Africa had a unique opportunity at the independence of the continent to sink its differences and unite into a powerful whole. That opportunity was scorned, leaving the continent powerless in global terms.
In terms of Africa's political history, one of the greatest tragedies to have befallen the continent is not the oft-cited Berlin Conference of 1884, during which European powers sliced our giant continent into pieces, but yet another conference on Africa that was held exactly 80 years later, 1964, in Cairo, Egypt.
This was convened and attended by Africans. On 21 July 1964, among a number of resolutions passed, the most notable stated that the gathered African states: "Solemnly declare that all Member States pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence".
It is ironic that the decision, which was to lead to such tragedy for so many Africans over such a vast geographical spread for so long, was actually issued 'solemnly'.
In the 1960s, there were two schools of thought on the question of African political union. The gradualists believed that African countries must first gain their own independence, then try to form regional unity blocks before eventually thinking of a continent-wide centre of power. Their champion was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
The second group was Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and others, who believed that the need for a union government for Africa was urgent and could not wait. The Nkrumah group lost the argument in the short term. However, in 1977, Nyerere gave a speech in Ghana during its 40th independence celebrations, the title of which was: "Without unity there is no future for Africa." He acknowledged that events during the first generation after African independence proved that Nkrumah had been irrefutably right.
The most powerful countries of the world today are the products of political union. It may be easy to forget that China was once a sum of weak and fragmented states that had to unite to bring about the China we know today; the US is composed of 50 separate states that united to form the economic and military giant; the USSR was the other power pole globally until it fragmented; Germany was formerly a collection of smaller states--and there are many more examples.
Political unity provides power that is greater than the sum of its parts. Political disunity sucks out power and often maroons countries in an endless cycle of poverty. Political unity was seen as such a...