So some days ago, I was listening to JJC’s “we are Africans”. I always tell people that I am not the best dancer out there, and this is very true. Well as I made a conscious effort not to embarrass myself by attempting to “bust a move”, I decided to focus instead on the lyrics of the song; and the very catchy chorus- which by the way, sounds very familiar to the famous scene from one of my favorite movies, 300, where Gerald Butler’s character declares, “this is Sparta”- sent my already restless mind into analytical overdrive. Somehow, I began to reflect on bits and pieces of history I still had preserved somewhere in the hidden corners of my mind, about the late Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, and his championing the cause for Pan-Africanism. I pondered, “Just how alive is Pan-Africanism today?”
As a concept and ideology, Pan-Africanism advocates the solidarity of African people(s) everywhere as a means of achieving continental unity and development. For me, even though Pan-Africanism was championed by men like Kwame Nkrumah, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie, or even African Americans like Malcolm X, I think we can also trace its roots much further back to the slave plantations of centuries ago, where black slaves who had been forcefully and unjustly uprooted from their motherland and sold into a life of servitude to white slave masters, longed again for home and for re-unification with their kin. But it was in the 20th century though that modern Pan-Africanism began to flourish, as African countries began gaining their independence from their various colonial masters. As an advocate of the African struggle, Kwame Nkrumah led his country to independence from the British, and became one of the founding fathers of the OAU in 1963. He eventually served as its 3rd chairperson. As African countries gained independence, a yearning for African unity and development was center-stage for the newly formed OAU. It was this push for African solidarity, unity and development that led countries like Nigeria to fight for the liberation of other African countries still held by the shackles of colonialism. South Africa became a focal point for the African struggle. Still held in the grip of apartheid, African leaders began pushing vehemently for the liberation of South Africa from white rule and for the freedom of black South Africans from the same. They supported insurrections and sponsored opposition movements like Nelson Mandela’s ANC. In fact other African countries became training grounds and hiding places for South African opposition figures. The push for African freedom also extended to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where men like Robert Mugabe led a push for freedom from Ian Smith. Sadly Zimbabwe has turned out to be an example of what African states- or any other, for that matter- should not look like, but that is a lesson for another day! The OAU’s founding fathers envisaged a political, social, economic, cultural union of the African continent that would fast-track its development and make it a credible force in the international community. But as I reflect on events in present times, I dare say that dream seemed to have died shortly after birth!
Today African countries have certainly come out of the grip of colonialism; but instead of standing together, the continent is ravaged by internal wars and endless political struggles, underdevelopment, extreme poverty and an ever-widening inequality gap, and also what seems like a chronic absent mindedness by African nations about the plight of others in the continent. All these in addition to other vices! And in the midst of this, the AU (the successor of the OAU) has been able to do just little- or nothing- save for speeches, conferences…and more speeches and conferences. Zimbabwe teeters on the edge of economic collapse, Somalia is a failed state which is ravaged by the scourge of Al-Shabaab, Burundi has been plunged into political mayhem because of a leader who refuses to relinquish power, Burkina Faso was recently thrown into chaos due to a coup staged by military men but thankfully resolved by African leaders- okay, one little bright spot- and restored to some semblance of order, South Africa has been courting Xenophobia, the Central African Republic is in full civil war mode, South Sudan is highly politcally unstable while also facing food shortages, Libya has been over-run by terrorists, Egypt is trying to cope with the aftermath of the Arab Spring and still trying to decipher just how “African” it really is, Nigeria is slowly finding its feet with the election of a new President, while fighting the Boko-Haram sect…and the list goes on and on, even as African countries continue to pursue separate agendas!
If the concept of Pan-Africanism is to be revived and sustained, Africa as a continent needs to reflect, and make much needed changes. Institutions like NEPAD do not seem to be functioning as effectively as it should; and even in the West African sub-region, ECOWAS has not fully lived up to its charter declarations. While we applaud the peace-keeping efforts of nations like Nigeria, more needs to be done, if the AU’s vision for “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena” is to be realized. There must be economic, social, political, and even technological reforms undertaken by the governments (and peoples) of all African countries, and this must be sustained. Democracy and the rule of law must be respected at all levels of political leadership in all African countries…we must begin to re-think and restructure models of wealth distribution that address the needs of every member of society, especially those at the bottom of the ladder…education must become a priority in order to create world-class individuals and institutions that would contribute to continental development…effective mediation must occur at all levels of African societies to create an atmosphere of peace and reduce the outbreak of conflicts…I also think there has to be a cultural renaissance that will curb Western corrupting influences on Africa’s youth. These and much more must take place; and through it all, Africans everywhere must stand together.
We must be re-united again by visions of our common destiny and memories of our shared history. Whether West Africans, North Africans, East Africans, Southern Africans and even Africans in diaspora…we must all stand together. We must resist the external forces that threaten to tear us apart and snuff life out of us, while deceitfully smiling to our faces! But we must also realize that we are our own major restraint; and that we are much more plagued by the demon that threatens to destroy us from within. We must break down the walls and build bridges all across Africa. If Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a united and prosperous Africa is to succeed, Africans everywhere must realize that we are greater than our differences…that we are much stronger together than we are apart…and we really are our brother’s keeper(s)!