I have always considered myself a Pan African, but I am increasingly having difficulties defining what that is.
Taking from the rudimentary definition, pan Africanism is an ideology and movement that encourages the solidarity of Africans worldwide.
It is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social, and political progress and aims to “unify and uplift” people of African descent.
I will come back to this definition in a short while, but a key question for me is what being African is; is it a matter of race, location, how one chooses to identify themselves or the colour of the skin.
As they say identity is fluid.
Going back to the definition of Pan Africanism, a key point there in the definition is unity, but are we united as Africans? Do we have a common goal or an agenda, or we only speak of our unity when it suits us? When we want to shut out what we consider the prying eyes of the west and besides that we are further away from each other as possible.
Another question is; are we a homogenous people, does a Zambian have the same aspirations as a Nigerian, or an Ethiopian vice versa.
I argued somewhere that Africans on the continent are more distant from each other now than at any other point in our history. While we speak of regional integration and all, I think we have become more self-obsessed and more inward looking than in the past.
I ask myself, what is Africa’s guiding vision and ideology and I fail to come up with anything. In the colonial and post-colonial eras we had the OAU and Front Line states among others, where the driving feature was independence and self-rule, then we had leaders like Thabo Mbeki driving African Renaissance and later NEPAD.
For a continent trying to establish itself on the world scene, it is shocking that NEPAD, for all its shortcomings, failed because some of our leaders on the continent did not like the peer review mechanism. What is it that we have to hide from each other as Africans, supposedly moving towards unity and Pan Africanism, that we don’t want our neighbours looking into how we govern ourselves?
In the past, we had the Nkrumahs and the Nyereres and then later the Mbekis, who championed Africa’s cause and championed African ideologies and, but now, beyond rhetoric, the African agenda has no real champion. We only invoke Africa for Africans when we feel threatened and we are looking for a place to hide.
Yes, we have some flowery but rather obscure slogans cropping up, like Africa Rising and African solutions to African problems, but what do they mean. Is Africa rising or just a few countries in Africa and the rest like Zimbabwe are left behind. And please don’t get me started on African solutions to African problems. Without going too much into this, remember when SADC thought Zimbabwe had a problem, our president responded by threatening to pull out?
I have gone ahead of myself by trying to define what being African is, when honestly there are a number of us who grapple with the very notion of being Zimbabwean. I am not questioning my identity as a Zimbabwean, but being from the south west of Zimbabwe, more often than not, we feel like we are the “other”, like we do not belong in this country.
Without wanting to sound like a like a victim, more often than not, people of the south west believe they are deliberately marginalised by the system and feel there is an institutional campaign to keep them where they are.
Whatever the case, when it comes to positions of leadership, be it corporate or political, we have been reduced to deputies. Any person who dares raise their hand for leadership is immediately reduced to a “tribal or regional” leader. It is as if we have no right to be leaders in our own country.
Even when we criticise leaders of political parties, whatever the context, it is always reduced to a tribal issue.
We are a nation obsessed with ethnicity and we tend to look at almost everything with a tribal prism and that affects our own growth. We cannot look beyond tribe, everything we do, somehow we have to explain it within a tribal context.
Now going back to the definition of Pan Africanism; it talks about unity, and if Zimbabwe were to be a microcosm of Africa, and Pan Africanism, then we have a long way to go. What we have, is a superfluous unity, a top down approach, where two parties united and this was taken to mean this would cascade down to the whole country.
But I think there’s nothing further from the truth, there are a lot of under currents in this country, which we ignore and hope they will go away. Classic example of an ostrich burying its head in the ground and hoping its problems will disappear.
Take for example the way we support our football, particularly Dynamos and Highlanders; the songs we sing and the chants and everything else associated with these two teams. Maybe because we don’t have anywhere else to vent our anger, we rely on football and for those 90 minutes, football becomes the only avenue to express ourselves. Try attending a Dynamos vs Highlanders match and you will understand what I mean by this.
As a journalist, I believe the media have a role in nation buidling. But the media is often said to be a mirror of society and, within, the Zimbabwean context, where we deny having problems, it is difficult for the media to do anything. What the media have done, is to cover the simple story, that of politics, anything else is heresy.
But what I find more disturbing in the media today, is the amount of hate speech particularly in the state media. If you want pure unadulterated bigotry, then read the Nathaniel Manheru column and all you will see is tribal and racial hatred and it doesn’t make sense for a public newspaper or any newspaper for that matter to allow such views to be published.
I remember recently when he was all but celebrating that Ndebele speaking Zimbabweans had also been victims of violence in South Africa.
Whatever differences we have, surely we cannot be seen to be celebrating that someone is being killed just because they do not subscribe to the identity you want to thrust upon them.
Instead of the media playing the nation building role, the media now follows hook line and sinker the line of their political masters. Instead of becoming a national tool, the media is now used to serve narrow political agendas.
What we now see is a media that seemingly has a template of how a Zimbabwean should behave. You cannot praise this party or criticise that other party without immediately having a label thrust on you. In our media, we follow binary dictates, either MDC is right or wrong, either Zanu PF is right or wrong and there can be no middle ground.
The centrepiece of Pan Africanism is unity, which then should drive social and economic growth, maybe one reason Zimbabwe’s growth seems to be stalling is because we don’t have that unity.
(This presentation was first made at an Africa Day function hosted by HerZimbabwe)