Pan-Africanism could be one of the most popular terms to have come out the black diaspora and Africa.
So popular it has been that proclaiming to be a pan-Africanist would almost immediately fetch one respect in Africa. Which African in their right mind wouldn’t respect someone working for the autonomy, respect, and glory of Africa?
Thus, all his weaknesses notwithstanding, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana is still held in high regard for his efforts towards emancipating and uniting Africa. In many ways, he is seen to have lived his gospel. This might as well apply to a number of his contemporaries.
As times have changed, the concept of pan-Africanism has also evolved into new forms. It is one of those attractive notions that become so popular thereby rendering themselves vulnerable to so many adaptations that end up producing vulgarised versions for political opportunism.
Hence today some have renamed it pun-Africanism. Today, perhaps anyone can claim to be a pan-Africanist, even a murderer of fellow Africans. The contradictions do not matter. Simply choose when to bash the West for interference and when to work with them at the expense of your people when it favours you.
In rhetoric, one of the effective tactics in silencing an adversary or someone telling us uncomfortable truths is by identifying them with what people abhor. The Baganda call it okusibako omuntu amatu g’embuzi okumuliisa engo (tying goat ears on a person so that they are eaten by a leopard).
Our history of being enslaved, colonised, exploited and abused by Western countries often comes in handy for African dictators whenever the West calls them to order for their excesses. Suddenly, they pull out an anti-colonial or decolonising card to posture as saviours that will not allow foreigners to interfere with their affairs.
When they are accumulating debts from the West and begging for aid, much of which they steal, the West is good. The same West to which they have enslaved their countries through debts and budgetary dependence is not expected to call them out when they steal the aid or use it to brutalise their people.
Of course, the West is partly responsible for producing this behaviour of some African leaders. Over time, because of their thirst for aid, many of these leaders listen more to the donors than to their people. Donors love this, because it allows them leverage to negotiate for their own interests.
Since the interests between the greedy leaders and transactional donors are often mutual, these dealings easily pass at the expense of the citizen. When it comes to leadership, a good donor is one who gives without minding how African leaders govern their people.
In this irony, the African leader wants to have their cake and eat it too – the more reason China is a darling. I wish we could still easily believe our leaders when they rally us against imperialists. When they vigorously chant sovereignty – begging sovereigns whose greed practically supersedes their desire for autonomy.
Our drama is that of a parent that brutalises their children while advising them against bringing in outsiders. He suffocates all room for internal resolution of differences and breathes fire to those who challenge him yet he tells outsiders that ‘we can sort our problems internally’.
Obviously many Africans would wish to be independent and shape their own destinies. We wish to be respected internationally, not to be looked at as the pitiable sick child of humanity. We wish to walk with our heads high as proud citizens of our countries. We wish to be the primary beneficiaries of our vast resources, and we know that if they were well managed, perhaps we wouldn’t carry this international reputation as beggars.
Perhaps we would only demand for reparations, not aid. However, in many ways our leaders are the biggest hindrances to the above aspirations. Today, when called out on their human rights abuses, some of them are telling off ‘Europeans’ that we are not desperate to go to their countries.
They confuse their own comfort with the conditions of the people they lead. The irony is that several of their citizens live in these European countries, having run away from the difficult conditions at home – mostly due to bad leadership. The same leaders boast about the huge revenue from remittances!
If the stringent visa requirements to European countries were removed, how many Ugandans would remain in their country? And it is not primarily because Uganda is a bad country per se.
It is a naturally wonderful country whose conditions can’t be compared to the winters of Europe or the boiling sun of the Middle East. Yet still, some churches have made a kill out of praying for people to get visas to escape its hardship. Any pastor will tell you that getting a visa to Europe or USA is one of the commonest prayer requests they are approached with.
If many of your people are praying for an opportunity to leave their country to foreign ones so as to escape its misery, what audacity do you have to talk about sovereignty? The genuine pan-Africanist pride and zeal of many ordinary Africans is frustrated and killed by their greedy and power hungry leaders.
The extremes of such leaders are among other reasons why many of us can’t walk in pride outside our countries. What pride for a people mostly known for their mess!
What call for international respect when your own leaders can’t respect you? If it was clear in deeds that our leaders cared so much about our wellbeing, we would all strongly rally around them when they castigate imperialists for interference. We would know that their pan-Africanism is about us.
But as it stands now, no matter how loud and angrily they shout, many of us are too wounded by them to care about the identity of whoever can call them to order. We can’t be fooled not to see the primary problem.
The author is a teacher of philosophy.