I am writing this article in the aftermath of the pomp and ceremony of the Africa Union (AU) turning 50 on May 25.
Cross Border Chronicles with Sukoluhle Nyathi
For those of you not so well informed darlings, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) formed in 1963 was actually the predecessor to the AU, with a wish list of admirable objectives that included high living standards for all African people, protection of human rights and conflict resolution through diplomacy as opposed to shooting each other in the head.
One of the themes that resonated with me at the opening of the recent summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was the call for “unity and solidarity for a strong and prosperous Africa”.
The idea and motivation behind the AU is a noble one indeed. Who wouldn’t want to live the African dream?
Can you imagine us having one common passport giving us a seamless foray through the so called Dark Continent?
From the corners of Senegal down south to Swaziland! Like the euro, Africa would have its own afro: Afro-dollars and afrocents pitted against the major trading currencies like the pound or yen.
Then there’s that talk of all of us speaking one common language. What that language would be no one quite knows, but Swahili has been touted as being the possible common linguistic thread.
Of course we would need a capital city for the continent and offcourse South Africa is normally top of the favourites being the most developed country in the continent followed by Ethiopia or Kenya as some administrative or financial hub.
All the African countries would trade together and our per capita incomes would be so high and every citizen would be educated, well fed, housed and clothed with access to basic amenities like running water and electricity.
Poverty would be a word that would be eradicated from our vocabulary. This Africa would have no wars; only sunshine, peace and prosperity. All citizens would enjoy democracy and good governance. Corruption would be a distant memory or a figment of an overactive imagination.
There would be no talk of Africans living in the Diaspora because they would all be in Africa living this African dream.
At age 50 we are nowhere close to achieving that dream. If anything I reckon it will take us yet another 50 years to get there.
But let’s not despair; they say life begins at 40 so Africa can be considered to be youthful in its aspirations.
First things first; before we can talk of unity on the continent we need to find unity amongst ourselves. Ethnicism abounds on this continent.
If it’s not the Igbos knocking the Hausas then it’s the Kikuyu’s versus the Luos; the Bagandas versus the Ankoles; the Shona versus the Ndebeles; the Zulus versus baSotho. Beyond the tribalism it’s African hate-on-hate. Xenophobia first reared its ugly head in the cold winter of 2008 and trust me; we haven’t seen its backside yet.
The Oxford dictionary defines xenophobia as “the deep rooted irrational hatred against foreigners”. Yet what I have observed in South Africa is that it’s not a blanket hatred against all foreigners, its selective hatred of certain foreigners of Nigerian, Somalian and Zimbabwean origin.
Johannesburg is home to a large Chinese population who probably own half of Crown Mines with their big box Chinese malls.
Ever heard of them being torched for their presence or being accused of robbing locals of economic opportunities?
No. Instead we see one African setting his own brother alight. This is far from the picture of solidarity we aspire for!
Then there’s talk that xenophobia is largely at the lower echelons of society; perpetuated by the poor and uneducated.
I don’t buy that for a second. Even the polished and sophisticated educated slices of society exhibit the same hatred. I once dated a seemingly nice, educated Xhosa man. Once we got past the uphuma kuphi sisi? (where do you come from?) conversation it appeared we were onto something until one day he asked me to assist him in finding a domestic worker. Now I know plenty of sisters looking for “piece jobs” to earn their daily bread. I was about to provide him with a long list when he quickly pointed out that this domestic worker was not to be of Zimbabwean origin.
Of course I perked up my eyebrows and asked why? He responded by saying that Zimbabweans are thieves, that they are destructive and have brought much ruin and crime to South Africa. Needless to say that relationship never grew legs and was promptly nipped in the bud. Charity begins at home.
Love thy neighbour. We need to start with the basics before we can aspire for grand aspirations of African unity when for the most part we loathe each other and are filled with mistrust for one another. We need to look past the ethnicity and embrace our cultural differences.
Only then can we start working towards building a strong united African front! Otherwise African unity will remain just that . . . another dream that never materialised.
Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist