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Rekindling Pan-Africanism

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Rekindling Pan-Africanism

The economic and political calculus in Africa has changed, and as such there is a resurgence of Pan-Africanism – a liberation consciousness that hinges on social mobilisation. As Pan-Africanism is about the people and not governments, we must recognise the potential in every African to be a change agent, writes Prof Said Adejumobi.

At the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) played in South Africa from 10 January to 19 February 2013, Africa’s fine soccer artistry, which has evidently come of age, was on display. But there was something else on display at that tournament, which only a few people might have noticed, that was a celebration of Africa. All the players that featured in the tournament wore a badge on the shoulder of their jerseys with the inscription, “Celebrating Africa”. Preceding the tournament, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma appeared on a DSTV programme – Supersports – to talk about the new course the continent was charting and her plans to scale up the momentum. Pan-Africanism is alive and kicking in Africa.

The January 2013 Summit of the African Union was on the theme, “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance”. Dr Dlamini-Zuma in her opening address to the Summit noted: “The spirit of Pan-Africanism and the ideals of the African Renaissance delivered us to where we are today, and must propel us towards an integrated, people-centred, prosperous Africa at peace with itself. It is this spirit and ideals that inspired the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action in 1980, the Abuja Treaty in 1990, and NEPAD in 2001… The conditions now, and the experiences of the past 50 years, make us believe that indeed that era of the regeneration of Africa belongs to this new and powerful period.” Dr Dlamini-Zuma was right; indeed, there is no better moment than now, in Africa’s recent history, for the Pan-African spirit to be rekindled. Africa is on a path of sustained economic growth. Though the growth is fragile and vulnerable, averaging about 5% for over a decade, and driven largely by commodity products and trade diversification especially with the East, it remains something of a joy, for a continent that hitherto was an open sore in the conscience of the world for its economic and humanitarian disasters.

Added to this is that governance is improving in Africa, away from the lost previous three decades when authoritarian regimes could neither produce development nor democracy, contrary to what developmental authoritarian regimes did in Southeast Asia in the 1970s.

In addition, human rights are improving, elections are more regular, however flawed they may be; and young people are demanding political accountability all across the continent, as the North African uprisings clearly show. Evidently, the economic and political calculus has changed in Africa. This is the context for the resurgence of Pan-Africanism.

Pan-Africanism is a liberation consciousness, which hinges on social mobilisation and the organic unity and solidarity of the black race. Pan-Africanism arose as political and social movements of resistance aimed at the dignity and emancipation of the black race and the African continent. Pan-Africanism was floated in the Americas in reaction to the realities of slavery and its aftermaths in the United States and the West Indies in the early 20th century. Marcus Garvey, W.E. Dubois, George Padmore, and Paul Robeson were some of the leading advocates.

Soon, Pan-Africanism was to spread far and wide, assuming the theology for Africa’s political liberation. Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Sékou Touré, Leopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere, and Nnamdi Azikwe, amongst others, soon became the torchbearers of Pan-Africanism and African liberation struggles. The dawn of independence in Africa heated up the Pan-African debate. The issue was, what course should Africa take? On the one hand were those who wanted a united Africa (the Casablanca Group) right from the 1960s, and on the other hand there were the incrementalists (the Monrovia Group) who would not give up their newly won sovereignty to any supranational organisation. Emperor Haile Selassie’s incredible mediating skills broke the deadlock, leading to the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

The transition from the OAU to the African Union in 2002 and the current discourse on the formation of a continental union government indicate that the Pan-African path remains a viable course for the future of Africa. The Pan-African struggle remains an enduring political project; it is a struggle for equality, justice, human dignity, integrity and progress in a lopsided world, in which Africa and its people loom at the periphery. The notion of collective action and a drive towards self-reliance are the guiding principles of an emancipatory Pan-African project.

But we cannot achieve Pan-Africanism without Pan-Africanists. Pan-Africanism is not about governments and states; it is about the people. Yet, our leaders keep the people apart and reify the artificial borders created for us by others. Through these artificial borders, we dehumanise and criminalise ourselves, negating the whole essence of Pan-Africanism.

It is sad, yet the reality is that it is easier for nationals of Western countries, who enjoy visa waivers, to enter African countries than fellow Africans. Regrettably, it is often a nightmare for most Africans to get visas to enter another African country.

In a country like South Africa, “xenoafrophobia” has reached heightened proportions so that every African (especially black), entering the country is perceived as a potential “economic refugee” or “migrant”, and every Western citizen, a “tourist”. The former are seen as “job snatchers” and “potential criminals” and the latter as “investors”! This is why black-on-black violence has become a common sight in South Africa. Yet, these fellow Africans (all over the continent) sacrificed tears and blood for the liberation of South Africa. South Africa is a major beneficiary of the Pan-African project. South African multinational firms like MTN, DSTV, Shoprite, and construction and mining firms are reaping huge profits from other African countries. Pan-Africanism must not be about capital and profits alone, but more importantly, about the people! The South African government has to take a decisive step on this issue!

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is a quiet shining example of the Pan-African project. In December last year, the government adopted a new immigration policy, which allows Africans to obtain a visa on arrival at the airport. Other African leaders must take a cue from this and open up the artificial borders they did not create! Pan-Africanism is also about Africa mending its cracks wherever there are broken walls! Africa must learn to resolve its conflicts by itself. In Africa, we do borrow money, men, or materials to wage wars but we often find it hard to raise resources to fund peace. Outsiders often come to our rescue either to resolve conflicts or to make peace. Mali is a case in point. Africa must take full responsibility for its wars and peace!

For a young African living in a postmodernist society, what would Pan-Africanism mean concretely to him/her? Pan-Africanism would mean for him/her a continent that is strong, prosperous and democratic; a continent that does not depend on handouts from outside, while being subsequently dictated to by handout-givers; a continent whose youngsters are not idling away but busy in creative enterprises; a continent where citizens can move freely, unhindered by the barriers of artificial borders created for us by others; and a continent where citizens can be respected around the world, just like the Chinese have earned respect for themselves through their dramatic progress in less than a century. But getting Africa to its dreamland is not rocket science; it is possible, necessary, and desirable. The first step would be to recognise the potential in every African to be a change agent. As such, no individual, no group of people or no political organisation should absolutise the knowledge and wisdom for progress and development. If we accept this principle, then term limits in power should be a necessary part of our nascent democratic culture. No leader must claim a monopoly on wisdom, a phenomenon that wrecked the continent for over four decades.

Second, is the quality of our leadership. Good leadership creates vision, unlocks capacity and innovation, tames corruption and builds institutions. Electoral democracy does not necessarily guarantee good or quality leadership. Electoral democracy is often a tyranny of numbers. As such, Africa must pay conscious attention to the nature and quality of its leadership through its party and electoral systems. As it is today, the party system is broken in many countries –monetised, hijacked by moneybags and held hostage by anti-democratic forces who rig elections with impunity. Our youth, with energy, drive and creativity, must constitute the cream of our body politic. Finally, education is central to Africa’s political and economic reconstruction. As Frantz Fanon would argue, consciousness is the first step towards freedom and emancipation. Quality education is key in ensuring consciousness and competitiveness in a knowledge-driven but savage world.

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