The Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU replaced OAU in 2002) began celebrating its Golden Jubilee in Addis Ababa this past week. In May 1963 when the OAU was founded, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah accentuated his closing remarks by reciting a poem he had specially commissioned as a crowning tribute to an ascendant Ethiopia. Addressing H.I.M. Haile Selassie, President Nkrumah said, “It only remains for me, Your Majesty, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to convey to the Government and people of Ethiopia especially to His Imperial Majesty, my sincere expression of gratitude for a happy and memorable stay in Addis Ababa…” With confident cadence, Nkrumah recited a poem of such exquisite eloquence and grace that my eyes well up every time I read it. These were Nkruma’s own words.
Ethiopia shall rise
Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem
Set high among the verdant hills
That gave birth to the unfailing
Waters of the Nile
Ethiopia shall rise
Ethiopia, land of the wise;
Ethiopia, bold cradle of Africa’s ancient rule
And fertile school
Of our African culture;
Ethiopia, the wise
And remould with us the full figure
Of Africa’s hopes
HI.M. Haile Selassie (C) and Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah (L) at the OAU (1963)
When the erection of a commemorative statue on the grounds of the AU was proposed for H.I.M. in 2011, the late “great visionary leader” in Ethiopia opposed it saying, “It is only Nkrumah who is remembered whenever we talk about pan Africanism. It is a shame not to accept his role.” He succeeded in denying H.I.M. Haile Selassie the simple recognition of a bronze statute. What a shame to be black hearted! What a shame to be shameless! What a crying shame to minimize, trivialize and marginalize the contributions of the prime architect of African unity! History bears witness that H.I.M. exterted extraordinary effort and brought together the “Casablanca” and “Monrovia” Groups making itpossible to launch the OAU. He worked tirelessly for the cause of African unity. At that historic inaugural conference, H.I.M. made the most compelling case, the most passionate plea for African unity, independence and Pan-Africanism:
…We look to the vision of an Africa not merely free but united. In facing this new challenge, we can take comfort and encouragement from the lessons of the past. We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy different cultures, distinctive values, special attributes. But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that differences of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacle to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength, and cautions us to submerge and overcome our differences in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity… Our efforts as free men must be to establish new relationships, devoid of any resentment and hostility, restored to our belief and faith in ourselves as individuals, dealing on a basis of equality with other equally free peoples…
As I reflect on the efforts of the Founding Fathers of the OAU, I am nary concerned about erecting bronze or marble statues for them. I am concerned about and outraged by the mangling and distortion of history by self-important blind “visionaries” who hide behind the robes of the giants of African unity (instead of standing on their shoulders) to ply their mission of Ethiopian disunity. If history were about symbols and titles, H.I.M. Haile Selassie had more of it than any African leader. He was elected by his peers as the “Father of African Unity” at the 1972 Ninth Heads of States and Governments meeting of the Organization of African Unity. He was elected the first chairman of the OAU in 1963 and elected again in 1966 to serve in the same position, making him the only African leader to have held that position twice. He was the African face of resistance, defiance and victory over European colonialism. He does not need the advocacy or opprobrium of a myopic Johnny-come-lately to erect a statute in recognition of his singular contributions to the continent.
History is full of ironies. Those who championed a statue for Nkrumah because “only (he) is remembered whenever we talk about pan Africanism” would roll over in their graves if they only knew of Nkrumah’s deep love for Ethiopia. Nkrumah had a special place for Ethiopia in his heart. Though he was the foremost Pan-Africanist, he also saw Ethiopia as a special beacon of light and freedom for all of Africa in its defiant struggle against European colonialism . He took pride in the fact that Ethiopia was able to defend its sovereignty and independence against repeated incursions by European colonialists. He saw Ethiopia as the spoke in the wheel of African unity.
Nkrumah was passionate about Pan-Africanism, but he never commissioned a poem for Pan-Africanism. Nkrumah was passionate about Africa, but he never commissioned a poem for Africa Rising. Nkrumah loved Pan-Africanism and Africa, but he had a love affair with Ethiopia. That is why he commissioned a special poem in honor of her beauty and bounty for his final words at the closing of the very first OAU summit. Nkrumah is the only leader in the world who has ever commissioned a panegyric poem for Ethiopia! We should all be happy and proud to have Nkrumah’s statue on the grounds of the AU in Ethiopia. H.I.M. Haile Selassie will no doubt get his statue in time because “truth cannot remain forever on the scaffold nor wrong remain forever on the throne.”
Looking back, I believe Nkrumah was not only an ardent Pan-Africanist but also an African “prophet”. Nkrumah knew Ethiopia shall rise long before the blind visionaries made her slip and fall into the quagmire of ethnic politics. Nkrumah knew Ethiopia shall rise long before the shameless declared “Africa is rising… The African Renaissance has begun…” Nkrumah knew Africa should beware of neocolonial and imperialist ambitions, machinations and designs lest she fall, long before the witless panhandlers sought to make a name for themselves by maligning “neoliberalism” while sucking its teats dry.
Nkrumah’s poem is indeed “prophesy”. “Ethiopia shall rise!” Like the morning sun and the full moon at midnight, Ethiopia shall rise. She shall rise up and shake off the sooty dust of dictatorship that covers her. Ethiopia shall rise again and brightly shine like a precious gem. She shall rise above sectarianism and communalism. She shall rise from the depths of doubt to heights of faith. Ethiopia shall rise, and stretch out her arms and embrace all her children and in turn be embraced by Providence.
Nkrumah is a true son of Ethiopia. When they said Ethiopia’s history is only one hundred years old, Nkrumah said “No. Ethiopia is the cradle of Africa’s ancient rule.” When they tried to shroud Ethiopia in the darkness of tyranny and dictatorship, Nkrumah said, “No can do. Ethiopia is Africa’s bright gem.” She must shine. Let her rise and shine! When they said, “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the Ethiopian people,” Nkrumah said, “No. Ethiopia is the land of the wise.” When they hatched plans to make the Nile a source of war, death and destruction, Nkrumah said, “No. Ethiopia is the birthplace of the Nile” which gives the gift of life to Africa. When they toiled day and night to crush our spirits and cast our souls into the pit of despair and misery, Nkrumah said, “Hold on! Ethiopia is Africa’s hope and destiny. ” We must forge ahead. Nkrumah is not only Ghana’s son, but also Ethiopia’s. When we sometimes lose faith and feel downcast, let our spirits rise and be carried on Nkrumah’s prophetic words, “Ethiopia shall rise.” So, there is no competition between H.I.M. and Nkrumah. They are both Ethiopia’s distinguished sons. Honoring Nkrumah is honoring H.I.M. Haile Selassie.
As I read Nkrumah’s poem from May 1963, I also remember H.I.M. Haile Selassie’s speech before the United Nations General Assembly in October 1963. In that speech, H.I.M. passionately defended the cause of Pan-Africanism and articulated the ideology needed for the ongoing struggle to protect and defend African independence and secure world peace:
… Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned; until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nature; until the colour of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, and until the basic human rights are guaranteed to all without regard for race… the dream of lasting peace … will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained…. That until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and South Africa in subhuman bondages have been toppled and destroyed; until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding, tolerance and good-will; until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men as they are in Heaven — until that day the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil…
Bob Marley used these words as lyrics to his song “War”, which became the battle hymn of African unity and independence. (I wish someone could put Nkrumah’s poem to music: “Ethiopia shall rise…rise…” Up-rise!)
In a risen Ethiopia, there shall be no place for a philosophy that holds one ethnic, religious, linguisitc or gender group superior to another. There shall no longer be first class and second-class citizens in Ethiopia. In a risen Ethiopia, ethnicity, religion, language, region or gender shall have no more significance than the color of one’s eyes. In a risen Ethiopia, human rights shall be guaranteed to all.
Aah! The OAU/AU
It is heartbreaking for me to comment on the OAU/AU. In 2013, of the 47 countries in the world with the lowest human development index, 36 of them are in Africa! President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania once described the OAU as “a talking Club of Heads of States”. Others have described it as the “Dictators’ Club” or “Dictator’s Trade Union”. George Ayittey, the internationally acclaimed Ghanaian economist does not mince words sizing up the AU: “Please, please, don’t ask about the African Union. It is the most useless organization we have on the continent. It can’t even define ‘democracy’ and it is completely bereft of originality.”
I expressed deep disappointment and disillusionment when the new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa was constructed by the Chinese government at a cost of USD$200 million and delivered to the AU in February 2012 as “China’s gift to Africa.” Not only was I ashamed to learn that the China State Construction Engineering Corporation constructed the building using nearly all Chinese workers, I was also distressed to find out China picked up the entire tab for the building, fixtures and furniture. At the dedication ceremony, Africa’s shameless “leaders” lined up to shower praise on China. “Africa is rising… The African Renaissance has begun and we have the means to keep it going…”
I said Africa is not rising. Africa has fallen into beggary. China is rising in Africa. China has the means to keep itself going in Africa. China’s Renaissance in Africa has begun. The new AU building in Addis Ababa is a symbol of African shame not fame. Its claim of renaissance glory is illusory. If the African Union and its leaders cannot afford to chip in and collectively build the most visible, iconic and symbolic edifice for an Africa Rising, there is not much I could say except to call it, as I did, “African Beggars Union Hall”.
The OAU/AU and Human Rights
Despite OAU/AU aspirations to secure the political, economic and social integration of African countries and lead the continent into development and prosperity, I view the organization as having at its core a human rights mission. I do not believe there can be African development or unity as long as the human rights of ordinary Africans are trampled and trashed every day. OAU’s core values of anti-colonialism, -neo-colonialism, -imperialism and Pan-Africanism were essentially human rights values in the struggle against European dehumanization of Africans. Colonialism (neocolonialism) had no regard for the human rights of colonized (neocolonized) peoples.
The OAU/AU has been ineffective and largely irrelevant in African human rights. In many parts of Africa civil and border wars have raged for decades costing the lives of millions as the OAU/AU looked on with folded arms. The OAU/AU has turned a blind eye, deaf ear and muted lips as African dictators massacre their own citizens. The OAU stood fidgeting as the Rwanda Genocide consumed a million innocent Africans, without plans to avert or stop that genocide. The OAU did not even want to label it “genocide”!
For over two decades, the OAU/AU has watched Somalia spiraling into chaos, unable to help free the suffering people of Somalia from the clutches of competing warlords and protect them from aggression. The AU could not even deliver a sufficient number of peacekeeping troops in Somalia to secure peace and begin its reconstruction. The AU twiddled its thumbs as French troops entered Cote d’Ivoire to restore democratic rule. The AU sat on its rear end as France sent less than 5 thousand soldiers to expel a ragtag army of terrorists from Mali. The OAU stood by idly as elections were stolen in broad daylight in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Uganda.
The AU closed ranks to coddle criminals against humanity. When Omar Bashir of Sudan was indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, the official line was “The AU Member States shall not cooperate pursuant to the provisions of Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the ICC relating to immunities, for the arrest and surrender of President Omar El Bashir of the Sudan”. The AU will protect and shelter the Butcher of Darfur from facing justice in the name of “African sovereignty”. Because the AU has failed miserably to curtail flagrant violations of human rights, the ICC had to step in to protect Africans. As of 2011, the ICC has opened investigations in seven African countries.
The AU’s idea of human rights is having endless conferences, meetings and issuing declarations, resolutions and MOUs on human rights. There is an African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) with all sorts of protocols for children and women. There is an African Human Rights Commission. It has little to show for itself except lofty declarations and resolutions. There is an AU Department of Political Affairs which is supposed to deal with human rights, democracy and elections. It claims as one of its core missions election observance in member states. In 2010, when the late Meles Zenawi declared electoral victory by 99.6 percent, the 60-person African Union (AU) observer team led by former Botswana president Ketumile Masire concluded the “elections were free and fair and found no evidence of intimidation and misuse of state resources for ruling party campaigns.” Masire proclaimed:
The [elections] were largely consistent with the African Union regulations and standards and reflect the will of the people… The AU were unable to observe the pre-election period. The participating parties expressed dissatisfaction with the pre-election period. We had no way of verifying the allegations.
Today Africa is more disunited and fragmented than ever. Pan-Africanism is dead. A new ideology is sweeping over Africa today. Africa’s dictators are furiously beating the drums of “tribal nationalism” all over the continent to cling to power. In many parts of Africa today ideologies of “ethnic identity”, “ethnic purity,” “ethnic homelands”, ethnic cleansing and tribal chauvinism have become fashionable. In the Cote d’Ivoire, an ideological war has been waged over ‘Ivoirité’ (‘Ivorian-ness’) since the 1990s. Proponents of this perverted ideology argue that the country’s problems are rooted in the contamination of genuine Ivorian identity by outsiders who have been allowed to immigrate freely into the country.
In Ethiopia, tribal politics has been repackaged in a fancy wrapper called “ethnic federalism.” Ethiopians have been segregated by ethno-tribal classifications in grotesque political units called “kilils” (reservations) or glorified apartheid-style Bantustans or tribal homelands. This sinister perversion of the concept of federalism has enabled a few corrupt kleptocratic dictators to oppress, divide and rule some 80 million people for over two decades.
The great African author Chinua Achebe wrote a book (Things Fall Apart) asking why things keep falling apart in Africa. My answer is simple. Over the past one-half century of independence, it has been nearly impossible to hold Africa’s so-called leaders accountable and institute the rule of law. For fifty years, African “leaders” have evaded accountability and hoodwinked the people into believing that Africa’s problems are all externally caused. Africa is what it is (or is not) because of its colonial legacy. It is the white man. It is neocolonialism, capitalism, imperialism, neoliberalism, globalization… It is the International Monetary Fund. It is the World Bank… The continent’s underdevelopment, poverty, corruption and mismanagement are all caused by evil powers outside the continent.
Things fall apart in Africa because African “leaders” do not respect the human rights of their people. To paraphrase Achebe, Africa is what it is because its leaders are not what they should be.” Few African leaders respect the dignity and humanity of their people. How can Africa rise when her leaders trip and make her fall every time, and keep her from rising up by pressing their boots on her neck. But things that fall apart also come together and rise.
So, here is my anniversary poem on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the OAU/African Union, which I dedicate to H.I.M. Haile Selassie and President Kwame Nkrumah, the undisputed Champions of Pan-Africanism) .
Ethiopia up-Rising! Africa Rising!
Ethiopia Africa’s bright gem
Shall rise up from the ashes of tyranny
Like the spring sun rising at dawn over the African horizon
Like the full moon rising over the darkness of the African night
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia shall rise from the heights of Ras Dejen
To the peaks of Kilimanjaro
From the pits of the politics of identity
To the summit of national unity and diversity
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia of the wise
Shall rise above the streetwise
Its people to galvanize, mobilize and organize
To humanize, harmonize and compromise
Ethiopia shall rise and shine!
Ethiopia Africa’s hope and destiny
Shall rise and its tyrants shall fall
Their lies, cruelty and corruption
Buried with them in the steel coffin of history
For “justice will rise in Ethiopia like the sun, with abundance of peace forever.”
Ethiopia shall rise by the sinews of her youth
Up-rise on the wings of her persevering children
Ethiopia shall rise and rise
Her youth will up-rise
Rise Ethiopia, up-rise.
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.