 at age 27.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s Qadaffi pushed for unity of militant Arab regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, and was accused of supporting terrorist organizations that tried to achieve that goal through violent means.

Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Libya were not restored until 2004.

Opinions about Qadaffi from African leaders has been mixed, with some praising him for his recent peace initiatives and for sharing Libya’s oil wealth with poorer countries, others have dismissed him as an autocrat who has picked up the theme of African unity only because his dream of Arab unity has not been realized.

Qadaffi is also known for his quirky personality and colorful style of dressing.

“The proposal could be taken more seriously by someone like Nkrumah or Nelson Mandela, someone who is seen as incorruptible and is well respected beyond their own borders,” said Little. “But usually the person that presents the idea is the one who will wind up getting tasked with implementing it.”

Lusende said Qaddafi has the right idea, and some will try to spread fear by saying it is his vision to spread Islam or terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“All that is bigotry,” said Lusende. “Qaddafi is first and foremost an African. Yes, he is a dictator. Yes, he has made some poor choices in the past. Less is said about all the efforts to reinvent himself.”

Most importantly, Lusende said it is important that any move toward a union of states be done carefully.

“This should be a thoughtful process that takes into consideration internal and external factors,” he said. “A step-by-step plan by Africans and people of African descent living in all continents, not by politicians, could bring successful results to maximize the potential of Africa under the umbrella of unity.”

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