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Africa: AU – What Has Changed Since 1975?

Posted by Admin on Jul 26th, 2010 and filed under Afrique. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


The first and most obvious difference between the 1975 and 2010 all-African summits in Kampala is that in 1975, African nations came together under a body called the Organisation of African Unity or OAU.
In 2001, this body was replaced largely in name by the African Union or AU, at the behest of Libyan strongman Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. In July 1975, the following African countries and territories had not yet either become independent or come into being: Angola, Namibia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and the Seychelles.

By 2010, Africa has 53 independent countries as recognised by the United Nations and most international charters and several territories like Western Sahara, Republic of Somaliland and Puntland that pass as a semi-autonomous (even though not internationally recognised) status.

Differences seen

Another main difference between the OAU and the AU is in the outside view of the sitting government. In 1975, the military government of President Idi Amin was widely condemned around the world and in many African countries over its human rights record.

When it was originally announced in 1970 that the 1975 summit would be held in Kampala, few had anticipated the January 1971 coup that would bring Amin to power.

Countries like Tanzania and Zambia even called for a boycott of the summit and were later joined by Botswana in boycotting the event.

The 2010 summit could not be any more different. Although President Yoweri Museveni has over the last five years come under review in the public’s mind and with much of the earlier aura of a “new breed” of African leader largely gone, he still enjoys enough diplomatic approval on the continent for the summit to progress without incident.

The other main difference, in particular interest to Uganda this week, is the fact that in 1975, the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia was nowhere like what it is today. Somalia was one of Africa’s most stable countries, with a strong government, secure borders and was, ironically, the main African country acting as a mediator in the endless disputes between Amin and Tanzania’s President Julius Nyerere.

Today, a Somalia without a government for the better part of 19 years, viewed as a matter of concern to the eastern African region and with a militant and terrorist affiliated group, al Shabaab, accused of being behind the July 11 bomb blasts in Kampala, will dominate the Kampala summit.

The Kampala City that hosts the 2010 African summit is a much more populous and busy but also much more dirty and disorganised city than what it was in 1975.

Most of the political instability in Africa in 1975 was in the Portuguese colonies or recently-independent former Portuguese colonies in southern Africa as well as coup-prone West Africa. By 2010, the centre of gravity of regional instability had shifted to the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes area of Central Africa.

If 2010 is dominated by how to pacify an unstable Somalia, the overwhelming political question cutting across Africa in 1975 was how to secure the independence of the remaining African countries and how to deal with the country that has just hosted the football World Cup: South Africa.


Apartheid-ruled South Africa was viewed as the greatest political and military threat in Africa, especially to the central and southern nations known as the “frontline states” whose main foreign policy goal was to assist the liberation struggles in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Southwest Africa (Namibia) and to protect themselves from South African military attacks and attacks by South African-sponsored guerrilla groups.

In 1975, most African governments were run by military juntas. In 2010, they are mainly civilian governments.

Military Generals

Many analysts could argue that, 35 years since the OAU summit in Uganda, the only difference is that today most African governments are run by military generals in plainclothes. The international political order in 1975 was dominated by what was known as a Cold War between the US-led democratic western alliance and a Soviet-led “Eastern Bloc” of communist and Marxist countries.

Many civil wars that raged in Africa in the mid 1970s were proxy conflicts between those that leaned East and those that leaned West. Today in 2010, there are no competing ideological blocs, but the world order is dominated by the divide between those nations that are pro-America or viewed by the United States as “anti-American” or supporting terrorism, “rogue” regimes and undemocratic.

As it was in 1975, in 2010 African countries are still defined and still define themselves in terms of where they stand with the United States and the rest of the western world.

Although most of the discussion at the various annual OAU summits revolved around liberation movements, decolonisation, apartheid in South Africa and their positions in the “non-alignment” debate, there were also many social and economic problems that pre-occupied the continent’s leaders.

Africa then, as today, was the world’s poorest continent by far. It was also the most unstable and the most directly dependent on foreign aid. Famine, drought, locusts, malaria, infant mortality (the theme of this summit revolves around infant and maternal health and development) and falling economic production were as recognisable in 1975 as they are today.

Major catastrophes that would ravage Africa, like HIV/Aids and Ebola and the genocides in Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (known as Zaire in 1975), were still far into the future.

Africans who died in 1975, if they were brought back to life today, would be surprised at how from the blue an Asian country called China which in 1975 did not look too different from most sub-Saharan African states in terms of living standards, is now a roaring, ultra-modern nation and soon to be the world’s second superpower, replacing the Soviet Union they knew in 1975.

Chinese goods

By 2010, there was hardly a town or village in Africa that did not have a flood of Chinese-made goods. In 1975, even Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, was for most Ugandans a distant city, hard to reach. In 2010, the 1990s information revolution had changed so much about daily life.

Information was now available in quantities and with ease that even by European standards in 1975 would have been breathtaking.
All in all, the 35 years between 1975 and 2010 have brought many changes to Uganda and Africa.

However, the one constant fact has been of a continent still heavily dependent for its very existence on what happens in Washington, East Asia and in the political offices of Europe.

Timothy Kalyegira| 26 July 2010|The Monitor (Kampala)|

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