It is significant that the election of the African Union chairperson and commissioners to run the continental body happened at the end of last month, just before the beginning of the Black History Week in America, the UK, Canada and other parts of the world that follow these celebrations of the lives and achievements of black people in the world. It is significant in many ways.
The AU should be a symbol of how Africa has fared in the past six decades since the supposed end of imperialism on the continent.
The AU should stand as an affirmation of the independence, freedom and progress of the continent. Those who run the affairs of the AU should account to Africans, wherever they are in the world, how the continent has fared politically, economically, culturally and socially since the 1960s.
It should be about serving the interests of pan-Africanism.
If one reads the book, Reimagining Pan-Africanism: Distinguished Mwalimu Nyerere Lectures Series 2009-2013 (Mkuki na Nyota, 2015) by Wole Soyinka, Samir Amin, Bereket Habte Selassies, Micere Mugo and Thandika Mkandawire, one would note that pan-Africanism wasn’t and isn’t a just political ideology, as the naysayers are wont to paint it today.
It isn’t a mere theory dedicated to uniting Africans without consideration of other factors that separate them such as socio-economic class, religion, race, etc, as some have argued.
Pan-Africanism is first and foremost about shared humanity. Africa has shared languages, cultures, traditions, climates, etc. A Ugandan 70 years ago was a subject of the Queen of England just as was a Kenyan, Nigerian or Ghanaian. Africans were captured from Southern, Eastern, Central and Western Africa and transported into new and strange lands all over the world.
Their descendants share that tragedy with their kin that remained on the continent. Today millions of Africans now are subjects of new emperors and tyrants, as Wole Soyinka reminds us in his lecture.
Freedom is in short supply and violence, oppression, hunger, poverty, death etc shadows the neo-colonised African just as it was under colonialism. Can the AU free Africans from the new yoke of homebred imperialism?
Pan-Africanism, as Samir Amin reminds us in his lecture, should re-engage with ideas of social progress for the continent. Amin notes that the global North/South divide has placed Africans in a very disadvantaged position.
Africa today is discussed as the last frontier of market experimentation by capitalism and agents of globalisation from the North. Africa is where new financial “products” are tried, generally in weak economies.
Consequently Africa remains a mere appendage to the capitalistic order in the North. See how the former French colonies of Africa attached to the French franc? Who benefits from African oil today? Not Africans, but oil corporations from the North, with a few Africans who sit on their boards of management.
But how do we start to imagine pan-Africanism today? If Africans can’t even buy and sell goods and services from and to each other without hindrance, why would they consider themselves brothers and sisters?
As Kenya discovered in Addis Ababa, the French-speaking African countries are probably more united as “French-speakers” than as Africans. English-speaking African countries cannot even unite themselves into functional regional economic and political blocs.
The EAC seems to be all hot air with little substance. Why is it difficult to have one big African economic bloc? The AU should begin to search for solutions right here on the continent. It should revisit the old beliefs and philosophies of pan-Africanism.
African universities, institutions of research, African scholars based in the global North, African businessmen, friends of Africa in the rest of the world, African financial institutions, all African peoples and most important, African politicians, have to look for connections, potential, synergies, opportunities, resources, skills and energies for progress on the continent first. Such an Africa would be worth celebrating this Black History Month.
The writer teaches literature at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]