By Dr. Gwamaka Kifukwe
African Unity is and has been one of Africa’s enduring aspirations since the independence movements began. Even then, there was a tacit understanding that united, Africa stood a better chance of achieving its goals, than if Africans (and African) states could be divided. The challenge to pan-Africanism, solidarity and unity has always been that sovereignty – the right to self-rule and non-interference in ‘domestic’ matters. Pan-Africanism has been presented as necessitating sacrifice for the ‘greater good’. This is an ideology that successive generations of Africans increasingly question. What began as a political ideology has also emerged as an economic imperative as we see more and more cross-border projects (in infrastructure in particular) and the recognition that intra-African trade could be one of the keys to sustainable growth and transformation on the Continent. Despite the obvious benefits, and challenges, the idea of pan-Africanism is often thought of as out-dated, impractical, or romanticism by more recent generations, who tend to express a feeling of national unity, solidarity and pride, than regional – except in particular circumstances.
Nationalism is on the rise globally, and this carries both good and bad elements. In Africa, the issue of nationalism has always been tied with those of our borders, and how ‘artificial’ they are given ethnic and linguistic geographies across the continent. Unlike the borders of Europe (in particular) and elsewhere, Africa’ borders were established by a series of meetings often referred to as the Berlin Conference of 1884–85, where European colonial powers divided up the continent amongst different and competing powers. It should be noted, however, that one of the earliest decisions of the Organisation of African Unity (the predecessor to today’s African Union) was to maintain the colonial borders. In part, this was a recognition that there was a need for administrative units and that re-organising at such a stage would be a drain on precious resources at a time when resources were being marshalled to spread liberation across the continent. Another consideration may also have been that ultimately, these borders would fade away. One thorny issue that has plagued successive leaders of Africa, particularly those with Pan-African dreams has been how to make the youth and future generations care for and understand the importance of pan-Africanism.
The key question that is often asked is How? What can be done to instil this sense of unity, collective responsibility, and a common destiny despite the obvious diversity of our people? Sometimes, the simplest solution may, in fact, be the best. In a ‘Meet the Leader’ interview conducted by UONGOZI Institute, H.E. Nujoma – the First President of the Republic of Namibia – expresses how this has been tackled in Namibia:
“Africa must unite… Here in Namibia we are trying to make sure that our children understand. That’s why here in Namibia we have the African Union flag and we also sing the African Union Anthem at all our schools.” – H.E. Sam Nujoma
H.E. Nujoma outlined one simple, and potentially fruitful, strategy of keeping the pan-Africanist dream alive in future generations:
“The aim is to register in the minds of our children that one day our national flag will go into the museum, and the African Union flag will remain the only flag on the African Continent.” – H.E. Sam Nujoma
The approach is basic, and is indeed one that is adopted by most public schools in many of our countries in Africa – Sing the (national) anthem. Familiarity breeds understanding and appreciation. The more familiar and comfortable we are with the symbols African unity and pan-Africanism, the more comfortable we will be with the concept and its realisation. By outlining the intention of one day retiring the national flag to the museum, this clearly signals to the intrinsic link between the fate of Namibia (and Namibia) with that of Africa (and Africans).
Perhaps all African leaders should consider this simple, yet effective solution to enhancing regional integration and pan-Africanism on the continent..?