BY: OLUKAYODE OYELEYE
HISTORY WILL be a good guide and indicator of the future prospects of a common language in Africa. Since the wave of independence in various African countries, when statehood and self-government began 50 to 60 years ago, there was hardly a global topic of common interest to all, as each country tended to be more interested in their respective micro-environment than in the big picture. of a continent. Many new countries in Africa became preoccupied with internal affairs that had much to do with crises and less with issues of cross-border or continental benefits. Many newly independent countries quickly fell under military dictatorship and – as we are told – were influenced from afar by outside actors from Western countries for selfish reasons. They were either installed or maintained, or installed and maintained, by those who still wanted to use them as puppets. Such dictatorships have proven to redefine Africa in several significant ways. Many African countries ruled with an iron fist by these military interventionists have experienced economic regression, human rights violations, forced exiles of dissidents, arbitrary executions, military exploitation of civilians, ethnic rivalries , state repression of the press and media censorship, widespread poverty and food insecurity. . Africa thus began to experience a period of militarization, with the installation of leaders who were in no rush to leave office – many of whom left a power vacuum and subsequent crises after their exit. Africa thus began the era of strong leaders presiding over submissive citizens, weak, fragile and poor states. The effects are still palpable to this day.
Countries going through leadership-induced crises have been preoccupied with more or less influential issues with definite positive impact and relevance for their citizens and for other countries. Consequently, less attention has been paid to integration at the regional and continental levels. The dreamers of a monolithic Africa, such as Nkrumah or Azikiwe, were not endowed with enough power or had not been in power long enough to translate their dreams into reality. The despots and inflexible rulers who arrived through the violent overthrow of elected rulers clung to the reins of power for decades in various countries and were more obsessed with consolidating power and exercising a strong grip on their territories. respective more than anything else. They were paranoid and had no vision of a continent, but of their small enclaves. They weren’t even really interested in the prosperity of these enclaves, let alone that of the mainland. It didn’t matter that such an approach destroyed their countries rather than building them. It was futile, for example, to persuade Idi Amin Dada to keep Uganda together for prosperity when he was busy killing, maiming and driving many Ugandans into exile. Hissène Habré seized power in 1982 after his various military exploits in the civil war led him to enter as a government insider. He then turned to politics and served as Chad’s fifth president from 1982 until his removal in 1990. Despite his doctorate from a French university, his performance in government was deplorable. During his time as president, he presided over the brutal murder of over 40,000 people in his country.
The use of power by many African leaders has caused far more damage and division to their countries than it has brought their people together for common progress and prosperity. Mohamed Siad Barre, a Somali general and dictator, ruled as president of the impoverished Somali Democratic Republic for 22 years from 1969 to 1991. His exit left a power vacuum that created fertile ground for rival lords of war that have held the country hostage ever since. The country has yet to overcome growing crises that have turned into dangerous security threats, including the creation and entrenchment of the terrorist group Al Shabab. His legacy has become a thorn in the flesh of the East African region. During his reign, Siad Barre did not think of a Somalia that would play an active regional role in Africa. His country is still going through more than three decades of unrelenting turmoil, poverty and human displacement. Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of Côte d’Ivoire, reigned from 1960 until his death in 1993. During his reign, he was almost the equivalent of the state. Herman J. Cohen, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, provided intimate insight into Boigny’s disruptive roles as president in Côte d’Ivoire. In one-on-one conversations, Cohen spoke with many African leaders about why Africa has been lagging behind the rest of the world since the end of colonialism half a century ago. On Boigny, it was reported that he had an intense interest in meddling in the affairs of other countries. “Indeed, he was a master manipulator and destabilizer, but so discreet that he was virtually invisible,” the report linked to Cohen noted. He was allegedly the instigator of the 1989-1996 war in Liberia. One of his most important interests was in the former Portuguese colony of Angola in South West Africa where he supported Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the UNITA rebels, as a godfather and mentor. .
It could not be said that Mobutu Sese Seko had a clear development program for his country that he sometimes changed his names to Zaire. What was indisputable was his acquisition of wealth as he was estimated to be worth $5 billion after his 30-year rule that transformed a once resource-rich country into one of the economically backward countries from Africa. Mobutu fled the country after forces led by rebel leader Laurent Kabila gained easy access to Mobutu’s demoralized stronghold. He died in exile in Morocco. Congo’s civil wars of 1996-1997 and 1998-2003 had a remarkable impact on the country’s economy and people’s lives. Gaddafi’s sudden and brutal end led to a power vacuum that still plagues Libya to this day. Gaddafi was one of the victims of the Arab Spring that spilled over from neighboring Tunisia in 2011, an uprising that had to do with his ultimate death. The anarchy that followed his death created the power vacuum that allowed jihadist groups to thrive. Libya has not yet recovered until today, even though an unhealthy rivalry reigns between the self-proclaimed politicians of this country. Africa, a proclaimed dream of Gaddafi, therefore died with him and gave way to the sectarian crisis.
With coups, counter-coups and other forms of armed struggle against states, many countries in Africa have been grappling with distractions rather than national strategies and programs of coordinated and deliberate development. Many of those who rode on the backs of popular support for power turned against their people and turned their countries’ regimes and economies into a fiasco. Robert Gabriel Mugabe was supposed to be a man of the people and a freedom fighter. He has become an enemy of the people, plunging the Zimbabwean economy into a serious crisis to the point that local currencies have lost the value of the papers on which they are printed. Yoweri Museveni, who fought his way to power by gunfire, is still unprepared to leave youth office and is pursuing the opposition after 36 years in the presidency. AbdelAziz Bouteflika, who suffered a stroke, still wanted to continue governing until a popular uprising forced him out of office in April 2019. His unexpected departure has since returned Algeria to military rule. Many other current leaders from other countries in Africa remain in office beyond their useful term. Paul Biya from Cameroon and Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo from Equatorial Guinea are among them on the front line. For some, like Gnassingbé Eyadema in Faure and Omar Bongo in Ali of Togo and Gabon respectively, the leadership of the state has become a family heritage. And, in between, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast and Alpha Condé of Guinea Conakry who all amended their country’s constitution to allow them to stay beyond the two-term limits. Although Condé was ousted and replaced by “military boys” in his country, Ouattara and Kagame are still determined to retain power, the latter having insisted on staying until 2034. So it looks like socio-economics and African politics. concern the individuals in power more than the countries concerned.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU) – now renamed the African Union (AU) – established since May 1963, was only able to successfully champion a cause of regional integration in terms of a common language last February. One year after the take-off of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), we can say “better late than never”. But what are the underlying philosophies to translate this idea into reality? Since the announcement, two months later, to what extent have the AU Secretariat and the governments of the various countries disseminated information on this new paradigm? Mere wishes are unlikely to materialize intention or turn it into policy. State actors, who are better placed to take the initiative in promoting this idea, have shown no appreciable signs that they are actually serious. The private, social and informal sectors, despite the passion, enthusiasm and capacity, are limited in many ways and cannot push the idea far or make it work quickly without the commitment, leadership and environment conducive to national authorities.
The last half century has been a turbulent time in Africa. Leaders have spent fortunes building secure regimes at the expense of their compatriots. They have yet to prioritize legacy programs that can bring countries across the continent together during or after their tenure. In contemporary times, various styles of governance are on display, which could easily provide a basis for assumptions that the continent still has a long way to go in the process of continental regional integration. Leaders have eloquently shown that progress so far has been slow. Under the watchful eye of these various African leaders, past and present, the continent is still dependent on foreign countries for food imports, machinery imports, sovereign loans, foreign medical aid, foreign security support, foreign language and the foreign environmental plan. Without taking the time to resolve the main social, political and economic differences among and between African countries, not much can be done in the area of integration in which a common language can be classified. Africa will therefore perhaps still have to wait on the question of the realization of the dream of a common language in an official capacity unless something specific and urgent is done. Otherwise, the dream could become a stillbirth.