A Closer Look at the OAU
By “Awake!” correspondent in Liberia
IT WAS May 25, 1963. The first All-Africa Summit Conference threatened to end in failure. Thirty-one African leaders had wrangled on how to form a union of independent states. Wearily a draft charter was presented to the heads of states—only to be rejected!
Nonetheless, the summiteers that met at Africa Hall in Addis Ababa on that day were determined to bring some form of practical unity to the African nations, divided as they were by divergent languages, cultures and political views. Africa’s strong men had long worked for it.
Having rejected the first draft charter, the heads of states themselves then made a second attempt. Their discussion continued on past midnight, but when the vote was taken this time there was unanimous accord! Regarding that dramatic moment, an eyewitness wrote: “There were cheers, applause, tears in the eyes of otherwise cynical men as they shook hands with anyone near them. The OAU was born; the doubts, the wranglings, the eloquence, the soul-searching were over.”
Liberation and Unity
According to its charter the newly born Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded to remove colonialism from the continent and truly unite Africa. Economic cooperation, conciliation through mediation and a host of other provisions were pledged. Now, more than a decade has passed since that historic document was signed. How many of its chartered pledges has the OAU fulfilled?
Within months of its founding, fighting broke out again in the Congo. Other new states hotly disputed border issues. The Super Powers and the Arab World were slow about looking into these differences. African leaders, however, took the initiative to get rival factions discussing their problems. The results? The second conflict in the Congo was not as bad as the first one. The fighting between Morocco and Algeria stopped and Somalia and Ethiopia started talks. Though final settlements were not reached, talking was better than fighting and the OAU was making itself felt. Afterward successful mediations were effected between Guinea and Ghana, the Congo Republic and Zaire, Uganda and Tanzania, Ethiopia and the Sudan, as well as Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Since then, however, some have wondered if the OAU has lost its original impetus. Not all OAU mediatory efforts have been successful or were immediately forthcoming. For example, the Nigerian civil war was not put on the OAU agenda until fighting there had continued for three months, and an OAU investigative committee did not arrive on the scene until over a month after that. Nothing was done for Ugandan Asians nor to halt the massacres in Burundi. Critics charged that neglects were hidden under the guise of nonintervention in the affairs of sovereign states, but such intervention, they said, is the African way.
Further criticism appeared in Africa magazine of May 1973, in connection with an article by Ogbolu Okonji of the University of Lagos.
“The OAU does not play any critical role in settling disputes. Member states have been more effective than the Organization and have sometimes succeeded where the OAU has failed. The OAU tends to succeed only where it can do so without really trying!”
Concerning the structure of the OAU itself, Ogbolu Okonji quoted the comment of Zdenek Cervenka:
“The history of the OAU since its founding has shown quite clearly that the machinery evolved at Addis Ababa in 1963 was not strong enough in itself to act as an immediate extinguisher of hostilities in Africa. Past and even present disputes have clearly revealed the weakness of the system devised by the charter of the OAU for the settlement of disputes. . . . the individual African Statesman continues to be given preference over the organized authority of the OAU.”
What about the problem of hundreds of thousands of dislocated African refugees? Has the OAU been doing anything about them? A whole section of the OAU Secretariat has been set up with a joint committee of the United Nations to give assistance to those seeking relocation. Nzo Ekangaki declared that the OAU has “made considerable progress on refugee problems. . . . There are many refugees who, through the OAU, have been resettled, resuming their normal life in a number of African countries. We have also been able to work with young refugees of school age in providing educational facilities inside and outside Africa . . . So I would say our record over the past ten years has been positive and encouraging, and we are facing the future with confidence.”
Africa direly needs development, and the OAU has a big job on its hands to promote this on the continent. In the past, African countries relied almost solely on the United States and Europe for economic aid, but now even the French-speaking countries are looking elsewhere and to sister African states for economic cooperation and development help.
Various regional economic communities have been established which continue fairly strong despite unsettling political turmoil. Some projects have run into trouble, such as Air Afrique and the Lake Chad and Senegal River basin joint ventures. Concerning the Trans-Africa Highway, designed to traverse Africa from Mombasa to Lagos, an OAU spokesman stated that “all the states concerned have cooperated excellently with the OAU and the Economic Commission for Africa, and we are all hoping that within the next few years the highway will become a reality.”
Economic growth is also in evidence. Despite civil war, Nigeria’s growth rate increased during the past ten years from 5 to 12 percent, enabling her to pay off foreign liabilities two months ahead of time. Though Nigeria is the ninth-largest oil-producing country, agriculture contributed heavily toward her economic advancement.
With encouragement from the OAU, inter-Africa cooperation is increasing. Scholarships to African universities are becoming available, and there has been an example of capital assistance in the form of an interest-free loan. Such a loan was made by Nigeria to her neighbor, Dahomey, for the construction of a road inside the latter’s territory.
Agriculture and Medicine
To provide more and better food for Africa’s hungry populations hundreds of skilled researchers work with maize, Guinea corn, millet, beans and disease-resistant seed. An OAU spokesman revealed: “The anti-rinderpest campaign has been almost completely successful in western and central Africa, and it is now nearing completion in eastern Africa.”
Other researchers combat bovine pleuropneumonia. Africa’s mineral and marine resources are being mapped. Even African traditional medicine is being enthusiastically researched to ascertain what contributions it can make to the science of healing. A multitude of other programs, already planned, are not being implemented because of lack of funds. Sadly, despite the wealth of Africa’s natural resources, starving populations barely exist in drought-stricken areas.
The OAU was primarily founded to remove colonialism and to establish unity between African states. Have these objectives been achieved? Colonialism is still strong in certain parts of the continent even though the OAU’s original membership has grown from thirty to forty-one states. This moved Ogbolu Okonji to accuse the OAU of being “a failure as well as a frustrating disappointment.” One reason for this has been the reluctance of member states to “die a little” to achieve their goal.
Commenting on the liberation of African peoples, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in 1973 made the following interesting observations:
“An African regime treats African people no better—and in practice often worse—than the colonialists and racists treat our brethren . . . Evil committed by African leaders against the people of Africa is, and must be, a real obstacle to inter-African cooperation. . . . Quite apart from the principles of humanity which are outraged—and which African countries should care about—the whole concept of the liberation struggle is affected when the principles of justice and human dignity are mocked in independent Africa.”
A case in point is the extreme, inhuman treatment, including murder, torture and rape, officially meted out to Jehovah’s witnesses in Malawi for refusal to purchase political party cards. A report of the outrages appeared in the December 8, 1972, Awake! Tens of thousands of Witnesses found peaceful asylum, ironically enough, in colonialist Mozambique, although receiving no official word of comfort from the OAU.
During the OAU’s first decade, many were disappointed in its failure to carry out its threat to break diplomatic relations with England when lan Smith set up a minority regime in Rhodesia. Julius Nyerere commented that France and Britain had more power in the OAU than the African countries. Ogbolu Okonji lamented: “The story of OAU‘S role in the Rhodesian crisis has been told at such great length to demonstrate the kind of ostrich game that it plays when situations that require sacrifices arise.”
Okonji also complained that when stronger resolutions were offered to “put more bite” into the OAU charter, member states failed to vote them into effect, thus indicating that “there is no visible sign that the member states want true unity.” What is more, African leaders were accused of increasing ethnic tensions. It was argued that “poor, powerless, and unstable sovereign states do not serve the interests of the masses in Africa.” Hence, such states should be willing to unite with stronger ones to build mighty African nations.
A review of the OAU’s first decade was urgently needed, wrote John P. Morais, “because to the younger generation of African youths the OAU seemed to have been out of touch with the realities of the Continent and Addis is becoming a place for empty resolutions, lavish banquets and false promises.” The hue and cry is for the OAU to achieve something more concrete in pursuing its goals of decolonization and unity in various fields.
Stout African Will
Despite its inherent weaknesses, a review of the past will also bring to light that in the field of diplomacy the OAU has made its mark. Working through heads of states and United Nations delegations, “it has set up a barrage of pleas and resolutions rarely seen in international diplomacy,” thus keeping up international pressure. The efforts of the organization in the settlements of border and other disputes received the highest praise from United States officials. Said one State Department official: “No similar regional organization has a more impressive record.”
So a closer look at the OAU reveals successes and failures, progress and digression. But considering the formidable barrage of obstacles—different forms of political rule, a multitude of tribes, no common language, religion or currency, unjust territorial boundaries, and the often crippling economic conditions—the fact that the OAU has doggedly hung on to existence for a decade reflects a stout African will.
OAU Must Give Way
Though many of its intentions are noble, the OAU will never be able to accomplish what Messiah’s kingdom alone can and will do. And, of course, that also goes for the United Nations and any other human agency. Member states of the OAU acting as a bloc have a powerful voice in the United Nations Organization, in which they still trust for world peace and security. Powerful forces within this conglomerate of political nations are predicted in Bible prophecy to turn on the great symbolic harlot, Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, and they will “completely burn her with fire.”—Rev. 17:16.
That will begin the foretold “great tribulation,” the great “earthquake” of trouble at God’s hands that will cause mighty human organizations, “mountains,” to crumble and disappear. The OAU cannot be expected to survive that cataclysm. It must give way to the Kingdom rule of Jesus Christ.—Matt. 24:21; Rev. 16:18-20; Dan. 2:44.
Liberation? Yes. Not just from oppressive political regimes, but from sickness, death, and even the grave itself! Unity? Yes, for under the blessings of the Kingdom rule men will walk in the steps of the God whose ‘way is love.’ This is the real hope of the near future for all Africa and the rest of mankind.—Rev. 21:3, 4; 20:13; 1 John 4:8.