Panel discussion addresses the challenges of African Unity

By Kyla Hazell

The Pan African Youth Dialogue (PAYD) led the discussion about the future of the continent  Thursday 17 May. The panelists spoke to the topic “Africa reclaiming the second decade of the 21st Century” and included Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Mr Ebrahim Ebrahim, former Minister of Local Government, Dr Sydney Mufamadi, and Rhodes University Politics lecturer, Ms Siphokazi Magadla.

The panel discussion was organised to mark the 10th Anniversary of the African Union (AU).

In his welcome address, chairperson of PAYD, Siyabulela Gebe, commemorated the history of the African Union and its formation as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, mentioning specifically the AU’s commitment to the cooperation of African states in the pursuit of a better life for all.

Unity and the need for Pan-African cooperation were common themes throughout the discussion. Dr Mufamadi spoke to the need for a unified vision in the pursuit of initiatives across the continent and the challenges posed by the nature of Africa’s multi-cultural society. He argued that the failure by states to successfully manage plurality and difference within their nations has been the basis of instability in the region.

Siphokazi Magadla focused on the issue of stability and human security in African states that for years have been plagued by internal conflict. In her opinion, the AU has recognised the need to address the specific security needs of African countries and has made qualitative progress in the areas of peace-making, peace-keeping and development.

However, according to Magadla, significant challenges still face the AU. She highlighted the need for democracy on the continent to be driven by an active civil society if leaders are to be held accountable. Her point was emphasized particularly in light of concerns expressed by Dean of Humanities and Program Director for the panel discussion, Professor Fred Hendricks, that corruption by states could undermine Africa’s development goals.

Magadla concluded that African states need to become security providers, rather than the “enemy from within”.

Going forward, Magadla said the AU will need to address a need for greater coordination between the body and other regional organisations in Africa and will also need to redefine relations with the United Nations (UN). “I would like to see the AU become the primary authority in Africa, rather than taking its cues from the UN,” Magadla said. Dr Mufamadi stressed also that issues facing the AU currently must be viewed in light of the globalization of UN political and economic ideas that set a benchmark with which all societies are expected to conform. This poses particular challenges to the AU considering Africa’s unique concerns.

Despite challenges raised, Deputy Minister Ebrahim was positive in his predictions for the future of the continent. “After numerous false starts over the past decade, there is now consensus that Africa’s time has come,” he said.

Ebrahim was complimentary of the progress made by the AU so far. “Many challenges still remain, but on any balance of assessment the achievements of Africa and the AU have been admirable,” he said, mentioning specifically the decrease in conflict and rise in good governance across the continent.

According to Ebrahim, Africa’s development prospects look good and long-term plans of the AU suggest that the promise of growth is not just a flash in the pan. Ebrahim said that Africa is due to become one of the world’s fastest growing economic regions, with the youngest people, biggest work force and a multitude of resources.

Dr Mufamadi, however, was concerned that although Africa’s youth hold great potential, failures in education and employment limit their ability to act. “The comparative advantage of youth is an opportunity,” he said, “but to what extent are we sufficiently organised to take advantage of it?”

Ebrahim identified a steady spread of democracy, peace and good governance across the continent. He expressed his certainty that Africa’s progress will be underpinned by a secure understanding of rights, duties and good governance. “Democracy is growing ever deeper roots,” he said.

Ebrahim believes that, although citizens and leaders cannot afford to be complacent, the AU has already laid a substantial foundation for sustainable future growth in Africa. “Africa has come a long way and not many people appreciate how profound the changes have been,” he said.

Gebe encouraged students to engage in the issues facing the continent. “It is time for all of us to follow in the footsteps of those who came before and who laid down their lives to give us freedom,” he said. “Let us take a stand and say that, while we live and breathe, Africans will no longer be the wretched of the earth.”


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