Growing pains: Why Africa Day?

2013-06-02 14:00

About a week ago, smack dab in the ­middle of Africa Day, I saw a tweet by a mum sharing how her little girl made an Emperor-has-no-clothes observation: “Why is today Africa Day when every day in Africa is that?”

Cute, neh? About as cute as the flood of admissions that followed by many fellow tweeps indicating that they didn’t get it either. Thanks to the mouths of babes, we don’t have to ask obvious questions when they’re around.

Meanwhile, my smartphone buzzed with press releases from the African Union (AU) press office announcing the many activities planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU).

But as is often the case when officialdom celebrates, many of us normal folks don’t get the memo.

On May 25th 1963, 30 African leaders, struggle heroes who had just achieved liberation for their respective African countries from colonialisation, signed the founding charter of the OAU.

These were the Madibas of their lands at a time when the Rivonia Trial hadn’t even begun. This moment was significant because five years before, only eight African countries could call themselves independent.

In the event, one of the luminaries at the time, Kwame Nkrumah, summed up the mood of these leaders in a then famous speech

. “Unite we must. Without sacrificing our sovereignties ... we can forge a political union based on defence, foreign affairs, diplomacy, a ­common citizenship, an African currency, an African monetary zone and an African bank,” he waxed lyrically to rapt applause.

I shudder to imagine what response most of us would get if we were to suggest these things today.

Rather a Brics bank investment than making good on this African bank idea, most of us would argue.

While every day in Africa might be an African day, Africa Day is a grand symbol of the one thing very few Africans know enough about – unity among Africans. The continent is about as united as Korea.

Among last week’s AU activities were talks given by some very smart people, one of whom is a professor and senior researcher in Africa peace and security named Solomon Derso.

In his presentation, Derso traced the contradictions of the OAU and it’s founding mandates of “promoting unity and solidarity; being a collective voice of the continent to secure Africa’s long-term economic and political ­future”.

He went on to examine the current challenges to this ideal of African unity.

As you can imagine, it’s a long lack list – a lack of ideological conviction among our ruling classes, a lack of sustained political commitment, a lack of leadership in developing the economic and physical infrastructure to unify Africans (like trading zones and continental railway lines) and, most important, a lack of societal awareness and support for the unification project. So what is Africa Day?

A few days ago over dinner with some venerable business executives, the question arose of African corporates investing in “the continent” as a means to diversify the risk of keeping all their eggs in one South African basket.

Could it be that corporate pessimism about our politics means our ruling class is unwittingly driving such unification?

Seriously, the extent to which we chattering classes as drivers of societal opinion fail to understand or eschew a unitary agenda is evident in the muted response to South Africa’s continued xenophobic-tinged violence, (not quite Guptagate), as well as the disenchantment with deploying our troops in African countries.

We’d prefer to wrangle among ourselves about which direction this country should be sailing in, and who should be steering it. What we’re forgetting is that we’re meant to be sailing in an armada of African countries.

It’s time to grow out of navel-gazing and into our destiny.

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