The United States of Africa And What Pan-Africanism Ought To Be – Alex Njeru and Ajibola Adigun

As a way to end the lingering crises in several parts of Africa, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has renewed calls for a pan-African President to lead a United States of Africa. He was joining the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s refrain of pan-Africanism as a route to Africa’s development. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

At some point in Africa’s colonial and post-colonial history, ‘pan-Africanism’ was very popular. Notable pan-Africanists like Kwameh Nkrumah who was quite conspicuously Pan-Africanism’s poster boy and others like Haille Sellasie, Ahmed Sekou Toure and Muammar Gaddaffi proselytized it. They trotted the four corners of the continent looking for new adherents and converting them. This was one of the reasons for the establishment of the African Union.

However, very little thought went into what pan-Africanism was all about; into its form, substance and philosophy. Its emotional appeal did well to invigorate the struggle for independence of African countries. Sadly, it has not moved any further from its rallying call to an agenda for development. Pan-Africanism was supposed to be the force that galvanized Africa’s cause. It was supposed to give Africa a post colonial identity, make a statement on Africa’s into being, of Africa’s break-away from Euro-centric hegemony. Yet because in its very being, pan-Africanism was very amorphous, none of these goals were met.

In contemporary times, many young Africans who are perhaps oblivious of what pan-Africanism was all about are agitating for the resuscitation of pan-Africanism. They come in all sorts of names such as ‘afro-optimists’ and have this grand notion that Africa’s path towards insularity can help bear fruit. They are wrong, first because they have not taken enough time to understand the pan-Africanist agenda of old, and secondly because there is folly in thinking that Africa’s redemption lies in an African agenda that misses the forest for trees.  Pan- Africanism will have true meaning when free trade is allowed across borders, individual rights are respected and political power truly belongs to the African people.

Have we really answered the question of what really constitutes pan-Africanism? At least what values were behind the primordial strand of pan-Africanism?  The primordial form of pan-Africanism, the one propounded by Nkrumah and his other notable contemporaries was all about ‘consolidation for power in Africa’ in other words it was Africa’s try at changing the global power environment. It was about the desire by African statesmen to find locus in the global scheme of things and events. It was about Nkrumah’s egocentric desire to become Africa’s ‘Asantehene’. These geocentricisms by pan-Africanism’s proponents, is not why we who are visibly apathetic about the whole idea of pan-Africanism of Mugabe, remain skeptical.  It is because it lacked depth and delivered no unity among the African people.

With proponents like Presidents Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Yahyah Jammeh of the Gambia mouthing a mantra of social justice and a unified social order on one hand, and doing exactly its opposite in their disregard for property rights and individual liberties, it is no wonder why the pan-Africanism of the politicians and bureaucrats are dead on arrival while the pan-Africanism of the people thrive.

It is harder to travel across Africa and costs more to transport things than it is in any region of the world due to countless border restrictions and regulations. Nothing fosters peace like trade nothing is more lethal to parochial sentiments like travel.

Had pan-Africanism succeeded in breaking down colonial borders and having Africa whole again, then maybe it would have had some credence. That it did not for various reasons, African leaders were too protective of the small post-colonial fiefdoms and where it failed in delivering political integration it failed even more in delivering economic integration. To this day Africa remains the most fragmented continent in the world. Achieving optimum intra-African trade has been akin to solving the infamous Rubik’s cube. There was and there have been an ingrained coherence about pan-Africanism; its over-reliance on socialism and its affection with Marx, meant that nothing good came out of it. That is why its offshoots or rather the ideological independence it purported to support were disastrous.

Pan-Africanism needs a breather from the esoteric pages of bureaucrats in the African Union and a new meaning to the popular theme in summits where African leaders are gathered. It needs to be freed from human planning and be left to human action. This was how it was in pre-colonial times when the trans-Saharan trade was without border restrictions. And the borderless transmission of ideas and values of the peoples of Africa through the entertainment industry is how it should be.

The renaissance of pan-Africanism is dependent on its delivery of the tangible fruits of development. Pan-Africanism will have no real psychological value if it is not associated with being a citizen of a vibrant cosmopolitan continent with respect for rights and policies that drive continental development.

Alex Njeru is a Kenyan, while his co-author Ajibola Adigun is a Nigerian

Photo: Kwame Nkrumah, credit: AU